The kitchen in Bellbowrie house was marvelous. It’s Wednesday today, but the kitchen also looked marvelous on Tuesday and Monday. I simply wanted to make chicken soup tonight, but I was afraid to dismantle this piece staring at me.
I looked at the stacked white cups, plates, and silver bowls that made this strange beautiful body and then the cutlery that made its arms and legs. Each item was part of another. It was a tidy dishwasher look without all the sections, except it was arranged to come together as one piece. If I had built a kitchen sculpture like that myself, it probably would have already unraveled when I got to stacking the spoons and the forks. And right now, if I tried to remove one cup or spoon to use, the rest would come crashing down like a dismantled sculpture. My son Nathan washed our dishes sometimes, but this was not his work of art – it was clearly my mother’s. My mother is obsessed about cleanliness and obviously tidiness. She has her own unique way of doing it.
Our kitchen has been so clean and different in the past six weeks since my mother has been with us in Brisbane that I’m inspired. I made a promise to myself; I could live up to this new expectation after she leaves. May be I could cut down on writing, art, a job, the garden, birds…It was not that we lived in a dirty house, but when my mother does something, especially cleaning, she takes it to a higher level, and makes you feel really good about it.
I could not have made this kitchen any cleaner in the past five years. Mother was not only obsessed with cleanliness, but getting any job done. Her gardening was the same and she began early and worked long hours. She was determined to clean the whole area and I reminded her some parts of our place was meant to be bushy for the animals. My siblings had asked me to bring our mother away from PNG to rest – but you think she would listen to me – no. She loves working hard. She attributes her strict work ethics to her parents, nursing, and her early learning from the Germans and Americans after the war.
I was grateful for her help now, but I fear when her holiday ends, this kitchen would return to the way my sons always left it; filthy with empty containers, piled up dirty dishes, peeled purple onion shells and spilled beverages. I clean it but it was never easy to maintain that pristine state for more than two days.
I took out the thigh fillets and started making chicken soup for my mother, my younger son Chris and I. Nathan had cooked his own meals for nearly a year and since he started a special fitness programme.
Across from the kitchen, my mother was folding the clean washing. Her knitting was on the dining table, colourful and laid out in neat bundles of colours. Mother folded all our clean washing like the way a machine would have done. We did sit and tell stories while we folded, but I soon gave up folding with her because she tended to unfold and re-fold the clothes I folded. And, if I told her she wasted her time because the clothes were meant to be worn again, she just giggled and said she preferred they were ‘properly folded’.
As I watched the boiling pot of chicken soup, I pictured Mother laying out all her medical tools on the shiny trays and pushing them from ward to ward on her tall shiny trolley. She is staring ahead with her white cap and apron crisply ironed and sitting in the precise position on her green uniform. She walks with her head held high and exuding a presence of authority when all around her is turmoil. I wondered if anyone had ever messed up her display of shiny metal pieces on the trays when she was a nurse. I once asked and she told me – never!
I think Mother’s cleaning and folding obsessions started from the hospitals and later, H.C. Leo a Chinese clothing manufacturer in Port Moresby hired her to fold completed garments. She was so precise with her craft that customers thought the cellophane packed and sealed shirts were done by machines.
My mother’s dedication to what she loves doing is second to none.
(To my regular readers – I wrote this draft/story yesterday, a part of a longer piece for Isabel D’ Avila Winter and our last Creative Writing Workshop group next Tuesday in Kenmore). If you expected drama while reading this – well there is, but it is in the rest of this story in the memoir – thank you for reading).
What the distinguished audience of Lae city that evening did not realise was that 35 years later, a huge development would take place on this particular land, and the question of ownership would become a significant dispute. The speech I gave at age 15 included many important references and landmarks my grandmother constantly repeated to my cousins, aunts and my mother instilling what was ours. None of these important references were documented. Many of our eldest, including my grandmother have since passed away at 89 seven years ago. Still living are her three brothers – Mambu (age 93), Karo and Mendali both in their mid to late 80s. Uncle Max is the eldest son of Mambu Baim.
Oral history as told by Awagia Hampom
As the story goes, “Awagia Hampom is the eldest granddaughter of Iapo Ankwa and her mother is Awelu Yalecsu. Awelu Jalecsu and Geyamtausu Ngongwe are the two biological daughters of Kemampum Iapo. As a result of a tribal warfare at the time, Kemampum, originally from Kamkumung Village sought refuge at Wagang Village. At that time there were main groupings of people already settled at this place in Wagang Village; such as the Wakangbu and Malacbalum and Ong clans. Kemampum and his family hid themselves on a piece of land within the vicinity of the Wakangbu people. He pleaded with the original settlers if they could agree to grant permission for him and his family to settle on a small piece of land called Ambisi, translated as a ‘yam hole’. This was how this portion of land got its name. The Ambisi borders with the neighbouring Butibam clam.
The name ambisi is referred to a hole that is left after yam harvest.
Currently, the case of the Yam Hole (Ambisi) is an ongoing dispute amongst our people in Wagang Village, Lae, Papua New Guinea. The national government is negotiating with the villagers to build a large fisheries wharf on my village. Wagang is a small coastal village less than 20 minutes drive to the heart of Lae City. This is the story about the site of the proposed development which is referred to as Ambisi, or the Yam Hole. The Yam Hole is my family’s inheritance, but due to foul play, the authorities have been negotiating with other people who have claimed to own the land referred to as the Yam Hole. With the permission of my Uncle Ahe Max Mambu, I am proud to tell you this oral history and a story about the Yam Hole as told by my late grandmother Geyam Baim to me. This story was told to my grandmother by her mother Geyamtausu Baim and her aunt Awelu Hampom. In one of the flash fiction stories I wrote in Monday’s Finish the Story, I made a reference to this story in Scatterings of the Blood River (Budac) and how a child was discovered.
My grandmother told this story almost every evening and in between other stories after our dinner. When I was 15, I presented the story of the Yam Hole to a large crowd of Lae City residents in the Lions Club Youth of the Year awards. It was in 1980. I represented Busu Provincial High School in the Lions Youth of the Year challenge. In the competition, an outstanding student was picked from all high schools and tertiary schools to give a five-minute original speech of cultural significance. After a gruelling week of interviews in an elimination process, the final test was to give a five-minute speech in front of business houses, leaders, and distinguished guests of the Lions Club (a large charity organisation) in a 3-course dinner event.
That evening, I borrowed a batik skirt, a white cotton blouse and a pair of sandals from my high school principles’s wife. I did not have anything of such quality and was specifically instructed that it was a high society gathering and I must not even wear slippers. Most children owned a pair of slippers or jandals, which we wore to school. None of my family members had any fancy clothes, let alone shoes of any kind. Despite not having anything smart to wear, my family was excited because I would make this speech about our ancestry. I tried to practice my speech in English because in Bukawac, I knew it by heart. It was after all, out family history.
My speech, although based on the Yam Hole and our family’s oral history; featured my great-grandmother and her sister and how they fought the white men/Australian administration and German missionaries to settle and remain in our village. The two sisters were not prepared to give this land away because it was fertile, had clean drinking spring water and completed with two large rivers circling the entire village portion of the land. Part of this land is where Lae city sits on and part is where our village is.
The Lions Club evening was also the evening I learnt to use knife and fork at a table for the first time. Each finalist Lions youth was sat at a table consisting of dignitaries and business people. Our conversations were also marked. I sat in my ‘borrowed’ clothes, the wrap skirt feeling too tight. I struggled to keep the slightly larger sandals on my feet with my napkin still on my lap while I carried on what seemed to be a normal polite conversation with very important strangers at my table. In front of me, on the huge white dinner plate, I tried to elegantly spear my dead cooked half-chicken while it gracefully danced on this huge white plate. I remembered, how crowded the table was with no room to move. It had too many flowers, candles, cutlery, glasses and people, while the food on the huge plates were in very small neat quantities. I could not really tell you which was scarier; the conversation, avoiding the glasses on the table, using the wrong cutlery, losing my borrowed skirt or shoe or catching and eating the dead chicken on the big white plate without getting any of the sauce on my white cotton borrowed blouse from the principle’s wife. I was very hungry, but I had to keep calm and keep it all together until I told the audience my oral history about the Yam Hole.
“You’re Not Alone” an anthology in aid of MacMillan Cancer Care has been released. A paperback version is also available! Get your copy now!
Twenty-seven writers from around the world, including myself have entered an assortment of short stories for your pleasure, show your support by liking the new page on Facebook and expressing an interest in buying the book.
My friend Paco D. Taylor enjoys researching and writing articles. I have not met many people who are so fascinated and interested in a culture outside of their own. Paco is from Chicago, U.S.A, but he is intrigued by Melanesia. After a year of exchanging stories, history, art, music, etc, I can understand why Paco feels strongly about the Melanesian people and culture. His study of the black people in Asia has produced some very interesting connections to Melanesians.
In my culture, as you make friends with someone and whether they are from your tribe, a relative or a friend, they become your “wantok”. Some time ago, my wantok Paco published his article, Black East which discusses the ancestry of the black people in the East. I have read and found this story very interesting and Paco has kindly let me share the article on this blog. I hope you enjoy it. If you have any questions, I’m sure Paco would be very happy to answer them.
By Paco D. Taylor
As a kid growing up on the far South Side of Chicago, whenever I would envision the physical features of Asian peoples—since those I saw most were in martial arts movies and Ultraman reruns on television—a fairly narrow set of characteristics always came to mind. Perhaps not surprisingly, brown skin and curly black hair were never among them. But one fateful day my father told me of an eye-opening experience he’d had as a young man serving in the United States Marines. While stationed in the Philippines between 1961 and 1963, “Pops” learned of Asians whose physical features were significantly different from what most Americans have been conditioned to expect.
There in the Philippines, Pops saw native Filipinos who, albeit small in stature, looked a lot like him, with dark brown skin, curly black hair and—stranger still—African facial features. To say the very least, the sight of such people living in the heart of Southeast Asia was completely unexpected.
It was also unsettling.
Perhaps equally as unsettling, my father learned that these puzzling pint-sized people were referred to locally by a Spanish term, one that translates literally into English as the “little blacks.”
Facts of Life
As the Earth’s largest and most populous land-mass, Asia is home to 60 percent of the planet’s human population. Included in this sum are the continent’s lesser-known groups called the Negritos—indigenous Asians who look a lot more like the relatives of Gary Coleman than Jackie Chan.
Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout, Paco?
The term Negrito was first applied by Spanish explorers in the 16th century, after encounters with such people during early forays into the region. And though wholly unscientific, the term is still used today to refer to distinct ethnic groups living in parts of Southeast Asia and the Asian Pacific island of Papua New Guinea.
According to James J.Y. Liu, author of the book The Art of Chinese Poetry, the term kunlun is the equivalent of Negrito in the Chinese language, and there are several mentions of kunlun people in the early literature of China. The most well-known of these can be found in the classic adventure romance entitled The Kunlun Slave.
In the language of their Malay-speaking neighbors, Negritos are known as the orang asli, meaning, “first people” or “original people.” This term would come into general use in the 1930s, in response to efforts by the Malaysian government to officially recognize them as the region’s earliest human inhabitants.
Prior to the adoption of a more respectful designation, such people were commonly called by the pejorative term semang (“debt slave”), a word bonded to times when, like other blacks, Negritos too were abducted from their homelands and sold into slavery, but in Asia.
The defining physical features of Negrito people include dark brown to black skin, curly black hair and diminutive stature. The average height among men is 5 feet, 5 inches, and the average height among women is 4 feet, 8 inches.
And though they are seemingly orphaned from humanity’s family tree, Maury Povich won’t be needed to pop for a DNA test to figure out “Who is the father?” According to geneticists, these peculiar Peoples are actually the modern descendants of the first migrant populations to venture into Asia more than 50,000 years ago.
That there is a strong resemblance between Negritos and African groups like the Pygmies of Uganda and Congo is obvious What is impossible to see, however, is that on DL (DNA level), these people share closer genetic bonds to other Asians than they do to now-distant cousins back in the Motherland.
Fossil finds from across the continent suggest that these nomadic hunter-gatherers once lived across Asia from India to southernmost Japan. The southern islands of the Pacific Ocean (Oceania) were also once part of their domain, as well as the southern continent of Australia and the island of Tasmania.
Their stomping grounds today, however, are but mere traces of what they once were.
Challenged by the continuous spread of larger, more organized and more technologically advanced human groups, their once wide-open range has been limited only to isolated parts of the Philippines, Southern Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Andaman Islands (off the coast of Burma), and Papua New Guinea.
What’s more, populations that were documented as recently as the late 19th century to have numbered in the tens of thousands now number only in the thousands. But the numbers for some groups have become even smaller.
Today, the tribal population of the Onge people in the Andaman Islands numbers less than one hundred. It is conceivable that in the proverbial blink of an eye, this ancient tribe of humankind will simply cease to exist.
Please visit Paco Taylor’s blog link below to read the rest of the article and view images.