Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Babies Umbilical Cord

A fijian tradition is that when you are born the umbilical cord is planted under a tree. The following is a story from my mum about my cord

Climbing the Kauvadra

The shrivelled umbilical cord was tucked into a matchbox. It looked like a mall coiled brown sea-shell. After hundred days it was to be buried under a newly planted tree, perhaps not far from the stand of mango trees in our front yard in Rakiraki. It was now 98 days and the matchbox just sat unobtrusively on a shelf. Of course the tentative mother was busy and so anxious in developing skills in nurturing the beautiful special child that that box was mostly ignored. This was her first son and she was inexperienced but learning fast.

The child's father was taking a risk in climbing the mountain. Few men had done so in decades but the expatriate English doctor at the Rakiraki Hospital thought it would be exciting to be able to boast that he had seen the place of Degei, the ancestral Fijian god and he needed a local translator. Tioti's father was his choice. They had asked permission of the chief and elders of the village, guardians of the Kauvadra mountain, given kava and a whale's tooth, and two guides would accompany them. Tioti's father and the Englishman had to be careful not to break protocol nor to offend the mana of the land. The villagers in this area were subsistence farmers without cash crops, not like the Indian canefarmers nearer the coast.

The trek took six hours and they came back tired and drenched with a sweat.

'I've brought back some plants,' Tioti's father said. 'It's timely. We can bury the birth-cord this week and we'll make a lovo for a feast.'

The vadra plant looked rather ordinary, something like a pandanus with spiked leaves, but it was special, taken from the sacred Kauvadra mountain.

Tioti's mother did not ask her husband if he had seen Degei, the snake god. She and her husband were both Christians and Degei belonged to another dimension. However, she assumed it has been a powerful experience climbing to a place where no-one dared to go, a place where, according to the dance chants, the various tribes of Fiji had originated.

The rich tropical soil yielded easily to the spade, and the birth-cord was tucked amidst the roots of the vadra plant. A feast was prepared for family and friends to pray for the successful life of the first born son.

Today those valleys and hillsides are fertile and rich and Degei has blessed the guardians of the Kauvadra in unexpected ways. The men have cars, a saw-mill, excellent houses, electricity, all gained from the new crop. Some of the men have astounded their bankers and political friends with their bags of money. Twenty-thousand dollars in bank-notes fell out of a shabby pocket and surprised a city uncle who was consulted about how to buy a saw-mill.

On Sundays the villagers pray to their Methodist gods in gratitude and on Mondays pour a libation of kava to Degei for the fruitfulness of the land and the wealth brought by their flourishing fields.

The child whose umbilical cord was buried according to tradition in Rakiraki soil, is now an adult and has made a successful life. Does he wonder sometimes about these farmers and their productivity with their wealth gained by this new crop of marijuana?


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