Here is a story I wrote that was published in ‘Many Voices’ a collection of multicultural poems and short stories.
Tevita leads the spear dance on the wooden stage. ‘Dua-rua-tolu. Meke!’ (One, two, thee. Dance!) Move to the beat of the lali and the rhythm of the singing group. Sing with them. Watch left and right and keep together. Then look up and smile t the audience. Exaggerate gestures for this audience. Thump the floor with bare feet. (A white light flashes as someone takes a photo.) Concentrate. The words tell us the movements. Leap, gesture, flash a fan, stretch, crouch, bend, jerk left, then right, stand still keep the fan and spear still. Ignore the clapping of the audience at the wrong times.
Listen to the singers first line, then shout. ‘Meke!’ Then repeat.
Sing ten verses, then sit on the floor and politely perform the formal clap to indicate that the dance has ended.
Tevita leaps down from the stage, his body streaming with sweat and coconut oil. An Australian man slaps him on the back. Tevita seems surprised by the familiarity when the Australian accidentally touches his bushy hair.
“Good on you mate. That was beaut. Was that your mob before doing the belly wobbling and shaking their backsides? That was the best.’
‘No. That’s the Cook Islanders,’ Tevita looks irritated.
‘Oh. I thought that was Fijian too.’
Tevita shrugs, picks up his shoes and wanders off.
A male Aboriginal dancer, still marked with yellow, white and red ochre is standing near the stage. He gives a gently punch to Tevita’s shoulder and then grabs his hand. ‘Thank you brother. ’ That’s all he said.
An older Fijian woman has been watching the performance critically while she holds spare fans and jackets discarded by two dancers.
She recalls the dances from a distance in place and time.
The performance today is a brief, simple version of the complex meke which needs the space of a village grassed space. As the light breeze cools the audience under the shelters and mango trees, two hundred dancers in long lines spread out and dance in perfect unison. The dancing is part of a celebration with formal ceremonies, the announcements, speeches, presentations of gifts and feasts.
Ana recalls the rehearsal of the dances over months for the visit of the high chief of her place. There is strict decorum, respect, and exact costumes. The traditional choreographer has learnt his skill from his father, a skill passed down from generation to generation. When he dances, the people said. The vanua is dancing – the land is dancing!’
Here in this Australian city street, the men’s dance is a poor imitation with only five dancers where there should be two hundred. The costumes here are gaudy cotton and paper instead of vau and flowers. A wooden stage is used instead of a large grassy field.
The audience of men, women, and children from different cultures do not know the meaning of the dance. The people seem happy as they stand and clap. But they do not know the meaning, only the exaggerated movements. The performance takes ten minutes instead of two hours.
No one comes forward to reward the dancers with gifts in the correct way. However Ana knows that their leaders has been given a cheque to cover petrol costs. It is a different world, a vavalagi world.
Ana hands back the sports jackets to Tevita and Meli and she shuffles through the crowd, her vavalagi shoes clacking on the hard road.