Monthly Archives: March 2013

RIP Chinua Achebe

Chinua Achebe died on 21 March 2013. He was 82 years young.

It’s not often we can look back on our life and pinpoint that definitive moment, person or thing that, in retrospect, changed our life. But Chinua Achebe did that for me.

I’ve always been a reader. In primary school I think I read every book that Enid Blyton ever wrote—from Noddy to the girls at Mallory Towers. In high school I did what every good English Lit student did—I read the classics and Shakespeare—ploughing my way through Dickens and Austen, and moving on to Tolstoy and Chekhov. The cult books of Tolkien and Mervyn Peake held my attention for a while but nothing really left a lasting impression—or grabbed my heart so tight that I never, ever, forgot.

Until I found Chinua Achebe.

By now I had moved from England to Australia and was studying for the HSC (equivalent to A levels in the UK), and one of my subjects was, not surprisingly, Literature. A list of books was provided and we were told to choose one. I looked at the list and came across one I’d never heard of. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. ‘Who’s this?’ I asked—not even sure I could pronounce his name. ‘African writer’ said the teacher, ‘…very powerful book’.

The book blurb told me that Achebe was Nigerian and this was his first novel. He’d written the book in 1958 and it had become one of the first African novels written in English to achieve global acclaim.  Interestingly, Achebe took his title from Yeats’ poem The Second Coming* which I had read. So I chose Achebe’s book and it came home with me.

Set in the 1890s, the main protagonist is Okonkwo, a tribal leader and champion among his people, the Ibo. Okonkwo’s life is good and he is comparatively wealthy, when an accident causes his family to be exiled from the village for seven years. On his return he discovers the white men have arrived in his village and have introduced religion to the people. Okonkwo tries to rally the people to fight the white men but then he realises that his people will no longer fight and have accepted the white men’s teachings.

I remember how I felt when I read it. I felt Okonkwo’s rage and anger, then his despair and desperation as he realised the history and culture of his people were being debased and subsumed and he was powerless to stop it. But I also felt sad for Okonkwo and his inability to cope, and work, with the changes and development offered to his people—medicines, education, and equality.

The village could have been anywhere; Okonkwo could have been anyone, and times change, and some people cope and some don’t. It still happens today for everyone one of us.

For me, this book opened my eyes to the real power of words.

It grabbed my heart.

Thank you, Chinua Achebe.

 

*The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

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Cook Islands—Pearl of the Pacific

There’s not a lot of industry on Rarotonga, or Raro as it’s known. There’s tourism, and there’s tourism, and there’s pearls—and did I mention tourism? Oh, and there’s also weaving and quilting, but more about those later. On a recent visit to Raro we decided to do some pearl shopping, and you can’t do pearl shopping without learning the history of the Cook Island pearls.

There are pearls everywhere. You can buy them in souvenir shops (but they’re probably not very good quality) or from a jewellers, or you can visit a pearl outlet—there are a few dotted around the island. At the pearl outlets you can choose your pearl (or pearls) and design, or make your own design with the help of the jeweller. You can choose silver or gold settings (gold being obviously more expensive) and can select from varying shades of white, pink and black pearls.

The black pearl is local to the Cook Islands, and is farmed on the island of Manihiki in the northern group. The Cook Islands is made up 15 islands dotted over almost 2million square metres of ocean—that’s almost the size of India—and is made up of two groups; the southern group, and the northern group.

cook is map Manihiki is a small atoll that sits on top of an underwater mountain. Its stunning internal lagoon is 10 kilometres across with 43 tiny motus (islets) strung along the reef like a string of pearls. The pearl farms are dotted around the lagoon, and on the west of the island at Tauhunu are the pearl carvers.

Manihiki

The pearls are sorted into quality, lustre and size. Small pearls (like the ones below) are suitable for necklaces, ear-rings and bracelets. Larger pearls tend to be used in pendants and rings.

pearls sorted

For our shopping expedition we visited Tarani’s who specialise in pearls and weaving. Tarani herself designs and makes the pearl jewellery, and her tiny shop is chock full of pearls of all shapes and sizes. Tarani likes to use single pearls a lot, and sets them in silver—often with the shells—as pendants, and she also makes rings, ear-rings and necklaces.

Tarani displays her pearls

There isn’t a great deal on display as Tarani prefers to show the pearl separately, and then work with the buyer to design a piece of jewellery that not only is unique to them, but showcases the pearl in its best setting.

Be it pendant…   single pearl necklace2

double pearl necklace

Or ring…

rings

Or this…

Yes i bought a ring

…which came home with me.