What I’m Reading: Poet, Writer and Musician Daren Kamali

Musician, poet, writer Daren Kamali.

Provided

Musician, poet, writer Daren Kamali.

Multimedia artist Daren Kamali performs Crazy Dog Cabaret throughout the motu this month, with friends David Eggleton and Richard Wallis and support from Arts on Tour NZ. On August 26, the cabaret will give a free performance at the National Library in Wellington for National Poetry Day.

As a Pacific Heritage Advisor for Auckland Libraries, I usually come across historical books, depending on what topic I’m usually researching at the time. The readings are mainly about the WĀ – Waitui Atea: Saltwater Realm so This is Not a Grass Skirt is the most recent book I read, based on fiber skirts (liku) and female tattooing (vei qia) at 19th Century Fiji; published in 2019 by Karen Jacobs​, .

This book covers liku made from various island fibers including human hair – an ancient cultural practice practiced only by women in ancient Fiji, meaning that only iTaukei women were the dau bati (tattoo artists) located in a bure shelter at the entrance to the village.

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* What I Read: Poet Daren Kamali
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The young girl who has reached femininity receives marks in front and behind, sometimes around the lips (gusu-qia) and receives her first liku which looks like a belt, revealing her vei qia. It was forbidden for men to approach the tattoo shelter without the permission of the dau bati.

Besides the collection of likus in This is Not a Grass Skirt, the book introduces different types of tattoo tools from the island of Kia where these ancient traditions were practiced by women and eventually banished with the arrival of Christianity.

This book also discusses the story of how the iTaukei conjoined twins swam across to Samoa with these vei qia tools from the island of Kia. The chapters also reveal how and what early missionaries and foreigners in Fiji thought and treated people, during the era of museum collectors and exchanges in Ovalau, Levuka (Fiji’s first capital) in the mid-1870s.

These ancient practices inform my personal research and artistic project with ulu cavu wigs from Fiji, made from human hair, magimagi (coconut sinnet) and vau (hibiscus stem) known as Ulumate Project: Sacredness of Human Hair. series, last practiced more than two centuries ago. For more insight the book to read is Bringing Back the Forgotten by Ole Maiava and me.