Vanuatu’s Customary Taro and Yam Exchange

The Vanuatu Daily Post ran an interesting article about a ceremony that recently took place on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu called the ‘niel’ ceremony. This was one of those unique events that could only take place in the Pacific Islands. Back in July  a ship arrived at the island carrying approximately 50,000 tubers of taro that was exchanged for yams.

According to the Minister of Lands, Ralph Regenvanu, the name of the ceremony in the language of this area is ‘nieri’, while other areas on Tanna refer to it as ‘niel’. “The Tree and the Canoe: History and Ethnogeography of Tanna,” authored by Joël Bonnemaison states that two of the great rites of Tanna’s contemporary kastom (traditional culture) refer to the ‘nepro’ society, which entails the sharing of food among allies. It further states that the ‘niel’ excludes any form of profit-making and does not designate a winner or loser.

“Tanna’s first society has no knowledge of debt, that powerful mechanism of social stratification which prevails in the graded societies of the northern part of the group,” said Bonnemaison. “Here, what has been received, is strictly given back, and what is owned is given away with expectations of receiving it back from one’s ally.” He notes that the ‘niel’ rites tend to deal with specific food, citing examples of a ‘yam niel’ in exchange for a ‘taro niel’, a ‘banana niel’ for a ‘sugarcane or fish niel’.

The Vanuatu Daily Post understood that the highly respected late Chief Jacob Kapere was documenting the preparations of the niel ceremony before his sudden passing. As former Director of the Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta (VKS), Kirk Huffman stated, it would be almost impossible for the nation to replace the late chief Kapere’s vast cultural filming experience.

The former VKS Director previously revealed that the late chief’s important field video film was his detailed film documentation of the opening ceremonies of the then newly-constructed vast traditional nakamal (traditional meeting place) in the village of Purao, Tongoa Island, in January 1987.


The market in Port Vila, Vanuatu

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Beauty Within PNG

I recently received an announcement about the first female solo art exhibition in Papua New Guinea (PNG) that I thought was very special and would like to share with those that did not hear about it. “Beauty Within (PNG)” is a contemporary art exhibition featuring works in watercolor, natural dyes and mixed media by Joycelin Kauc Leahy at the Royal Papua Yacht Club in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea on November 14, 2017.

Fifty works of art, studies and techniques culminates for the first time a large body of work shown by a single Papua New Guinean female artist in PNG. “I hope to bring focus to PNG’s simplicity in people, places and things that may seem common or typical, but has an aesthetic beauty about it, and I mean not just culture,” Leahy said. “A baby in a bilum (traditional bag), children at play, birds, and typically how our life is simple and less “technologized” is what I’m interested in,” she added.

Joycelin Leahy lives in Brisbane, Australia, and works across Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands. She is a mostly self-taught artist who loves watercolor and has developed her own natural pigments from plants to use in her painting. These are seen in some of her ‘gum ladies’ paintings. Her painting style is influenced by her rich, colorful and unique Papua New Guinea heritage.

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While she can draw and paint with other mediums, the natural pigments link to her heritage inspires her to continue to practice using some of these natural dyes before they disappear from her culture. Her love of this art-process stemmed from her childhood growing up in Wagang Village, Lae, Papua New Guinea. As a child, she spent days making paint from vines, leaves and fruits to paint grass skirts, bilums, tapa and headdresses with her grandmother, aunts and family members. She was also dancing with her singsing group, and throughout high school and University years, she danced with many other PNG provincial groups. This enabled her to understand the cultural dresses and the significance of the materials with performances and beliefs.

Leahy said, ” I am part of a tribe. I was raised by my mother and grandmother. Like many indigenous people who continue to struggle to hold on to their heritage, I feel that it is my responsibility to work hard to protect, preserve and sustain what belongs to my people. My art and my writing is one way of promoting and protecting heritage. ”

She continued, ” When I was growing up, we learnt from our elders. The connection we had with the land, animals, spirits and our ancestors remains a powerful force within me. When I paint, the magic is in letting go, observing, being in and feeling one with nature. Often I finish an artwork and I don’t remember where it came from.”

Leahy holds a Masters in Museum Studies from the University of Queensland, Australia, and a Diploma in Journalism from the University of Papua New Guinea. She began practicing art in a professional capacity between 2016 and the beginning of 2017. Before becoming an artist full-time, she painted and drew for fun and spent her artistic and writing abilities to help promote the work of other Melanesian and Pacific Island artists and communities for almost 30 years. She is known for her work in climate change and intangible cultures, Pacific Storms Contemporary Art Exhibition and the Melanesian Wantok 2017 Showcase in Australia.

Leahy would like to sincerely thank the major sponsors of the exhibition: Royal Papua Yacht Club, Moore Printing, Frameshop, Whittaker, Kalem, and DHL Express (PNG).

“Beauty Within (PNG)” will, unfortunately, run for only one night. Hopefully, another exhibition featuring her works will be on display in the near future.

Good luck Ms. Leahy!

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Traditional Canoe Donated to Guam Museum

I have been meaning to share an interesting story that broke out in Guam a couple of months ago but just got sidetracked with other stories and events. The story of interest came from the Guam Daily Post who reported that the Guam Museum is now home to a scale-model of a sakman, the largest of several indigenous water vessels that first sailed the Marianas more than 3,000 years ago. The canoe, named “Tåsi,” was built in about nine months using only organic, native materials, according to its craftsman, Ignacio Camacho. “The only thing not organic is the paint. Other than that, it’s held together by glue made from sap and rope made from coconut fibers,” Camacho said. “You have to know what you’re looking for; if someone leaves you on a desert island, ideally you’d know enough to eventually build a canoe and sail out of there.”

A blessing ceremony was held to commemorate Tåsi in the foyer of the museum. Camacho blew a kulo’ in its honor, at the place where it will be housed “indefinitely.” The museum administrator Monica Guzman said, “Thanks to the generosity of Lotte Duty Free Guam, which initially contracted TASI (Traditions About Seafaring Islands) for its construction, we have this beautiful canoe to greet museum visitors at our doors.”

Although much smaller than an actual sakman, Camacho said the craft is still seaworthy, so long as its navigator weighs less than 200 pounds. In any case, the sakman is more than just a cultural symbol or museum display item, and its significance cannot be understated.


A Chamorro sakman- from

“This canoe is the reason why Chamorros exist in the Marianas today. This was the first vessel to enter into the Marianas from Southeast Asia, and it’s because of its magnificence that we can call these islands home,” Camacho said.

“It took nine months to build this thing – so I sort of consider it my baby,” Camacho joked. “I’m glad that it’s now out here for thousands to see and appreciate.” By European accounts, the sakman was an impressive vessel and was used for long-range fishing and trade voyages. During the Spanish colonial era, the sakman and other out-of-reef vessels were destroyed by colonizers to stifle Chamorro movement to more easily establish power.

TASI is one of two Guam-based seafaring organizations practicing and passing on indigenous seafaring knowledge.

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Mr. Moonlight Book Signing

I would just like to share some photos of the book signing event for my biography of Robert Dean Frisbie titled Mr. Moonlight of the South Seas and published by Dockside Sailing Press. The event took place this past Sunday, October 29, at Lido Village Books in Newport Beach, California.

It turned out to be a fantastic afternoon with a very lively and inquisitive crowd. I enjoyed sharing many conversations about Robert Dean Frisbie with everyone. It was great to see so many family members and friends and, of course, making new acquaintances.

One of the highlights of the afternoon was that Robert Dean Frisbie’s daughter, Elaine, was in attendance. How awesome was that? It was great getting to know her and sharing stories about her father, Pukapuka and the Cook Islands.

A big mahalo and meitake and thanks to Dockside Sailing Press and Lido Village Books for sponsoring the event. It was terrific fun! Oh, and cheers to my daughter, Devin, for taking the photos.

Okay- now for some photos:


Brandon Oswald ready to sign books! Love that shirt!


Publisher Craig Smith and Elaine Frisbie


A busy table


Signing a book in my groovy Bula shirt!

Don’t forget to get your copy of the book on!

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2017 World Day for Audiovisual Heritage

The World Day for Audiovisual Heritage will take place this week on October 27.

The day has become a key initiative for both UNESCO and the Coordinating Council of Audiovisual Archives Associations (CCAAA) to honor audiovisual preservation professionals and institutions that help to safeguard this heritage for future generations despite the many technical, political, social, financial, and other factors that threaten its survival. Audiovisual archives around the world join together annually on 27 October to celebrate their work with activities and events that not only highlight the vulnerability of this heritage, but also celebrate the often unheralded work of the heritage institutions that protect it.

This year the theme of the World Day  for Audiovisual Heritage is “Discover, Remember and Share”.

Discover: Each day hundreds of thousands of  recordings  are captured, preserved and annotated  by archivists to enable search, discovery , new interpretations,  uses and enjoyment of moving image and sound recordings. Celebrate the voyages of discovery made possible by your archive in your domain.  Showcase and promote  your mission and work.
Share: Digital media has created opportunities as never before for archives to connect directly with their publics, sharing and engaging with new audiences across digital  platforms in ever new ways.  Promote  your shared archive events and celebrations with the archive community worldwide .

Remember: Audio-visual archives are a  cornerstone of the memory of the world, with recordings that enable recall for future generations and give context to our shared history, culture and humanity for over a century.  Promote a greater understanding of the unique role of audiovisual archives and  the need for it to be safeguarded , preserved and protected as part of our world heritage.

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The eight associations forming the CCAAA (AMIA, ARSC, FIAF, FIAT-IFTA, FOCAL International, IASA, ICA, SEAPAVAA) strongly encourage all their members (and any other institutions) not only to join in the global celebrations of the 2017 World Day on and around 27 October, but also to share the information about their particular events, by filling the quick-and-easy form  (click on Add a new World Day for Audiovisual Heritage event).

Your descriptive text can be in the language of your choice (or even better… in several languages), but they ask you to limit it to 500 words max. You can also attach one image per event. Please fill in and submit one form per event. Your contributions will be automatically added to the list of Word day events on this page (the latest added event will appear at the top of the list).

Happy 2017 World Day for Audiovisual Heritage!

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Preserving Traditions in Fiji

Last month the Fiji Times Online published an article written by Sikeli Qonadovu about how the The Ministry of iTaukei (indigenous people of the Fiji Islands) Affairs is encouraging chiefs, village elders and everyone to share their traditional knowledge with the younger generation. Further loss can be suffered if the knowledge is not shared.

It is wrong to say the forefathers should be blamed because of their failure to share this unique identity. Technological advancement and the evolution of time should not be a reason either. The question that needs to be asked by every indigenous person registered under the Vola ni Kawa Bula is who has the prime responsibility and the duty to preserve, protect and teach the unique identity, that is never found anywhere else in the world? When will we begin and who will share this traditional knowledge?

“We (indigenous) are going through one of the most trying times in our lives and that is the protection of traditional knowledge,” said iTaukei Affairs Ministry permanent secretary Naipote Katonitabua.

“In some of the villages we have visited, we have been informed there are those who are running away from their traditional roles and responsibilities. Some do not know how to speak their own dialect and practice the social practices they are known for. The message from the iTaukei Affairs Ministry is simple — it begins at home. Can parents, village elders and chiefs take the lead role and teach their children their traditional roles and responsibilities? Speak to them in their own dialects, because this is the only way to preserve our identity.”


Traditional Fijian house, bure

Since 2004, officials from the iTaukei Affairs Ministry had visited 13 provinces in the country through its cultural mapping program. Katonitabua said, “The records we have are accessible to members of the public but in saying that, we encourage you to please share your knowledge and teach your children now. Do not rely on the education system to teach your children their cultural and traditional identity. The best classroom is at home. Teach them from home and teach them now.”

Director of the iTaukei Institute of Language and Culture Emi Bainimarama said through their cultural mapping program, they had detailed accounts and records from oral traditions, stories, myths and legends, social practices, rituals and festive events, herbal medicine and so on. Bainimarama said all records were kept in their traditional knowledge and expression of culture database and were accessible to members of the public through certain conditions.

She added they also had a special revitalization unit that could help teach those who had somehow lost their traditional knowledge. Bainimarama said they were working closely with the curriculum advisory services under the Ministry of Education for student-based programs.

If Government is trying its best to protect, conserve and teach our traditional knowledge and way of life, it is only fair to say that every indigenous also has a duty to do the same.


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Mr. Moonlight Book Signing Event

Although I added the book signing event on the ICAS Facebook page, I wanted to make sure that I share it on this page as well.

The Fall releases of Dockside Sailing Press books will be exclusively featured at Lido Village Books, Sunday, October 29, 3:00 to 6:00pm. Besides Mr. Moonlight, there will be two other book signings. These include the books, Trapped in Paradise, Catholic Nuns in the South Pacific 1940-1943 by Eileen McNerney and Maureen Habel, eds., and Twenty-two Ocean View: Terrorists Among Us by Craig B. Smith.

Lido Village Books is located:

3424 Via Oporto, Newport Beach, California, 92663 USA

Hope to see you there!

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About Mr. Moonlight of the South Seas:

Mr. Moonlight of the South Seas describes the adventurous life of American author Robert Dean Frisbie, who lived in the South Seas from 1920 until his death in 1948. Although he is part of a long line of South Seas writers that began with Herman Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson, Frisbie managed to do what very few of these writers could do—after going to the Pacific, he stayed there for the rest of his life. He first arrived in Tahiti, French Polynesia, where he met author James Norman Hall. The two would remain friends for the rest of their lives. Hall and Charles Nordhoff wrote Mutiny on the Bounty and later the Bounty Trilogy. After four years in Tahiti, Frisbie left for the tiny atoll of Pukapuka, Cook Islands, where he hoped the solitude would enable him to write his masterpiece. Frisbie embraced life there; he married, had children and lived a life completely different from those of his American contemporaries. He was also a contemporary of James Michener. Frisbie’s writings would put Pukapuka on the map and his adventures would become the stuff of Pacific Islands’ lore.


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