While I have been away from this blog I have been painting and creating other projects. I am sharing these short post and images especially for my blogger friends and followers. Thank you for your continued support. It is good to see some of you here already.
One of the the themes that has become part of my contemporary painting style and signature are the tribal Papua New Guinea (PNG) portraits. While these artwork take me a long time to paint and require research and specific layering to stay true to the authentic ‘bilas’ (traditional decoration and representation of the tribes), I really enjoy the process of painting these.
I have been through the cultural process myself while growing up in Wagang Village, Lae, Morobe Province. I grew up with feathers, magic leaves, bones, shells and all the beautiful natural materials you use to create special costumes. I made my own bilas and danced with my people for many years prior to moving to university to study away from home.
My love for intangible and tangible cultures of my people and the aesthetic beauty for each area in province in PNG continues through these contemporary creative exercises. I hope you like these and please share them if you want to. If you want such portrait done, comment here or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org for sizes and prices. All work posted here are copyrighted.
“Simbu Princess” Cleo Kambolz – J.K. Leahy©
J.K.Leahy memoir stories ©
“I have a song”, I told my mother over the phone. The regular 30 minute costly international call between PNG and Australia started with muffled voices. And then, depending on who had used her phone, my mother came on when the phone was passed back to her. Sometimes Mother had to find a good spot to get the best reception. And sometimes her voice changed and I knew other ears were listening. Not all will be discussed, some things will come in the future conversation.
“Hello Ma. Are you there?”
Someone is talking in the background and she is telling them to be quiet. I smiled at myself as the picture of her room flashed in my head with the village dogs barking in the background.
Family discussions and on-going feuds took up the 30 minutes so quickly. As creators of art and music, my mother and I had agreed on many occasions that we would rather sing and ‘stori’ then exchange on family heartaches. Telling stories about happy occasions and things we enjoyed often took up between ten to five minutes of the entire call.
“What song?” my mother responded.
“A song for the church opening”, I replied in Bukawac.
My mother is the village composer and musician. Not me. I am a dancer, creator of crafts and beautiful things and a fisherman.I cal also catch eels but not my mother. And Mother is not a dancer so Tinang, my grandmother and my aunts taught me. My mother did not teach me to compose nor play instruments, but we still sang together. If I wanted music – she played Skeeta Davies and Jim Reeves and Elvis. She also played her flute.
“Which opening – our village one?”
We sang every day in the evenings with my grandmother when she was alive. There was a ten-pact short biblical songs we sang at dusk. They were my favourite. If we sang at home in the village, all my aunts joined in. My mother returned to the phone after telling someone to close her door.
“Do you want to hear my song?” I said.
“Yamandu? (Really?)” she said.
“Yamandu!” I repeated. That means “true”. I wanted so badly for her to focus and listen my song.
In Wagang Village, all families were asked to contribute to the new village church opening. This was last Christmas. Monetary contribution was at the forefront of this event. In the past when I was growing up, each family whether they were crafts people, hunters or fisherman would be invited to contribute what they had, made and grew. Not anymore. Money was first.
“I may not have enough to give to the church so I wanted to gift a song,” I said. That sentence went to a silent respond. I wasn’t sure if that was good or bad. I suspected it wasn’t what she anticipated. Perhaps there was more to the silence that I wasn’t aware of.
I let the silent pass. In the background I heard my sister scolding my nephew. I didn’t want to ask my mother why my sister was doing that.
I had composed this song one afternoon at my studio. It just happened. And tonight was the first my mother heard of it. She probably expected me to just send some money. She waited for me to explain.
“I will sing it for you Ma,” I said in Bukawac. “I had composed this song for the opening and you and your sisters can sing it on our behalf”.
“Okay” she said.
The church project was instigated by the provincial government in Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea. The villagers had been waiting for a church for over three decades. The first church was built by the people themselves – each family contributed the materials showing their craftsmanship through handwoven walls, brackets of pulled and dried rattan, carved seats, and hand sewn sago palm leaves. It was a church none of us growing up with it would ever forget because of its aesthetic beauty and the fabric of a cohesive and supporting community sewn together. In time the church building deteriorated. The maintenance did not happen. The relationships in leadership, the respect between the elders and the younger generation became difficult to maintain and the cohesiveness slowly came apart. Termites slowly and quietly menaced their way into what was left of the handcrafted building. It was sad.
“Ma! Are you there?” I asked her.
“Mnem!” (Sing!) she said. I gathered my thoughts. I was only singing to my mother, but it suddenly felt like I was about to face a grand stand with thousands of people.
My mother is known in our family and the community for her music. She was the composer of original songs and songs she translated from different languages into ours – Bukawac and Yabem. Her music contributes to the Lutheran church for openings, ‘sam katong’, large church gatherings of multiple congregations, and many village events. She was a trained muscian. Germans during the colonial era taught her flute, guitar, harmonica and singing at Bula Girls School, not only did she get trained by Germans to nurse, but also to sing and play numerous instruments. The flute was and still is her favourite.
“It’s called “Conversation with God,” I gave her the title. “It’s between God and I,” I said.
“Mnem!,” mnem ma au wangu”, she said. “Sing! Sing it so I can hear it”, she said and although she softly spoke, I detected the excitement in her voice.
“Ae ngoc geng masi, ae ngoc ming masi, ae gameng gebe yagung yawing aom.” (I have nothing, no words, but I came to sit with you).
I sang the first verse and chorus and then stopped and there wasn’t a single sound from the phone. I wrote the song in Yabem. This was the ‘church language’ like many church hymns – they were in Yabem. I learnt this language by listening to my mother, her parents and two brothers speak it to each other. My grandfather was a teacher and most of his teachings were in Yabem. My late Uncle Kwaslim mostly communicated in Yabem – it was his favourite language.
“Mama! Mama!” I called into the phone.
“I’m here”, she said.
“Did you like the song?”
She was very quiet. Then she said, “It’s beautiful! I don’t know what else to say”.
Three months later my mother tells me that she also composed a song for the opening and she sings it over the phone to me. It was very beautiful – but that is another story.
(If you like my stories, please share them). I thank you all for being here. If you’re new to my blog – welcome! For all my friends who have been with me for a while, I appreciate you and I want to sincerely thank you for your patience. I have been away for a long while and working on other projects. I will share the news here soon.
I love to read stories about our people (in Papua New Guinea) continuing to preserve their culture. I am especially proud because the Siassi is in my province and I have family there. Thank you Brendon Zebedee and Scott Waide for bringing us this cultural heritage story.
This is artwork made my cool stuff post this week. Please refer to other cool stuff in earlier posts on tribalmystic.me blog. This week explores the creative combination of two mediums that I love – watercolour and photography. The contrast brings surprising and uniquely beautiful art.
Massachusetts-based artist Aliza Razell creates tickling self-portraits by exploring philosophical abstractions through merging watercolour and photography medium in Photoshop. See more on DeMilked blog.
Writing this post about Brain Pickings gave me an opportunity to reflect on my own writing and this blog. Apart from this post, I have two more to go before I reach 500 posts on Tribalmystic blog. Over a year ago I set out to write 1000 stories. I have told close to half of that in stories and pictures. In the beginning, I questioned my own crazy motive to do such thing. It was a goal I thought was unachievable as soon as I wrote that damn post. Then, the more I wrote, I realised that I could actually reach this goal. Some of what I write is just simply information-sharing. Not too much thought has been put into those writings and I’m grateful for the sources of the information. Others, I spent a little time on it between chores, work, family and my other interests. That is because I believe in those posts and I feel they are important in enriching my life and if they enrich others’ lives too, that’s even better. As for short stories, I enjoy it so much, it is like a game. If I had to write a fiction short story – the game is on. I guess it is a kind of icing on my cake – short, sharp and sweet in my writing world. Mondays Finish the Story by Barbara Beacham took that edge off me, but with her gone, I have to re-direct this passion into the next part of this blog.
I also enjoy visiting, reading and learning from your blogs. Learning about you, your culture, your life, pain, happiness and what we all call life experiences. Sometimes I go back through followers list to re-visit and see the transitions and transformations, just like opening a book in the library shelf and stepping into a new moment, completely leaving the present behind. Life is but a journey of transformations. I enjoy you sharing your transformations with me.
I could name many, but one of the blogs, I visit, Brain Pickings is for my pleasure of reading, my admiration for its writings and the digest’s archives are a wealth of knowledge. I started this post by trying to think of the best way to show Maria Popova’s piece on The Agony of the Artist, to Susan Sontag’s comments about writing and many more. The post went from Popova’s writings to my 500 posts …and in the end, I thought, the best way was to connect you to Brain Pickings itself other than to only discuss a few posts.
Brain Pickings is one of my favourite online digests because I keep finding things I want to read which takes me into another article and that makes me want to find out about something else again and again. It is like a travelling foodie who never stops discovering a divine dish on a foodie tour. I guess it comes down to what each of us like and this content appeals to me. Blogger and creator of Brain Pickings, Maria Popova was interviewed about how she came up with her blog and why she chooses the subjects she does. This is probably something I would like to do in the future which is to interview some of my blogger friends. It is not an original idea, but it is wonderful to find out about people you talk to and share information regularly with. And Chris the Story-Reading Ape – I owe you.
I believe the real challenge in writing is knowing your reader. But, how do we get to know the reader? That is what I hope to know one day. I think Popova has covered this – knowing what is right for her readers and maintaining that interest with her content.
There are so many articles Popova has written that I wanted to share on Tribalmystic blog several times, but you can visit and read them yourself. This is a link to what she calls, seven important lessons Popova has learnt in seven years about reading, writing and living.
Here is briefly what Popova said about her writing and her blog:
“Brain Pickings is my one-woman labor of love — a subjective lens on what matters in the world and why. Mostly, it’s a record of my own becoming as a person — intellectually, creatively, spiritually — and an inquiry into how to live and what it means to lead a good life.”
You can listen to her interview on her About Page.
Founded in 2006 as a weekly email that went out to seven friends and eventually brought online, the site was included in the Library of Congress permanent web archive in 2012.
Click here and enjoy Brain Pickings
Winner of the Paga Hill Development Company Award for Writing for Children in The 2015 Crocodile Prize.
The Song of the Turtle – ©JK.Leahy Children’s Story
THE night was still and dark. Dogs did not bark. The wind blew gently.
Children and babies had stopped crying and laid their heads to rest. Even the night birds were silent around the coastal Morobe village.
Below the whistle of the gentle breeze, Kalem heard a song. It was soft, beautiful and so sad it almost made her cry. It sounded very familiar.
Lying still on her woven pandanus mat that grandma made for her, she searched through her memories – where has she heard this song? Her grandma had passed away last year. She missed her. After tossing and turning for what seemed like forever, Kalem knew she had to find out.
She picked up her mother’s torch. Beside the torch was a piece of hard shell, a turtle shell she found on the beach. She kept it for good luck. Suddenly she remembered – the song! It was the song of the turtles. Their nesting time happens near Kalem’s birthday, but they have not come to her village for a long time.
Tonight, something was wrong. Grandma said only the mother turtle sang the turtle song. No one in the village knew that song except her grandmother, mother and now her. Grandma sung and taught the song to Kalem while they were fishing. “Who is singing it now?” Kalem wondered.
Afraid but excited, Kalem headed to the beach. As she walked, she remembered Grandma’s words: “Our people are connected to the ocean, we fish to survive but we must respect the lives in the ocean. We must never kill for nothing.”
Not many people can connect to the animals and fish, but grandma said their family had a special gift because their ancestors came from the sea and are tied to the ways of the sea. Kalem walked quickly along the beach as she listened for the song.
“If you ever hear the song Kalem, you know, Mother Turtle needs you”, her grandmother told her. When Kalem was born in the turtle season, grandma told her mother – “this girl would one day meet Mother Turtle”.
Kalem followed the song out of her village and along the shores, further and further away from her house. Her heart beat faster when she arrived at the river where the villagers washed. Where the river met the sea, villagers set fishing nets along the shoreline. Kalem heard a loud splash. She slowly stepped forward, flashing the torch.
Tied to a large driftwood stump on the beach was a long, green fishing net. On the calm water surface, a big red buoy floated just offshore, and at the end of the net.
Something had been caught in the net. The thing splashed again. It rippled and frothed the seawater in a circle. It was large, dark and nearby the shore. It did not look like any fish or crocodile Kalem knew.
When she flashed the torch at the dark shape, she was shocked to find a very large sea turtle tangled in the net. It was so large, Kalem was sure it must have been the mother of all turtles. Kalem flashed the torch on the water.
She could see smaller turtles floating about, their heads bobbing in the water. The turtles circled the net. They were all making strange noises like they were crying too. The mother turtle was bigger than Kalem’s ten-year-old body, but Kalem had to try save to her.
Even with no strength left, the mother turtle kept singing her song. Weakly, her tired flippers hit the net and her voice faded to almost a whisper. Kalem’s tears flowed down as she waded through the water quickly and tried to set the turtle free. After struggling with the net and the weight of the turtle, Kalem ran back to the village and woke her mother.
“Help, wake up!” Kalem cried. “It’s Mother Turtle – we must help her”.
Kalem’s mother was confused. Often she thought her daughter was a daydreamer. After Kalem calmed herself and explained, she grabbed her mother’s arm and led her back to the beach. They took a knife and cut the net to set the mother turtle free. The large turtle swam up to Kalem and her mother. She bumped them with her nose before she and the other turtles disappeared into the deep, dark waters.
Kalem remembered grandma telling her about the life of the mother turtle. Grandma said it took many years before the turtle was ready to make babies. Every two or three years, the mother turtle leads her group to her own nesting beach, where she was born. Sometimes she travelled long distances to get there. Usually she would lay over a hundred eggs, but only a few survived.
Other animals, people and large fish eat the eggs and baby turtles. Kalem’s people loved eating turtle eggs and meat. Their village was once a nesting ground for turtles. Lately, less and less turtles have come to lay eggs. Standing silently in the dark with her mother, Kalem thought of how scared the turtles were tonight.
“They might never return…we must teach our people to protect the turtles”, she whispered to her mother.
“I am so proud of you Kalem. The turtles will head to a safe place to lay their eggs. Maybe this was not the right place for them, but they will find a perfect home some day”.
Her mother held Kalem close as they headed back to the village.
The Papua New Guinea Literary Competition The Crocodile Prize received the highest number of entries ever, this year. On closing last night the Crocodile Prize fetched a total 826 entries from 132 writers & illustrators.
Poetry 355; Essay 196; Story 129; Children 52; Heritage 48; Illustration 21; Tourism Arts Culture 15; Book of the Year 10.
These numbers may not sound very much for writers in other countries, but for any Papua New Guinean writer, it is a very heart-warming news, especially coming from a literary culture that almost became extinct. In the early 70s, leading up to the country’s independence, passion for art, culture and heritage including the literary pursuits and publishing of works written by PNG writers were at their peak. It is not quite clear why the interests have fallen so much after independence. That culture may have been used because we were proud of our identity and we wanted independence so much or perhaps the general growth of consumerism and the wider issues of social, economic and political changes have contributed to this new – lack of passion of culture. I remember growing up with radio stories written by PNG writers, attending and being part of stage plays – written by PNG writers. Poetry, stories, essays as well as other forms of literary work were promoted and supported by the national government.
The lack of passion in the arts and the literary support to me is quite surprising and sad; our culture is based on oral history and story-telling.
As a PNG writer, a practicing artist and an arts curator, it seems very clear to me, that the PNG government’s priority is elsewhere and not the least in the arts. But to not even support the literary aspect and especially in developing educational content that is relevant to our children and educational for our people is wrong. We cannot just tell stories and pass them on – now we can write them down and keep for many years.
It is not how much minerals we export and logs we sell, but the natural beauty, our rich art, culture, languages and stories that set PNG apart, and gives us our unique identity. The literary scene dwindled to almost non-existent, although that could have been easily combined with and taught through the education system. There are not many avenues and support nor funding where PNG writers could train or share their work, and even to sell. Most workshops, training and activities relating to creative writing or any literary work have been Aid funded or Privately sponsored in the past four decades. Now this is how things have started to change for the PNG literary scene.
THE CROCODILE PRIZE STORY
The Crocodile Prize was established in 2010 by Phil Fitzpatrick and Keith Jackson, (both Australians) worked for many years in Papua New Guinea; Fitzpatrick as a patrol officer, Jackson as a broadcaster and journalist.
The Prize evolved from the popular PNG Attitude blog, which has a policy of encouraging and publishing Papua New Guinean contributors.
The concept of a national literary competition was triggered by Fitzpatrick’s concern that creative writing in Papua New Guinea had fallen upon hard times, and that this was a cultural constraint needing to be addressed.
The first awards were presented in 2011, a year of determining whether or not a project of this kind could be managed successfully given geographical, financial and the constraints of a voluntary organisation.
Using PNG Attitude as a vehicle for publicity and initial publication, Fitzpatrick and Jackson soon discovered an enthusiastic and rapidly emerging body of Papua New Guinean writers.
They were assisted greatly in the early stages by material and financial support provided by the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby and later by a range of sponsors, most of them PNG-based.
This backing made it possible for a range of associated activities to be instituted in addition to the Prize, including an awards ceremony, the publication of an annual anthology and the initiation of writers’ forums.
After the first awards in September 2011, it was agreed the Prize should become a permanent part of the literary landscape of PNG. Now under the management of the Crocodile Prize Organisation, COG, 2015 will mark its fifth year of operations.
PHIL FITZPATRICK on 2015 Competition
Thus ends another year of the Crocodile Prize literary contest.
IT’S not every day that you get to influence the revival of literature in a whole country, unintentionally or otherwise.
I must admit to some surprise that it has happened at all. What started as a humble writing competition seems to have bloomed beyond all expectations.
There is a sense of pride in what has happened but, strangely, it’s not personal. Rather it is a sense of pride in the achievements of the writers involved.
At a personal level it has been more of a humbling experience. There is also a sense of awe and enrichment.
The enrichment comes from reading the works submitted to the competition and the sheer learning experience involved.
I think, despite nearly fifty years travelling back and forth to the country, I’ve really only learned to understand Papua New Guinea in the last few years of the Crocodile Prize.
There is also a tinge of anger involved, mostly through the fact that an uninterested government and lackadaisical education system could let such a promising and rich cultural emergence in the 1970s wilt on the vine and become moribund.
That aside, one of the ironies I really enjoy is the fact that the revival has only now been possible because of the advent of digital technologies that were supposed to see the demise and eventual extinction of books. Such are the shaky prognostications of the doomsayers.
The key factors in the Papua New Guinean revival have been the Internet and the availability of digital publishing and print-on-demand technologies.
These have underpinned the Crocodile Prize, firstly by providing a writers’ outlet in the form of PNG Attitude and secondly in offering a cheap way to publish the best in an annual anthology and then to go even further in publishing stand-alone individual books by Papua New Guineans.
The future of literature in Papua New Guinea is starting to look rosy but we need to remind ourselves that it is still extremely fragile.
The disastrous complacency of the 2013 competition organisers reminds us of what could still happen.
2014-15 has been a watershed year and there’s light at the end of the tunnel but sustainability is still a long way off and we aren’t there yet by any stretch of the imagination.
The winners of this year’s Crocodile Prize will be announced early September. The awards event will be held in Kundiawa on Saturday 19 September
Good news. Princess, our home-raised wild duck who lost all her family members, returned with eight ducklings. More on her story in tomorrow’s post.
Mondays Finish the Story is a unique flash fiction challenge where Barbara Beacham provides a new photo and the first sentence of a story each week. The challenge is to finish the story using 100-150 words, not including the sentence provided. This challenge runs from Monday to Sunday.
Magda’s Luck – Short Story © JKLeahy
At first, it looked like an ordinary marble, but it was far from it. Magda got to it, reached down awkwardly and picked it up. It was big and heavy.
Years of factory work damaged her back. Magda longed for an easy way to survive. The ball was larger than a cricket ball yet smaller than a soccer ball.
“Perrr-fect!” she smiled to herself and wiped off the red dirt.
This was a sign. She closed her eyes in prayer. She has seen it done in the markets with no truth in it and told Chek. Besides, who would know? Her husband Chek died last year.
With her gypsy olive skin, a pair of wild gooseberry eyes set against her greyish black hair, Magda was ready.
She pushed her Coles trolley to Brisbane’s West End markets. Already she could predict her own future. Her years of struggle are about to end in a few hours when she starts her new career – predicting people’s futures.