There are many ways in which America tells you you don’t belong. The eyes that slide around to find another face behind you. The smiles that appear only after you have almost passed them, intended for someone else. The stiffness in the body as you stand beside them watching your child and theirs slide down the pole, and the relaxed smile when another white mother comes up to talk. The polite distance as you say something about the children at the swings and the chattiness when a white parent makes a comment. A polite people, it is the facial muscles, the shoulder tension, and the silence that give away white Americans’ uneasiness with people not like them. The United States, a nation of immigrants, makes strangers only of those who are visibly different, including the indigenous people of the continent. Some lessons begin in infancy, with silent performances, yet with eloquent instructions.
I meant to include this sentence in my blog post on Nights of Storytelling, but I forgot. And I like it too much not to share it with you.
When the chief of the Koné goes to check for food caught in the line of traps he has set the previous day, he discovers that he has snared an extremely angry lizard who demands to be released.
-Raylene Ramsay, ed.
Nights of Storytelling: A Cultural History of Kanaky-New Caledonia
Fact was, there was my mother’s skin. She was fair, that’s true, but her skin had a tawny hue, very much like the color of the lansat fruit, held up as the model for the perfect “native” complexion. That was offered as one proof that Mama wasn’t pure-blooded Dutch. The color of real Dutch people is different, a splotchy red color like that of a piglet. So, actually, the comments of my friends from the garrison made me feel proud. Who wanted to be Dutch anyway when the life of a native army brat was a million times more interesting? Who wanted to be a Dutch boy, forced to dress so very neatly with a spanking white shirt and shoes and who had to remember hundreds of little points of politeness which made you end up feeling no better than a marmot in a cage?
-Y.B. Mangunwijaya, The Weaverbirds, 1981
When I was nine I was not a virgin. People didn’t consider a girl who didn’t yet have breasts to be a virgin. But there was something I was keeping secret from my parents:
When they got wind of the fact that I was secretly meeting an ogre, my mother revealed a big secret: that I was actually made of porcelain. Statues, plates and cups made from porcelain come in hues of blue, light green, even brown. But they mustn’t be allowed to crack, because if they do they will be thrown on to the rubbish dump or used as tombstone ornaments. My mother said I would never crack as long as I kept my virginity. I was taken aback: how could I preserve something I didn’t yet have?
I admit, I have not been here long. But I trust that the question asked one day will be what I did, and whether I did it well, not whether I did it in too short a time. To me, any time is too long when it is marked by extortion and oppression, and on me every second would weigh heavy which, owing to my negligence, my dereliction of duty, my ‘spirit of compromise,’ had been spent in misery by others.
Multatuli, Max Havelaar, or the Coffee
Auctions of a Dutch Trading Company
Although the Portuguese claimed the eastern half of the island, along with Oecusse, and divided it into separate kingdoms, this declaration reflected their aspirations on a map rather than the facts on the ground. Even in the latter half of the nineteenth century, fewer than one hundred colonists lived beyond the city, and large parts of the island were uncharted. For centuries, no one seemed particularly certain even of where the island ended.
From Beloved Land: Stories, Struggles, and Secrets from Timor-Leste
by Gordon Peake
From the Arjunawiwaha of Mpu Kanwa
If you in the next life are a hawk
I will be dark rainclouds,
that cling to the mountains they pass over,
I will contemplate your tears
as you seek my mist,
watching intently from your perch
high on bare and leafless trees,
When you are about to swoop down on me
I will take shelter
behind a waterfall,
You will taste only my soft, moist spray;
so with the setting sun
I will take revenge for the hardness of your heart.
– from Blossoms of Longing: Ancient Verses of Love and Lament
translated from Old Javanese by Thomas M. Hunter
Palauans say a person who is hard to wake up bad el wel–“sleeps like a turtle.”
-R.E. Johannes, Words of the Lagoon
…[K]ava is a drink which has as its essence the ritual of sharing fellowship with other humans. This is no brew for pouring into a martini glass and moping over in a lonely bar. It would be aberrant behaviour indeed for you to mix some kava and drink it by yourself, for the preparation and serving of kava is a process of social interaction, of story-telling, of shared laughter, of a communal solemnity, of inclusion and of understanding…
There is a Fijian expression ‘Maca na wai, ka boko na buka‘ which translates directly as ‘the water has gone and the fire is out’. It means ‘we’re out of kava and tobacco’. What makes this expression so full of pathos is that the dearth of kava implies no gathering together around the tanoa to listen to the stories which, through their humour, irony and ritual, serve the social values of sharing and togetherness which bring harmony to the community.
Peter Thomson, Kava in the Blood
I wanted to share an excerpt from the book I’m currently reading. The sharp-eyed among you will spot that this book is from Palau, rather than Fiji, the country about which I’m currently blogging. I am still WAY behind on my blogging, and the books I’m posting about are ones I read a year ago. Meanwhile I’ve kept up with the reading, and am nearly finished with the South Pacific and about to head into Asia. I thought I might occasionally share bits of the books I’m currently reading, both as a way to bring the blog more in step with my actual progress, and as a sort of commonplace book to preserve the things I like best, or want to remember, or that are most ridiculous, as I read them. From my Palau entry:
If a light is shined into the eyes of a shark and then moved smoothly away, the shark will frequently follow the beam, often at considerable speed. The newcomer to Palau is often skeptical of stories he hears about Palauan divers intentionally driving sharks directly into fellow divers using a beam of light. The stories are true, but the practice is not quite as reckless as it might sound and is not meant maliciously. Only small sharks (three to four feet) are used. And, as Ngiraklang states, “You only do this to a friend–as a joke. A stranger would get very angry.”
From Words of the Lagoon: Fishing and Marine Lore in the Palau District of Micronesia, R.E. Johannes