The Pacific Daily News, published on Guam Island, is the source of news through out Micronesia and the Marshall Islands. I traveled the Southwest Pacific region for three years and contributed a series of weekly articles to the PDN. I wrote about ordinary people leading extraordinary lives.
Following are excerpts from a few of those articles. Complete articles available upon request.
The Yurundiali artists paint from the heart. Their paintings, textiles, and jewelry designs stem from a great love of their homeland and from a deep sense of belonging. They use traditional symbolism to create vibrant echoes of the past and contemporary images of the present.
The culture of the Aboriginal people of outback Australia, is experiencing rebirth in the isolated town of Moree, New South Wales. From Sydney, Moree is an eight hour train ride through rich flat farmland noted for woolly sheep and fat cattle. The scenery from the train windows is full of life. Far from the city, Australia’s abundance of fauna and flora creates a landscape of unique designs and patterns, all of which provide inspiration for artists.
Art has been a vital part of the Aboriginal culture thought out its history. Originally Aboriginal art was used for maps providing life supporting information for travel through out the bush. Equally important the spiritual legends and folklore of the people were kept alive through their art. The Gomilaroi people of Moree decided to use this ancient inherent skill to create their own college courses with an aim toward practical usage in a contemporary society. They knew that they could create courses which would mesh with the cultural needs of their people.
The Blue Mountains
Long ago in the Blue Mountains, three sisters named Meehni, Wimlah, and Gunnedoo lived happily with their father, Tyawan the witchdoctor. When going to the valley below, Tyawan would leave his daughters on a cliff behind a rock wall in order to protect them from an evil spirit who lived nearby. One day, while Tyawan was in the valley, the evil spirit’s sleep was disturbed. He spotted the frightened sisters and lunged for them.
In the valley, Tyawan looked up to see his daughters in danger. The witch doctor pointed his magic bone at his daughters and turned them into stone. An enraged evil spirit began to chase Tyawan. By turning himself into a lyrebird, Tyawan escaped but lost his magic bone. Meanwhile, the three sisters stand silently waiting and watching from their mountain ledge, hoping the bone will be recovered and they will be brought back to life.
This Aboriginal legend explains some of the magic and mystery of one of Australia’s greatest natural wonders, The Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains. Described by a local innkeeper as "Australia’s Grand Canyon,” it is easy to see how the beauty of these mountains pioneered one of Australia’s greatest pastimes, bushwalking.
Outback New South Wales
It is a crisp cold frost bitten morning and the cloudless sky stretches as far as the eye can see. There is not even the hope of moisture in the air. Raucous laughter of the kookaburras, piercing screech of the cockatoos, and the cawing of jet black crows herald the early morning sunrise.
Fat cattle, woolly sheep, and sleek thoroughbred horses graze contentedly in their pastures. Wheat and barley crops glisten in the morning dew. A kangaroo hops through the mist and finds a resting spot under a massive ghost gum tree.
To stand atop a broad green hill and watch the world wake up in a timeless land with boundless space is breathtaking. Narrabri Shire, located 560 kilometres from Sydney, is a place where the land reigns supreme and man must find his place in the natural surroundings.
Local farmer, James Steigs, or ‘Steigs,' as his mates call him begins his day every morning by stepping onto the verandah of his home to “look for rain.” After a day spent taking care of his livestock and “checking his land,” he listens to three weather forecasts every night. He “reckons one of ‘em might just find a bit of cloud.” Like most farmers depending on nature’s roll of the dice, Steigs and his wife, Robin find a good sense of humour to be a valuable commodity.
As rich as outback New South Wales is in lush farmland and natural beauty, a drought can transform it to grassland plains overnight. Drought is always in the back of a farmer’s mind and sometimes it pushes itself right to the forefront, such as in the years 1990 and 1995, when they got less than a total of thirty inches of rain.
The Steigers showed their true Aussie spirit and fed their livestock by cutting down limbs and leaves from gum trees to make their own mulch. “It’s only a small farm and a few head of cattle and sheep,” Steigs modestly explains. Small farm in this part of the world means ten thousand or more acres of land and hundreds of cattle and sheep.
One of the best traits of a good storyteller is to “know what to tell,” explains Clotilde Gould, Guam's best known oral historian. “What has given me a lot of information on what to tell is when I started interviewing the man’amko, I acquired a lot of the oral history of Guam's traditional elders.”
“For example,” she continues, “how this particular elder wanted to be a nurse but at that time, it was not a good thing for her to do. She would have to live away from home and she would be looked down upon for sleeping in the nurses’ quarters since it was not her own home. Even boys did not go for nurses because of the stigma attached to them. Parents were very strict at that time.”
In addition to oral history stories, Gould enjoys telling Chamorro legends. “I can change the vocabulary of a legend to suit the listeners. Actually the older children are really interested in legends of the past that tell about how our ancestors got here, why did they leave where they were, what is it they carried on their journey. I can tell this in a story telling manner without having to make it a history lesson and they love it.”
Gould believes that storytelling has a definite place in the traditional history of the local people. “Chamorro has always been a spoken language, much longer than a written language, so the language has been passed on from generation to generation. I passed on my stories to my daughter and she now tells those stories to her little boys. I am sure she knows a lot of stories, maybe more that the average person of her generation.”
Gardener’s Greenhouse Delights the Senses
Upon entering the ethereal atmosphere of John Q. Benvente’s greenhouse, pleasurable impressions overwhelm the body’s senses. The mind is filled with soft images and the ears tune inwardly to a Tchaikovsky concerto. Delicate long bodies of hundreds of anthuriums swaying in a soft rhythm are reminiscent of the grace and form of ballerinas. They appear too perfect to be real.
“Oh yeah, everybody who visits wants to move into the greenhouse,” Benavente explains. “Hey, I tell them to come on, I’m getting ready to expand this place because when I transplant, I’m gonna have a lot more anthuriums.”
Benavente expresses his love for beauty by growing and experimenting with various methods of transplanting one of nature’s most delicate flowers. “Guam is really too hot for anthuriums,” he explains. “You have to have a greenhouse to cover the top and the sides; you also need a little bit of coconut leaf to help keep the plants cool on the bottom. It’s maybe 92 degrees today, those plants don’t like that.”
What keeps him tending to this vast array of flowers worthy of a botanical gardener’s attention? His answer is simple, “I like pretty things. And if you get these flowers growing real good, you can see the production of flowers coming up from each plant. That gives me the incentive and enthusiasm to continue.”
Tapping Into the Creative Source
“We go to the source of creation, the source of creation that is pure love and light. We see a beam of white light that enters the crown of our head. Fill your body with white light. When it reaches your toes, you send that beam of light into Mother Earth.”
The soft gentle hypnotic voice of Agi Van Overhagen guides a circle of people gathered around candlelight and flowers into a meditative state of mind.
Agi, as she prefers to be called, is visiting Guam “to hold meditation groups, help people to heal themselves, and to make us aware that we are all powerful people with the ability to do anything that we want to in life.”
Her training is in the fields of Early Childhood Education, hypnotherapy, reflexology, and she studied past life regression in England and the United States where she became a certified regressive hypnotist and trainer. Agi believes that “when we are seeing our past lives, healing can take place. When we can find the root core of a problem, that is when disease leaves the body. This method is particularly helpful when doctors cannot find the source of an illness. Everything starts in the mind.”