Behind extraordinary ideas, there are extraordinary people. Dumbo Feather is a magazine about these people.
“Mafuli ae Kaniva,” The Milky Way has turned in the night sky,
It signifies the end of the darkness and a harbinger of the breaking dawn.
When they came it is said they brought the enlightenment,
they raised my ancestors out of the darkness,
they taught them Christianity and shame,
and a lot of what we knew was discarded,
thrown aside, like an illegitimate child who gets adopted by a
spinster aunt to hide the shame of their birth.
I asked an elder about the time before the white men.
She replies that all is forgotten because it was left behind with
the darkness. I’m saddened, a lot of our history only goes back
to the arrival of the white man.
I sit with an aunt and get her to recount Our lineage.
We go back five generations, seven generations,
when I push her to go back further she says,
we don’t go past that point.
I ask why.
She says, beyond that, there is the darkness and we don’t talk about that time.
Why? I persist.
Because beyond that you will be ashamed to find out that some of Your great grandmothers were sluts.
She laughs uncomfortably.
What do you mean? I persist.
Well back in the darkness,
Our Women slept with whomever they wanted.
I don’t feel shame.
I’m thrilled by the thought that my great grandmothers were free-loving, sex-positive women!
I feel empowered by the idea.
The shame taught by the missionaries interrupted our oral histories.
It erased much of our stories, so our people forgot much of who we were.
We began to edit ourselves and the stories we passed down.
Sanitised and cleaned or untold because of shame.
Large swathes of our history were enveloped in darkness.
Prior to first contact, we had an oral tradition,
everything we knew was passed down by word of mouth.
Stories and histories recounted by one generation to the other.
I was tested in high school and told
I retain more than 70% of what I hear.
I wonder if it’s a genetic evolution to help us remember our stories.
William Mariner, a cabin boy who was allowed to live,
when the ship he came in to Tonga was destroyed, describes his time in Tonga in the 1800s.
He tells of Tongan women taking their pick of the crewmen.
Then leading them off to procreate with.
I imagine the women lining the men up on the beach,
looking them up and down (as tourists do with our dancing girls today), commenting on their physiques to each other and laughing uproariously before they usher them off to lay on a mat in a fale.
He tells of a conversation with a chief, Finau Ulukalala.
Who, when he had the concept of money explained to him, said that money would make people selfish.
It will allow people to hoard wealth instead of sharing it with their community, he declared, making us more individualistic and less collective,
less about us and more about me.
Did you know that underarm hair was unfashionable in Tonga?
All men and women shaved their
underarm hair, according to Mariner.
I wonder if this is why my underarm hair is sparse? Genetic evolution?
Did my progenitors with less underarm hair breed more successfully because it was considered an attractive trait?
I find another memoir by a missionary,
I can’t get past “they came to save the lost and convert the heathen.” I close the book.
In my quest for knowledge of the time known as “the darkness,”
I still find it triggering to read missionary memoirs,
it’s still too soon in my journey. I put the book back on the shelf.
I remember coming across a figure carved in ivory while in transit in an international airport.
I remember my shock when I read the sign,
it was a Tongan fertility goddess.
We had a fertility goddess? We have a Fertility Goddess!
There she sat for sale for thousands of dollars in an antiquities shop. I wished I could afford to buy her.
I think of her often but
I still don’t know her name.
I’m pissed that records of daily life for that period can only be found in the books of the colonisers.
We self-deleted so much of our own history.
I search for more fragments of light.
I find a small book online that talks of the Tongan constellations and months of the year. A treasure!
Also written by a white man.
It talks of Kaniva, “the Milky Way,” published in 1920.
I learn that our name for the Southern Cross is Toloa,
A duck with its wings spread.
One of the ducks’ wings is injured from a rock thrown by the Lua Tangata (two men) constellation.
The injured wing is the dimmer star and the rock is the star in the middle of the cross. I learn of Mataliki (Pleiades),
of Alotolu, the three oared boat, part of the Orion constellation.
The boat that Hina took to look for her pet shark.
There is a long list of Tongan constellations and I’m excited to learn and marry it up with my high school astronomy.
I hope one day I will be able to look up at the Kaniva and give the constellations their Tongan names and point them out to my children.
Another spear of light in the darkness.