Posts Tagged ‘Fear’

The Search for the Lapita Canoes

September 22, 2016

It had been impossible to get a good idea of the present conditions of the two Lapita canoes the Wharrams had donated to the islands of Anuta and Tikopia back in 2009 before arriving here in Lata, Temotu Province. The modern day communications we are so used to when we contact friends by shooting emails back and forth through all kind of messaging applications do not work here in these remote specks of land. The people here are just now beginning to get overrun by the technology craze of western consumer society.

But since we have arrived here three weeks ago the situation has clarified amazingly fast. We had a chance to meet with two ‘captains’ of Lapita Tikopia, who were in Lata for a training event. From the couple of conversations with them it appears that the canoe has suffered its abandonment due to damages suffered during a trip in 2014, where one of the mast feet cracked, a problem they have been unable to resolve, making the vessel unfit for use. As it happens in the tropical climate, deterioration has been rapid since then, with the platform timbers and two if its five beams rotted away. The large hatches of the hulls have also started to leak, which lets rain water into the interior and that can rapidly lead to rot. Within a couple of days’ time we will start to undertake the arduous upwind journey to the little island of Tikopia to finally have a first hand look at the situation.

Lapita Anuta on the other hand quite obviously has found abler and more dedicated seamen to look after and make good use of her. They have received last year’s donation of repair materials brought up by OceansWatch and she is now making regular trips from Anuta to Lata and back, bringing teachers here for trainings and important meetings, for which the vessel receives monetary remuneration. It appears that she has managed to enter the difficult dimension of economic self-sufficiency!

Last Sunday people from all over the Temotu Province’s many islands had come to Lata to witness the consecration of a new bishop for the Anglican Church. While the celebration was rather heavy on religious pomp it also included some demonstrations of traditional ‘kustom’ dancing and for us the opportunity to chat with some other folks from Tikopia, who confirmed the urgent need for attention of the canoe.

A possible answer as to why the Anutans had managed to develop the purpose of their donation received and make it fully their own, while the Tikopians had failed, came from a very unlikely source. During the food feast that had followed the hollowly holly celebration of a shift in the power hierarchy within the Melanesian branch of the Anglican Church, we were invited to sit down on the grass still wet from the last one of the many rainstorms that had tried their best to mar the festivity since the early morn. A long line of leaves sat spread out before us with boiled breadfruit, kumaras, yams and fish and meats packed in bundled up leaves. Soon everybody started digging in with their bare fingers and shoving good-sized morsels of yummies into their tummies. It all tasted delicious in spite of having sat in the rain out on the field since the morning and the enjoyment was endless up until that crucial moment when a corn sized splinter of pig bone happened to become involved in a violent encounter with my upper left premolar. The poor accessory to my usually quite sturdy digestive tract split right down the middle with a frightening sound that reverberated throughout the many cavities of my skull. A tactile investigation of the unfortunate occurrence produced two fragments of bony white matter laid out on my index finger between dark green flecks of island cabbage cooked comfortably in coconut milk. A further visual inspection revealed miniscule muscle fibers still firmly attached to one and with simple logical deduction I came to the finite conclusion that this therefore was not a part of my premolar that had decided to wander off duty, but in fact the culprit of the masticatory accident, while the one to its left with its shiny, polished surface definitely was.

On Monday morning I therefore found myself waiting on the well-worn wooden benches of the provincial hospital’s waiting room, keeping my gaze firmly on the indigo blue door with the white lettering indicating that behind it a dentist was exercising his hopefully well-developed art. In spite of my dedication a local gentleman managed to jump the line and enter the door before my most important self while having clearly arrived while I had been sitting there for a good while already. I could only convince myself of the imagined fact that his suffering must have been a good bit more eminent than mine, which in fact did not include any pain but only a slight discomfort.

Once past that minor hiccup I found myself comfortably situated on the reclining chair with a very patient lady dentist listening to my detailed explanation of the incident at the root of the reason for my visit. As is usual in such circumstances a good deal of circumferential conversation took place before, during and after my speech was impaired by the very professionally implemented repair procedure of my unfortunate premolar. Once it had progressed from the standard ‘where are you from’ to ‘what are you doing here’, it turned out that my very able female practitioner was well aware of the Lapita canoes and demonstrated ample knowledge of the intrinsic details of the particular island mentalities and customs. ‘The Anutans are a very brave people’, she mused all of a sudden. When asked, what would make her say such a thing, she elaborated: ‘They brave the sea like few others do nowadays.’ I felt an instant trust to impose on her my most burning question: ‘And why do you think the Tikopians have not been able to accomplish the same? Why have they not taken possession of their canoe?’ There was only a very short delay in her answer, which then emerged loud and clear: ‘The Tikopians have fear! They are afraid, I believe.’

I have grave suspicion that the dentist’s analysis might behold a giant grain of truth and have since that revealing conversation begun to construct possible strategies in my ever restless mind, designing ways to tackle that outbreak of yet another local variety of the disease of civilization, where once valiant warriors have succumbed to the emptiness of modernity, where fear has infected the mind and disrupted the naturel trust to a point where congruent action has been interrupted. It makes this upcoming journey all the more interesting and important as we might chance upon the discovery of crucial information on our expedition towards uncovering the root causes of mankind’s present and gravely acute illness of systemic destruction.

You might not hear from us now for a good month and a half, as Tikopia has only very reluctantly opened itself up to the outside world. There seems to be mobile phone coverage on the island as I have had several conversations with Ariki Tafua, the chief of the village where the canoe is located and where we will be staying. But my guess is that there will be no data streams to connect to the internet. I hope you will joyfully make this excursion with us into times only a very short number of years past, where information had to be collected by physically moving the containers of our mind to actual places rooted in reality.

Fallout From Failing to Pass the Gates

October 15, 2012

There were little bits of concern voiced here and there about the somber tone of the previous post and it does warm my heart to know that there are people spread out across the many continents and from all walks of life who genuinely worry about the wellbeing of one lonesome wanderer. Some friends even voiced their wish to only hear from me when I have good news to tell. My first reaction was to put their gradient of kinship inside some pretty bold quotation marks, like: What kind of “friends” are they? Then the little Jesus in me rescinded the curse, lighted my load with forgiveness and recognized a more wide spread concern. We do seem to have great difficulties to deal with the dark side of life. We’ve been taught since back when we were still tiny open and spongy receptacles for life’s awesome bounty to face it with a stern spirit of belligerence. The bad has to be fiercely fought with noble sword in hand, we were instructed, relentlessly attacked with swift lances clamped under armpits, and finally utterly destroyed and eliminated for good (sic) with a determined blow from a sharp dagger in an even more determined fist. Most certainly it should not be talked about. It is so evil that it should not even be allowed to enter one’s train of thought. You have to think positive! So the famous saying goes. The dark side has to be utterly ignored. That’s what we have been taught.
Unfortunately that doctrine never seemed to want to settle down in me. It was not only because I am, after all, a rebel at heart, be it with or without a cause. The real reason was that the dark side came after me a fair bit more persistently than it seemed to do so with the other people around me. It notoriously overwhelmed my fragile and chronically insecure self in deep bouts of depression with periodic and chronic regularity. I had to come to terms with that dark side one way or another if I didn’t want to be brought to my knees. Running away from it clearly only made things worse.
I therefore learned to accept the invitation whenever it was served and after the first trepidatious steps found out that much of the terrain in the dark side of the world is actually quite walkable. My inquisitive strolls then became longer and longer and it turned out to be a journey just as wonderful, mysterious, exciting, rewarding and entertaining as the physical and geographical wanderings through the nooks and crannies of the marvelous blue planet of ours I’ve had the privilege to undertake throughout my life. It was an excursion of discovery, exploring and learning, with a lot of stumbling and struggling, but the going was fed consistently by a slow but steady progress towards some sort of understanding. Not an academic understanding it was, where knowledge is at its heart a means for showing off, for creating distance to others and, of course, for earning degrees of some sort or another. Mine was an understanding that allowed me to feel at home, at ease and at peace with what I happen to have to study with such dedication and earnestness.
Very much contrary to what I had been made to believe the dark side of the world turned out to be remarkably similar to the side where the light shines bright. The same set of basic laws seemed to apply on both sides of the fence. While one side was tame with well-trodden highways for easy and comfortable displacement, the other side had a certain wildness to it through which few but very well laid out walkways lead to the many destinations. The more I walked and explored freely on both sides of the fence, the more the apparent differences became reduced. After visiting many places on the light side of life, the brilliance of the landscape lost much of its initial luster, and after having familiarized myself with the topography of the dark side a dim by persistent light started to glow around me, revealing many familiar features.
Once I had learned that there is no innate animosity between the two so diligently separate halves of the human world, I turned my attention to the border, the regions where one passes from one to the other. My always well-groomed curiosity wanted to know what it is made out of, how it is maintained, who are the guards manning the gates and how one can learn to move freely from one side to the other. The first question was the easiest to answer. Since the beginning of my involuntary journey I had noticed in myself and in everybody around me that whenever we approach the borders from our standard positions, which significantly are always assumed to be in the bright side of life, strong feelings of fear would well up inside us, so overwhelming that most of us immediately and very instinctively do sharp 180˚ turns and run for the soothing cover of our rocking chair in front of the TV screen. That fear then must be the building blocks of the wall that separates the good from the evil lands. The maintenance question was a little bit of a harder nut to crack. In the insecurity of my very first crossings of that wall of fear, once I had figured out that you simply take the neatly stacked bricks of fright and lift them off the wall to make an opening big enough for you to pass, I would politely put them back in place hoping to diffuse any blame, shame or other induced feelings of guilt that might be directed at me from the lords of the universe for my daring feat of trespassing the zone of separation. With time and experience a certain carelessness replaced the diligence and once the passage had been opened I would simply pass through and move on. My hopes of returning to the same spot and being able to pass through the already carved up opening on my way back were however always dashed without exception. It looked like as soon as I was out of sight someone rebuilt the wall with the same precision and skill it had been put together in the first place. I took a good deal of detective work, many nights spent crouched behind a bush or a rock with a clear line of sight towards the opening in the wall I had just passed through, to reveal the mystery behind the self-healing of the wall of fear. Nothing would happen until after I had left, until one moonless night I demonstratively left and the crawled back under cover of the waste-high switchgrass, and then I saw them. A team of five soldiers of normality came patrolling the wall, marching with synchronized steps, stopping abruptly at the opening and within seconds and without making the slightest sound they restacked the bricks and moved on into the darkness. Little soldiers of normality they were! I should have thought so!
I didn’t know about the gates in the wall for quite some time until I happened upon one by chance. Those same soldiers of normality were standing there and stopped me when I wanted to happily walk through. Very friendly but with a stern expression on their featureless faces they explained to me that I needed to produce a passport with a stamp of craziness of sufficient size. Absent that there was no way they could let me pass. Orders were orders, after all! I could have gotten that stamp easily. My documentation on craziness is vast and more than sufficient to fulfill the stringent requirements, but it was just too much hassle. By that time I had gotten used to doing the work myself and I was able to pass through the wall whenever and wherever I pleased. The sweat equity I invested whenever I went over to the other side was actually serving me well, it kept me lean and fit!
That little habit of mine however was really only that: A habit, a quirk meant to make living in difficult times a bit less gray and grueling. I have never allowed it to distract from the urgent need in the realms of human politics, from the moral mandate to work towards the permanent dismantling of that wall. That’s right, that wall must go! It is nothing but a petrified remnant from the times when we were still at war with ourselves. Now that we have overcome the looming threat of violence, now that we are able to talk freely about the dark side, now that we have learned to explore and integrate the vast landscape beyond the limits of knowledge, now that we have taken the light of discovery down the deepest pits of deceit and distrust, and found out how together and in the same boat we actually are, that wall is completely void of meaning. We will have to find a way, of course, to reinsert those soldiers of normality into our society of healthy craziness. There must be something useful they can do to become productive and creative members of our global nation! Where there is a will, there must be a way! Because once the wall of fear is gone, the only gates we walk towards and make great effort and stride to squeeze ourselves through must be the very narrow gates of understanding!