Ombayo

I had a hard time focusing while we performed. The true meaning of the song rang truer than ever before. We “Ombayo“.

This past weekend, I was extremely privileged to be invited, as part of Island Breeze/Proper Way, to go to Palm Island to take part in the very first Stable on Palm. For the last 12 years, Townsville’ City Counsel in partnership with the local churches, have  had a community wide Christmas event.  Stable on the Strand is a week long celebration of Christmas held on Townsville’s main beach The Strand.  This year was the first year for Stable to expand to Palm Island (An Aboriginal community 2hrs of the coast of Townsville.)

Island Breeze and Proper Way are Island dance groups that both aim to redeem cultures through cultural dances and songs. Being asked to perform for Palm Island’s Stable on Palm meant that we would be bringing not only the true message of Christmas but also cultural flavours as well as island dances.

Cultural expressions have been such taboo or hidden practices among the Australian Aboriginals in the past couple decades. Although apologies were made to the “Stolen Generations”, the damaged caused to the Aboriginal culture hasn’t been forgotten and identity confusion still reigns. Cultural expressions are slowly resurfacing in the younger generations, but is still vary far from being embraced with pride.

Throughout the weekend, had the opportunity to mingle and share with the Aboriginal youth. The Island Breeze boys made quite an impression on the youth the first day and it resulted in a great increase in connections and interactions the following day. Youths even took part in the festivities and decided to present impromptu cultural items the following evening. It was so good to see the youth stand up to “Shake a Leg”!

My favourite part was to hear how positively surprised the young girls were to see Palangi (Caucasian) ladies performing traditional island dances. All of the sudden, it wasn’t dark skinned islanders dancing and taking pride in their culture. It was Palangis seeing value in island cultures and choosing to identify with it despite their difference in skin tones.

Our presence on Palm Island very much demonstrated the beauty of island cultures and greatly encouraged Aboriginal youths to embrace their God given cultural traits.

For the privilege to be there, for the time spent with the youth, I Ombayo. I give praise.

Combined Practice

If you didn’t already know, “Island Breeze” has joined us here in Townsville. Which means that Proper Way (the Pacific Island dance group I’ve been a part of) and Island Breeze (same same, but different) are now practicing together. What does that mean? Well firstly our family more than doubled in size and our boy:girl ratio went from 1:3 to 1:1. But that in itself doesn’t change much apart from the room size we use and the amount of air conditioning required to keep us from dying of heat exhaustion!

We’re actually merging two families, so two cultures really… We’re now dancing 1.5 times faster to a loud beat produced by drums instead of wooden sticks. And we’re learning heaps of new moves! If you know me well, you’re well aware that I’m far from being coordinated! Marching in steps and in time to “Left, Right, Left, Right, Left, Right, Left…!” had always been a challenge… (Shame I know, after 8 years in the military, right!)  So now imagine me doing complex movements with arms and legs at the same time, and having to remember the foreign names for those moves being called in a different language! It’s a holistic workout; even my brain is involved!

However, I don’t dance for the workout. Nor for the impression that I’m stuck in the middle of a war with Fijian warriors… Dancing to the sound of the drums to strategically avoid spears, “Mission Impossible” style, as it felt last week. That beat makes me quite nervous… mostly because I can’t dance that fast and I don’t like making mistakes ;) But I do dance so that I can be part of this great family.  Where values such as community, respect, cooperation, encouragement, loyalty, altruism and generosity are uphold with the utmost respect. Both groups dance to impact the Nations of the Pacific, redeem cultures, and display their beauty and fragrance.

This week after our hour of Hawaiian Basics was completed, we’ve spent time learning  “Toe’a Mai” / our family version of a Maori Haka. (Haka is a fierce display of a tribe’s pride, strength and unity.) This dance is about unity, family, rowing together and protecting one another. As our family grows we can’t go on doing the same Toe’a Mai, we have to take into account each other’s strengths and let our newfound brothers take their place, row with us and support one another in this transition and amazing season of change and growth.

In “Toe’a Mai” everyone dances fairly closely and it’s practically impossible to go out of step as everyone is tightly rowing together towards the same goal. With this upcoming challenging season, as we move into the City Campus and pursue a new medical ship, this unity and common vision to see the Nations empowered can only strengthen our family.

Ekahi, Elua, Ekolu, Eha!

Ok, so there might be a thing I have omitted to tell you…

When I was in Australia the first time, I learnt a few songs in different languages, and one Maori dance. Coming back for a longer stretch this time, I decided to join the Proper Way “family”. Proper Way is a group of Pacific Islanders along with their multicultural friends (me being one of them…) who have a heart for the nations of the Pacific and really want to promote the Island Cultures through songs, dances, and stories. By raising awareness about the issues of the Pacific Nations, we can see more people get involved and change occur from within those Nations as they feel empowered.

I can already imagine a few of you going: “Angie, dancing!? Impossible!!!” Yes, quite so! I totally agree :) Let me describe what I think of Island dancing… because it is NOT what you think, it is not Hawaiian dancing as you see on TV. I would say it’s more of an intense workout. Part really physically challenging, needing endurance but also coordination and part “my hips don’t move that way!” It’s so hard, I have to really focus to sing and move my arms AND legs at all once!!!

And when we do arms, It reminds me of drill so much that I often keep pushing through the pain only because I tell myself: “You can surely do this, at least you’re not holding a C7 rifle in your hands…!” Replace the “Left,Right, Left, Right, Left, Right, Left!” by “Ekahi, Elua, Ekolu, Eha!” (1,2,3,4) smile and you’re almost doing Hawaiian Basics ;)

Alright there’s nothing quite like photos to properly explain this… enjoy!

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The January schools were up at Hidden Valley to camp, so Proper Way went up to do a few dances, cook for them, and officially welcome them to our family.