“We bring heartfelt greetings to the first peoples of this land. We greet your people from our people. We greet your mountains from our mountains. We greet your oceans from the oceans that bind us to you. We give thanks for our lives, our ancestors, all that they went through so that we can stand here today.”
The above words words by Nathalie Robertson, the New Zealand photographer whom I had met a few days earlier brought me back to reality. We were on Alcatraz island to celebrate the Annual Indigenous Peoples Day Sunrise Gathering. Prior to Nathalie and Huhana Smiths presentation, Sekio Fuapopo (my community partner here in SF for the duration of this residency) had said a prayer in his Samoan language whilst I sang a traditional chant in accompaniment. My eyes were glued to the clouds as I chanted. I could hear their voices rise and fall along with my every breath. I could see them looking back at me, smiling down like the morning sun. raising their voices and heralding me on, acknowledging my own ancestral lineage and the celebration that had begun to unfold. I knew my ancestors were with me. I knew this was an experience I would relive for a long time to come. A Hawaian chant by sisters Fuifuilupe and Loa Niumeitolu together with Paul Keoloha Blake and Harrison Seuga further echoed through Alcatraz after Nathalie and Huhana's. This brought an end to our collective gifts in support of the days celebrations. Along side us were Nicholasi Niumeitolu and Jean Melesaine, a talented young photographer whose work I have come to very much become fond of. Some of Jean's work can be seen on her blog.
As has been the case in all my encounters here, I ask myself what I take away from these experiences. Firstly, the experience in itself was overwhelming. One could feel the spiritual connection in that ceremony, that sense of belonging in one way or another. Secondly, I am an indigenous Papua New Guinean but have never given that, much thought. Being there made me realize the need to uphold and strengthen my peoples traditional values and practices as a means of identity. I guess more importantly the realisation that this can be achieved through my being an artist and by working creatively with the materials and ideas that are indigenous not only to the world but also to my people.