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Research Trip to Canberra - by Banaban Ken Sigrah, Australia

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A Research Trip to Canberra
 
by Banaban - Ken Sigrah, Australia
 
Taken from Issue No. 27 of the 'Banaba/Ocean Island News' - Oct, Nov, Dec '97
 

Highlight of Ken's research to Canberra was meeting the late Harry & Honor Maude with Manubu Kitaguchi 

My name is Ken Sigrah and I’m a Banaba currently here in Australia writing a book on behalf of the Te Aka, Te Maiu, Te Karieta and the Teinamoriki Clans. I have been partly sponsored by Manabu Kitaguchi and the Society Branch in Japan. Some of the Society members know me from the ‘Homecoming’ Trip. I, as a Banaban hope my book will help my people restore their culture and dignity.

It is a great privilege for me to write this article for the December Issue. The writing of this book is of great importance to the future of the young Banaban generation in respect to our history, culture and customs.

I also feel so honoured to acknowledge to our readers, that I will be the first Banaban to write on Banaban issues from a Banaban point of view. Thus the reason for my visit to Australia.

I acknowledge the support of the four Clans mentioned in my opening paragraph, and the help of dependent friends and relatives, in the undertaking of this very necessary duty. Also, I would like to thank my late Elders and those who are still on Rabi, for being my teachers. I have been in training as a Clan Spokesman since I was 14 years old. Since then I’ve been attending-general Clan meetings, and believe that this knowledge of Banaban Culture should be recorded and kept for guidelines, for the future generations.

Unfortunately, previous writings about the Banabans has been confusing and inaccurate in relation to true Banaban history, culture and customs. This, only served to make me more determined to write about what I have learnt from my Elders. This written record will take away the confusion and correct the mistakes of the past, before it is too late.

The three hour flight from Nadi to Brisbane brought me to a different land, with different cultures. It will stand out as a great experience in my life, as will the people I have met and still yet to meet in Australia. A lot of Banaban history is stored in the Archives in Canberra, Australia’s capital city.

 

Another Adventure Begins

FRIDAY 7th. of November was the most exciting day of my visit to Australia which marks the beginning of my ‘great Aussie’ tour to Canberra with Stacey as host for this trip. We spent three-quarters of the day travelling from the Gold Coast to the New South Wales town of Taree and left again at 3am the next morning in order to pick up Manabu Kitaguchi by 10am who was arriving at Sydney’s International Airport on a flight from Tokyo.

We had a good time in Sydney quickly sight-seeing and visiting the famous land marks like the Harbour bridge, the tunnel under the harbour and the Sydney Opera House, which brought back fond memories of my last visit to Australia in 1972 as a member of the Banaban Cultural Dance group who performed at the Opera House Opening Celebrations. Manabu was also keen to take some video footage of Nauru House and it took us over 2 frustrating hours to finally locate the building in the maze of one-way streets that run through the heart of Sydney’s business district. By 1.30pm Saturday we left Sydney heading south for Australia’s Capital City of Canberra.

We arrived in Canberra with our mighty VW - ‘spitting the dummy’, an Aussie expression which means in my society as ‘spitting her guts out!’ This happened because Stacey and Manabu had pushed her so hard for the past 1,350 klms in 22 hours of driving. It was in the middle of the Capital’s first set of city traffic lights that our beloved VW conked out. To my surprise and joy I was given the honour of the day by our host to push our poor VW off the busy street to give way to the other motorists.

I was so proud to have Manabu as my assistant to execute the honour - what a way to go. To see people driving past with such beautiful broad smiles makes me wonder if people thought that we had been pushing our VW, with Stacey at the wheel from where we came from. Maybe it was a good sight for the people of Canberra to see three different nationalities crammed into a tiny, overloaded VW beetle. Anyway, the smiles were a most acknowledged Aussie welcome, so I am told.

It was at Canberra Motor Inn that we set camp with Manabu christening our 12’x12’ tent as our Banaban Heritage Society International Headquarters in Canberra.


A Wonderful Discovery Awaited Me In Canberra

SUNDAY 9th. of November was spent in a bit of a panic finding a mechanic to look at our ailing VW. Our first appointments had already been arranged for 10am the next morning, and we needed our car. After the assistance of a local mechanic, who couldn’t stop scratching his head in wonderment when he heard of the journey we had been through. Apparently the VW was down to her last two cylinders, and he couldn’t work out how the car had even made it’s way to his workshop.

The mechanic disappeared under the car and began tinkering and tapping away. Stacey conveniently had disappeared not wanting to see her car in it’s final death throws. A nervous Manabu and I stood by, waiting for the final verdict. Suddenly a large burst of black smoke coughed out of the exhaust and the engine began to rev.

Somehow, Stacey had once again pulled off one of her so called ‘miracles’, (like some of our readers will remember on the recent ‘Homecoming’) Even the mechanic stood back in awe and amazement as he told Stacey - ‘You must be blessed!’

How could Manabu and I tell him that after pulling off taking a leaking boat across the Pacific on mostly one engine, a trip aboard our sick VW was nothing. Just another one of Stacey’s seemingly endless adventures.

MONDAY 10th. of November saw the happy start to a very exciting day. Fellow Society Member - Ewan Maidment from the Pacific Manuscript Bureau, at the ANU in Canberra had helped set up and arrange all our appointments. We met him at his office on time by 10am to a very warm greeting from him and his assistants - Monica and Peter.

When Stacey had first arranged the Canberra visit some months back she had contacted Ewan to ask his help in trying to locate files and material she believed might be stored at the ANU relating to the archaeological dig of my Clan’s sacred village site back on Banaba - Te Aka.

From Stacey’s talks with Ewan he became fascinated with the story of what had happened and went on a personal search on our behalf to see what he could locate. We had already received the exciting news from Ewan before leaving the Gold Coast that he had not only recovered the whole Te Aka file and report but also numerous artefacts and two skeletal remains were also in storage at the ANU.

But what was more exciting for us was the fact that Ewan had advised the department of our visit and arrangements had been made for Dr. Lampert who had led the dig in 1965, and was now retired to Moss Vale in New South Wales to come to Canberra to meet up with us.

At this stage I would like to express my gratitude to Stacey and Ewan for arranging everything for me and setting up such meetings that would be some of the highlights of my life.

It was great to meet with Dr. Lampert and hear his first hand accounts of what he discovered at my village. Also the fact that he never realised the importance of the site, or the fact that after he completed the dig, that the actual mining of the site ended up being abandoned. For all he knew, Te Aka now didn’t exist. (Look to page 10 for Ewan’s article in this month’s issue of PAMBU magazine regarding our Canberra visit)

At my meeting with Dr. Lampert I also met Prof. Jack Golson who had been Head of the Archaeology & Natural History, RSPAS, at ANU and the main organiser of the Te Aka dig all those years ago in co-operation with the Bishop Museum. What a moment it was for me when unexpectedly Prof. Golson officially handed back our sacred artefacts and remains to me for return to my people. Their research over the years had shown the relics to be dated between 300 - 400 years.

Dr. Lampert offered to do a forward for my book and Prof. Golson agreed to write a conclusion for me, to recount the return of these precious items to our people. There is nothing more I could have asked for, except that I now feel this gesture will help the future look brighter for my people.

 

Bringing History to Life

TUESDAY the 11th. Nov saw us off to the Australian National Library where we researched on articles until lunch time. We continued our work at the ANU Library photo-copying the essential documents we could access, mostly the Ellis diary.

WEDNESDAY the 12th. Nov had us visiting the Australian Archives, and another high light of my Canberra visit. To see Manabu and Stacey working together without a break that morning was just the inspiration I needed, and some thing I will always admire.

At 4pm Stacey had arranged for me to meet the seemingly ageless couple - Honor & Harry Maude at their residence. I was so pleased to seem them both is good health despite both being in their 90’s.

What amazed me so much was when Stacey introduced me to Harry and explained I was from the Te Aka clan he immediately began speaking to me in Gilbertese and started to tell me about my clan history.

To have the wonderful experience to sit down with Harry and talk about such important issues in relation to Banaban history and what he had written over the years. It was only while speaking with him that I began to understand the full extent of what he had tried to achieve through his writings, especially in his last book the 'BOOK OF BANABA', which our people find very controversial.

He answered so many of my questions that are relevant for my research on my book I am writing about our people’s history, especially our clan - Te Aka, the indigenous people of Banaba. The most important information of our discussion was tape recorded by Stacey, a copy of which will be made and sent back to my clan elders back on Rabi.

After such an enlightening two hours spent with the Maude’s we sadly bid ‘Ti akabo’, with Harry promising to write a ‘Forward’ for my book.

On FRIDAY 14th. November I had the pleasure of meeting Robert Langdon at the ANU. Robert or Bob as he is known ignited the Banaban’s British Court case by writing the article titled ‘Scandalous Document’ in 1967, while editor for the Pacific Island Monthly.

The pleasure in meeting these people was very overwhelming. I can’t say more, but my personal ‘Kam bati Raba’ (thank you very much) for making my trip to Canberra a memorable and profitable one, I will never forget.

 

Experiencing Real Aussie Bush Hospitality

We left Canberra and made our way back to the Gold Coast via the New South Wales country town of Tamworth, to meet up with a fellow society member Alan Macarthy and his family. The Macarthy family hosted us in Tamworth, and even arranged for their local news media to interview us on Banaban issues. This was an exciting experience. (see news clipping no. 17) Another valuable chance to promote my people and our culture.

We were joined by Grant, who had flown up from Sydney to meet up with us during our stay. Grant and Alan are working on writing a book on Pacific Coastwatcher history.

Our 2 day stopover with Alan and his family was a real first hand experience for both Manabu and myself. It was my first real taste of what is called Australian country hospitality, and a big lesson in how not to drink so much Aussie beer.


Building New Friendships After The Legacy of War

Poor Manabu had arrived with a very bad back ache after being crammed in the back of the VW with all the luggage. Manabu’s visit was also a very big occasion for Alan as it was Alan’s first time to personally meet with a Japanese person. (Look to Alan’s ‘Feature Story’ page on the family’s tragedy of his uncle being executed as a Coastwatcher during WW2.) Through the Society Alan had heard and read so much about Manabu’s efforts to educate the Japanese public about the War years, and Alan wanted to meet him. It was great to see the two of them busy chatting away, and Alan showing Manabu all his research material on Pacific Coastwatcher history.

To see them laughing together and warmly shaking each others hand made me realise what the Banaban Heritage Society was all about. Bringing people together - not just us Banabans, but people from all different backgrounds who shared a common interest and more importantly genuinely cared for others.

We finally said ‘farewell’ on Monday afternoon and once again hit the road. We arrived back at the Gold Coast around 10.30pm, very tired and wasted physically, but well and happy in spirit.

On SATURDAY 22nd. November we said another ‘ti akabo’ to our good friend Manabu from Brisbane Airport. Another adventure had come to an end, safely and with such wonderful results.

Learning More Than I Bargained For

I’m now busy working on the actual writing of my book, and learning to try and adjust to western Society here in Australia. The technology here is amazing and Stacey is hoping to teach me how to use the computer. Meanwhile she also has me busy answering the mountain of mail she receives especially over the INTERNET - another amazing aspect of new technology.


A Heartfelt Experience

As I look back now on my great experiences in Canberra and since arriving here in Australia, I begin to understand that my attitude to life as a Banaban now seems different. As a younger generation of Banaban, born and raised in Rabi I always felt the burden of our people’s past history. Now I’m convinced that I have suffered and looked at my life from a ‘Victim’s’ point of view, which every other Banaban also feels. As I have learnt from another great Aussie expression - I have carried ‘a great chip on my shoulder’. It is time that we must no longer keep feeling sorry for ourselves - (Another reason why I feel so strongly about the change to our new Society Logo). We as Banabans can achieve so much for our people in the future, it is up to each of us to make a difference. We can not change what has been done to us in the past, only work towards a better future: building new friendships and addressing the problems our community faces in today’s modern world.

I also realise that we Banabans need support from our network of friends world wide. (A big thank you to all those who have contributed over the past years in helping our people.) The Canberra trip showed me what we could achieve when we all put our heads down and worked together. A valuable lesson I hope I will be able to share with my people in future years.

So here ends my story - until the next adventure!


Copyright Ken Sigrah, Dec, 1997  

   

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