How the Masi Dived for a Sunbeam

Our next legend comes from the Solomon Islands. Although the story is a bit on the macabre side, it is a very unique tale from one of the most mysterious island nation in the world. The legend was found in the book, Tales from the South Seas.

How the Masi Dived for a Sunbeam

The Masi were a tribe of people noted for their foolishness and ignorance. One day six Masi men who lived by the seashore found some bait used for catching porpoises, so they said to one another, “Come, let us launch our large canoe and see if we can catch a porpoise.” So they launched their canoe and took their places in it and began to paddle, saying to one another, “Paddle, swiftly, paddle swiftly.”

Then the first one who had taken his place in the canoe happened to look down into the water beneath him, and there he saw a sunbeam. “Friends,” said he, “down there is a mother-of-pearl crescent shaped ornament which we can get for ourselves. Don’t paddle hard.”

They all sat very still, and looking down into the water they saw the sunbeam. “Yes, yes, a mother-of-pearl ornament which we can certainly get,” they said.

Then the leader said to the rest, “I will dive down and bring it up to you.” So he jumped over, and the others all kept their paddles stiff so as to steady the canoe, but the leader could not reach the bottom where the sunbeam was. So the second man said, “Well, keep your paddles stiff, and I’ll try what I can do. Surely I can reach it.” But he could not, nor could any of them, though they all tried in turn.

So they said to one another, “Come along, comrades, let us paddle back to the shore.” Back they went and searched for stones with a hole through them, and tough creepers to tie to them. Then each taking a stone, they once more embarked in their canoe. They paddled out again to the deep water and there they saw the sunbeam, just the same as before. “There it is, comrades,” cried the leader, “steady the canoe, and I’ll go down.”

When the canoe was steady they tied a large stone to his foot while he said to them, “You wait about here a long time, for I shan’t come quickly to the surface again. No doubt I shall have some trouble with that bit of mother-of-pearl.” They let him down over the side, and down he went, deeper and deeper, but he never came up again.

They waited about, watching the bubbles, floating up to the surface in the spot where he dived, and said to one another, “He is sure to get it.”

After a time the second one said, “Well, he is such a long time I will dive down too and give him a hand.” So he too tied a stone to his foot and was let down over the side, while the others said, “The two of them are sure to get it.”

But when he, too, did not return, they all went down one after the and only the bubbles marked the place where the Masi had tried to dive for the Sunbeam.

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“How the Masi Dived for a Sunbeam,” illustration by Tara Bonvillain, copyright 2017.

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Women and Art in Fiji

A couple of months ago The Fiji Times Online ran a story written by Matilda Simmons that I thought was interesting and would like to summarize for you. The article was titled “Woman Power in Art” and was about an artist in Fiji named Asinate Qima Grace.

Some say art is the expression of human creative skill and imagination. Whether it be in dance, music or visual form such as painting or sculpture, it’s the beauty or emotional power that makes it endearing.

After visiting some of the art galleries around Fiji, one is assured of the great depth in creativity of their local artists. The splash of colors and the traditional designs makes them stand out from the rest of the world. Fijian artists, like other Pacific artists, have their own element of appeal. While some have reached the pinnacle of their career, we have yet to see an artist break through on the international art arena. Here’s hoping we see that in our lifetime.

An emerging artist who is making a name for herself is Asinate Qima Grace. The Ba native took part in her first ever public exhibition at the Sofitel Art Festival last month. The 22-year-old is a self-taught artist with her work mostly done with ink and soft pencils on paper. Just recently she started on acrylic on canvas.

Her art has elements of her cultural Fijian heritage, with a modern and contemporary twist. She says she considers her art as a hobby, mostly giving her pieces to family, friends and just anyone who’s interested in her art. “I hope one day my work will be known professionally,” said the artist who is based at Sigavou Studios. “At the moment I am learning new techniques to better my work.”

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One of her latest works is “Marama Qaqa”, which is iTaukei for “strong woman” or “woman’s strength”. Grace said those women had nurtured her to be the person she was today. They include her grandmothers, from the maternal and paternal sides and her dear mother. “Their strength, unwavering faith and unique iconic buiniga (traditional Fijian hair style), have always been my inspiration. I want to follow in their footsteps, and hopefully impact a new generation of women in her culture.”

To look at collections from the Sigavou Studios, simply click here.

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Cook Islands Culture to Be Showcased at Cultural Center in Hawaii

The Cook Islands News reported that the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) in Hawaii has been working with the Cook Islands government and Church of Latter-day Saints leaders for the past year to showcase a group of 17 Cook Island Maori performers and cultural leaders during a six-week run from July 17 to August 24, 2017.

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PCC senior manager William Mahoni, who has been coordinating logistics for the group’s appearance said they will perform each afternoon in a temporary mini-village near the canoe landing between the Hawaiian and Tahitian Villages, and several evenings each week in the gazebo at the PCC’s Hukilau Marketplace. “We have had a few small groups and special visitors from the Cook Islands over the years, but this will be the first time we will have a group stay for six weeks. We’re excited,” Mahoni said.

Mahoni, a New Zealand Maori, said the Cook Island Maori were particularly well known for their “symphony of drumming”. “The beats are very different from Tahitian, for example. When I spoke with the Tahitians recently, they were very excited to learn that the Cook Islanders are coming.”

In addition to the performances and crafts, Mahoni said group members will also talk about Cook Islands traditional medicine. “The group consists of five drummers, four female dancers, four male dancers, and two weavers, plus the group leaders,” he said.

Piltz Napa, an alumnus of BYU–Hawaii said Cook Islands deputy prime minister and Culture minister Teariki Heather was driving the appearance of the Cook Islands group at the center. Napa said Heather had held follow-up discussions with the presidents of PCC and BYU–Hawaii. They drew up a memorandum of understanding that the government would be a part of our coming here to showcase the Cook Islands culture. “The minister is very passionate about education and culture; and in partnership with BYUH and PCC, we hope to get opportunities for member and non-member students to come here on study-work scholarships.”

“With the Cook Islanders, we will see a culture that is similar, for example, to the Tahitians, but also unique in many ways,” Mahoni continued. “In another example, take a Cook Islander speaking Cook Island Maori and a Hawaiian from the privately-owned island of Niihau, and they’ll be able to understand each other.” The Niihau dialect of Hawaiian is considerably different from standard Hawaiian.

As with all Polynesian Cultural Center employees, the visiting Cook Islands group has agreed to abide by the PCC’s dress, grooming and behavior standards, and have participated in an abbreviated orientation program.

If you are going to be in Hawaii within the next several weeks, do not miss this event!

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The Greedy Giant and Palau

The Palau Islands in Micronesia is the setting of our next featured legend. It tells the story on how the islands of Palau were formed. Today, the Palau island chain consists of about 200 islands located in the western Pacific Ocean, but only eight of the islands are permanently inhabited. Enjoy the story!

The Greedy Giant and the Palau Islands

In Angaur Island, long ago, there was born a child whose parents named him Uwab. He was no different from other children, except that he was very greedy. He ate entirely too much. He grew so fast that it was a surprise to all who saw him.

From the very beginning, he ate more each day than his father and mother together. He ate so much that when he was a few years old, he was much larger than either of them. The more food they gathered and cooked for him, the more he wanted, for he was selfish as well as greedy. He became taller and taller and fatter and fatter. He became too large to live in his home. It took many men to build a house large enough for him.

Like all selfish persons, Uwab had a mean temper. He was always shouting at his poor father and mother to bring him more and more to eat and drink. At last, they had only a little food left. They went to the chief of Angaur Island and said, “Oh chief, we come to you in great trouble. Our son Uwab is growing to be a giant. We can no longer feed him. He is very angry when we cannot feed him. We’re afraid of him!”

The chief was surprised. He felt sorry for the parents of such a son. “You shall have help,” he said.

He told the people of Angaur Island to help feed the monster son. Uwab ate and drank everything that the people brought. He had fifty large baskets of food each day and dozens of basins of spring water and coconut milk, but he shouted for still more.

The time came when he was so tall that his mouth was hard to reach. So the people fastened long pieces of bamboo together to make a very long pole. They tied Uwab’s food to the end of the pole and fed him in that way. Almost every day, they added another pole.

At last, Uwab became so very fat and tall that nothing in the island could reach his mouth. Then he lay down inside his great house and let the people bring him food and drink. In a short time, he became too large for that house also, and he had to leave one enormous leg outside. Soon the other leg had to stay outside. By and by, both of his arms also were outside.

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 “The Greedy Giant and the Palau Islands,” illustration courtesy of Tara Bonvillain, copyright 2017.

The people became so frightened that they met secretly in a forest, where Uwab could not hear them. “What are we going to do?” they asked each other. “One of these days, Uwab will break out of his house and walk around the island. All our gardens and food trees will be destroyed. He may harm our children.”

“Then let’s kill him without being near him,” said another. And so it was agreed.

By that time, Uwab was so large that he could keep only his head in the house. The rest of the body lay outside on the beach. The people made long ropes out of fibers of leaves and bark. They waited until the giant was asleep. Then some of the bravest men climbed up on his house and tied his long hair to the roof. The other people gathered together hundreds of pieces of firewood and piles of dry coconut leaves and husks. They put them around Uwab and his house and built fires.

Uwab could not get away. He roared loudly and he kicked with his legs and feet. He fought so hard that the island of Angaur shook. He died quickly, but his last kicks were so strong that he kicked himself into many pieces, large and small. They scattered far and near and settled into the ocean as islands. Many of the people finally went to live on them.

The Palau Islands remain in the same places today. Uwab’s head is one part of the island of Ngerechelong.  Some people say that Peleliu is part of his legs, and for that reason, it is rocky and rugged.  Other say that his legs, pulled up and kicking, are the high land at Aimeliik. The large island of Babelthuap is the trunk of the giant’s body.

The people of Ngiwal, a village on Babelthuap Island, like to tell visitors about their own part of Uwab’s body. “We live right in the middle of Uwab’s stomach,” they say. “That gives us the right to eat seven times a day.” Some Palauans say that the people who live on the part of Uwab that was his mouth, talk too much, and those who live on the part that was his legs, can run very fast.

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Tongan Women Use Cultural Values to Build Strong Leadership

The Matangi Tonga Online recently published an inspirational article highlighting Tongan women who use their cultural values and upbringing as a framework to build strong leadership in their workplaces.

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Master of Business Studies graduate Seluvaia Malua-Paea interviewed women working in a variety of organizations and in varied leadership roles. “It was mind-blowing to see how these strong women succeed in New Zealand organizations but, at the same time, still carry with them their values acquired during their upbringing, their cultural identities.”

Malua-Paea found that Tongan women offered strong leadership even in male-dominated organizations using their cultural values to counter some of the challenges they faced. For example, women who were leading teams with older men used traditional attitudes of respect for elders, often treating the men as they would uncles or father figures. “So rather than trying to dominate or push them around, they used respectful ways to communicate with them and that encouraged the men to give them respect in return and complete the tasks given to them,” Malua-Paea said.

The study found the importance of humility in the Pasifika context also came into play with Tongan women remaining humble despite their job titles or positions. While these traditional virtues may seem out of step with modern thinking, Malua-Paea found the women in her study were still able to provide strong leadership. She said, “At times research has proposed that for women to be successful as leaders they need to act as men to show their strength, but this study has found they don’t have to be like men to be great leaders. They can be themselves and use the values of their upbringing or culture as frames to communicate well, to build relationships with their teams and achieve their team’s targets.”

Malua-Paea says leadership is about igniting the light in others and strength isn’t necessarily about being dominant. “To be strong for me is to have perseverance, to be humble and to respect others and be respected. To be strong is to know your place in the organisation and to know how to work within that space to influence others. You can be a leader wherever you are and make a difference.”

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Keeping Traditions Alive in Niue

Radio New Zealand recently published an interesting article that told how artists in Niue are using their skills to help preserve culture and traditions under threat after mass emigration.

The island’s population declined towards the end of last century, leaving behind an aging population. Those elders are among those fighting to preserve the Niuean language and pass on cultural traditions and knowledge.

A master carver, Timothy Magaoa, said it was crucial that traditional practices were passed on to the next generation. He mostly used a machete to carve his traditional Niuean spears and javelins, saying that while technology had its benefits, valuable lessons could be learnt from using traditional methods. “This is who we are, this is how we make our things. This is what makes Niuean people, Niuean people,” said Magaia. “It’s part of your identity. If you don’t have anything to show who you are, then I don’t know really, who you are.”

The practice of making Niuean tapa cloth, known as hiapo, has long disappeared on Niue, but many artists were still trying to preserve the island’s unique print designs.

Kenneth Green said he tried to use local fibres like coconut and pandanus leaves to revive the hiapo prints in his artwork. “When I first found out about the designs, I couldn’t believe it. It just blew me away and I couldn’t believe that it was not well known,” he said. “So I wanted to put it out there to show that Niue does actually have some pretty nice designs.”

Traditionally, hiapo patterns include detailed plant motifs and are vastly different to other tapa cloth designs around the Pacific. Sarah Magaoa believed that reviving hiapo designs in modern day art was a way to preserve the culture. “For me as a young person, I’ve been really interested just looking at all the different patterns that we’ve had that I’ve never thought of to use over the past years,” she said. “So for me now, it’s something I look forward to bringing out more.”

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A Hiapo example form John Pule’s Book, Hiapo: Past and Present in Niuean Barkcloth, 2005.

A renowned Niuean artist, John Pule, pinned some of the blame for the disappearing practices on colonisation, but there were benefits to using contemporary art to help revive old traditions and story-telling forms.”To say it’s lost, you know, that’s a really powerful word,” said Pule. “Because I believe that if you do go back you can find ways to resuscitate it and bring it back. Even if you have to add new ways of keeping things going.”

Timothy Magaoa said the loss of culture and tradition would mean a loss of identity for Niueans. “To be a true Niuean, you need to be able to understand your culture, understand the language, everything that brought you to becoming a Niuean. And if you don’t know that, I am sorry for you.”

A long-serving member of Niue’s parliament, Va’ina Tukuitoga, said the need to pass down Niue’s rich heritage, including the language – Vagahau Niue – was urgent. “I’m worried. It’s a lot to do with Vagahau Niue and also the taogas (treasures) because if one Niuean person died, like a very important figurehead, that’s one library burnt,” she said. “So all those taogas need to be revived and to remind our young ones that our language is very important.”

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The 6th Melanesian Arts and Culture Festival to Be Held in Solomon Islands

The Solomon Star recently posted that the government of the Solomon Islands was looking forward to host the 6th Melanesian Arts and Culture Festival next year. The 5th Melanesian Arts and Culture Festival was hosted by PNG in 2014.

The Minister of Culture and Tourism Bartholomew Parapolo in his address to open the 6th Council of Arts and Culture meeting last month said his office was gearing up for the festival. “I am sure the Solomon Islands preparation will be communicated to this important meeting and we seek your support towards our plans,” Parapolo said. “For that, I also look forward to hosting my colleagues from the MSG (Melanesian Spearhead Group) countries and also from the MSG Secretariat,” he added.

Mr. Parapolo states that Solomon Islands continues to stand proud as one of the defining members of the MSG and with that, the government will continuously support and play their role in the MSG agenda. “As we all know, the common Melanesian culture is one of the pillars that the MSG is founded on.”

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Festival Village at the 2012 Festival of Pacific Arts, Honiara, Solomon Islands

“The common Arts, Culture and Heritage that we share and value form an important platform for our cooperation and interaction, which will continue to strengthen our social and economic linkages between our countries and people,” Parapolo remarked.

He then acknowledged the Director of Culture Division and his team for all the efforts that they have put into making sure that this meeting was hosted by the Solomon Islands.

It was expected that outlying Melanesian islands from the Torres Straight Islands in Australia, West Papua in Indonesia and East Timor will be invited for the festival.

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