Passing from One Generation to the Next

Troops at Darwin, The Argus, ca. 1941 (
Troops at Darwin, The Argus, ca. 1941 (

“Bala, bala” yelled out Grandma Aukia from under a young coconut tree, “come here, come bala.” Her thin and old voice tried to get Johnny’s attention.

Johnny was a young, fourteen-year-old teenage boy, who was laying comfortably under three coconut trees, a little away from Grandma Aukia.  Lying this way, Johnny pressed himself against the thick, soft, white beach sand, his left leg crossing over his right in full concentration mode attending to his new, black Nokia mobile phone. The weather was perfect but the sun was scorching hot, the tide just right as the sea gently rolled its waves peacefully over the beach.

The sound of the waves was always relaxing, calming and soothing, always that feeling of peace when you are in the presence of the mighty sea. The sea not only calms the soul but is medicine to our people; our people seek the presence of the ocean in times of sickness and illness. Being near to the ocean brings about comfort and healing. Our old people always say that the sea is a powerful element, it cures your body, it draws upon that which is causing your body to be afflicted. The powers of witchcraft, sorcery and bewitchment are always dealt with by the saltwater. The forces of darkness and evil are broken and defeated when they touch the saltwater.  My old people tells us that the ocean and fire are the destroyer of bad things and evil things. Seek the saltwater when the body, soul, mind and spirit are in need of healing, comfort and calmness of being. You will always find it in the presence of the great and mighty ocean.

The sea was blue and clear as glass, a nice time to throw a line and fish off the beach or jump in the dinghy and head out to those small coral clusters. With the ocean this clear, there would definitely be some crayfish for sure and spearing some cray and fish right now would be good, a good plan for the day.  On a hot, sunny day like this on the Island, you know that the saltwater is the best way to cool off, especially leading up to Christmas.  Summer time is always the season that drives the Island children to spend most of their days down at the beach, catching the early morning king tides. Come midday, when the sun is the scorching hot, you can hear shouts, laughter, talking and chatting from the salt water’s edge as the children from the island all gather together to cool off and begin to make their own fun of Island games and entertainment.  Who can dive the longest, swim the fastest, tiggy brandy with a soft, round plastic ball or building sand castles and decorating them with whatever the sea washed up onto the beach. Sometimes a child would have entertain four other children as he or she would use sticks, shells, seaweeds, washed-up bottles, thongs or cans to play out their story as the other children listened carefully and watched amusedly.

Today the breeze was really doing its magic, as it blew you could feel it sweeping past the sea, taking the coolness off the sea, soothing your body, allowing you to forget about the hotness of the day.  Grandma Aukia was looking through her glasses, legs stretched forward and slightly apart, focused on a nice, healthy, green medium-sized coconut leaf.  With a sharp, silver-blade machete in her right hand and her left hand firmly clasping the top of the leaf, with three hits to the middle of the hard, dark-yellow stem of the coconut leaf, the machete snapped the coconut leaf evenly. With her dark wrinkled hands, Grandma began stripping the long, thin, dark-green leaves from the first half of the coconut branch, placing them into a pile near to her.

“Bala! Bala!”   Grandma Aukia’s thin, old voice called out to Johnny.  “Yes Grandma! Sorry! Coming Grandma Aukia!” Johnny called  out apologetically.  Immediately, Johnny got onto his feet and hurried over to Grandma Aukia.  As Johnny came near to her, she  looked up at him through her lopsided spectacle, her soft silvery white hair like the color of a full moon shining bright amongst a dark sky,  plaited on both sides of her face in two pigtails.  She was wearing an old, worn-out, red Island dress with faded yellow hibiscus prints. Her soft hands were wrinkled-filled with lines across that spoke of the many vegetable gardens she had attended to, the many cassava, banana, yam, sweet potato, taro plants she had harvested.  There was a calmness in her beautiful, round face, similar to the ocean. Her brown eyes were still strong to focus on her weaving, but the blue ring circle around her brown pupils, like  a blue ring octopus, spoke of her old age.  As Grandma Aukia aged with time, the blue rings got brighter and bigger.

“What you doing, Bala” said Grandma Aukia. “Nothing much Grandma, just looking at my updates on FB, I mean Facebook” said Johnny. “Face what?” Grandma Aukia said with a strange and confused look on her face.  “Book with a face, ah? This generation, I tell you, you do strange things” said Grandma Aukia.  “It’s a social site Grandma, I can talk to my friends and keep in contact with them, even them ones from boarding school, there down south” said Johnny, his voice full of excitement and young energy.

“Come my boy, help me make some grasshoppers for your baby sister’s NAIDOC celebration at school tomorrow. Her class will sing a song and they will carry these grasshoppers as part of their class item on parade”, said Grandma Aukia in a casual voice.

“Oh set! No, no, Grandma, I don’t think I can do grasshoppers” Johnny chuckled. He went on in a slack voice, “You want me to get some of the girls to come and help you? I will get Marra and her friends, they’re in the house watching a Rambo movie.”

“Sit down bala, this will not take long for us to do, come my boy, we getting old, we won’t be around forever you know. Learn so you don’t have to ask someone else and expect some other person to  teach you these things”. Grandma Aukia spoke with a stern but kind voice as her old wise eyes looked into her young grandson’s face.

“Ooooh, huh!” puffed Johnny, “alright Grandma, I’ll try, but I don’t think I can do it”.  Sullenly, Johnny sat right next to Grandma Aukia on her big brown woven island mat. “My boy, don’t worry, I will teach you, grasshoppers are easy to make and you will get it in no time, two hands are better than one.” A great excitement developed in Grandma Auka’s voice.

“When you learn to weave a grasshopper out of coconut leaf, it will stay with you for the rest of your life, a part of me will always stay with you, when you have children a part of you will always remain with your children, that’s how we never get forgotten. These weavings hold us throughout the generations”.

Calmly, softly, she handed Johnny his first coconut leaf.

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