Otintaai: The Rising Sun and the I-Kiribati climate change warrior

Otintaai: The Rising Sun and the I-Kiribati climate change warrior

This year for Kiribati Language Week 2021 (11–17 July) we put the spotlight on the recent acquisition, Otintaai, a female I-Kiribati climate change warrior. Curator Rachel Yates introduces the master weavers and some of the speeches from the welcoming ceremony in May 2021. 

Kam na bane ni mauri,

Otintaai was made by master weavers Kaetaeta Watson and Louisa Humphry QSM (supported by their husbands John Watson and Jack Humphry). She is a bespoke garment of several components, made predominantly from harakeke (flax).

Otintaai, by Kaetaeta Watson and Louisa Humphry, harakeke (flax), nets, and copper. Photo by Rachel Yates, The Dowse, 2020.

Otintaai tells a story of hope and agency in the context of climate change, speaking to experiences of I-Kiribati communities in both Kiribati and Aotearoa New Zealand.

L-R: Tumu Whakarae Chief Executive Courtney Johnston, Jack Humphry, Louisa Humphry, Isabella Moarerei Levet, Kaetaeta Watson, John Watson and Tekariti Susan Skeggs with Otintaai at the handover ceremony 1 May 2021. Photo by Jo Moore. Te Papa

We were fortunate to be able to bring the artists and their utuu (families) together with the wider Kiribati community, to mark Otintaai’s official handover to the museum.

This blog will share te maroro (dialogue) from three I-Kiribati aiine (women) on this special occasion.

Tekariti Susan Skeggs and Isabella Moarerei Levet. Photo by Jo Moore. Te Papa

Tekariti Susan Skeggs gave recognition to the uniqueness of te rabakau ni Kiribati (indigenous knowledge) and the relationship between the makers.

‘I would like to acknowledge your ancestors, and those who gave you all the skills to create this amazing piece. But also to acknowledge your openness in receiving. These skills are skills of I-Kiribati people, but also of all your experiences and journeys that have led you to the path that you arrived at today with Otintaai.

 

I acknowledge and am grateful for your openness to give because, as Courtney was saying, you are so generous in sharing your knowledge and giving to others so willingly which others may hold to themselves. Thank you for that!

 

And lastly I would like to thank the Dads… from being there listening, to the stories and ideas. They are also the ones who crafted bits – this is the net we went fishing with for the last 45 years [skirting], and this is a piece of our old water heater [copper breastplate]. It really is a collaborative partnership between the two families. It’s such an honour to be here, thank you everyone for making it happen. Thank you Aunty Louisa and Mum.’

Otintaai‘s ten parts include a te bara taraai (a fisherman’s hat); a neckpiece with te wii ni bakoa (serrated edge in the pattern of shark’s teeth); a breastplate made of upcycled copper; two detachable sleeves; a tibuta (bodice); a te riri (skirt) made in the technique of Kiribati taeriri (fibre skirts); an upcycled te betia (belt); and te riri (a net) made from a fishing net over 35 years old. Photo by Jo Moore. Te Papa

Acknowledging the power of representation, granddaughter of Louisa and Jack Humphry – Isabella Moarerei Levet shared,

‘I’m grateful to Te Papa and the Mamas that we are able to be here and have the Kiribati community represented. I feel our community is so small and it’s so important for us to have a voice and have our voices represented here.

 

I am so honoured to be related to Louisa… It’s an amazing experience to be here and to witness all of this.’

Ribanaia Women’s Club President Denise Ratieta. Photo by Jo Moore. Te Papa

Community member and President of Ribanaia Women’s Club (Wellington branch) Denise Ratieta gave an extensive address at the event. In the excerpts below, she conveys the importance of both Otintaai and her makers to the wider community.

‘I would like to acknowledge the value and the importance of the work of these two talented I-Kiribati women Louisa and Kaetaeta, whom we are very proud of. Their work shows a lot of authentic artistic skill that is both inspirational and very encouraging to us I-Kiribati women. We now live in this great country of Aotearoa that we call home, and are honoured and privileged to witness this handover.

 

Otintaai in our language means ‘the rising of the sun’ and for us, it represents much of who we are and the many stories we hold and cherish. The sun is an important part of our lives, for without it – we don’t see life. In days past, our ancestors relied on the sun to address many of their needs and desires in order to survive and endure. It was a simple life in some respects, but also a hard one.

 

They relied on the sun to navigate, to forsee the arrival of enemies, to forecast the weather, to fish (of which they use to have an abundance of), and to dry their foods in preparation of drought. Our peoples used the sun as a natural drier (not like today’s towels) and relied on it for basically everything!

 

As the sun rises, there is positive movement. We see hope because there is much promising work to do. Kiribati is a group of islands situated astride the equator. The sun is our life, without it rising, we see no life.’

A red flag with blue and white wavy lines on the bottom half and a yellow sun and bird in the centre.
Flag of Kiribati, via Wikicommons. Public domain

‘I believe in the message Louisa and Kaetaeta have woven into this garment. She is a skillfully designed I-Kiribati female warrior who is facing hardships in contemporary life.

 

As they shared with us, the sea around Otintaai is rising. There is overfishing, entangled netting, and plastics polluting her waters and islands; but she looks at the rising sun each day with hope. She stands firmly with the fight to create a better world for our children’s future.

 

I agree with this and would also like to add gender-based violence, and Covid-19. These are just some, although obvious hardships Otintaai represents, and our agency to fight. As women, we are the sun, we give light of strength to our children, so they can endure the hardships of life. We wear our warrior garment to protect us from the negativities and the obstacles of life and we allow light of hope to dwell in us so we able to stand firm and tall.’

Kaetaeta Watson showing the sennit used for raranga (weaving) at the May 2021 workshop. Photo by Jo Moore. Te Papa
Louisa Humphry demonstrating raranga (weaving) and te bibiri (plaiting) techniques at the May 2021 workshop. Photo by Jo Moore. Te Papa

‘Designing and creativity are a passion of our Women’s Club. We would like to maintain, develop, and advance our I-Kiribati skills and blend them with today’s trending fashion, art, craft, plaiting, weaving and creativity. We have plans for Louisa and Kaetaeta to train us to do flax preparation and flax weaving, the art we love to master because we do not have pandanus or coconut leaves in our new home here in Aotearoa.

 

We would like to spread this knowledge and produce unique products that resemble our culture, our strength, and our life. As we continue to grow this passion within our I-Kiribati communities throughout Aotearoa, we look forward to having them training us on their exceptional skills.

 

We are here to support the work of Louisa and Kaetaeta and we thank them for flying our Kiribati flag high up in Aotearoa skies and wish them well in their future exhibitions.

 

Kam rabwa, Thank you for this great opportunity.’

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