9.30.2014

Kanye West Papua – You don't know THEIR struggle (South Side Superflat Remix)


Dear diary blog,

I had another one of those crazy dreams again. You know, one of those where I'm mobbin' around with Kanye West and his crew. Yeah, that crazy shit. This time around it seems that I was tagging along for a leg of this year's "Yeezus" tour. The trip would see us rocking the historic Sydney Opera House in Australia. And doing so with great purpose.

Okay, no. I wasn't rockin' anything myself. All that I appeared to be doing was writing for Kanye's blog. But my additional art and design background seemed to have made me a valued member of Ye's crew; a respected sounding board at which Ye could toss a variety of creative ideas well into the sleepless hours of the night. 

During the tour bus ride to Australia (See? Crazy.), I told Ye that the West family name would be a great one to use in a grassroots movement to draw much-needed attention to the struggle of the people of West Papua. Ye gave me the stink face, unsure of what I was talking about.

Like most of us, he had no idea that for half a century, the western half of Papua New Guinea (situated just north of Australia), has been under violent occupation by Indonesian military forces. Nor that, since the invasion in 1962, an estimated 100,000 to 500,000 Papuans have been killed by Indonesia in a genocidal effort to claim the land and the natural resources of West Papua.

The numbers – whatever the accurate figure – are staggering. And the silence on the plight of West Papuans is utterly deafening. I told Kanye that he could actually do something to affect the situation. Ye became intrigued. Deeply intrigued.

He admitted that he sometimes missed the progressive tone of hip-hop in the mid to late 1980s, a time when he admired not just the rebellious style of hip-hop artists, but the boldness of people like Chuck D, KRS-One, Ice Cube and others who took very public stances on social issues of the day, ranging from censorship in the media to police brutality in minority communities.

Kanye also confessed to even feeling a little miffed at himself for not being as outspoken on a wider range of issues in his music, as he had on The College Dropout, his first album. He also lamented that all he seems to speak out against now are the paparazzi and the walls in the fashion world that block his creative desires to be a multifaceted artist.

He then asked me what I thought he should do to bring attention to the struggle in WP after the tour ends. I offered some ideas. As seems to be quite true of Kanye West in real life, though, the man already had an idea of his own.

The next night in Sydney, after bringing down the opera house with a spirited rendition of the song "The Good Life", Kanye froze, lowered his head and slowly lifted a leather-gloved fist in the air––reminiscent of the brothas on the winner's platform in that legendary photo from the '68 Olympics. Then, as the crowd fell silent, he uttered the words "Free Kanye West Papua" and walked off the stage.

It was genius. (At least it seemed so in the dream.)

Few people seemed to understand what the statement meant (I imagine the reality to be a bit different, given Australia's proximity to PNG), but the interwebz were immediately abuzz that with fans and even haters trying to understand the phrase's cryptic meaning.

As is often the case with the things that Kanye does, the meaning was all over the media. And several members of the Australian parliament, which has a politically comfy relationship with the Indonesian Governement, were completely red faced.

Enthralled with the "conscious rapper" label that was quickly being affixed to his name in blog posts and news reports, Ye decided to close out the other Australian shows the same way. But, in addition to the black leather glove, he also rocked another version of the Yeezus Tour jacket that I had promptly remixed to show the flag of West Papua on the right sleeve (as opposed to the previously re-appropriated Confederate flag of the American South).

During the next performance, Kanye raised the stakes. Taking a page from out of Run-DMC's concert performance playbook, Ye looked out over the performance hall and asked the fans in attendance, "Who's reppin' West Papua tonight?!" Several thousand flags of various sizes were hoisted high into the air. Kanye then launched into the song "All Falls Down"––and surprised everyone with a guest appearance by Lauren Hill, who came out to sing the chorus. The response from the audience was an eruption. 

Standing with the elated audience, I was stunned and amazed at what had just transpired all around me. Those feelings, however, would not stay with me long.

My eyelids blinked and some of the morning light that had seeped into the room from behind the blinds began to fill my head. I roused from slumber and was immediately saddled by sadness.

As often occurs when I wake from such deeply involved dreams, I was not only sad, but also a little angry that none of the events that just seemed so utterly real had happened. That which had felt so true had only occurred inside my big, fat, fantasy-filled head. I was duped, lied to, deceived by my very own brain.

Slipping from the sheets, I shuffled down to the workstation near the foot of the bed and shook the mouse that rested on the desk, to rouse my computer from its dreamless slumber. And with hauntingly vivid recollections of a jet-setting shadow life still in mind, I searched the interwebs for photographs of the controversial rapper from Chicago. And with two found images for the foundation (probably shot by paparazzi stalkers), I actualized a portion of an inspired message that, just moments before, had only existed in a dream. 

9.25.2014

[Press-N-Play®] Dezine feat. Jah Boy – Perfect


In the exact words of the ganja blazin' rasta who sent me this hot lil' numba: "Dis track is str8 fiyah! Rock steady reggae muzik specially *dezined* in da Solomon Islands to bless up de dance floorz worldwide, Ras! A worldwide rocker, dis one!! Worldwide!!!"
– Ganja Blazin' Rasta

You read it here, folks. A worldwide rocker, dis one. So make sure to have a subwoofer or a pair of high-quality headphones jacked into your laptop when ya press the play button. Because Dezine's "Perfect" (feat. Jah Boy) is one bass-heavy lovers rock 'riddem' that must be listened to properly to really appreciate it for the sweet reggae groove dat it is. Meh been playin' dis track to death since meh got it, mon. To. Death.

Shout outs to all mah peeps in the Solomon Islands!



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9.24.2014

Escape to...Monsta Islands

Click to enlarge
Raja Ampat (aerial view), West Papua

9.19.2014

King Kong Anthropology: The Kina Shell Necklace of Papua New Guinea's Bride-Price Tradition

Mr. Taylor's homeroom, 9:14 am

Good morning, class. Settle down quickly, please. Hey, yo, this is the first and last time I'm going to ask you to put that comic book away, Mr. Darrell. If I see it on your desk again it's going to go into my own personal comic book collection. (Even though I already have that one.) Now, please put it away until recess. Thank you, young sir.

All right, class. Today we have a very special treat. As you know, this is the day of the week that we reserve for show-n-tell. I can already see that those of you whose turn it is this time around are eagerly awaiting your chance to tell us about the items you've brought to share. As usual, I'm looking forward to seeing what you've brought.

Uh, Mr. Hardeep? Please put that...wow, vintage Jet Jaguar figure in your bookbag until it's your turn a little later for show-n-tell. Thanks.

To start the session today, class, I thought we'd do something different. Our good friend Professor Paco has come in at my request to tell us about one of the many impressive items in his collection of rare cultural artifacts from Oceania. Let's give him our undivided attention, okay?

Professor?

Thanks, Mr. Taylor. Good morning, class. It's really great to see all your brilliant faces again. I am going to try my best to make this short visit equally as exciting as the last one. So, to that end I'm going to start this lil' presentation with a video clip from the movie King Kong.

[Low groans from the class]

Hold on, now. Don't declare mutiny on me just yet. The clip is not from that Peter Jackson remake. I've already been informed that many, if not most of you, disliked that one just as much as I did. And for some of the very same reasons: Actors wearing blackface make up...in the 21st century? Pretty flippin' lame, right?

And how horrendous was the film's portrayal of the 'black islanders' overall? It's ironic that Merian C. Cooper, the creator of the original 1933 Kong film, was, in fact, a certifiable racist. Writings penned in Ethiopia by Cooper make this clear (The Sea Gypsy, p. 133). And, yet, that director still delivered a fairly handsome portrayal of the Skull Islanders–which starkly contrasts Jackson's astoundingly ugly one.

You do the math.

No, this clip comes from the 1976 remake. In it, the character Dwan, played by actress Jessica Lange, has been kidnapped by Skull Islanders, played by African-American actors and extras – like in the original – and whisked back to their high-walled village. There she is prepared and dressed in the traditional garb of the sacrificial 'bride of Kong'. And afterward, the dazed and confused offering is bound to the village altar.



Pretty cool, huh? But what I found most cool – on the geek tip – is the level of detail paid to Lange's attire. Especially when considering how much of it's significance would be lost on unknowing audience members–including the once very young me. Despite this, the costume designer did their homework and brought a very under-appreciated level of authenticity to the costume. Before detailing what I mean specifically, let's first look at this subject in its broader context.

The last time I was here we talked briefly about the brothers and sisters of Papua New Guinea. As you'll recall from that discussion, we learned the surprising fact that the Melanesians (literally "black islanders") of Papua and the other islands of the South Pacific make up 80% of all Pacific Island peoples. And also that the far more frequently exampled people of Polynesia and Micronesia make up the remaining 20%. Right, class?

"YES."

And who can still tell me the names of some of those islands and territories that make up the South Seas region?

"Papua New Guinea."

"Fiji!"



"The Solomon Islands!"



"Vanuatu!"



"New Caledonia."

"West Papua!"

"FREE WEST PAPUA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Geniuses. A class filled with geniuses. You all should be doing this presentation. I'll just sit my butt down.

[Youthful laughter]

Drawing our attention now specifically to Papua New Guinea, we know from still another discussion that West Papua has been struggling since 1969 to free itself from the oppressive and often brutal grip of the Indonesian Government. In the semi-fictional world of Kong, Skull Island is a make-believe landmass that is situated somewhere in the Indian Ocean, off the western coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra. In addition to a geographic nearness to Papua and the rest of Melanesia in the east, there's another intellectually sound reason for Skull Island's placement in this part of the world.

Before making the leap to science-fiction/fantasy filmmaker with King Kong, Cooper functioned in the decade prior as a explorer and documentary filmmaker. During this period he visited Ethiopia, and Southeast Asia's Andaman Islands, and the Melanesian islands of the South Pacific as well. And his exposure to the physiologically similar peoples found in all three of these regions inspired and informed the look and culture of the Skull Islanders.

A similar approach to the people of Skull Island was also taken in Dino De Laurentiis' 1976 remake. Aside from the people themselves chosen to portray the islanders, the ethnicity of the fictional islanders is made more evident through the clothing and the accoutrements worn, which indicate a mix of Melanesian and African cultural elements. With specific regard to the Melanesian influence, the crowning example can be found in the crescent-shaped, mother of pearl oyster shell adornment that hangs from Dwan's neck during the sacrifice sequence.

[Opens briefcase]

The necklace she wears is very similar to the one that I have brought to the class for show-n-tell today today (see figure A).

[Ahhs and Oohs from the class]

In PNG, this very valuable form of tribal adornment is known as the kina (keena). Say the word with me, class.

"Kina."

Excellent. You are all now honorary Papuans.

[Laughter]

In PNG, kina shells are worn both by men and women as a sign of wealth and status. The shells can be displayed singly, as seen here, or layered in multiples–which frequently occurs when the wearer wants to show that they're living hella' large. Kina shells are used not only for wealth displays, but also as a form of currency in the resolution of blood feuds, or as part of the customary bride-price ceremony.

In this Kong film, the "bride-price" kina necklace worn by the Dwan character represents – albeit to unappreciated effect – a legitimate ceremonial item from the marriage traditions of PNG. And, like the previous 'brides', who presumably would have been adorned in a similar fashion, the gold-lip mother-of-pearl pendant indicates her elevated status as a lavish offering to the island's big, black, fear-inducing demigod.

[Laughter]

Since 1975, when it was introduced to replace the Australian dollar that had previously been in use in the country, the paper currency of Papua New Guinea has been called the kina, in observance of the ancient shell tradition. And, in addition to the kina shell necklace that I brought to show and talk about, I have also brought in a fifty-kina banknote (fig. E), which features on its reverse a portrait of the legendary New Guinean Prime Minister Michael Somare.

[Oooohs]

Okay, class, this concludes my show-n-tell presentation. Now, make sure this PNG banknote doesn't get "lost" while it's being passed around the room today–so that everyone can get an up-close look. As that well-known saying goes, kinas do not grow on trees.

[Youthful laughter]


Details: A. Contemporary kina necklace by Anna Holland. Shell from the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea, dating from the late 19th to early 20th century, combed with Venetian wound beads (also known as Cornaline d'Aleppos), from the African Trade period. Image © Anna Holland • B. Dwan in the grip of Kong, from King Kong. King Kong © Copyright 1976 by Dino De Laurentiis Corp. • C. King Kong theatrical promo poster (1976). King Kong © Copyright 1976 by Dino De Laurentiis Corp.D. Man of the Solomon Islands wearing a mother of pearl shell "dafi" necklace, similar  to the kina necklace of Papua  New Guinea.E. Bank of Papua New Guinea, fifty-kina banknote (2010). Prime Minister Michael Somare featured on reverse.

9.18.2014

Girl of North Malaita Island, Solomon Islands

Girl of North Malaita Island, Solomon Islands. © Michael McCoy