Tag Archives: JKLeahy stories

Two Songs for One Opening


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.

“Hello!”

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.

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(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.

The Big One – JKLeahy Memoir Stories


The Big One – J.K. Leahy

(A special tribute to some of the powerful women that influenced my life).

With Ma Yang. JKLeahy Watercolour 2018.

My line stretched beyond the width of the fat river. The water was slightly brown-greenish – you could see fish swimming under the surface. There were plenty. Debris from two other smaller river mouths came towards us and unfolded to the current that spread across the wider larger Socwa river. The 250gm nylon fish line pressed an unseen line on the glassy surface. We were in the swamps of Wagang Village, Lae, Papua New Guinea. I felt good my hook and bait was close to the other side. Maybe it will catch the big one.

It wasn’t a race between Ma Yang and I. It was a process of an apprentice with her teacher. And the apprentice in her final learning stages before graduation. The river had risen and covered the mangrove and pandanus roots and low-lying branches are now touching it.  A mix aroma of wild tree flowers hung in the air, but the sweet pandanus penetrated the balance. With the deep current, yellow and peach awaho flowers flowed in a line that meandered through the low-lying branches like ballerinas in their fluff skirts. The flower centres popped out like mini umbrellas in deep maroon and gold flecks.

At eight, I was in primary school. But in my fishing years, I was ready to enter university, so we were there to start that course. This location is not for kids as my aunt would say.

“Only for those who are special” she said with a wink.

I knew my aunt had many secret fishing places. But if my mother knew Ma Yang had brought me here, my aunt would have been in trouble. Mother was mostly away and she would never take me to such places; she said “gaming sac” – meaning bad place, and they were full sorcery and other spirits lurking in the shadows.

Our teacher – my late grandma Tinang.

My lead fishing teacher was beside me, and together we carried our old rice bags, roughly cut at one end and filled with bait (shrimps).  The bait were all alive. We had a bush string each for our catch tied to the bag and dangled in the water. My teacher carried a knife. Sometimes we carried a roast banana or kaukau. Dry biscuits were okay, but they made too much noise when we snapped them with our teeth.

“We can pack them, but eat them on the beach after”, she said earlier this morning.

Ma Yang and I had planned this fishing trip for days. Yang yang means yellow in my mother-tongue, Bukawac. (Aunty Yellow was nicknamed “yellow” because of her skin colour).

Today the river swelled. Lup suc means the river had fattened with partially salt, debris and waste from rotting leaves, swamp and other fish life that would provide feed for the ‘kol pis’ in pidgin which means ‘cold fish’ – these are several breeds of swamp river fish.

I suddenly felt a tug and reeled in a cold fish. It was scaly like a python with brown green and bluish undertones. My aunt looked at me to say, ‘well done!”, but it’s all in the eye-talk.

The mosquitoes were biting, but the adrenaline from the fish bites created some tolerance to the annoying buzzing and bites. Sometimes without feeling the sting, when I took my eyes off the line,  I saw mozzie bellies getting bloody and tight, then the mozzies would fall off and fly away.  To constantly smack the mosquitoes meant an intrusion to the balance of the stillness, and the fish would move away.

Mamang eng – be silence as Ma Yang often warned when we entered a sacred place. Every great fisherman knows that”. With the mosquitoes, she said if we put up with pain and irritation, we would truly master the art of fishing for cold fish.

I put some water on my brow to keep me cool. It was lovely under the trees but still hot. My next shrimp bait was peeled and neatly tucked over my earlobe like a cigarette – Ma Yang did the same.

The youngest of the sisters, Aunty Giuc.

We had travelled to this spot along the beach away from the village and deep into the swamp. Aunty Yangyang always picked a new spot for fishing, because she knew. I know she learnt it from her mother and my grandmother. My aunty’s mother was my grandmother’s sister. I was always excited at the anticipation of what mystery and beauty we would discover next and the fish we would catch there. My teacher never told me where we were headed next until we got there. That was part of the lessons – I had to pay attention to the land marks and work out how to get there on my own in the future. We used only shrimp baits for cold fish. We caught the shrimps the day before in a separate stream not far from our small village.

Travelling waist-deep through the wetlands and thorn bush, sharp objects, shell fish and branches and often stepping on kalum (thorn snail). This small snail is dangerous.  Its tiny spikes broke  off into your foot when you stepped on it. This often  got infested, and can immobilise you weeks, if not dealt with early. It is funny because the word kalum also refers to ‘havoc’ in our language. The more difficult the journey, the more fish we caught, at least that’s how I saw it.

As my line raced across the flat surface, I pulled. Before I pulled out the fish from the river, there is a dance. The kol pis likes to jerk the line a couple of times and then let go. After a few jerks, it pulls hard and that’s when you know, you have got it. Aunty Yangyang taught me to not hesitate but also, not pull too soon. If you do, you lose the fish.

After years of fishing with Ma Yang, I learnt that some of the kol pis like eboob and ewayum took the lines like the ocean travelleys and made a dash for it.

I took my fish off my hook and I put the bush rope through the gills and dropped it into the water. It was now swimming again with the others I had caught.

Ma Yang was very quiet, but she had her eye firmly on the dark corners opposite us. We had fished for most of the afternoon and had been there for almost six hours already, but she was set on catching the big one. The big one is called “ee oc”. Both our catch lines were about a metre long. This would feed several households.

The big cold fish usually came at the end, like the grand finally and often this fish would come before or after you catch an eel. They co-existed  in nooks of tree roots in swamp holes – both this fish and the eel. When my aunts and grandma and I catch these with our hands, you stick both hands into the holes and gently move along the belly of the eel to find the other. In my learning days, my grandma would find them and guide my hands to feel through the thick swamp. It was exhilarating, but all done in complete silence.

The sun was setting, and it got cooler. I had questions, but I was taught not to ask questions on the job. Anything I needed to know would be asked while we were walking home or by the fire at meal time. No-one spoke when we were ‘in the zone” and the fish were biting.

It was almost time to go home, but I was not tired. As the sun threw its last rays of a golden pink powder over the open space and green scaly pandanus – its reflection came closer to us under the awaho tree. She touched  the water and I looked at her. Ma Yang’s fish line raced across the water and cut in a straight line as if a knife was being inserted into a cake. My teacher flexed her large, dried palm fish rod. It bent completely to the weight of what glided in large curbing circles in front of us.

She glanced at me. The finally dance began. I knew, the big one was here, but I must keep still.

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Ma Yang died a few years ago after a long illness – there is an earlier post about her. I miss her. 

Winter Food for Birds


About three years ago, I bought this small plant about eight inches tall from an eighty year old man in Moggill markets, Queensland. This market has now moved away from the vicinity of Bellowrie to a nearby suburb.

This plant did not have any flowers, but the old man told me,  it will have these bell-looking flowers that the birds love. He called it a bush. My cousin Marina, a horticulturist, gave me a yellow species of the same plant. She told me the plant would be huge and I need a large space at least three cubic metres for it. When I showed her the old man’s plant, she said the two were exactly the same, the yellow-flowered one she gave me and this orange one. The orange one took almost a year to grow up to a metre or so and flowered.

My yellow plant is still about a metre tall and because I placed in a spacious spot, it has not grown into other plants. This orange bush is now branching into the chook coop and the passion a pepper tree, because I planted it before I got the horticulturist’s advice.

The orange plant needs pruning several times a year, and the plant, which I can never remember the name, (I’m sorry) provides an abundance of bird food. Daily, many little birds come to enjoy its petals, and I’m grateful to the old gardener who sold me the plant. I also love its colours.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foggy Bellbowrie – Photo Story


This morning I woke to check the ailing rooster and saw the fog through my windows. It was early. I went to get my camera and left the house. The fog had stayed, even though the sun light was peeking through the gum trees in Bellbowrie.

Here are some pictures of my neighbourhood. Some of you may know it is the middle of winter in Brisbane. This exact week, 13 years ago, my two sons and I migrated to Australia (Brisbane). I try not to think of how miserable and cold it was for us, because many great things have happened since then. Life is a transformation of wonders, only if we allow ourselves to enjoy them.

Neighbours’ bin and horse.

The running lawn towards Moggill Rd

My star tree, the poinciana still has all its leaves in the middle of winter.

Sunlight started to penetrate through the gum leaves when I returned home.

This Olive tree has never had fruit. Someone told me to plant a mate for it.

My neighbour’s boxers that bit our rooster, wait behind the fence.

My favourite part of the Lather Rd.

One single red hibiscus left in the whole bush.