The Parasite Language of Bislama in Vanuatu

A very interesting article was posted last month written by Mavuku Tokona from the Vanuatu Daily Post that I would like to share. It was about how University of the South Pacific (USP) Emalus Campus Language Professor Dr Hannah Vari-Bogiri described ‘Bislama’ as the fastest growing language and possibly a parasite of Vanuatu languages.

Speaking on the subject of the decline of island dialects and its possible extinction, Dr. Vari-Bogiri acknowledged that Bislama is often used as a bridge between different island languages but lately it has been abused and now made dangerous. “Bislama is therefore the fastest growing language today and is the biggest threat and possible killer of vernacular languages by their speakers within the urban areas,” she said.

The Language Professor stated that if parents fail to teach their children their island dialect, they will be entirely consumed by Bislama, a basic form of communication, thus losing a part of their ‘kastom’ identity. “There are some cases in the urban areas of Port Vila and Santo where children grow up only speaking Bislama because parents come from two different language areas of even when parents are from same language area.”

“This is an example where the younger generations in town could fail to know their language and culture due to their parents’ failure to transmit that to them,” Dr Vari-Bogiri explained.

Overall to ensure that language is preserved, it has to be practiced, protected from external influence and more importantly for posterity, transmitted to the next generation.

Director of Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta (VKS) Richard Shing said that language is ever-growing and is likely to evolve as Vanuatu continues to diversify in terms of different ethnicities and cultures. Ironically the Director of VKS is one of those families – “Me and my wife are from different islands, so our kids grow up only knowing Bislama.”

The local archeologist agreed that Bislama could be identified as a parasite of languages so long as families abstain from teaching the next generation.

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Port Vila, Vanuatu from the air. Photo by ICAS.

As for the vernacular taught in schools, however efficient it may be, it is still not enough. Dr. Vari-Bogiri applauded the educational system with its incorporation of vernacular classes in its curriculum, although, it remains inadequate and needs to be coupled with personal teachings from home. “So, it is promising to see that schools in the urban areas like the Central School and Lycee LAB are taking the lead in promoting language and culture through their students.”

“However, it needs to be cautioned here that promoting vernacular through literature materials or formal education alone is not enough as the classroom is an artificial environment that does not take into account all the language uses, functions and the language repertoire of the speech community.”

While Bislama is recognized as a bridging language, families have a responsibility and duty to retain their island dialect by teaching the next generation and ensure that Bislama doesn’t overwhelm the island dialect of their children.

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Preserving Native Medicinal Plants for Traditional Healers in Samoa

Welcome Back and here’s to a hopeful 2021!

Let’s kick off the first post of the year with an interesting article from the Samoa News about how Samoan traditional knowledge in medicine is proving valuable for SROS- the Scientific Research Organization of Samoa’s exploration of local native plants.

At the frontline of the SROS scientific research of Plants and Postharvest Technologies division at Nafanua, is Masuisuiolemalietoa Dr. Seeseei Molimau-Samasoni who claims that Samoan native plants have shown huge potential in medicine. “There are 500 Native flowers in Samoa, and about 200 ferns in Samoa,” she said. “Traditionally, we’ve discovered that much of these plants can be used in everyday Samoan life. From medicine to consumption to other uses,” added Masuisuiolemalietoa.

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Samoan rainforest- picture from http://www.gettyimages.com

For Medicine, over 130 plants found in Samoa are used or can be used for medicinal purposes. But only 84 of those 130, are used by local traditional healers (Taulasea). “Some of the plants that are not being used from the 130 medicinal plants, were used in the past but are not used anymore, and others were recorded in historical writings, but we have not come across any confirmation as of yet,” she added.

Masuisuiolemalietoa revealed that the Samoan traditional doctors’ community are facing adversity. “Only a few traditional healers have access to the plants they specialize in, and some have come to lose their practice because the plants they are accustomed to have gone either extinct, very rare to find, and some are only found in certain parts of the rainforests, and in other cases, entire parts of rainforest have been wiped out and eradicating along with it are the plants our traditional healers rely on,” she added.

Following these discoveries, the Cabinet has placed heavy emphasis on the replanting, and preservation of Samoan native plants identified by SROS to be of high value to Samoan livelihoods.

A special garden is in the pipeline for SROS under the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries where SROS will plant, nurture and preserve all plants recognized by Masuisuiolemalietoa and her team.

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Samoa- picture from departmentofwandering.com

The Prime Minister. Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi welcomed the initiative and on the spot, impressed onto the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Lopao’o Natanielu Mua to capitalize on the space at the MAF Crops division in Nu’u. “We have been pushing this initiative for quite some time, but now we’ve put the plan in action,” the Prime Minister added. “It is important that we preserve the plants that have been proven useful to our Samoan people’s livelihoods in medicine and food for consumption. I would advise that to get this project be implemented in Nu’u where there is adequate space to host all the plants needed for the project,” the Prime Minister continued.

Tuilaepa went on to highlight the value of Nafanua Pure and the work that SROS has been undertaking in research and development. The foundation for the Nafanua Pure factory at Tanugamanono has been laid and the construction of the factory continues.

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A Christmas Memory- Missing the Motu in Solomon Islands

Our last Christmas memory and last post of the year is about Pacific Journalist, Koroi Hawkins, of Radio New Zealand and her best memory of Christmas food.

Happy New Year to everyone who visit and read these posts! Let’s hope things will be a lot better in 2021. I look forward to keeping you updated on the cultural news of the Pacific Islands. See you in January!

The best memories of Christmas food for me was growing up in Munda in the Western Solomons and it was all about the process. I remember as a very little person helping, (more like getting in the way of), my great, great grandmother, Joyce Kevisi who turned 100 this month, prepare the motu or earth oven, with glowing hot stones by woodfire and lamplight.

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Where is Munda, Solomon Islands? Map from ethnobiomed.biomedcentral.com

Even the smells and sounds of all the prep work leading up to that point with my mum, aunties and older cousins crushing ngali nuts for the mamahi (rich layered slippery cabbage and nut cake) and grating cassava for the oremarihi (cassava pudding) with a touch of luzu vaka (kumara) for sweetness, her signature touch.

Of course, my least favourite part was slaughtering the animals. I remember being horrified the first time I found out the chickens I had been tasked with feeding in the weeks leading up to Christmas, and who I had inevitably befriended, were being plumped up for the feast to come. I would cover my ears to try and mute the horrible squealing of the pigs as my uncles secured them to enable them to deliver the killing blow.

Everything was organic either grown in my grandmother and grandfather John Kevisi’s garden, raised in pens and coops or pulled from the ocean.

At the business end under the eagle eye of Tai, as we call her, all the various dishes were prepared with ingredients sliced, pounded, marinated, lathered in coconut cream. They were wrapped in cooking leaves then placed in the earth oven which, with her decades of experience, she regulated the temperature and timing as accurately as any conventional oven.

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A motu, Picture from tdriscollsi.blogspot.com

Then on Christmas Day, after lotu, the motu would be opened and with each layer of leaves peeled back came a fresh waft of delicious foody goodness only surpassed by the feasting to follow.

After dinner I would listen wide-eyed as this English trader’s daughter would tell tales of times long gone of the Americans and the Japanese and their noisy metal war machines.

And if we pressed her enough on her childhood and the stories passed down to her from before the church arrived, she would talk of days when fierce ebony warriors roamed the Roviana Lagoon and heads on stakes lined the beaches.

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A Christmas Memory- Steamed Pudding- New Zealand Maori

The next Christmas Memory comes from Radio New Zealand’s Pacific Journalist, Talei Anderson, who recalls a favorite Christmas dish: the steamed pudding…

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without steamed pudding for our whānau (family).

Unless we’re back home at our marae for a special occasion, Christmas is the only time we’re guaranteed to have this treat.

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Steamed Cranberry Pudding- picture from http://www.allrecipes.com

Steamed pudding is traditionally an English dessert with a long history of use in celebrations. The soft, moist, cake-like pudding is best served with custard or cream. Whether they remain in fashion in England or not, they are still a huge hit in my home, and because it uses low-cost ingredients, there’s always enough for sneaky seconds.

Besides the aunties in the far north, mum’s the only one who has the patience and skill to steam up enough pudding for everyone. She swears by this go-to recipe for anyone wanting to give it a go.

But never fear – if all goes wrong, well spoiler alert… the Kukis do a really good steam pudding and custard at Auckland’s night markets too!

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Steamed Pudding- picture from http://www.bite.co.nz

Steamed Pudding Recipe:

What you need:

4 cups standard flour

2 cups sugar

1 extra cup of sugar to burn

½ pound butter

4 tsp baking soda

2 tsp mixed spice

3 eggs

3 cups milk

1 large tin (mum uses one of the big cans of corned beef tins)

Foil

String

Large pot with a lid

Method:

1. Place one cup of sugar in a pot, stir and bring to the boil. As soon as it bubbles and rises, take it off the boil and stir until it is slightly cooled. Add hot water from a recently boiled jug and leave it to cool. Note – consistency should be like runny honey and not toffee-like. If this happens, boil again and add more water.

2. Place flour, sugar and butter in a large bowl and rub the mix with hands until fine, with no lumps of butter, like breadcrumbs.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, baking soda, mixed spice and milk.

4. Add the egg mixture to flour mixture and mix well.

5. Add the cooled burnt sugar mixture and mix well until there are no lumps.

6. Grease the inside of your tin well (with butter).

7. Pour mixture into your tin. Cover the tin with one layer of foil and push/lift up to allow rising space. Tighten foil around the tin and add two more layers of foil, again tightening around the tin.

8. Wrap string tightly around the tin and tie off. More string is best to ensure the seal is tight. You could tie a doubled piece of extra string to the sides and over the top of the foil to make a handle.

9. Place in a large pot of boiling water and cover with a fitted lid. Keep pot on boil for two and half hours.

10. Remove tin from pot of water, cut string and carefully tip the pudding out onto a dish. Leave to cool (if you can).

11. Serve with some custard, cream or vanilla ice cream and you’re good to go.

Enjoy and Merry Christmas!

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A Christmas Memory- ‘Hittin’ the ‘Otai’ Drink

Radio New Zealand Pacific journalist, Koro Vaka’uta, shared his favorite Christmas memory about a Tongan traditional drink that I thought worth sharing here…

Let’s be real – it never gets that tropical in Wellington but when it gets mildly warm during the two weeks of summer we get, (oh shush you know I’m telling the truth), my fāmili likes to draw upon my tamai or father’s Tongan roots and hit the ‘Otai.

No ‘Otai is not some island home-brew, (although it definitely takes me places on a hot day). ‘Otai is a favorite refreshing drink of the islands, predominately made with watermelon and coconut.

There are other variations including with Vi (June Plums), ‘Apele (Apple), Fainā (Pineapple) or Mango.

It’s a regular feature on our Christmas table, but in an effort to bring a bit of early Christmas cheer we thought we’d pre-empt the sun but found watermelons in short supply at our local supermarket. (If you’ve been keeping track of the Tongan meleni export saga you will understand why). Anyway this meant ‘Otai Mango was the way to go.

Full disclosure – because the Wellington suburb of Crofton Downs is a far cry from Nuku’alofa there is a major substitute in our Aotearoa version.

The Niu, or fresh coconut, is missing but never fear, by the wonders and development of preservatives we grab kapa Niu or canned coconut cream and desiccated coconut.

Now this is blasphemy for dad – and through the whole process of making our latest batch he states countless times how we should have searched for the real mcoy and grate it ourselves. But I’m nothing if not adaptable aka “lazy” and it’s a can and bag I bring to the kitchen bench.

The coconut is soaked in a couple of cups of water to revitalise it, the mangoes and apples are grated into a jug, coconut added (including with the water it soaked in), mix in the sugar, chuck in the can of coconut cream, mix some more, add the ice and voila – or should I say ‘osi – the ‘Otai Mango is done…well almost.

Another must for dad, and many other Tongans, is the addition of Mapakupaku or cabin bread.

Break it up and you have the Christmas cherry on top.

Ke mou ma’u ha Kilisimasi fiefia. Merry Christmas everyone!

4 mangoes

3 apples

Can of coconut cream

100gm (ish) of desiccated coconut.

1/2 cup of sugar

Half a dozen ice cubes

Packet of cabin bread

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“The Memory Project” at the National Archives of Fiji

Earlier this month the National Archives of Fiji released their first video as part of their new series- “The Memory Project.”

The vision at the National Archives of Fiji is to unite all Fijians through their archival records.

In this first story of “The Memory Project” series they took a look behind the scenes at how the Archives is safeguarding Fiji’s documentary heritage and encouraging people to connect to their cultural identity.

“The Memory Project” is a collaboration with the National Archives of Fiji and funded by Australian Aid.

Enjoy-

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Overcoming Pandemic with New Book in Cook Islands

There was an interesting article in the Cook Islands News and written by Katrina Tanirau that I would like to share. It was about how a local storyteller put energy into a new book to overcome isolation during the pandemic. 

Being away from his grandchildren when the borders closed earlier this year, Tuhe Piho decided to redirect his energy and put his stories to print. His first book, ‘Magical Cook Islands Sunrise,’ written in both Cook Islands Maori and English was the result. 

People of the Pacific are renowned for their magical storytelling abilities, a tradition that has been passed down through many generations.

Tuhe Piho is no exception. A beacon of hope and happiness, he has wowed people from around the world with his amazing tales while out in Ava’avaroa Passage swimming with turtles alongside his daughter, well-known photographer Charlotte.

Born on the island of Rakahanga, at the age of five, his father took him and his brother to Dunedin, New Zealand. “We would have been the first Cook Islanders to settle in Dunedin,” he said. “I am grateful to have been educated at Kings High School and then to have gone on to complete a degree at Otago University.”

After completing training at Dunedin Teachers’ College, Piho worked as a secondary school teacher for 30 years. He soon learned that he had a gift when it came to storytelling and loved incorporating storytelling into his teaching lessons.

With this home island paradise beckoning, Piho returned to Rarotonga in 2008, initially balancing teaching, running a stall at the Punanga Nui Market and supporting his daughter Charlotte’s Wellbeing Retreats. “I enjoyed continuing to share stories of our island, and it was heart-warming observing the energy and understanding it gave to others,” he said.

With the closing of the borders this year, Piho decided to redirect some of his time and energy to put his stories to print. “Being distanced from my grandchildren I wanted to be able to share stories with them from afar,” he said. 

His first book. ‘Magical Cook Islands Sunrise’, illustrated by Gonzalo Aldana, Piho said will make “you and your grandchild very happy.” Piho said at the end of the day, we are all children, so this book caters for all ages.

Visitors to Rarotonga, often complain about the noisy roosters, but finding out what it means when you don’t hear them will change this, he said. Through the book, he wants to help people see the positive in not only roosters, but all things. “Learning how nature feeds our souls with spectacular sunrises, will give more purpose to children when experiencing a sunrise. The book reminds us to always be grateful for nature and most importantly people that care for us.”

Most importantly Piho wrote ‘Magical Cook Islands Sunrise’ for his two-year-old grandson Carter who is based in New Zealand. “I wanted him to be able to experience a bit of the magic the Cook Islands offers. While also teaching him the importance of being grateful,” he said. “The book has also been written in Cook Island Maori, so that my New Zealand born grandchildren can learn how to speak their grandfather’s and our ancestors’ native tongue.”

The book can be ordered online at charlottepiho.com.

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Protecting Indigenous Lands in Solomon Islands

The Solomon Islands Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare, said his government wants to amend the Constitution to restrict the sale of land to foreigners.

Sogavare made the comments during the conclusion of parliament and said the proposal would be an effort to protect the country’s resources.

Speaking in parliament to conclude Sine Die, Sogavare said the amendment to the country’s constitution is to protect the ownership of the country’s resources.

“These will include a temporary restriction on the sale of land to foreigners by individuals, protection of indigenous peoples ownership over their traditional lands, relook at the customary land tenure system, introduction of the customary lands trust board, enacting provisions for free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) by ratifying and implementing the United Nations Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous People [UNDRIP (2007)]”, Sogavare says.

He said any amendment would include a temporary restriction on the sale of land to foreigners, the protection of indigenous people’s ownership of traditional land, a relook at the customary land tenure system and the introduction of the customary lands trust board.

Permanent Secretary of Lands, Stanley Wale, recently said indigenous Solomon Islanders were selling land to foreigners. Wale said currently there was no more land left in Honiara to be sold, saying most of it was now in foreign hands. “Most of the land now in foreigners’ hands are being sold to them by indigenous Solomon Islanders. It is us that gave our land away”, Wale said.

Prime Minister Sogavare said while his government was aware of the need to bring in investors, it also remained committed to protect its citizens, especially indigenous communities and resource owners. “On those grounds, DCGA is proposing an amendment to our constitution to protect the ownership of our resources”, Sogavare said.

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Traditional village house, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, photo from ICAS

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The Pacific Virtual Museum

Gude Hi Hai, Ni Sa Bula Vinaka, Håfa ådai, Fakaalofa lahi atu, Halo Olketa, Tālofa, Bonjour, Kia orana, Mālō e lelei, Ia Orana, Mālō nī, Talofa lava, Tēnā koutou katoa and warm Pacific greetings…

The Pacific Virtual Museum pilot project website, https://digitalpasifik.org/is now live. The site will provide access to Pacific cultural heritage items held in the world’s museums, libraries, archives, universities, and other institutions.

The aim is to empower people in and of the Pacific Islands, enabling them to see, discover and explore items of digitised cultural heritage that are held in collections around the world. People of the Pacific may not be aware these items or records exist, and we want to support them as they connect with these aspects of their own culture and history.

During this pilot, the role of the team is to support the ongoing development and delivery of the site and to ensure it is meeting the needs of Pacific people. To do so, we are focused on these areas:

  • Supporting our existing content partners, as they seek to add new records and refine the metadata of existing ones.
  • Engaging with any new content partners, based in the Pacific and beyond so that their knowledge and digitized content can be seen and found by those using the site.
  • Considering and managing the rollout of new functions and features, based on the feedback from users of the site, and ongoing advice from our co-design group.
  • Providing support and engagement to those who use the site. Our focus is on supporting educators and young people in the Pacific, but we are keen to connect with anyone with an interest in Pacific cultural heritage, including families, community groups, and researchers.
  • Monitoring and evaluating the use and impact of the site, to support the design of a sustainability plan for the site beyond February 2022.

“The design of the site allows Pacific Island peoples to see and explore items that are mostly held far away from their islands. We know that people of the Pacific may not be aware these items exist, and so it’s exciting to have developed a site that makes it easy and accessible for them to find and learn about these.” says Tim Kong, Program Manager of the Pacific Virtual Museum pilot. “We hope that the site will help Pacific island people of different generations connect and better understand the many unique cultures that make up the Pacific region.”

The website is designed by, with and for Pacific peoples, educators, learners and researchers. Representatives from libraries, universities, archives and museums from around and within the Pacific, as well as NGOs and those working with community groups, made up the initial co-design group.

The pilot project is funded until February 2022 and within that time the digitalpasifik.org site features will be further developed, content partners will be added, and the co-design group will continue to guide the delivery. A key part of the project will be to explore ways of sustainably implementing and supporting the pilot project aims beyond this date.

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Sunset in Palau, photo by Brandon Oswald

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Pitcairn Island During Pandemic

I came across an interesting article written by Sally Round of Radio New Zealand about how honey is helping to keep Pitcairn Islanders afloat after the global pandemic stopped cruise ship visits, a growing source of revenue for the island.

This year 21 ships were due to visit Pitcairn which was settled by Fletcher Christian, his fellow mutineers [of the ship Bounty] and their Polynesian wives in the late 18th century. Their descendants, who make up most of the 42-strong population, make money selling souvenirs and other local produce when the vessels anchor offshore during tours of the Pacific.

Homestay experiences were also part of the offering to the few tourists who venture to Pitcairn, a two week boat journey from New Zealand.

Pitcairn Islander Meralda Warren said locals depended on the tourists and households were making between $NZ12,000 and $20,000 annually. She said there had only been three cruise ship visits this year and income from tourism was now “almost non-existent.”

Where is Pitcairn Island? Map from http://www.spc.int

Since March the only ship allowed to visit is the supply vessel, the Silver Supporter, based in Tauranga, New Zealand. “We’re very strict. No yachts, no ships are allowed to stop. We’ve had a few come by but they haven’t been allowed to come ashore,” Warren said.

But thankfully online sales of honey had increased over the past couple of months, she said. “So the honey is still flowing however it’s terribly, terribly slow,” she told RNZ Pacific, pointing out the delays in shipping out of New Zealand because of the pandemic.

Since August the island, a British territory, had also been receiving extra aid from the British government to the tune of $500 per person per month, according to Warren. “It goes towards our store bill and paying off our medical loans,” she said.

I came across an interesting article written by Sally Round of Radio New Zealand about how honey is helping to keep Pitcairn Islanders afloat after the global pandemic stopped cruise ship visits, a growing source of revenue for the island.

This year 21 ships were due to visit Pitcairn which was settled by Fletcher Christian, his fellow mutineers [of the ship Bounty] and their Polynesian wives in the late 18th century. Their descendants, who make up most of the 42-strong population, make money selling souvenirs and other local produce when the vessels anchor offshore during tours of the Pacific.

Homestay experiences were also part of the offering to the few tourists who venture to Pitcairn, a two week boat journey from New Zealand.

Pitcairn Islander Meralda Warren said locals depended on the tourists and households were making between $NZ12,000 and $20,000 annually. She said there had only been three cruise ship visits this year and income from tourism was now “almost non-existent.”

Since March the only ship allowed to visit is the supply vessel, the Silver Supporter, based in Tauranga, New Zealand. “We’re very strict. No yachts, no ships are allowed to stop. We’ve had a few come by but they haven’t been allowed to come ashore,” Warren said.

But thankfully online sales of honey had increased over the past couple of months, she said. “So the honey is still flowing however it’s terribly, terribly slow,” she told RNZ Pacific, pointing out the delays in shipping out of New Zealand because of the pandemic.

Since August the island, a British territory, had also been receiving extra aid from the British government to the tune of $500 per person per month, according to Warren. “It goes towards our store bill and paying off our medical loans,” she said.

EU-funded improvements to community buildings had also helped the island this year, Warren said. Workers were being paid $10 an hour to build a new community center, store and post office.

Isolation of Pitcairn in a pandemic “emotional”

Pitcairn Island is one of only a handful of places world-wide which are free of Covid-19, which made Warren feel privileged but quite emotional. “We’re in isolation anyhow yet I don’t feel isolated. Sometimes I feel sad knowing how many people are dying. I sometimes feel guilty I’m living a normal life here on Pitcairn, one that I’ve known all my life and others … out there, they’re struggling.

“That makes me really, really sad that I can still drive or walk around Pitcairn and I can stop at a bush and pick off a berry or pick a banana off a tree, or taro from the valley,” she said.

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