naked, and unashamed

of vaka, schools and spray cans

The Ports of Auckland have been responsible for managing my weekends of late, what with Round the Bays a coupla weeks ago, and the Onehunga Festival last Saturday. I thoroughly enjoyed both, though, and I’m not complaining at all. In between the excellent Jamaican jerk pork with festival and the very nice performance by Unknown Peace, the highlights were the three conversations I had.
The first was with Ian Calhaem, who was at the festival with a traditional Pukapukan ‘vaka-ama’, an outrigger canoe. The traditional carving knowledge represented in this vaka was dying out, till the canoe carving festivals that started in 2007(?) in Rarotonga, and in which Ian was involved. Considered a huge success, this carving festival is becoming an annual event, giving new life to traditional knowledge forms. The particular vaka Ian had brought was used in Pukapuka for fishing and general cargo. One part I found rather amazing were the stitches that join the wood together. These are completely watertight, and are made so by a combination of fine carving skills, and various applications of ash and whale oil. While this particular one had no sails, there are larger ones that do.
While I am no luddite, I think it is a pity that we lose so much of traditional (often oral) knowledge in our headlong full-pelt scramble for modernity. It is good that the Ian Calhaems of the world remind us of what we could well lose if we are not careful.
Ian would, with the support of a master carver from Ngati Whatua (the local Maori tribe), like to have a similar carving festival in Auckland. This would be open for people to participate in, and a brilliant way to revive interest in this knowledge. What is currently missing is a log (or multiple logs) to carve the waka from. I understand his particular interest is in reviving knowledge of Maori river and lagoon canoes. He says even pine would do- anyone with a log or two to spare?
The second conversation was with Simon Hertnon, who is part of a group of people trying to prevent the Auckland City Council from uprooting Monte Cecilia school for an extension to a park. What got me thinking (and rather riled) was when he spoke of how a Councillor said that the new addition would make Monte Cecilia park the “jewel in the crown that is Auckland’s parks”. I, for one, have had quite enough of jewels and crowns. While I understand that there is something to be said for running a city like one would a business, and am a fan of more public spaces, I think it is ridiculous to treat communities as if they were billboards to attract investment.
The third conversation was again for proposed changes, though of a much more appealing nature. Glen Armstrong, who owns/operates the Onehunga and Ellerslie branches of the House of Travel was asking for petitions to be signed in favour of more street art/murals in the Onehanga community. “More art and less tagging” seemed to be his catchline. His own store in Onehanga had a mural on the (outside) wall, featuring the work of K-road based artists Cut Collective. While I could not take a look at his store, I have seen a few of the collective's pieces around town, and really love what they do.
While the art world seems to have come to terms with spray can painting as art, I am not sure if our communities are quite as welcoming yet. I was glad to see that he had four pages of signatures by about half way through the festival. If you are part of the Onehunga community, do pass this on- it would be good to see an entire community business district covered in murals! Honestly, isn't is about time we brought art *out of the museums and art galleries onto the streets?
So then, POAL, what have you got planned next?

translation: cheraw and the mizo

This was written as a piece meant to generate discussion on the forum, and not as an article, which explains the almost bullet-point style. I will try and keep up with the responses and add any further information I can find. The context is the intense discussion surrounding the Guinness record made by Mizoram (and here) in a bamboo dance called the Cheraw, elements of which we share with other south east Asian cultures.

The original piece here, and the author's blog here.

Particular thanks also to zozem and peer gynt, without whose help I would have been unable to complete this translation.

                     Cheraw and the Mizo


I’m not going to speak of whether we have or have not made a Guinness World Record in a bamboo dance. I think we have said all we wanted to. As for me, I want to know how Cheraw became our tribe’s dance, and since when this has become part of our culture and lifestyle. I’ll say what I know of it, you can then add what you know. I think the people at might profit more from this discussion than from discussions about bamboo-dances and World Records.

I have not heard of the Cheraw being danced at the Chapchar Kut. Somewhat like the Sawlakia, this was one of the dances of the Pawi before we came west (from Burma). Though I don’t have documented proof of this, I’m going to tell you what I’ve heard. I have not heard a clear explanation of how the word ‘Cheraw’ came to be used. It has many names. As far as I know, in the Pawi language, ‘Cheraw’ means ‘to move oneself around’. I have also heard this (dance) called “Hreichhun Zai”, “Ramkhat lak” and “Ngam lam”. It is also said that it was popularly called “Cheural Lam” before we crossed the Tiau river (between Burma and Mizoram), and that those that came west called it Cheraw.

Our Pawi siblings don’t use the term ‘Kan’ (cross) when referring to dancing Cheraw, they use ‘Tlawh’ (kick). I have also never heard of Cheraw being danced at the Chapchar Kut. The reason they dance this today seems to be as part of a show of our culture. Cheraw (known as Ngam Lam) was danced at the time of Buhza Aih* and Mim Kut.**

It seems the Pawi call Buhza Aih ‘Hrangza Tlawh’. You cannot throw a Buhza feast/Aih just because you’re already wealthy– you should have been blessed with a Buhza harvest consecutively for 10 years for you to be able to throw a feast. My father told me “In your grandfather’s Buhza Aih year of 1956, they definitely danced the Cheraw. They sang Cheraw songs, though men did not sing.”

Mim Kut was observed in Thitin month (August). Cheraw was also danced so that the spirit of a mother who dies in childbirth could pass peacefully.

Nowadays many different ways (steps) of dancing the Cheraw have emerged. Each place has its own way of dancing the Cheraw. Bualpui lam and Buhza Aih Lam seem to be among the more popular ones (steps). Apparently the dance steps that the Arts & Culture department has introduced is a conglomerate of steps taken from various areas, arranged in the most pleasing way. Pu Tlangrema from Hnahlan seems to have had a lot to do with these standardised steps.

* Buhza Aih/Ai: A feast given by a family for the whole village when they have been blessed with a surplus harvest. Buhza would have come from the fact that to have/throw such a feast, you should have reaped more than a 100 sacks of paddy, which is usually far more than the family can eat/keep/manage. This is a time of feasting for the whole village, with meat and zu (rice-beer).
   Literally, Buh phur Za = 100 sack loads of rice grain 
   1 Buh phur = approx. 3 tins of buh hum (paddy)
   1 Tin of of buh fai = 6-7 kg

** A festival that follows the (mim/vaimim) maize harvest, usually around September. Part of the celebration involved force feeding one another with eggs and other food in the graveyard. 

translations: intro

As part of an expression of my obsession with Access, I am trying to translate articles/pieces from a popular Mizo website called mi(sual).com into English.
Why translation? For two reasons.

One, there are quite a few people like me brought up on the fringes of
or outside Zo culture. Some of us barely know the language, but still wish to be a part of our culture and claim our heritage. Others know the language, but are slow readers and much more fluent in English. Still others are not the most interested because of the language acting as a barrier in getting to know Zo culture better. Most importantly, then, these translations are for ‘us’.

Second, much of the writing (in English) about the Zo tribes has been
by others, from the early British missionaries and colonialists to more contemporary journalists in Indian papers like The Telegraph and Tehelka. While I would not deny the immense good these writings have done (the missionaries gave us writing) I believe we should also represent ourselves. While many bloggers are already doing this, my particular concern is with the opinions, ideas and information in the Mizo language and therefore not accessible to the larger world.

Having said that, the choice of articles to translate is fairly arbitrary, and are influenced by my personal interests (culture, art etc.), length of the piece (my own Mizo skills are minimal) and the time I have available. I would welcome more help with translating more pieces, maybe eventually in the form of a Wiki. Please also feel free to correct my translation where you feel it is inadequate.

Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree (or disagree) with the opinions
of those I try to translate, though I find the piece interesting. As far as possible, I will edit only to illustrate/explain what the author is talking about. This may mean there is a stiffness of language I apologise in advance for; the fault is with me, not the author.


            “Heta tangin...saw saw a lang
             Sawta tangin...hei hi a lang”

   - Early Zo poem

Translated, “From here...that can be seen. From there...this can be seen”.

Story of my life.

Some of my earliest memories of Shillong involve wanting to come to New Zealand. I do not know why, as this was in the days before we had a TV, and definitely much much before we had the Internet. I knew little of Maori, and even less about the stunning landscape. One association I made with New Zealand was the tins that Apu had, that used to hold milk powder, but now held sugar, bought monthly in 5 kg bags from the Army rations stores. Turned out that these were from Australia. Over the years, bits and pieces I heard about this land fascinated me, from the news piece about bungy jumping, or watching the Maori haka, even finding out that Sir Ed Hillary was from here. In the years I lived with Apu, he spoke once or twice about wanting to go to New Zealand. Then there was the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland, and the subsequent banning of all nuclear armed/powered vessels from New Zealand waters.

Interestingly enough, it was that last one that brought us here. When talk of studying/seeing the world came up, I had suggested Aotearoa New Zealand, but Dee thought it too far from home and family. One day though she saw a documentary on the banning of nuclear armed/powered vessels, and came home and told me we would be moving to Aotearoa New Zealand after all.

And what an adventure of the mind this has been. Scraping a little under the surface of Maori art, I’ve got more insight into my own tribal culture(s) than I’d have thought possible. I’ve been introduced to the whole world of Visual Culture, and think I may have finally found something that can keep me interested long enough to be able to get a degree in it. I’m dreaming of a chance to study the Visual Cultures of North East India in detail, particularly the Zo puan.

The fantastic libraries and the work with the RDA and a Special School have thrown up questions of access I had never thought of before. While I may not be able to contribute brilliantly to the world, surely I can help by helping provide access for people who might? I think back of the chap from Bihar who built a pirate radio station. He was obviously much smarter than the bureaucrats who shut him down. What could better access do to those of us impaired by a disabling society? I dream now of starting, not so much a library, but something that does what a library does- provide access.

The Lord of the Rings connections here are leading me down the trails of Myth and the creation of myths. First there was Tolkien and his Middle-Earth, created on the basis of Old English and Norse myths. Then were the movies based on the Lord of the Rings that have become as famous as the books, if not more. And now is another extension of that mythology being created- movie set tourism. Tourists are not visiting Matamata, they are visiting Hobitton. Not the Rangitata valley (Maori), or even Mount Sunday (European), but Edoras. And I cannot help but wonder: What myths have we lost? What myths are we creating?

And so it is, this far from home, that is what I see clearer. Just as this is what I saw when I was there.

Heta tangin...saw saw a lang
Sawta tanging...hei hi a lang


Chhumleivak was tired. They had been wandering for what felt like forever, uphill and downhill and overhill and underhill- in fact any combination of hills and wandering you could think of. Done. And they was tired.

They had swarmed through forests of bamboo and been poked, pricked and prodded in every way imaginable. They had slid and slithered on the shiny bamboo leaves that were strewn on the ground. They pushed through dark dank caves that were full of the smells of wet earth and old old secrets, to come out very near the same place they had gone in. Trudged up over the bumpy boulders and the rough fallen branches that were brought down by last year’s rains and down through a desolate grove of banana trees left all dusty and greenless by the Sumos that drove in a great almighty hurry on the road to Lunglei. The best, of course, was when they went over a river and woh could feel the cold-ish ticklish slightly zing-zing underneath. Sort of like the feeling you get when you sit on that rock in Wah-ka-dait and put your feet in the rapids, just MORE everything because a river has a lot more water in it than the streams we have here.

Now you probably guessed already, but Chhumleivak are one of what you call 'clouds'. All clouds are the same, they just take turns at doing different jobs. Which reminds me, it is your turn at feeding the chicken this week. Anyway, they take turns at being in the sky, when they are called Chhumvanraang or Chhumtuipai (or Chhumtuipailo) and a dozen other names you wouldn't remember anyway so I'm not going to tell you, and when they are on the ground they are called Chhumleivak.

Chhumleivak, like I was saying, was tired. It was nearing the end of their season, and the excitement at getting a turn on the ground was fading. They longed to be back in the sky, being pushed along by Tohmon (the wind) or basking in the warm lap of Ka Sngi(the sun). And as you know very well, when you have been walking through the hills and you get tired, it becomes very hard to concentrate on where you are going. And just like that, just because they were so tired, Chhumleivak began to break apart. What had started as a large strong brooding mass began to show cracks. They started to get thinner, and some bits began to straggle. That’s right, when you are in the hills, it is not a good idea to straggle at all! And just as they were passing a little village that was heroically holding on to a hillside, it happened. One of the bits of Chhumleivak accidentally wandered into an open window!

Now Dhobi-ka-Kutta (this was before he went to Secunderabad and became a big star) kinda-sorta-accidentally-deliberately was in the same village at the time. He was kinda-sorta passing through, but kinda-sorta looking for something to eat, and maybe even a warm place to sleep. And the smell of fresh pork-smoked-on-a-charcoal-fire was enough to make him kinda-sorta want to stay. It was an easy hunt. A nonchalant keep-to-the-shadows walk that brought him up close, a slow on-the-belly-creep-up behind the woman washing dishes outside and a mad dash to grab a mouthful and run run run! The run itself was punctuated by a muffled yelp as a well-aimed stone warned him not to try that trick again. But the pork, with a bit of leftover rice that was kept by a backdoor for pig feed made a great meal, and now he wanted a nap. And for some strange reason I cannot account for, he decided to go into a house, crawl under a bed and get some well deserved rest.

Chhumleivak was scared. This place smelt different from all the places woh* had been so far. It smelt warm and closed up, but not like the damp warmth of the caves. It felt hard, but not like the hard of the rocks in the streams or the packed earth in that large flat place. It tasted like the trees, but was too smooth to be them. Woh felt wohs way around, moving towards a strange sound, like one Tohmon would make, but quieter, somehow.

And Chhumleivak (the rest of them) was angry. They had regrouped on the other side of the village and found that a bit of them was missing! This had never happened before! Missing! And almost end of season, just as they were getting ready to become Chhumtuipai! How? Where? Now if you’ve watched clouds, which I know you have, you know that they can get together very very quickly. Just while you’re not looking, the sunshine will fade, the trees stop whispering and giggling, and the almost dry washing has a very real chance of getting another rinse. And that is what happened. Chhumleivak told the Chhumvanrang, who quickly got everybody together. Some went to go wake old Thunder (fast asleep as usual) while others went to call Chhumtuipai. Tohmon got involved as only Tohmon can, blowing this way and that, into every cave and through every tree. Chhumtuipai let go their load of rainwater, hoping to flush the missing Chhumleivak out. Even Kong Sngi lent a hand, shining as hard as possible everywhere that wasn’t covered by Chhumtuipai. And Tohmon. Whoosh here and whoosh there, blowing so hard that the lost Chhumleivak would have been blown to bits if woh were actually in the way! What a to-do there was! Even old Thunder (late as usual) bellowing away, telling everyone (who already knew) that Chhumleivak was missing! What a to-do I say.

I don’t know what Dhobi-ka-Kutta was dreaming about, but dreaming he was. But there was something on the edges of his dream, something kinda-sorta wet, but not in an unpleasant way, kinda-sorta cold but not sharp. And he could feel that kinda-sorta wet-cold something on his nose. He twitched once, he twitched twice, then he opened his eyes. Now I must tell you this, I rather admire Dhobi-ka-Kutta’s nerves. It is a rather startling thing to wake from a nice after breakfast nap because there is a wet-cold on your nose, and to open your eyes and find yourself face to face with a bit of Chhumleivak! It’s not funny, I tell you. You’d probably die of fright if it happened to you! But Dhobi-ka-Kutta (with his nerves of steel) wasn’t frightened at all. He just sniffed once at Chhumleivak, and cocked his head in surprise. Now THIS was something you didn’t see every day! Not that there was very much to see, mind you, just a little wispy-cloudy sorta thing under a bed in a room. And there definitely wasn’t a wispy-cloudy sorta thing there when Dhobi-ka-Kutta went to sleep!

And what was that ruckus outside?

Grumble grumble grumble BOOM went old Thunder. Grumble BOOM! Dhobi-ka-Kutta wondered what old Thunder was on about. Never the most articulate at best, old Thunder could be quite hard to understand when woken from a nap. And since he seemed in no danger from the wispy-cloudy thing, he sat down again to try and understand what old Thunder was saying. Aaah, thought Dhobi-ka-Kutta, as he finally made the connection between the great excitement outside and the cloudy-wispy thingy he had just met. So he stood back up, took a nice long stretch (as you should always do after a nap), reached under his super-cape into his super-utility belt and pulled out a super nudge-o-matic. Heh heh no, he didn’t. I just made that up to see if you were awake.

Anyway, he knew that he needed to help. The cloudy-wispy thing didn’t look like it could be lifted by the scruff of the neck (what neck) and marched out. And it didn’t seem to react when he called to it either. Aaah, he thought again as he hit on an idea. And very very gently, Dhobi-ka-Kutta started nudging Chhumleivak with his nose. Nudge he went, nudge nudge out from under the bed. Nudge he went, nudge nudge towards the window. Nudge he went, nudge nudge up towards the window sill. Till finally one bounce, two bounce and OUT the window went Chhumleivak. Free! Home! Yay!

Things quietened down pretty fast after that. Dhobi-ka-Kutta managed to sneak out without too much trouble, and old Thunder went back to sleep. Kong Sngi had to work extra hard to make sure the laundry dried, and Chhumtupai went back to wherever it is they hang out when it is not raining. Chhumleivak became Chuumvanrang (change in plan) the next season, and had a nice long break before they took a turn on the ground again.

And so it is, before you close your windows at night, you should always look under the bed, just in case there is a little bit of Chhumleivak hiding there. How will you know if there is? Well, just like Dhobi-ka-Kutta, you’ll feel something kinda-sorta wet-cold on your nose!

*I have been told by very reliable sources that 'woh' is the correct singular pronoun for sunsets, lightning and clouds. Apparently they do not have genders as we know it, and so 'woh' is the only correct (and more importantly polite) descriptor. I am yet to be told if this pronoun also fits others. In a group, they can be reffered to as ‘they’. 

thanks @ for the beginnings of this story!