He Wahī Paʻakai: A Package of Salt

adding flavor and texture to your world through story


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He Māʻona Moku: A Satisfaction with the Land

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He māʻona moku.
A satisfaction with the land.
Said of a person who is contented with what he/she has.
(Pūkuʻi, 1983, p. 88)

“Is it because we have become so bitter that our people now crave so much sweetness?”

I didn’t know how to respond. I was quite certain that my friend/constant riddler was speaking about much larger issues in the Hawaiian community than our literal obsession with sugary foods and drinks. However, her words left a taste in my mouth: the bitter taste of truth. And now, even months after hearing them, I can still sense her words as they dance on my tongue, not yet sure of the lesson she was trying to teach me. So, I chew on her ideas, not yet able to fully swallow them.

This blog is my exploration of her question, my examination of my own journey to balance the bitter and the sweet in my life, and my effort to share it with you. This is something that I’ve been working on and pondering over for almost a year now. And while I was trying to wait for the perfect moment to share it—the moment when I would have had it all figured out—that moment never came. I don’t have it worked out. I don’t have a definite answer. No, I cannot tell you whether some sort of historical bitterness is the cause of our sweet cravings and the depressing status of our health. What I can tell you, however, is my story and what I have learned from it.

I stopped eating sugar over a year ago (see my blog “The Sweet Life” for more). What was initially a quest to better my health has become a quest to better understand our relationships with food, and more so, what “dietary colonialism” has done to not only our palates, but to our bodies, the first site of our independence (Pollock, 1992, p. 180). Thus, my quitting sugar gave me the space and time to truly reflect upon my sovereignty by first taking control of what I put into my mouth, each and every day.

It was a release from a form of incarceration, one of being locked into a detrimental relationship with food! I know that sounds strange and I know I sound extreme and perhaps even a bit too intense. However, the fact that the Pacific Islands have some of the highest obesity rates in the world and the fact that diabetes is not only one of the most common but one of the most serious health problems in the region is cause for extreme action; it is cause for intense response (Curtis, 2004, p. 37). I’ve learned that sugar is an addiction with severe impacts (read more on this here). Thus, in a way, I responded to my own “captivity,” as poet and activist Haunani-Kay Trask would phrase it, by literally eating my way out of it. I ditched the sugar and returned to natural foods, learning to cook, learning to eat, and learning to enjoy a truly “sweet” life without all of the processing and additives. He māʻona moku. I learned to be content with what the land naturally provided me.

However, it was not enough to free myself. My experience gave birth to a new understanding of colonialism, where and what it attacks, and as a result, a new approach towards decolonization, starting with our diets (See the “Decolonize Your Diet” blog for more information on this movement). “Dietary colonialism” began in the Pacific when our ancestors were not only introduced to new foods and flavors from afar, but also introduced to new ideas about what constituted a meal, when people should and should not eat, and what was deemed “appropriate” to eat at particular times of the day: “Even before World War Two, missionary wives and other women from the West were strongly advising the women of the Pacific on the ‘proper way’ to feed their families” (Curtis, 2004, p. 38). Over time, the “traditional foods of the islands such as fresh fish, meat, and local fruits and vegetables have been replaced by rice, sugar, flour, canned meats, canned fruits and vegetables, soft drinks and beer. The diet is high in calories and with little nutritional value” (Curtis, 2004, p. 38).

This is the legacy that we’ve inherited. And our colonization has gone even deeper as our dependence on imported foods gets higher and our desire for accessible and affordable meals gets stronger. The effect of introduced diseases continues. While we mourn the loss of the thousands of Pacific Islanders who perished at the introduction of new diseases in previous centuries, we often fail to see the thousands who are dying now as a result of yet another disease attacking our bodies, and our people, slowly.

Thinking back on my friend’s rather mind-boggling question, I suppose I wanted an answer, or a specific reason, for the fact that so many in our region are unhealthy. Yet, I soon realized that in searching for that one reason—and being far too reductive—that I would actually need to confront an entire system of reasons, one that is far too complex to attack in a single blog. Among other things, I would need to look at international trade and what foods get “dumped” on which islands like leftovers. I would need to examine issues of class in order to understand who can afford which foods, which classes get targeted, and which communities have access to food education and why. I would need to look at access to land and its impact on one’s ability to grow his or her own food. I would need to research the processes of globalization and the impact of “McDonalization,” or the fact that our societies are being taken over by a fast-food mentality, craving what is predictable, reliable, and convenient, even if/when we know it isn’t good for us. I would need to attack a system.

Needless to say, that isn’t easy. If fact, it’s overwhelming. However, my own experiences have empowered me to change myself, and in the process, to provide an avenue for others to change with me. My goal is not to make people feel guilty about their food choices. (In fact, I am far from perfect.) My goal, rather, is to empower people to take control of what they eat, to stop and think about their choices and the larger systems at work that contribute to health problems, and to liberate their minds and bodies by returning to a natural diet, one that honors real ingredients, cooking, and natural “sweetness.” My goal is to align with others in the effort to decolonize our diets, to decolonize our palates, and to work towards freedom from the inside out.

I believe in constantly working towards ea, which is the Hawaiian concept of life, breath, and sovereignty. As political scientist Noelani-Goodyear Kaʻōpua (2014) explains, “Like breathing, ea cannot be achieved or possessed; it requires constant action, day after day, generation after generation” (p. 4). Therefore, this is one of my actions towards ea. I will commit to promoting change on my new blog, He Māʻona Moku, and will provide as much inspiration and motivation as possible. I will commit to sharing recipes or bits and pieces of information. I will commit to celebrating the beautiful stories of those in our communities who are already moving towards decolonizing our diets (and our minds) and who are, through their work, lessening our dependence on imported goods. I will commit to changing our future one mouth (and even one mouthful) at a time. I will commit to promoting a satisfaction with what the land (and sea) provide us naturally, to reveling in freshness, and to savoring freedom.

Mmmm.

References:

Curtis, M. (2004). The Obesity Epidemic in the Pacific Islands. Journal of Development and Social Transformation, 1, 37-42.

Goodyear-Kaʻōpua, N. (2014). Introduction. In N. Goodyear-Kaʻōpua, I. Hussey & E. K. Wright (Eds.), A nation rising: Hawaiian movements for life, land, and sovereignty (pp. 1-33). Durhan and London: Duke University Press.

Pollock, N. (1992). These Roots Remain: Food Habits in Islands of the Central and Eastern Pacific since Western Contact. Laie: The Institute for Polynesian Studies.

Pūkuʻi, M. K. (1983). ʻŌlelo noʻeau: Hawaiian proverbs & poetical sayings. Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press.


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Write, Write, and Right On!

“There lies your hope. Hope to rage and write. To rage and dance and stomp-shake the ground… laugh and rage and write, write, keep on writing, don’t stop till you get there.”

Epeli Hauʻofa, “Write You Bastard”

My niece, ʻĀkōlea, sign-waving for Mauna Kea and bringing me along with her.

My niece, ʻĀkōlea, sign-waving for Mauna Kea and bringing me along with her.

My skin can’t comprehend the cold. It’s bitterly cold, painfully cold. At times, my skin freezes, dries, even seems to stop breathing. I’m caught still. So I search for sources of warmth, anything to bring relief to my skin born out of warmer soil.

Today, I retreat to my desk and watch my fingers dance across the keyboard. I feel a small heat begin to spread slowly: from my fingertips, to my palms, to my wrists, arms, chest. It touches my heart. I rage and write, write, and right on, dancing, and shaking the ground. I find warmth in rage, not an angry rage, but a poetic one: an ardor, a fervor, a passion, a raging poetic passion.

“Poetry…is not what we simply recognize as the formal ‘poem,’” says Robin Kelley in Freedom Dreams, “but a revolt: a scream in the night, an emancipation of language and old ways of thinking” (9). I write for freedom, the freedom to dream and hope for a better future, even if I don’t know what that future will be. Perhaps that is radical: “What makes hope radical,” Jonathan Lear reminds us, “is that it is directed toward a future of goodness that transcends the current ability to understand what it is” (103).

So I write because I have to, because “In the poetics of struggle and lived experience, in the utterances of ordinary folk, in the cultural products of social movements, in the reflections of activists, we discover the many different cognitive maps of the future, of a world not yet born” (Kelly 9-10). I imagine and dream of that world, the one that my children and grandchildren will one day live in, and I choose to picture a world better than this one.

Today, I choose to imagine a mountain free of telescopes. The chair of the TMT International Observatory Board, Henry Yang, recently announced that construction will commence this Wednesday on Mauna Kea. Like a chill and like the polar blast that’s settled into Aotearoa, his words sting. But I do not let them stop me from dreaming because I refuse to fight and stand against something without knowing what I am fighting and standing for.

So I rage and write, write, and right on for the future that I’ve pictured, imagined, and dreamt of: a future where my descendants will not have to fight against the desecration of their sacred sites. This includes every “site,” from their land, to their ocean, to their very bodies, minds, and hearts. I may be called radical; I may even be called naïve. But my body burns, heated with rage, and as I write, I can no longer feel the cold. I am warmed by movement, by social movements of hope, justice, freedom, and true aloha!

So these are my words, my poetic ragings. I will write, sing, shout, and dance them, taking my fingers from the keyboard and putting them to the sky, the sea, and the soil, as I choreograph a better future, my feet dancing, stomp-shaking the ground.

Whatever happens, continue to rage. Continue to write, write, and right on.

E kūpaʻa mau ma hope o ka pono.

Works Cited

Hauʻofa, Epeli. “Write You Bastard.” Wasafiri. 12:25 (2008): 67. Print.

Kelley, Robin. Freedom Dreams. Boston: Beacon Press Books, 2002. Print.

Lear, Jonathan. Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006. Print.


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The Light

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My uncle and his family. Photo taken by the Puhi/Haʻo ʻohana.

“The light bulb came on,” he said.

 This is for my uncle.

I grew up around strong men, men who stood for something. They were the type of men whose hands were calloused, whose skin was darkened by the sun, who wore dirt like it was a part of them, their hats always rimmed in sweat stains. They were rough men who could inspire fear. But, oh their voices could soothe when I needed them to and their hands could hold my own when I wasn’t strong enough to stand. They taught me of strength.

I followed them in my youth: large rubber boots digging into rain-drenched forest floors. Silently stepping where they would step, I’d watch them not knowing if my feet would ever plant as deeply as theirs did or if my hands would ever be as steady. They were giants in stature with hearts to match. They’d give everything, even when receiving nothing in return. They taught me of sacrifice.

Yesterday, I spoke to one of these men: my uncle. Through the small screen of my phone, I saw him standing on the side of the road, a Hawaiian flag draped around him, tied securely on his right shoulder. His dark eyes seemed to look straight across oceans; his brow wore its usual wrinkle. He held a sign reading: “Stand for our Mauna!” Stand for our mountain.

He’s always stood for something and now years later, he stands for something still. No longer a child, I watch him and all of the other men who I grew up around. Like the ʻaʻaliʻi, they bend, but never break in the wind. They teach me of resilience.

Like a true uncle, he took a break from his sign waving, the sound of car horns filling the background, and asked me how I was, living so far away from home. Amazed at the wonders of modern technology that allowed me to be “there” without actually being there, he wanted to know what I’d be having for dinner, his voice full with the same humor that comforted my childhood, his feet still rooted in the ground.

“The light bulb came on,” he then said confidently. He had gathered with countless others, holding signs, showing their support and standing for Mauna Kea. He was dedicated. “We have to do it now,” he said, “or we’ll lose everything.” “I’m doing this for the kamaliʻi.” For the children.

I thought about his grandchildren, my little cousins, who I had talked to just before, their bright smiles giving me a spark of hope. And I realized that they’d follow him, their feet planted, their hands turned toward the ground, ready to tend and heal it. He’d lead them just as he and my own father led their children: by embodying those values that our kūpuna lived by.

I grew up around men who did not have to preach about aloha ʻāina because they knew of no other way to be: hands always soiled, feet always treading lightly, even while carrying the weight of generations. And I realized, as I looked at him wearing his Hawaiian flag and waving at cars as they passed by sounding their support, that his “light” had always been on and it had always shined brightly, guiding us, teaching us, illuminating our paths. However, he spoke as if he had just become a part of the movement. “The light bulb came on,” he said, as if he had not been a part of fighting, standing, and striving for the betterment of our people and our land all along.

But to me, he’s always stood for something, even when perhaps he didn’t realize it, and even when perhaps he didn’t receive any acknowledgement. Part of my childhood was spent watching him, my father, and countless other uncles stand for the life of our forests, for our livelihood, for our future. It often took them away from us; it sometimes brought hurt and anger. But it brought hope in equal measure. They taught me of responsibility. And they teach me still.

I hung up the phone wishing that I had told him how I felt, that it is because of him and the many other strong men in my life that I even know how to stand, firmly rooted, grounded in the wisdom of those who came before me. Men like him and my father taught me about aloha ʻāina before I even knew that it was a concept to learn. I wished I had thanked him. But I pictured him standing there, on the side of the road, our Hawaiian flag draped around him, with that same familiar smile that he always greets me with, and I knew that he’d be content just knowing that I will always stand with him, our hands turned toward the ground.


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An Open Letter to Governor Ige

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Aloha nui kāua e Governor Ige,

I write to you not to restate what previous letters regarding Mauna Kea and the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) have already made clear (like that submitted by the six Mauna Kea Hui Litigants and Supporters for the Protection of Mauna Kea). You know of the illegalities. You know of the wrongdoings. You know of why construction on our mountain should stop. I am sure you have heard of the growing commitment to aloha ʻāina currently spreading across our islands; it is a commitment to stand and protect our land at the risk of losing jobs, at the risk of affecting families, at the risk, even, of being arrested. News of this movement is spreading worldwide. In fact, I write this letter to you from New Zealand where news stations have reported on the issues, garnering support for our people and our land back home. Therefore, I write to you not to remind you of what you already know, and perhaps what you have already witnessed yourself, but rather to urge you to act. Now is the time. Now is the time to set a precedent for the future. Construction must stop.

What has taken me so far away from our mountain and our home is the pursuit of knowledge. Thus, as I sit here immersing myself in the words of great scholars and thinkers who have shaped my understanding of the world, I realize that those values and lessons being taught and embodied right now in Hawaiʻi—by those standing on the mountaintop, by those leading demonstrations on university campuses, by those holding signs on roadsides, and by those writing, singing, praying, and even dancing for our mountain—are those same values and lessons that revolutionary thinkers and agents of change have been preaching for decades. Therefore, it is time we listen.

One such influential thinker, Frantz Fanon, once said, “We are nothing on earth if we are not in the first place the slaves of a cause, the cause of the people, the cause of justice and liberty.” Our responsibility on earth is to stand for a cause that will ensure that our descendants have a future, that they have a life, and that they have the resources they need—whether physically, spiritually, culturally, or intellectually—to live fully. Thus, our cause is one of protection; it is one of protecting the life of our future. This same sentiment can be found in the words of so many world leaders. However, much closer to home, our people have a proverb: “He aliʻi ka ʻāina, he kauwā ke kanaka,” meaning, “The land is chief; man is its servant.” In other words, what you are witnessing in the islands right now is a strong commitment to that role and responsibility as stewards of the land.

What so many have seemingly failed to realize, however, is that to stand for the life of the land is not just a Hawaiian responsibility. It belongs to all of us regardless of race, status, or religious affiliation. That includes you as someone in the highest position of executive authority in Hawaiʻi. There have been many attempts to disregard the words of those opposing construction of the TMT, often through the use of language suggesting that they are simply a group of “Natives” protesting against the desecration of sacred ground. Such rhetoric was used to lessen our concerns and to take attention away from the actions of the University of Hawaiʻi, the Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR), and further, the issuing of the Conservation District Use Permit (CDUP), a permit that should never have been issued. It took attention away from the fact that this is not just a cultural issue, but a social and an environmental one as well.

While there are many Native Hawaiians at the forefront of this movement to protect Mauna Kea, and while many do honor the sacredness of our mountain, there are others standing with them who come from various backgrounds and beliefs. They are all pulled together, however, by one cause: “the cause of the people, the cause of liberty and justice.” To fight for Mauna Kea, in other words, is to fight for the future, to fight for our land and water, to fight for the life of our descendants. This is a human concern. It is a human issue. Therefore, it is time to listen, time to act, and time to halt construction on the very pinnacle of our existence.

I write to you as a fellow resident of Hawaiʻi. I write to you as an aloha ʻāina, as a protector of our land and resources. And most of all I write to you as a wahaʻōlelo, or a mouthpiece, for all of those who cannot speak, for all of those who cannot write, and for all of those who have not yet been born, those who will one day have to live with our choices. We will continue to stand for their futures. Stand with us. It is time.

Me ke aloha,

Emalani Case

For a link to the letter submitted to Governor Ige by the six Mauna Kea Hui Litigants and Supporters for the Protection of Mauna Kea, visit this website. You may also sign the petition to support their letter. It includes an informative list of the “Top Ten Reasons for Immediate Halting of TMT Construction.”

The Frantz Fanon quote featured in this letter comes from Fanon: A Critical Reader edited by L. Gordon, T. D. Sharpley-Whiting, and R. T. White, page 5.


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A Voice For Mauna Kea

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I wandered into a used bookshop yesterday not knowing why. My feet seemed to guide me there, and in my depleted state, I simply followed. It had been a strange day. Walking through the city, I somehow felt as if my heart had swam across ke kai kāwahawaha o ka moana Pākīpika, the furrowed waters of this Pacific Ocean, leaving my body moving slowly, without purpose. I didn’t want to be here. I wanted to be on my mountain, standing with the other kānaka kū kiaʻi mauna, the other protectors of our home.

I had been following the movement—the incredible movement of hope occurring in my beloved Hawaiʻi—and was moved as I watched people come together across the island chain to stand for the life of our mountain. And yet, a sadness stirred within me as my feet tread upon the land of long white clouds, yearning to plant in the soil of my ʻāina kulāiwi.

As I stood near the entrance of the bookshop, my body heavy, I turned and saw the title, Tangata Whenua, a book about the indigenous people of this whenua, this ʻāina, this land, Aotearoa. And seemingly without purpose, I reached for it, opened the cover, and learned of why my feet had guided me there, head unconscious, heart across the ocean:

The centre is the now place which each of us occupies for a time. From the centre one reaches in any direction, to the outer circles from where understanding and inspiration are drawn. There is no great distance in the reaching because we are our own tūpuna. Also we share the dust of stars. Reaching out and drawing in one comes to know oneself, becoming whole and human.

The words of Māori novelist, Patricia Grace, seemed to reach out to me, embracing my cheek like the gentle touch of a kupuna, a tupuna, an ancestor. I wanted to cry. But in that moment I realized the purpose of me being here, thousands of miles away from my mountain, away from my people, away from my home.

I am but one voice. And there are times that I get caught up in being just one voice, one small voice, armed with words and a bit of awareness. There are times that I get caught up in asking myself if I have the ability to really do anything to initiate change. Then I read something like this and remember that I am of no use to my people or my home if I lose any sense of hope that even the smallest voice can stir oceans, can stand upon mountains, and can ring across the sky.

For as Grace reminds us, “…we are our own tūpuna…” They are not separate from us; they are not gone, away, untouchable. They are here, wherever here is because we carry them with us, always. So wherever we stand, we stand as many. And whenever we speak, we speak as many. And whenever we fight, we fight as many. We are our ancestors and our descendants will be us, reaching out to draw inspiration from our actions now. So we must give them something to stand with, to stand for, to stand by.

For those of us who cannot be there physically, standing upon our Mauna Kea, we need not reach far to be there emotionally, spiritually, culturally. For as Grace states, “There is no great distance in reaching…reaching out one comes to know oneself, being whole and human.” So we reach from every corner of the Pacific, drawing understanding, drawing inspiration, drawing support, and drawing hope to the center of our existence, wherever that center may be. And in the act we come to know ourselves as connected, as truly connected.

That is why our mauna matters, why our people matter, why this movement matters. It is because that connection makes us whole, makes us human: conscious of responsibility, ready and willing to move, to act, and yes, to raise our voice, no matter how small it may be.

This is not a Hawaiian movement, a “native” movement, an “indigenous” movement. It is a human one. It is time to stand for the betterment of our future through protecting our ʻāina, our whenua, our land and mother now. So stand with us. Kū kiaʻi mauna. Stand as a protector. Wherever you are. Whoever you are. Stand as and stand with your kupuna, your tupuna, your ancestors, using their languages to speak to new issues, using their metaphors to understand current fights, using their values to guide current actions.

No longer will I waste time walking unconsciously, heart across the ocean, head bent, caught up in my own doubts. I will stand with you, e kuʻu mauna—connected, whole, human—and will walk with you, e nā kānaka kū kiʻai mauna, until the last shout, the last chant, and even the last whisper of my voice.


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For West Papua: A March with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Benny Wenda

The following piece was written to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (being celebrated in America today) and to raise awareness for West Papua. It was also written as a reflection on the work organized and performed by Oceania Interrupted, a collective of Māori and Pacific women raising awareness for issues affecting our Pacific region. Benny Wenda is an independence leader for West Papua, currently living in exile in the United Kingdom. This creative piece is an imagined dialogue between Martin Luther King, Benny Wenda, and myself.

Photo by Tanu Gago and Oceania Interrupted

Photo by Tanu Gago and Oceania Interrupted

“Who will be the voice?” Benny asks. “Who will be the voice?”

I hear Martin’s words, singing: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”

This matters. West Papua matters!

So, I take one step forward, my hands bound, my mouth covered in their flag, my body adorned in nothing but a black lavalava. My skin, mourning. But I find the breeze, kiss the rain, and bathe in spots of sun. 

Marching, marching. Eyes ahead. There is voice in these actions. Voice in these movements. Our pace is that of sacrifice, of suffering, of struggle. It is slow. But it moves forward, one step at a time.

Photo by Tanu Gago and Oceania Interrupted

Photo by Tanu Gago and Oceania Interrupted

Martin once told us that “Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” 

Every step forward is another step towards justice.

Benny’s eyes water for his people: “Our people cry the last fifty years” but “Because we are ‘primitive’, nobody listens.”

I want to cry. I want to cry for them. But I will not dress the flag that binds my mouth in tears. I will only wear it with strength. Marching, marching. Eyes ahead.

I stand in a line of women, Oceanic women, interrupted. Interrupting spaces, thoughts, actions. Giving space for West Papua: space to learn, space to see, space to feel.

I can feel the woman ahead of me, the one behind, our breaths in synch. Marching.

Photo by Tanu Gago and Oceania Interrupted

Photo by Tanu Gago and Oceania Interrupted

Martin once said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.”

We stand for West Papua!

Fifteen years. Fifteen years is the amount of time a person in West Papua can be imprisoned for raising their flag. We wear it voluntarily.

At home, I can raise my Hawaiian flag everyday; I can wear it on my chest. I can speak of sovereignty, speak of indigenous rights. I am privileged.

So, I take another step forward. Marching, marching. Eyes ahead. 

Every step forward, no matter how small, is another step towards justice.

Photo by Tanu Gago and Oceania Interrupted.

Photo by Tanu Gago and Oceania Interrupted.

Benny’s hope is like the wind pushing at my back: “I promise, one day West Papua Free! One day I will invite you to meet my tribe, when West Papua is free!”

I think of what his eyes have witnessed: the killings, the rapes, the torture, the imprisonment of his people and I am amazed at his resilience.

He limps forward, his leg injured in the bombing of his village. Every step, painful. Every step, suffering. Every step a sacrifice.

Martin’s words remind us in windy whispers, “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

Every step forward, even if crawling, is another step towards justice.

Marching, marching. Eyes ahead. There is voice in these actions. Voice in these movements.

Benny asks again, “Who will be the voice?”

I will. We will.

We cannot be silent. Silence and absence can be mistaken as consent. I do not consent to what is happening in West Papua. Therefore, I will not be silent. I will not be absent.

I will march. We will march, giving voice to those who cannot speak, to those who cannot fight.

Photo by Tanu Gago and Oceania Interrupted.

Photo by Tanu Gago and Oceania Interrupted.

Benny reminds us that we are not separate: “On the outside, we seem a different colour, but inside of your blood, what colour is that? It’s red.”

Therefore, to fight for our Pacific family is to fight for ourselves.

We all bleed red.

“Who will be the voice?” he asks again, then answers his own question, saying, “You are the voice of the tribal peoples around the world.”

Yes we are, Benny. Yes, we are. Marching, marching. Eyes ahead.

Every step, no matter how small, no matter how difficult, no matter how scary, is another step towards justice.

Walk with me.

https://www.facebook.com/OceaniaInterrupted

Photo by Tanu Gago and Oceania Interrupted.

All photos are by Tanu Gago and Oceania Interrupted and were originally posted here. The photos come from a series of acts performed in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. The first was at the Indonesian Embassy and the second was at the Positively Pasifika Festival held at Waitangi Park. The performances, using visual and performative art, were aimed at raising awareness for West Papua. They were entitled “Capital Interruption: Free West Papua.”

For more information on Oceania Interrupted, visit their page here.

All quotes by Benny Wenda are from here.

For more information on Benny Wenda, read his biography here.

For inspirational quotes by Martin Luther King, Jr., you can find them here.

And finally, for more information on West Papua, go to the Free West Papua Campaign page here.


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The “Sweet” Life

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A green smoothie bowl with flax seeds, chia seeds, and unsweetened shredded coconut

“Aunty Ema, you eat stuff I never even heard of before.”

My young relative leaned over and watched me mix flax seeds and chia seeds into my morning oatmeal, a bit perplexed by the tiny capsules. “Can you even taste them?” she asked. “They’re so small.”

“Not really,” I responded. “But I know what they do for me, and so I don’t start a morning without them.”

Her initial reaction to my ritual bowl of oatmeal—one usually made complete by a sprinkling of cinnamon, some chia and flax, and a side of full-fat, unsweetened yogurt (yes, you read correctly, I did say “full-fat”…more on that here)—made me wonder, “How had she never heard of these little superfoods?”

Of course, it didn’t take me long to remember that our culture—one that revolves around food—is one in which it is considered perfectly normal to eat (or to even feed our children) a highly-processed, sugar-ridden Pop-Tart for breakfast rather than a meal consisting of good fiber, healthy fats, and protein. There’s something wrong with that, right?

It’s no secret that I’ve struggled with weight problems for the better part of my life. Poor food choices led to a lifestyle that was rich in sugar, rich in processing, rich in fat (and not the good kind), and extremely poor in nutrients. Thus, for the past few years—actually, it’s probably been more like 10 years—I’ve been on a slow journey to change that. And I’m finally at the place where it simply isn’t enough to change myself. I want to help those around me. So, I’m sharing a bit of my story—as revealing and as hard as it may be—so that I can hopefully begin to do so.

For me, it all started with a bit of a scare. Sometimes we need those “wake-up-calls,” don’t we? Without going into the tiny details of it all, let’s just say that a doctor bluntly informed me one day that the ailment that I was then experiencing could be remedied if I just lost a little bit of weight. It was in that moment, as a terribly overweight university student, that I realized that I didn’t need medication. In fact, taking medicine would have only prompted me to continue the unhealthy life that I was then living. What I truly needed was a lifestyle change.

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Left – about 80 pounds ago. Right – a post-gym, “I-don’t-look-good-but-I-feel-great” selfie (I don’t love selfies but took this one for the purpose of this blog :)

Initially, this began with starting to exercise and eating less (the second part of that equation being something that I would later learn was completely misguided). After losing a little bit of weight, I hit my very first and extremely frustrating plateau. And for anyone who has ever tried to lose weight, you know how completely frustrating they can be!

However, (and remind me of this the next time I hit one) plateaus are our opportunity to reassess, and more importantly, to reeducate ourselves. The reason I had plateaued in the first place is because I had done very little to change the way that I ate. In fact, I even skipped meals, thinking that fewer calories in would automatically lead to less pounds on the scale. That didn’t last very long because once my body became accustomed to the little amount of exercise that I was doing, it needed more: more movement, and yes, even more food. You see, as many nutritionists and health specialists will say, you actually have to eat to lose weight. The key, however, is that you have to eat the right foods.

But I say that knowing that there is no “one-size-fits-all” prescription for weight-loss. What has taken me years to learn, is that being healthy is truly about listening to your body, taking note of how it reacts to certain foods, and really paying attention to what it tells you about what goes into your system. There is no “secret,” no “miracle pill,” no “detox,” no “quick fix.” It’s about making a lifestyle change and doing what is best for you and your body. I’ve tried many different eating plans, and while I certainly did not stick to all of them, I learned from each and every one.

A few years ago, for example, I opted for a vegan lifestyle, meaning that I did not eat any animal products (which, yes, means I had to cut out dairy as well). Reactions to my decision were mixed. Some supported me while others thought that I was being a little “too extreme.” Thus, words like “deprivation,” “starvation,” and even “obsession” sometimes made their way into the comments that I received. Yet, I was on a mission to learn about food and to learn about myself. Therefore, rather than let any criticism deter me I used it as further evidence that our society’s notions about food are completely backward. Again, why is it that super-sized meals and value-packs are considered more “normal” than eating plant-based meals? Perhaps, like some said, I was a bit obsessed. But in time, I was not so much obsessed with losing weight—although I will admit that weight-loss was my main motivation for years—as much as I was obsessed with learning about food. It was then, during my vegan-year, that I began eating to live, rather than living to eat.

That’s because veganism taught me about nutrients. It taught me to actually think about the things that I put into my mouth before eating them. As crazy as it may sound, I actually started to ask myself things like, “What does this do for me nutritionally?” while looking at a bowl of white rice, or “How does this benefit me?” while staring at a plate of pasta. While my eating was not—and is not—by any means perfect (we are all human after all), these types of inquiries encouraged me to make better choices most of the time. They helped me to make healthy eating my habit and sweet and fatty indulgences my exception, rather than the other way around. And that, for me, was hugely transformative.

However, after living a lifestyle devoid of animal products, I slowly began to reintroduce some of them, to see how my body would react. I wanted to know what was best for me. What I found is that I do like a little bit of animal protein. And when I say that, what I mean is that my body reacts well to it. Therefore, while my diet is still largely plant-based, I do enjoy the occasional piece of fish, some full eggs (no, I don’t do egg substitute), and even some full-fat dairy.

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Quinoa, tuna, avocado, and carrot sushi rolls.

More recently, I made one of the best decisions of my life. Earlier this year, I really began taking note of what I was eating, ready to once again reassess and reeducate myself. Riding the bus one afternoon, I caught a glimpse of a poster saying, “I Quit Sugar.” It intrigued me. What did I really know about sugar? How much was I really ingesting? Therefore, that evening I typed those exact words into Google and after reading through a website by the same name, downloading a book by the woman who started the site, and learning from her personal story, her tips, and her research, “I Quit Sugar” myself. And when I say that, what I’m really saying is that “I Chose Nutrition,” “I Chose Health,” and “I Chose to Live a Truly ʻSweet’ Life.” You see, it’s about changing our perspective from one of deprivation to one of empowerment!

It’s been a little over six months, and while I have lost some of weight, any weight-loss has truly been a bonus to the way that I feel, and more importantly, to the way that I think about food. I eat to fuel myself, to give myself nutrients, and I do this by eating simply. What this means is that I have as little fructose sugar as possible (learn more about that here); I eat little-to-no processed foods (sometimes the occasional cookie, biscuit, or cake is offered, and sometimes I take it…though I must admit that it doesn’t taste as good as I once thought it did); and I eat as close to “natural” as I can (again, read more about that here). I read ingredients lists. I take note of sugar content. I constantly look at nutrition websites (careful to not be fully swayed by all of the misguided information there is out there). I follow health and nutrition foodies on Instagram (and have even tried to post a few pictures of my own). I don’t count calories. Rather, I measure the success of a meal by how many nutrients I know are in it. Finally, I eat! And I actually eat quite a lot. But I eat good, wholesome, nutrient-rich foods. That’s the difference!

My daily routine, so many years ago, was once one in which I skipped breakfast (or if I ate I had a sugar-loaded granola bar), and then perhaps had a small sandwich for lunch, and then because I was so hungry, had a huge and most of the time, very unhealthy dinner. Think “super size.” Think “value pack.” Think “Yes, I’ll have one more scoop of rice and extra gravy on all of it.” That was my lifestyle.

Now, I crave vegetables if I don’t have them. If for some strange reason, I haven’t had a veggie-dominant lunch, I go ravaging through my refrigerator by dinner time, hoping I still have some spinach, or bok choy, or broccoli, or onions, or capsicum (bell peppers), or carrots, or if I’m lucky, a little bit of all of them, so that I can throw them all together and have a vegetable feast served over quinoa, or stir-fried with beans, or wrapped in a socca tortilla. Can you tell that I’m a little hungry writing this?

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Vegetable and tahini stir-fry over socca (chick pea flour flatbread).

Now, I enjoy my food. Some people still think I live a life of deprivation. “What do you mean, no sugar?” But, truthfully, I have learned that life without sugar is truly sweet. I feel better than I have ever felt before. I enjoy cooking and experimenting with new flavors. I spend most nights right before I go to bed researching recipes and learning about what different foods do to our bodies. Am I obsessed? Perhaps a little. But honestly, I’d rather be obsessed about something that does good for my mind, body, and spirit than about the sugar-laced, highly processed foods that we are fed in our society. It’s about time we start to give some of those up, right?

It has taken me years to get to where I am today. Yet, I maintain that I am still in process, still on a journey without a destination. But I’m excited about it. And that’s the point!! For too many years, weight-loss was at the heart of every food and exercise decision that I made. Therefore, I made choices out of frustration, out of anger, or out of feeling inadequate. Changing the way I think about food, however, changed the way I think about myself and about the way I treat myself. Weight-loss is the added bonus; it is the proverbial “icing on the cake,” or perhaps we need to change that saying to something like, it is “the shredded coconut on the green smoothie.” It is what comes with taking care of yourself, feeding yourself nutrients, moving and using your body daily, and doing so because it is the best way to live.

So, join me over some chia-seed pudding, or perhaps a refreshing smoothie bowl, as we eat to live, or should I say, as we eat to live happily, while enjoying the “sweet” life.

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