Wednesday, June 04, 2014

A new species, on my mantelpiece

My son and I sat and gazed at the strange creature, which my wife had given me. Aneirin had helped me lean it on the living room's overloaded mantelpiece, after I had abandoned a desultory search of the kitchen draws for a hook and a nail and a hammer.

Suddenly Aneirin's face contorted, and released a strange sound. "GRRRHISSSSS!" he said. "It's repti-lion!'

Aneirin may be only two years and a couple of months old, but he has the makings of an art critic (I'd prefer him, of course, to be a carpenter, or a mechanic, or something sensible: that way he could earn some money, and support his parents in their upcoming old age).
The creature on our mantelpiece was made with black and red ink on tapa by Tui Emma Gillies, a Tongan New Zealander who has been studying the evolution of new, hybrid species in her native land. As I explained, in my usual long-winded way, in this essay on Tui's art for EyeContact, Tonga's first modern king appropriated and aggrandised himself with the British royal lion back in the nineteenth century. Since then vernacular artists, like the women who indefatigably beat and paint the bark of the ngatu tree in Tongan villages, have been localising the lion Tupou I imported from Europe, by giving it the features of familiar animals like dogs and horses.

Now, in Tui's paintings, Tongan lions have suddenly acquired spiky manes, the baleful red eyes of reptiles, and the long, luxuriant tails of snow leopards. Evolution has taken a sudden and strange turn, and the reptilion has been born.

When Aneirin announced his discovery of the reptilion, I couldn't help remembering the field trip that I made last year, with the students of the 'Atenisi Institute, to 'Eua, that high, porous, and generously forested island in Tonga's far south, and the purported model for the planet of Pandora. When we were planning the trip, I asked students what research projects they'd like to pursue on 'Eua. I mentioned a story I'd heard about a little-seen and uncatalogued frog that supposedly hopped across the island's rainforested roof. Perhaps because frogs are non-existent in the rest of Tonga, one of my students became immoderately excited, and vowed to hunt down 'Eua's mysterious creature.

When we arrived on 'Eua and got an impromptu talk from an Australian natural scientist who worked in the highland, I was embarrassed to learn that I had gotten my cryptids muddled up, and that a unique species of lizard, rather than frog, was reputed to be hiding in the bush. My student was disappointed, and spent his nights drinking kava and singing with the locals, rather than hunting frogs.
I don't think 'Euans have tracked down their mystery lizard, but a recent expedition to the northern archipelago of Vava'u by a group of scientists - why, I wonder, do scientists targeting Tonga so often seem to do their fossicking and digging and note-taking in shapely, shallow-watered, heavily beached regions like Vava'u, rather than on 'Eua, a high and rocky island surrounded by some of the world's deepest and roughest water? - discovered a new species of iguana. With its extravagantly long tail, the creature reminds me just a little of Tui's reptilion.

Crptozoologists - those beardy, cardigan-wearing types who devote their weekends to tracking Bigfoot over the Rockies, or to scanning the cold surface of Loch Ness for disturbances from the lounge of a convenient pub - will presumably be excited by the discovery of the Vava'u iguana. But far stranger creatures have been reported by visitors to the tropical Pacific. During World War Two, the Japanese and Allied troops who struggled through the muddy and malarial forests of Melanesia reported meetings with a number of odd beasts. Japanese troops serving in the Solomons described fifteen foot tall, repulsively hairy giants armed with long clubs, and crabs large and hungry enough to devour a man.
Inspired by these hunger and malaria-assisted hallucinations, gullible twenty-first century cryptozoologists have established a taskforce to search the Solomons for giants - and for UFO bases.  Apparently the hairy cryptids of the Solomons have progressed, in a mere seven decades, from crashing through the jungles with wooden clubs to building, flying, and hiding  interstellar spacecraft.

Before this post descends further into the absurdities of cryptozoology, I should mention that Tui Emma Gillies has an exhibition of some of her new paintings opening on Thursday night at the headquarters of arts collective On the Spot in central Nuku'alofa (I wrote about On the Spot, and its many contributions to Nuku'alofa's ongoing arts revolution, here). The show will kick off with some dance by members of the 'Atenisi Performing Arts Foundation, and interpretation of the artworks will be enhanced by free and fast-flowing kava. If you're reading this in the cold country of Niu Sila then you ought to consider taking a fast vaka north for Thursday night's party...

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

In any event, Marius camped out on the 800 foot mountain in the NW of Malaita. He spotted what would eventually become between 60 and 100 UFOs, that he observed taking off instantaneously at a 45 degree angle....which led to an expedition into the "VALLEY OF MOUNT DRAGON." He encountered brilliant lights (reminiscent of what was penned by Richard Stout in his essay, "LIGHT COLOR & SOUND USES WITHIN THE SATANIC KINGDOM," and mirrors my own research about UFOs - namely, the brilliance/&varied colors of the UFO perhaps to attract attention {{You can find this essay on www.BYRONLEBEAU.COM }}
This also led to the speculation that there were, indeed, subterranean bases of UFOs on Malaita. In fact, in 1996, 1997 & 2002, there were expeditions to confirm just such a bizarre occurrence was true (see ARTICLE #1 For details.) NASA actually sent a contact to the island in 1961, and it was strongly hinted by the author that this is what led to their knowledge on the subject of UFOs - today! (Again, the details of this fascinating facet can be found within the same article.)
All of this may be hard to fathom, but it gets worse - much worse, where you may be wondering about the reports on "true history" and where the reporters on this 'SCOOP OF THE CENTURY'[?] Are there things we are not supposed to know about - like the extant truth behind groups of giants roaming the islands of the Solomons?!? PREPARE YOURSELVES, and keep in the back of your mind that GIANTS do not fit in too well - or not at all - with the RELIGION OF EVOLUTION, constantly paraded before non-informed college freshman, etc. The subject reaches a crescendo with the DVD, "EXPELLED: NO INTELLIGENCE ALLOWED," a classic tour-de-force by Ben Stein sticking it to "experts like Richard Dawkin

11:30 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

to check truth of all preceding check

11:31 am  
Blogger Richard said...

Yes. Children are very ingenious when it comes to seeing connections: "repti-lion"!

I remember you wrote about this art. Be good to see some of it, I was too busy dealing with certain philosophical issues to notice the art but you had some good stuff from Tonga etc

It is clear that the Royalty or whoever they are, are not wanted in Tonga. This seems to be a bigger problem than is acknowledged generally. There have been uprisings for democracy (are they so genuine say in Egypt etc? what gives me pause is the enthusiasm of the US and mainstream press) but here is our "closest neighbour" with the cynical Labour Party Leaders raving on...

Leicester discovered a new form of snail, duly noted a year or so ago in the NZ Geographic).

Symbolic stuff: the power of images.

9:29 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Tui posts a lot of her work-in-progress on fb, Richard - you should 'friend' her.

An underground road is gradually being constructed between Tonga and Niu Sila, thanks to the efforts of migratory artists and intellectuals like Tui and Mandy Treagus and Murray Edmond. I think the two cultures cannot fail to energise each other.

11:18 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I looked on 'On the Spot' and I indeed made her a friend. I will look from time to time as of course all art interests me and it seems that Tonga in particular has some strange and interesting developments. Some of these, much as in NZ, are due to the small (relative) size. But the history and culture are unique of course.

Added to the list is Richard von Sturmer and (is it Futa Helu's daughter?) who seems a very nice person and I believe is translating some poems done by some of those rogues from NZ into Tongan...

9:08 pm  

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