Kohea cook fire at dawn

By Maniue Vilsoni (Aug 6th 2007, Al Ain, United Arab Emirates)

Photo by Jan Rensel 1988

Dawn: when the cool of the maurea breeze
makes you curl fetus-like
in the comfy womb of a patchwork quilt;
grandma's up,
meditative in prayer.

Dawn: when the breakers on the reef
curl 'n' crash kaboom to shoo away
those wishful dreams;
grandpa's already up;
 timing the gentle pull 'n' drag
of the neap tide,
humming a paddler's song
  reeling in a fisherman's score. 

 Then you spring into action:
 but first pee on Fuata's bicycle tyre,
serve him right!
'cause this night-owl
won't light the kohea fire.
He's up there in the ri-sip'aki,
snoring like Mamasa te Lulu;
dreaming another rendezvous
behind what's-her-name's vao 'ulu.

 You ruffle a sulkae tip
 to rekindle a flame
from those half-sleepy embers
 left in that charcoal grate
of yesterday's cook fire.
 Using neither gas nor kerosene
you've coaxed the pakrao kindling
to come alight;
you're the new keeper of the hoaga fire!

Then you squat on the beach
'n' take a silhouette sight
watching mapiga's vaka
ride on the crest of the incoming tide;
wade out, reach out
haul the outrigger in
marvel at the catch
flip-flapping around the avi'i bait tin.

Your peers will later scoot across
the dew-laden sand
to borrow a spark from your hearth young man.
Their sulkaes – hand-held torches
 ablaze at the break of dawn,
soon every kohea's abuzz
to usher in the morn.

Grandma will chuckle
as she wraps the red bass catch in pari leaf foil.
Grandpa will snuggle in the warmth of her praise
of his maritime toil.
Harmony 'n' husbandry
learnt by the glow of your kohea fire
will never fade
but be heartily embraced
every dawn, every new day
even in lands so, so faraway!

Eddie Lee & Alan Munivai serving Rotuman cuisine at the Pacific Arts Festival in Palau 2004