Living as we do in the midst of the vast Pacific Ocean, distanced from loved ones by many miles, and exposed to seasonal storms that have the power to change our lives forever in the space of a few hours, safe homecomings are not easily taken for granted. Projects coming to fruition as planned are more often the exception, rather than the rule... Island life has an unpredictability that can breed both discouragement and resilience: that choice is ours to make, often daily.
Little wonder then that celebrations of welcome, of home-coming, and of achievement are marked in such joyous and colourful ways by iTaukei (indigenous Fijian) people, past and present!
My first painting of 2020, started while Cyclone Sarai was bearing down across our islands with destructive wind speeds, celebrates a unique Fijian welcome ceremony called the "Cere" (pronounced theh-reh).
In times gone by, villagers would gather at the water’s edge to greet returning sea voyagers arriving on traditional, double-hulled canoes or ‘drua’. Amidst much hilarity, the welcome party would wave swathes of patterned barkcloth in a flamboyant and noisy ceremony, that ended in a playful race as the young men tried to catch their female counterparts, some of whom would be carrying treasured whale’s teeth as the ultimate welcome gift and sign of esteem.
A variation of this custom is still practised in Fiji today, to celebrate the return of a chief, or the arrival of a new plane, boat, or other significant acquisition. In modern times, the young women often wave flags crafted from brightly printed cloth, or looped between them in a colourful and jolly procession. Here are a couple photos showing how the time-honoured tradition of the 'cere' ceremony can look in 21st century Fiji:
|Fiji's living culture: both traditional barkcloth and modern printed fabric are used in today's 'Cere' ceremonies.|
Photo Credit: The Uto Ni Yalo Trust
As with many of my paintings, my "Welcome Home!" piece grew out of a sense of awe for the many-layered, vibrant iTaukei culture that has become the context and background to my life here in Fiji. A culture under pressure from economic and ideological changes that have, within the short space of two to three generations, seen Fijians catapulted from traditional, village-based subsistence lifestyles, into the post-industrial urban world of our 21st century global economy. A culture in danger of rapid erosion - yet still deeply a part of iTaukei identity and sense of well-being...
I am painting this contemporary piece in acrylics on traditional barkcloth, crafted by women from our extended family who live on Vatulele, an outlying coral atoll to the south of our island. "Welcome Home!" was commissioned by a friend who was looking for a unique piece of art to hang on a wall near her front door. Her spacious home is light and white, with warm reds as accents throughout the surrounding living space. A great excuse, therefore, to get out my crimsons, pinks, and oranges and create something full of good energy - welcoming, and lively!
"Welcome Home!" is now complete, mounted on a painted backing board that is covered in a textured collage made from scraps of barkcloth. The piece, which will soon be framed, currently measures 27 x 23 inches.
So, here's to welcoming in a new year, and with it, new chapters of our lives! Wishing us all much joy, many creative adventures and heart-warming homecomings as we embark on a brand new decade!