Whose land was it that shared itself with me? Whose hearts and homes opened to me? It has taken a while to get this blog out, but here it is!
The land I went to was Fiji, a place I never envisioned travelling to at any point in my life. Myself and Raven Ann Potschka, a fellow Haida weaver, found ourselves transported from the Northwest Coast of BC to the city of Suva on the coral coasts of Viti Levu. Residing on campus at the University of the South Pacific, the group of eight weavers was brought together by Christine Germano through her work with applications to Canada Council for the Arts. We spent ten days creating a woven sail of pandanas leaf and cedar bark. The efficiency and skill of the elders we worked with amazed me, for back home today, a project of this size would consume months upon months. I marvelled at their energy, seeming to be more connected to an older world than I grew up in.
Travel seems to be something that is, oddly enough, being born out of my weaving practice. Although Fiji was never somewhere I would have seen myself going, upon arrival I began to find it so incredible that every space on this earth is someone’s traditional territory. The colonial history of places is another aspect I’m finding a huge interest in learning, comparing and contrasting. The beauty of each place emerges when I see the world through other indigenous peoples eyes. I love to experience and learn how they relate to their land. Sometimes I find it heartbreaking to learn of their self perception in relation to North America. Idealizations of the “first world” abound, brought on by hunger that media and advertising can create, and the drive for material goods and technology is quickly squashing cultural continuity. The weavers we worked with were all in the fifties and sixties and were astonished at our age. I hope to inspire an appreciation for our older ways, to find those aspects of ourselves we can bring forwards; small treasures to protect, nuture, grow, and share.
Presently in Fiji of a certain generation mats are still woven by every woman for her household. For a generation growing up who are now in their twenties and thirties, however, this ‘craft’ or ‘art’ as it will become as it nears endangerment, is in this short time frame becoming a thing of the past. When I talk about the world dying and being reborn with each generation, this is exactly what I mean.
Prior to arriving and experiencing Fiji, I had little understanding of what it meant to weave a mat. Sitting with a group of 50 people across a floor made of woven leaves, and hearing the songs, seeing the dances, and feeling the energy created by a cohesive group, was overwhelming. It isn’t until one visits a land with so few floors that one can appreciate a mat and what is created in it’s making. They possess a power to create space on the earth for people to come together; to drink kava root, talk, sing, and share.
The Customary Village of Korova
In Fiji in the village of Korova, the 30 residents (who are also all family) bought their land to move to the city from the Lao islands, to have better educational opportunity for their young people. They waited, and waited, and waited, for the city to connect them to the electrical system. Now, they’re close to town! Right on the harbour. They are a sailing people, fishermen. They got sick of waiting, and what did they do? They worked to pay for solar panels to provide the electricity for themselves without assistance from the government. In turn they are off the grid, and don’t have to pay the ridiculous costs of hydro bills. Mind you, these people are free from thregulations that we have in the first world. Many people would describe their living conditions as deplorable and unacceptable–it is by definition a third world country, a term I personally think is bogus anyways, as they seem a lot happier there than the traps we bend to fit into in the first world, mostly reinforcing the ideals for each other. But I sat for lunch with them on the floor and ate fresh fish they had caught themselves, and taro leaves and kasava root they had grown. We had sugar cane for dessert, also that they had grown. Selai, a traditional masi maker, worked like no woman I’ve met. Her hands from washing were worked so that the flesh was raw and she said it was hard to move them she was so tired. She told me she was working so hard so that they could have their own toilet and not have to share with the neighbours. People who work for what they have…rather than our situation. What are we doing asking for fairness and justness from an institution that has a five hundred year track record of nothing but cheap tricks and lies and massacres. Why are we holding onto a way of life brought by them that offers nothing but smoke shows and mirrors. The government isn’t going to be what fixes us, what makes this dire situation all better. It will be us.