The Fire-walkers of Beqa

We return to the Fiji Islands for our next legend. On the small island of Beqa the mystic gift of walking barefoot on hot stones is a widely told folklore, and little is known about the rare gift of healing bestowed upon this privileged group of people. Here’s the story that shows how people of this tiny island began walking on fire. This version of the legend was taken from book Pacific Island Legends. Enjoy!

The Fire-walkers of Beqa

Long, long ago the tribe called Sawau lived on the summit of a hill at a village called Na Valeisese. The large common house used by the men there was called Kauma. The people would gather in this house nightly to chat, and listen to story tellers and it was the duty of each one of the audience to provide food for the entertainer the next day.

One night, it was the turn of an old man named Dredre to be the story teller, and there was much discussion among the people as to what they would present to him by way of a feast on the morrow.

Another old man named Tui promised to provide some eels which were considered a great delicacy, so at dawn Tui went down to a small pool and found that a large stone had fallen into it, turning the water very muddy. Climbing on to the stone, he sat down and thought that perhaps the muddy water was caused by a big fish. He bent down and proceeded to dig around the base of the stone with a stick. By and by, he came across some leaves in the mud which interested him as they were of an unusual kind, so he jumped down into the hole he had made, and went on digging harder.

Then reaching down into the hole, he heaved out a great eel, which he threw over his shoulder to take as his contribution to the feast.

He had not moved far away when his burden spoke and said, “Don’t kill me. I will bring such good fortune to you that you will acquire great wealth,” and the eel slipped off his shoulder, the spirit within appearing in the form of a young man.

Tui replied, “All my tribe are poor- excepting me- I am rich.”

Then said the spirit, “My name is Tuimoliwai. Please let me live and I will make you the champion veitiqa player.”

But Tui replied, “All my tribe play veitiqa and I am their champion!”

“Please let me live,” begged Tuimoliwai, “and I will make you the handsomest man of your tribe, so that wherever you go or whoever takes part in festivals you will always be looked at and admired.”

“Oh no!” laughed Tui. “Whenever my tribe takes part in festivals, I alone am looked at.”

So Tuimoliwai pleaded again. “Let me live, I beg of you, and I will make you an expert navigator.”

“No you will not!” replied Tui. “I am the only navigator on Beqa. I possess a large canoe of my own, but I don’t like sailing.”

“If you will let me live, I will teach you how to be safe from terrific heat,” promised Tuimoliwai, getting desperate by now.

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“The Fire-walkers of Beqa,” illustration courtesy of Tara Bonvillain, copyright 2017.

“Say that again,” replied the old man, at last interested. Tuimoliwai did so adding, “Let us gather firewood for four days. After that we will spend yet another four days digging a pit. The fire will be lit in this oven and we shall bury ourselves in it and bake for four days and four nights, then we will come out of it and go our separate ways. I shall then have fulfilled the promise that I made to you for saving my life.”

Tui agreed to this, and the pair proceeded to a place called Na Maca. There a great oven was prepared and the stones heated for four days and nights, as explained by Tuimoliwai. After the embers were removed and the stones levelled, the two walked over the hot stones and then climbed out of the oven.

Tuimoliwai, taking the other by the hand cried out, “Let us now bury ourselves in this oven.” But tui was afraid that once he allowed the other to bury him in the hot stones he would run away and leave him to be cooked alive. So he said, “No, let us rather just step down into the stones, but not stay there long, lest my ornaments be burnt.”

This he safely did, and from that day to this, the tribe of Sawau have been able to walk on heated stones as their ancestor did long, long ago.

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The Cultural and Historical Impact of U.S. Military Buildup in Guam

The Pacific Daily News reported that several weeks ago representatives from the U.S. Department of Defense, government of Guam and public consultants met to review progress on the military buildup projects involving historic properties.

The workshop was an open space for participants to share their concerns on plans to preserve the cultural and historic artifacts on Guam, according to Maj. Tim Patrick, public affairs officer of Marine Corps Activity Guam. Among those in attendance were the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the State Preservation Offices of Guam and the CNMI and the Guam Legislature.

The military buildup is expected to relocate 5,000 Marines and their dependents from Okinawa to Guam. About $8.6 billion in federal funds is projected to be spent on the construction of a new base for training facilities, housing and other buildup projects. The plans are aligned with the 2011 Programmatic Agreement, which sets guidelines as to how the buildup will proceed while considering the impact on cultural and historical lands on Guam and Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

One of the accomplishments is the secured funding to construct a Guam Cultural Repository. The appropriated funds were made under the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. “All Guam archaeological artifacts and ancestral remains will be stored at the cultural repository upon completion,” Patrick said.

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Latte Stone Park, Guam

Al Borja, environmental director of Marine Corps Activity Guam, said the construction timeline and place for the repository is subject to the Office of the Governor and the Office of Economic Adjustment. ​Ancestral remains discovered during development currently are stored in a facility on U.S. Naval Base Guam, Borja said. The first step is getting the facility built, Borja said. Additional steps, like finding a funding source for facility maintenance and personnel, will follow the completion of the facility.

The military also has been working on keeping the public informed about what’s been going on with the buildup. Contractors coming in to work on several military installations have been educated on cultural resource awareness, Patrick said. That way, workers are more cautious and conservative of the land they’re working on.

The voices of Guam’s residents also must be heard, Patrick said. The military met with the Mayors Council of Guam and the villages to come up with an education plan for residents. Environmental and cultural campaigns have been planned on a monthly basis to let the community know about preservation projects, such as the medicinal plant collection. “Every acre of previously undisturbed land that we will develop, we set aside another acre for conservation or risk mitigation measures,” Patrick said.

The workshop also touched on historic properties nominated to be nationally registered. Being on the National Register of Historic Places is a special recognition that preserves a site deemed culturally and historically significant, Borja said.

Among the nominations are the Maulap River site, the Tumon Maui Well, the Torres farm and Japanese bunkers at Dådi Beach. Finegayan and Northwest Field weren’t included as nominations, but Patrick said data recovery projects are being conducted for mitigation. Terlaje stated the Department of Defense said the properties would be disturbed by military activity.

Terlaje took issue with the firing ranges at Northwest Field, saying the land wasn’t reviewed in the Programmatic Agreement. She said the firing ranges overlay historic properties and shouldn’t be disturbed.

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Indigenous Book Series Launched in Vanuatu

A workshop was recently held at the Vanuatu Cultural Center (VKS) to introduce the revised editions of a series of books for teachers entitled Teaching Indigenous Knowledge and Resources Management in the Primary School.

The books form part of a Vanuatu Cultural Center project, initiated by the Hon Minister Ralph Regenvanu when he was Director of the Cultural Center, which aimed to strengthen the role of the traditional economy in Vanuatu following the launch of the Year of the Traditional Economy in 2007.

Attending the workshop were the School Improvement Officer Coordinators from each province, primary science lecturers from VITE, representatives from the Santo language project based at the Anglican Diocese in Luganville and a representative of the VKS Lands Desk.

Facilitating the workshop were Sue Baereleo, who has coordinated the project and wrote the teacher guides and Dolores Nwolgen, who is Provincial Education Trainer for Torba and has had successful experience in incorporating the teaching of indigenous knowledge in school.

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Carvings (perhaps, tam-tams) from Vanuatu

During the two days of the workshop, which was opened with an inspiring address by Mr John Nirua of the Department of Education, participants discussed the importance of primary school children being given the opportunity to learn the traditional knowledge of their communities, as well as the knowledge which comes from overseas and forms the basis of the education curriculum. They then looked at the design of the books. These provide activities about traditional environmental knowledge to supplement the Primary Science Teacher Guides produced by the Curriculum Development Unit for schools.

These follow the topics and outcomes of the national science syllabus. Finally they discussed how teachers could work closely with the chief and members of the school’s community to strengthen the link between the community and the school, with all learning taking place through the medium of the children’s own language, and how the workshop participants could help teachers to use the books with their classes.

The workshop was activity based. One of the highlights was the participation of a class of children from Central School, who learnt from the participants some cultural activities which could be used to support the environmental topics in the books. Another highlight was the production of dramatic scenes by the participants highlighting some of the challenges involved in enabling schools and communities to work together.

The revised editions of the books are now in Years One, Two and Three of all primary schools and those for Years Four, Five and Six will be distributed when the new national curriculum materials for those levels have been developed.

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The Preservation of the Niuean Language

In April of this year Niuean leaders gathered at the Vagahau Niue (Niue language) Conference held in the village of Mutalau and called for locals and Niueans living abroad to fight for the preservation of the Niuean language. Although only 1600 Niueans live on the island, there are approximately 30,000 Niueans that live overseas.

The two day conference brought together speakers from corporate, government and NGO sectors from across the South Pacific with the united aim of helping Niueans sustain and use their language to strengthen their culture and maintain ties with Niue nationals living abroad.

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Where is Niue?

Tifaole Ioane, who is the Chairperson of the Niue Language Commission, said that while colonization has had its benefits, it also led to the suppression of Vagahau Niue. She went to primary school in Niue in the 1960’s and recalled how children were forbidden to speak Vagahau Niue in school. Ioane said, “In my own time, you know, having gone to school here, I can remember having to be punished for speaking Niuean and having to write lines “I must not speak Niuean. I must not speak Niuean…”

Back then, she said, locals were taught that their culture and language were inferior to that of the west and the English language. Now, elders are trying to turn that mentality around. “The problems that colonizers had left behind you know, they’ve taught us well to look down on our culture, to look down on our language” she said. “You know, at this late stage, we’re trying to grip onto it and trying to think otherwise. Now we’re learning that there is a lot of value in our own culture.”

 

Dr. Robert Early, who is the Head of the Department of Languages at the University of the South Pacific also spoke at the conference and said that it is even more challenging to sustain Vagahau Niue.

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He had high praises for the locals who he thought were doing a great job in making sure the language is preserved. “I think the people here have made some absolutely amazing progress in some of the resources that they’ve developed, in their education programs, their commitment, their language policy environment that they’ve created through the National Language Commission and so on,” he said. “So there are a lot of really good signs in place for continuing to support the maintenance and even the development and expansion of the Niuean language in Niue itself.”

Guest speaker, Ina Vakaafi, moved back to Niue from New Zealand with her family when she was seven years old. She arrived in 1990, just two years after all the outer schools were amalgamated into one primary school in Niue’s capital, Alofi.

She said she was placed in a mono-lingual classroom with other children of expatriates living in Niue, until she could merge into the bilingual classrooms where Vagahau Niue was used in the curriculum. “I only knew English, I was in a monolingual class and I noticed that I was the only brown kid in there and I asked the teacher ‘Ok, how do I get to that class?’ and she said ‘You need to learn your Vagahu Niue'” she explained. “I found it so hard just trying to get my lunch off my cousin. She spoke Vagahau Niue, I only spoke English. So those are some of the things that motivated me to learn quickly.”

Ms Vakaafi said Niue youth, both local and abroad, often lack confidence to speak Vagahau Niue because they’re embarrassed they might say something wrong. She added that it was crucial that Vagahau Niue is passed on and more youth should be encouraged and supported to sustain it. “We are the custodians of a language that very few people speak, and we should be proud of that. But we need to be sure that we pass it on the best that we can to the next generation.”

 

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Debolar, The First Coconut

The coconut tree is known as the “tree of life” and many legends in the Pacific Islands are about how they began. The tree is a vital part of their societies, and without coconuts, most of the tropical islands in the region would have remained uninhabited for both people and animals. In past posts we have seen how the coconut began in the Cook Islands and Tonga. This next legend show us how the coconut tree was introduced in the Marshall Islands.

Debolar, The First Coconut

Likileo is a place on the ocean side of Woja Island in beautiful Ailinglaplap Atoll. In Likileo, there once lived a good woman named Limokare, who had several children. She had no idea that one of them would become famous.

Her first child, a son named Lokam, looked much like other boys. But when her second child was born, all the people of the village came to see, for it was a very strange baby indeed. It was a coconut. Small and green, and with a clever little face that had eyes, nose and mouth, but still- a coconut!

The mother was pleased with her baby. She named him Debolar. No one had ever seen a coconut before, and the people of the village admired the odd little baby. All, that is, except his elder brother, Lokam, who didn’t like him at all.

“Why do you keep that queer-looking thing?” he said to his mother again and again. “Kill it, and throw it away.”

“No!” cried the mother. “Debolar is my baby, I love him.” She gave him milk, and he drank until his little belly grew full and round. If there is a person who doesn’t believe that Debolar could drink milk, let him look inside a coconut. It is filled with milk.

The mother gave Debolar the best of care. She wove him a little basket. She used koba, or bamboo, which was of great value in those days. It didn’t grow in Woja Island but sometimes came drifting in on the tide. Limokare put the baby in the basket and hung it up. She rocked him and sang him to sleep.

Debolar

“Debolar, The First Coconut,” illustration courtesy of Tara Bonvillain, copyright 2017.

Lokam, the elder brother, thought that was very silly. “I won’t be a brother to such a thing,” he said. “I don’t care to be in the same house with it.” After a while, Lokam went away and found another home.

Debolar grew larger and larger. Soon, he learned to talk and to understand what people said. In that way, he found out that Lokam was asking their mother to get rid of her baby. “Don’t listen to that brother of mine,” said Debolar to his mother. “He’ll never be of much use to you. I’m small, and I look odd, it’s true. But I’ll be valuable some day. I’ll make you comfortable and happy. Just wait and see.”

“Don’t worry my son,” said Limokare. “I’m not going to throw you away. You came into this world for a good reason.”

“And so I did,” replied Debolar. “I came into this world to be eaten and worn and used.”

“Eaten, my poor child!” exclaimed his mother. “And worn! And used!”

One day, he said to his mother, “The time has come for you to bury me under your window.” The window was made of thatch. It swung out, a little way from the ground, making a shelter.

“Bury you alive, my poor little baby?” she cried.

“Yes, alive,” replied Debolar. “I’m not going to die. I will live. I’ll come back to you and stay with you always.”

“How can you come back, and how shall I know you, my child?” asked Limokare.

“I’ll be a tree,” said Debolar.

“And what’s that, my son?”

“Wait and see,” he said. “I’ll be very small at first, and I’ll need your care. But I’ll grow, and I’ll have many parts. Every one of them will be useful. And I’ll have dozens of children and hundreds of grandchildren.”

The mother buried the coconut baby under her window, as he had told her to do. She looked there many times a day. The people of the village didn’t believe that she would see Debolar again. “He’s gone forever,” they said.

“And so much the better,” said the elder son, Lokam. “You did right to put him into the ground. Just let stay there.”

One day the mother saw a small, green sprout. “Debolar is coming,” she said. It was a leaf, folded around itself. She opened it carefully. “How beautiful! It looks like the wing of the flying fish.” She gave the little coconut sprout a name, drirjojo. The word drir meant “sprout” and jojo meant “flying fish.”

People came from far and near to see the first tree in all the world. They called it ni, which became the Marshallese word for “coconut.”

The little tree became tall and beautiful and strong. It grew away from the window, high in the air. At its top grew waving leaves that made cool shade for Limokare. She often sat beneath them and wove mats from them. The tree was a great blessing to her. It gave her many useful things.

The elder brother, Lokam, no longer wanted Debolar to be killed. He also liked the gifts of the coconut tree. He boasted about his brother. “We kept him, and we cared for him, and we planted him,” he said. “Now the rest of you may have his coconut children and grandchildren. They will be your food, your drink, your oil, your clothes, your wood and your houses.” He would look around to see if all the people were listening. Then he would say, “Don’t forget, I’m his brother.”

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Happy International Archives Day 2017!

June 9th is upon once again and many of you may remember that this date means International Archives Day.

Here’s the inspiring message from David Fricker, President of the International Council on Archives (ICA):

“This year’s International Archives Day theme “Archives, Citizenship and Interculturalism” resonates with our ICA mission to encourage and support the development of archives in all countries while respecting cultural diversity.

Through the sharing of experiences, research and archival records management we enrich and strengthen our role as archivists. In supporting accountability, access to records and good governance, we are directly contributing to democracy and the enhancement of citizen’s rights.

Congratulations to all of you who have organised an event around the theme “Archives, Citizenship and Interculturalism” for today. Your involvement in International Archives Day highlights the rich contribution archival collections make to the world and the essential role of the archivists.”

Check out the International Archives Day Program Map on the ICA Website.

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Records on display at the National Archives of Fiji during IAD 2016

 

Many organisations in the Pacific Islands will be celebrating this day.

In Port Moresby the National Archives and Public Records Services of PNG is organizing the IAD. They have formed a small organizing committee to inform Records Managers of various government agencies and major libraries in PNG and the Information and Communication Science Strand of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Papua New Guinea. The Activities they  have planned include film shows, an exhibition and tours to the National Archives by Schools in Port Moresby. The highlight of the International Archives Day will be an exhibition of the Centenary Photographic Exhibition of St. John’s Anglican Cathedral Parish of Port Moresby 1915 – 2015.

The Solomon Islands National Archives will celebrate the event on their front lawn. Displays will be placed for public viewing, and an information desk will also be set-up for those who attend.

Hopefully, other organizations in the region will be celebrating this important day. Check the PARBICA Facebook page for photos and stories.

 

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Conservation Outreach to be Conducted by Traditional Samoan Canoe

The Samoana Folauga or Moana Conservation Outreach was officially launched this past April by Conservation International (CI), Samoa Voyaging Society, the Government of Samoa and partners.

Sponsored by Conservation International and the Disney Conservation Fund this was the “first-of-its kind” collaboration that brought conservation sustainable environmental and cultural stewardship education to Samoan coastal communities on the Gaualofa, Samoa’s traditional double-hulled voyaging canoe.

Captain Fealofani Bruun, her crew, along with a team of local environmental and cultural educators visited communities on the Gaualofa to host free outdoor screenings of Disney’s Moana accompanied with interactive training on basic coastal and marine management principles, Samoan traditional voyaging, and cultural heritage site appreciation and preservation.

“This is a very exciting project for all partners involved and for our local conservation efforts. We are collaborating in the true spirit of conservation and utilizing an iconic traditional platform, our very own voyaging Va’a, in which to communicate these stewardship messages with our communities,” said SVS President and Marine Program Director of CI’s Pacific Oceanscape program, Mr. Schannel van Djiken.

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The project was a collaborative effort between CI, MNRE, MAF, Samoa Voyaging Society, Samoa Conservation Society, Youth Climate Action network, Samoa Hotel Association, Spacifix Marketing and the Center of Samoa Studies at the National University of Samoa

The Gaualofa dropped anchor in six locations where the crew and representatives from MAF, MNRE, NUS, Samoa Conservation Society and SVS worked with the communities on conservation efforts on the ground.

“We have brought together a very strong team of local conservation professionals from Government and NGOs, with varying backgrounds both in terrestrial and marine experience, and cultural heritage academics, so we have a very exciting programme planned,” said van Dijken.

The program was officially launched in Apia, followed by the sail to Satitoa, Aleipata. After these visits,  the Gaulofa dropped anchor at Poutasi, Manono, Salelologa, Fagamalo, Asau.

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