Kuita et le feu

Cina a appâté Kuita avec son maka feke

 

Elle l’a attiré de son cachot sous-marin

son domicile dans le grand wasawasa

 

Kuita a tiré Cina

dans les profondeurs de l’océan Pacifique

 

*

 

Le géant pleure de honte

 

Ta’uvala tissé de tentacules

 

Les tentacules qui avaient lacéré la taille de Cina

laissant sur son ventre des cicatrices

qui ressemblent aux motifs ancestraux

 

*

 

enfermés dans des pans de temps

de feux qui s’enflamment

de chair qui brûle

de cœurs qui se brisent

 

Son maka feke

a détourné la vision de Kuita

a démêlé ses bras

Il l’a accueillie dans son cœur

 

*

 

Il était difficile de se quitter

Ils se séparaient en se fondant

comme les îles

d’Uvea Mo Futuna

 

Kuita a relâché le maka feke

Il a coulé dans sa mer aux profondeurs insondables

Cina s’est élevée en spirale

s’échappant de son monde sous-marin

 

*

Au sa soro

J’y renonce

 

Les échos des abysses

 

Kuita utilise ses tentacules découpés pour tisser un Ulumate

Il grave le mot

« Cina »

dans les murs de sa grotte

les ventouses remplies de dents tranchantes

qui grattent des symboles sacrés

Bati Ni Qio

Des fourchettes des cannibales

jusqu’aux dents des requins

qui descendent sa colonne vertébrale

Des chemins ancestraux

décorés de motifs de Masi

Des histoires ancestrales

qui décorent la peau

Une créature mystérieuse de l’océan

 

*

 

Kuita sombre encore plus dans la fragilité de sa coquille cassée

Il remonte au moment où

Degei a relâché Turukawa

 

Il n’arrive pas à croire

que Degei l’a laissée s’évader

 

Kuita n’arrive pas à croire

qu’il a laissé partir Cina

 

*

 

Cina est remontée à la surface tout près de son waqa

ancré au même endroit

 

Elle a surfé sur les vagues jusqu’à la terre ferme dans son canoë

rinçant son corps élancé dans le wai tui

 

*

 

Meke vula sur le sable blanc

sous la lune noire

 

*

De retour à son bure

Elle protège leur fils

Qio

Un cadeau du Mata ni siga

 

Qio

 

Il est toujours un bébé requin

Il est vuku aussi

Mais il ne le sait pas encore

 

*

 

Preprint later published as:

Kamali, Daren and Speedy, Karin. 2017. “Kuita and the Flame/Kuita et le feu” (poem translated by Karin Speedy), Francosphères, 6(2), 95-102.

Glossaire

* Kuita: le poulpe en fidjien

* Cina: la lumière ou la lueur en fidjien

* Ta’uvala: une ceinture faite d’un fil de noix de coco

* Maka feke: un leurre tongan pour attraper les poulpes

* Uvea Mo Futuna: Les îles du Pacifique Wallis et Futuna

* Masi: le tapa (tissu d’écorce) fidjien

* Ulumate: la perruque d’un guerrier

* Bati ni qio: les dents d’un requin

* Mata Ni Siga: Les yeux du Soleil

* Meke vula: une danse de la lune

* Vuku: intelligent ou talentueux

* Bure: une case fidjienne

* Qio: un requin

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Invasion Day

Today is Australia Day. aka Invasion Day or Survival Day It is an ill-chosen date for a national holiday as it commemorates the landing of the First Fleet and the start of British settler colonialism which of course led to horrendous violence (genocide) against the Aboriginal people. My thoughts in a sort of poem…

Invasion Day

Perky girls in
patriotic
made in China
beachwear

flag bikinis
bedecking 
their orange-brown
bodies
sweating
in the summer
heat

blond
sombrero boys
white zinc noses
and capes
of southern cross polyester
flapping parochially
in their
wake

chanting
laughing
singing
barbecuing
boozing
swearing
celebrating

under the glorious empire sun

drinking to their
parched
“lucky”
country
and their day off work

Holdens revving
in time
to tuneless renditions
of Waltzing Matilda
or Khe Sanh

the irony completely
lost on them
as they curse
Aboriginal rights
migrants
boat people
and un-Australian values
taking root in
“their land”

this is Australia
this is Australia Day

the view from the beach
in 1788
however
was no cause
for celebration

26 January
Invasion Day
a day of
mourning

Karin Speedy 25/01/2016

The Night Before Waitangi Day

I wrote this poem when living in Sydney. I always felt like I was living in exile there. It was February 5, 2015, the night before my birthday, the night before Waitangi Day. I was feeling nostalgic, thinking of home and the Treaty (Te Tiriti o Waitangi) and what it means in different places and to different people. Also imagining the links and disconnect between the two settler colonies of New Zealand and Australia. It seems an appropriate poem for National Poetry Day in Aotearoa.
______________________________
The Night Before Waitangi Day
 
Birthday Eve
In Poihakena
No holiday tomorrow
This country does not stop to reflect
Upon what has been
And what might have been
And what could be
Written between the lines
Inscribed in blood
Across the way
In Aotearoa
 
No time off to
Contemplate what was
Translated
Creatively?
Faithfully?
Culturally?
No,
Erroneously.
Dangerously.
Colonially.
 
All a bit slapdash
Really.
Never mind
Not important
The power in the hands
Of those writing
The history
And all that.
Fudge it
A bit
The natives will never notice.
Besides
They won’t be here long
To relate their version
Their history
To question
To protest
To speak
Even.
 
Absence
Silence
Extinction
Progress
Taming
Homogenising
Nation building
Or some such
Developmental bullshit.
Wasn’t that
The plan?
 
Not so different here.
No treaty though
No celebration
No day off work
No discussion
No critique
A non-event
Almost.
 
Birthday Eve
In Sydney
Time to remember.
(c) Karin Speedy 2015
First published in “Piercing the White Space”, Blackmail Press 41, November 2015,

À la mode in Hunters Hill

Louis Joubert

Louise Joubert, Joubert folder, Hunters Hill Museum

One of the characters who features quite regularly in this blog is Didier-Numa Joubert, a Franco-Australian merchant who made his fortune in the mid-1800s through trade of all types (legal and not-so-legal). This poem imagines a conversation between his daughter Louise, whose portrait I saw in the archives of the Hunters Hill museum, and a friend at the Joubert house in Hunters Hill. It reflects on the material trappings and lifestyle afforded certain sectors of white colonial society and how this was enjoyed at the great expense of others.

 

À la mode in Hunters Hill

Is it silk?

Incredulous look

Mais naturellement!

Hand stitched

delicate detail

embroidered yoke

ample sleeve

teasing flounce

rustling skirts

gently graze

the ankles of

la belle

Mademoiselle

Louise

 

Tortoiseshell buttons

left unfastened

reflecting amber light

tracking

mapping

tacking down

to snake around

her bourgeois breasts

showing

a rather daring

swathe

of luminescent

white

 

Beautiful dress

my dear

a stand out

in this English

colony

it’s French….

n’est-ce pas?

Mais oui!

No one sews

such sophistication

in the

antipodes!

 

A trunk

brimming

on Papa’s order

arrived

last week

in Sydney town

full of hats

and gloves

and undergarments

and the most exquisite

Parisian gowns

 

Taking in

the sumptuous vista

sun caressing

sparkling waters

crisscrossed

by the foliage

of a flourishing

flame tree

the two ladies

on the colonial verandah

slowly sip

their China

tea

 

Coconut palms

perform

a wilted waltz

in the stifling

breeze

while bent

brown backs

toil

under

the oppressive

summer

heat

 

What brings them here

these bronzed youths

from their homes

in the South Seas?

They are

the exploited workers

the unpaid builders

of Papa’s Paradise

a sandstone

Sydney suburb

founded on

trade

tenacity

luck

and plunder

and a slice of

slavery

 

© Karin Speedy 2016

CMwofqeVAAEGFqD

Flame tree in Hunters Hill, photo credit: Karin Speedy

Transformative Journeys

Academic articles take forever to come out. I have one due to be published shortly (touch wood) based on the oral histories of the Aymard and Elphège families, descendants of mixed race migrants from Reunion Island (Indian Ocean French sugar colony) who settled in New Caledonia in the 1870s. (Note: this article has since been published here). The Reunionese had been enticed to New Caledonia to help set up the fledgling sugar industry that local administrators hoped would supply sugar to the region. They were mostly former slaves or free people of colour (of mixed African, Malagasy and French origin) who had become impoverished after the sugar industry collapse in Reunion. Most entered New Caledonia as French citizens, a status bestowed upon them on emancipation

Despite their freedom and citizenship, many of the formerly enslaved Reunionese remained on the outer limits of society in ReunionFacing increasing destitution as the sugar industry went bust, move to a new colony was aopportunity to start afresh for them. The division of New Caledonian society into free settlers, convicts, indentured labourers and indigenous people (free, unfree, and indigenous)allowed all Reunionesesomewhat serendipitously, as French citizens, to enjoy their social status as part of the white settler population. In New Caledonia, the blacks were the indigenous Kanak. They were assigned inferior social status and were subject to extreme prejudice born of 19th-century  scientific racism and the exigencies of settler colonialism. In this climate, the tradition of the non-dit (the unsaid) in New Caledonia assisted the Reunionese to negotiate their new settler whiteness while enabling the colonial administration to populate/occupy the land with French citizens; the silence and silencing allowing for the emergence of settler colonial narrative centring on the white settler/black Indigenous binary.

Despite the deliberate masking of the past, cultural practices, family stories and artefacts were passed on even if this was done behind closed doors. This poem imagines the journeys of those who transitioned from the oppressed in one colonial space to a position more akin to oppressor in a new one.

 

 

#FantasyLives

Fascinating
fabricated
family histories
that create
a certain coziness
in inhospitable
social climes

Transformative journeys
west to east
north to south
black to almost
white
or French
at least

Camouflaging
marks
still fresh
still raw
in shackled flesh
concealed beneath
the frothy skirts
of settler society

Hiding pasts
still manifest
in the
rougail
served with kari
consumed
with relish
but never
questioned

A new beginning
a second chance

Hush
don’t ask
stick together
the seamstresses
will stitch
a new family
tapestry

© Karin Speedy 2016

Tropical Depression: Nuns in the Pacific

Saint-Louis mission girls, 1890. Source: Collection service des Archives de la Nouvelle-
Calédonie 1 Num 2 148, fonds de l’Archevêché de Nouvelle-Calédonie.

Women played an integral part in the “civilising mission” in New Caledonia and elsewhere in the Pacific. The Marists were in New Caledonia from 1843 and the male missionaries were followed a few years later by the Sisters of Saint-Joseph de Cluny and then the Sisters of the Tiers-Ordre. Their role was to convert the indigenous population, principally through the creation of schools and “education centres” for children and young people who would be separated from their clan. The aim was to erase indigenous language and culture in favour of that of the missionaries and, later, colonisers and to create local indigenous missionaries who would convert their own people. Girls and women would be taught to cook, clean and sew (in the Western tradition and thus severing their connection with their own cultural practices). The billowy, colourful “robe mission” that today serves as the traditional dress of Kanak women, for instance, was foisted upon them as a modest cover-up by the nuns and priests on the mission.

La robe mission or Mother Hubbard dress as worn by Kanak women in New Caledonia

For the nuns arriving in New Caledonia from France, conditions were rudimentary and life was very different from what they had known in Europe. For some, this culture shock was overwhelming and a few Sisters were sent to Villa Maria in Hunters Hill, Sydney to recover from their physical and mental ills – their tropical depression. This poem reflects on their experiences.

Tropical Depression

Surreptitiously
you scratch
the weeping pustules
poisonous mosquito kisses
forming sceptic angel footprints
up and down your unloved legs
blood drunk mission fleas
etching itchy art on infected arms
throbbing tracks of parasitic misery
tattoos forever testifying
to your proselytising
Pacific dream

No sleep for you
lying prone on lice straw mattress
conversion disillusion
black swamp mind unravelling
unpicking tender stitches
sewn by fellow Sisters
sniping, snaking artifice
shining like sunbeams
through their skeleton hollow eyes

Floating, screaming, unleashing
a lagoon of injured tears
salty balm for
self-inflicted stigmata
Sisters whisper
you thrash and whimper
spirit severed
calm prevails

Pilgrimage aboard a saintly vessel
port, then town, then hermitage
sweet solid walled tranquillity
mental exhaustion
expelling demons
healing holy scarification
relocating your vocation
to another Oceanic destiny

©Karin Speedy 2016

Further Reading

Hosie, John. 1987. Challenge: The Marists in Colonial Australia. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.

Speedy, Karin. 2013. “Mission-educated girls in nineteenth-century Saint-Louis and their Impact on the Evolution of Tayo”, Shima: The International Journal of Research into Island Cultures, 7.1, http://www.shimajournal.org/issues/v7n1/f.%20Speedy%20Shima%20v7n1%2060-79.pdf

Speedy, Karin. 2016. “Tropical Depression”, original poem in Snorkel literary magazine, issue 23, http://snorkel.org.au/023/speedy.html

Pacific Island Labour in mid-19th Century Sydney

Hunters 1

When examining the shipping records for goods that were being brought into Sydney by Franco-Australian merchant Didier-Numa Joubert, I was struck by how many “Pacific Islanders” were coming and going on his ships, often accompanied by Marist priests. The first arrivals were fourteen young Melanesian evacuees from New Caledonia who fled with the missionaries in 1847 after the mission post had come under attack by local Kanak. From the early 1850s, groups of Pacific Island converts who were brought to Sydney by the Marists, ostensibly for religious instruction, often found themselves labouring for the Marists and their friends. Joubert had Pacific Islanders gardening at his Hunters Hill residence, for instance. One of the main occupations of the Islanders was to quarry rock for the churches that they would build back in their respective islands. (You can read about the Pyrmont quarry here). These young men served as free labour for the Marists and it is thanks to their hard work that the second Villa Maria, on the shore of Tarban Creek, was built in Hunters Hill.*

Interestingly, as you can see in the image above, a reminder of this early Pacific presence is recorded in the palm trees planted along the side of Villa Maria. There are pockets of palm trees or coconut palms around Hunters Hill, notably on former Joubert properties and they seem to me natural memorials to the neophytes from the Pacific who traveled to and toiled in Sydney.

Last year, I published a poem, “Rites of Passage”, in Snorkel magazine in which I reflect upon the largely hidden history of these early Pacific Island (unpaid, slave?) workers in Sydney.

Rites of Passage

Port Jackson at last
months of seasickness
some schooling in Wallis
a local temptress
bless me Father
you mumbled
almost sincerely
in the stranger’s tongue
and now Sydney town
and the mission house
promises of scriptural instruction
French perfection
a lesson in civilisation
in the Australian haven
of the Marist order

With ecclesiastic fanfare
you, newly baptised Polynesians
future catechists
soon-to-be spreaders of the Word
receive first communion
at Saint Mary’s cathedral
and you wonder why
there are so many spectators
to mark the occasion
with curious gaze
suffocated white glove giggles
and whispers of cannibal taming
under the holy roof

While cutting, hewing, lugging
Pyrmont yellow block
with its smooth texture
and sensuous ripple lines
left by the flow of an ancient river
you also ponder
exactly what biblical enlightenment
the Marists are bestowing upon you
in this quarry
as you toil and sweat
in Saunders’ Purgatory
Hellhole best avoided
Paradise if you are lucky
harvesting God quality stone
for the churches
you will build
back in Wallis and Samoa

The scraps of learning
imparted by candlelight
as you fuel your shattered bodies
with morsels of bread and miserly broth
will have to suffice
for now
the schooner
heavy in the water
packed with the sacred rock
a few bibles, robes, Catholic paraphernalia
and worldly provisions
is ready to sail
for the Islands

And you, newly confirmed Polynesians
catechists in training
a few with silicosis cough
will return
to labour
for free
some to preach
forever in indenture
to the cloth
others just until
the pull
of your cosmos
prevails

©Karin Speedy 2016

* John Hosie has written at length on the Marists in Australia in Hosie, John. 1987. Challenge: The Marists in Colonial Australia. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.

Speedy, Karin. 2016. “Rites of Passage” original poem first published in Snorkel literary magazine, issue 23, http://snorkel.org.au/023/speedy.html

Hunters 3