Reflections of Home - Fellow Son of Banaba by Paulo Vanualailai
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Reflections of Home - Fellow Son of Banaba
by Paulo Vanualailai
Banaban/Fijian studying abroad in Japan - 12 Dec 2002
Another touching email by Paulo (Bauro - to his Banaban family) while living aboard, after a recent trip home because of tragedies in his family. Thank you, Paulo, for letting us share your thoughts with others. K.S. & S.K.)
Hi, it's me again and yes for the pictures sent over, Photo no. 1, you can see my Mum, Mrs Tekimaua Bakoa Vanualailai (centre in black) with mostly her peer groups who are perhaps the only elderly ladies left in Suva apart from the ones in Rabi representing the Banaban community.
Photo No. 2 is one of the individual male performers whose grandmother passed away sometime his year. That is why they are commemorating her life with her grandson's sterling Batere performance.
To be frank, I was wrecked with the whole experience and I just can’t wait to share to you both my personal observation and reflection on our unique Banaban culture on that day in Fiji.
Photo No. 3 shows the big rectangular shape batere drum (box) which is situated in the midst of the singers, whose powerful chants and drum beats of the batere box, reverberates not only the physical entity of our human body but digs deeper into our own very soul. This is what connects me to my root and I am very thankful for God that I have a very unique linkage to my ancestral identity the Banaban people from my mother's side. I just came back from the funeral gathering of my father, my Fijian nephew and my Aunty who passed away in Kiribati.
The following events after attending to the three tragedies that befell our family was one of spiritual renewal, especially when I was invited by my mother to take pictures of the Batere held at Toorak Methodist hall by the Suva Banaban community.
Even though I had taken it for granted that it was going to be another one of the typical occasions that usually comes with the festivities of Christmas and the end of the school celebrations for children and adults alike, I was actually in for the shock of my life. Shock in the sense that I had to redefine my cultural roots that run deep within my soul, just by spending one lovely rainy afternoon with the people of my own race. During that afternoon, I was accorded with the following reception, a very sumptuous island styled “lovo” food along with my favourite raw tuna flesh and rice dish, a garland made of different local sweet-smelling lollies with packets of children’s snacks such as bongo, twisties and etc attached together to form a lei around my neck, along with sweet-scented oils anointed on my head and chest, a new sulu to cover up for my informal three-quarter length Levi shorts and finally a chance to see some of the most powerful ‘te kai ni maie’ I ever came across my entire life by the hundreds of Banaban youths which by now I am, shamefully, could hardly recognize them. To make the day more memorable, I was also accorded with gifts that were supposedly meant for the elderly ladies and gentlemen in the Maneaba, consisting of playing cards and sweet-smelling perfumes. What could I say, but I felt like a small king among great kings and queens that afternoon.
My disappointment was that I was only there with my empty stomach and hollowed eyes, with nothing else in my hands to reciprocate the warm and generous reception that would otherwise be a luxury to attend, if I was here in Japan or in another part of the world for that matter. Nevertheless deep within me I knew I was welcomed just like any other long lost sons of Banaba and I know that where I was, the soil which I had sat upon that rainy afternoon, was neither alien nor hostile to my presence, therefore I would say that I have reached my people and my journey has been completed in the peace and warmth of home sweet home, where love, care and genuine smiles are the only agenda of the day, and the Batere is the essence of these virtues. Yes, it’s true where your loved ones are, is also where is your home is.
Yes, a shock indeed for my “being” that I had not been in a Batere session for almost 17 years. Yes, a lifespan of a youth and almost a quarter of my own earthly life gone or wasted was my first awakening.
The question that comes later during that rainy and cool afternoon, was where was I throughout all these years? What have I done to myself all these times? Why was I bogged down with so many peripheral matters in life that I had forgotten a very core and integral part of my cultural identity? Yes, it almost passes by me like a shadow in the night but now it will never! Yes the time has come for me to search again for the lost paradise that I had known and to keep that yearning in me burning like fire until the time I will return back to my ancestral land where they all await us with joy, hope and anticipation for an eternal reunion and Batere amongst the stars above the beautiful Banaban skies in the middle of no-where.
Yes for me that day brings me back so many fond memories of my childhood life in Rabi, especially when I was growing up as a child until the toddler age of 10, mingling with my grandparents and the Banaban community in Nuku, Tabwea, Uma, Tabiang and Buakonikai, when my parents left for Suva to begin a life-time commitment for our primary and secondary education in the early '60s and '70s.
There at Fatima Maneaba hall in Nuku Rabi, where my grandparents actually lived, I would watch and listen with awe and admiration caught somewhere between the stars, the moon and the earth in a mythical transcendental reality. Yes, the clear heavenly sounds of my people as they sang and danced their heart out as if this was their only time to perform was for me a picture painted in my subconscious that would never be erased. Yes, a total self-giving in all it's perfection and execution, and that is to dance the only dance and sing the only song of their life so to speak for that day only and only for that day. This is the uniqueness of it all, that no other day will be same, if I miss one today, I will never get to see or hear the same dance and song the other day, but then again I will get to see another unique dance and hear another unique song for another day and only for that day only, despite the repetition of the same songs and dances, and the paradox of life in a single magic stroke of an heartbeat!
Yes I compared this to that of great masterpieces, which are rare and lasting, we can always be assured to find it when we truthfully seek for it, but fake ones are only temporary and vanish in a flick of an eyelash, like shadows we will never touch it, and so is the spiritual phenomena of the Batere!
The magic rhythm of the batere is to me is a gift from God, and this gift will forever be embedded in the heart and soul of every Banaban irrespective of where they live and work. Yet in the uniqueness of this gift, anyone or any race could also experience the same powerful spirit of the batere dance that can bond and unite people together in one perfect harmony of laughter, joy, peace and outpouring of emotional tears, tears that depicts love, acceptance and happiness. What is so unique about the dancers as they swerved in total unison to the beating of the drumbeat and corresponding perfect melting of the singers and chanter's voices along with the age-old ritual of the clapping of hands in total and perfect harmony, is the individual’s own style of batere. Yes, this is for me the TREASURE OF MY PEOPLE, an explosive yet subtle coordinated rhythm of body movements that sets the stage on fire, while simultaneously keeping their balance reflecting a single concerted group effort. Thus in the singularity of a performer’s act, pluralism could be attained!!… A perfect communal bond basked in the spirit and celebration of life!! What else do I want in life? For me, all I want is only a piece of that magic moment in time and my spirit will burn on forever for my Banabanese!!
I would remember when Christmas and New Years celebrations dawn in. The whole Island is captivated by the spirit of merry-making when the appointed day and time as communally agreed by the elders is announced to stage a grand Batere final with all the pomp and grandeur befitting a royal parade. Thus the mood of the whole charade is heightened by the announcements of tribal and village competitions. This sets another dimension of suspense and excitement amongst the people as a village, tribal or family dance groups went about in total submission and support of their elders to prepare thoroughly for the dance crown, and that is who will don the perfect crown as Kings and Queens of the Batere in Rabi.
For me and for my people, this is the centre of our being, this is the centre of our life, where time and tide standstill and man is caught in the divine rhythm of heavenly dance, for I believe that our life on Earth is nothing more than the rhythmic dance of nature and the spiritual dance of our God that gives us our unique background and culture to show HIS glory to all mankind. Yes, the spiritual attachment to our root cannot be written in words, one has to experience and immerse in the spirit of our culture in order to be able to grasp the metaphysical "being" of it all!!
With this, I bid you both Goodnight and look forward to hearing from you both.
Tia manga bo moa!
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Nei Tekimaua Bakoa Vanualailai in the centre with Banaban Women Elders Suva 2002
Paulo (Bauro) Vanulailai performing batere in Suva 2002
Banaban Men beating the batere drum (box) at Suva performance 2002
Batere performance Suva 2002