Monday, 21 March 2011

Awea Damana

My mother on the right, with her eldest sister

Spending the weekend with my mother and her eldest sister has been more than wonderful. It shall take me some time to find the exact words for how special it is. Do you know those moments where you sit back and think "This is special. I'm going to remember this moment forever"? It was a whole series of those.

Last night, we sat around my sister's giant dinner table and listened to our mothers (in my culture, your aunts are also your mother and the term for them is mother) tell stories, while we ate the best apricot chicken ever. I can remember this to be how things have always been in our family. Stories are told. There are new ones, random ones and lots of old ones that are retold until they are burnt in to your brain. Sometimes, you correct the story teller and say "that's not what happened" although you were never there.

My mother is the second born of seven sisters. She has no brothers.

In a society run by men and for men, a brood of daughters is considered quite a handicap. My maternal grandparents never accepted that. The result was them bringing up 7 of the strongest and most impressive women that Papua New Guinea has ever seen.

From a village on the coast, over the other side of the Owen Stanley Ranges from Port Moresby to the best universities in the world came 7 sisters who achieved the highest at all levels of their chosen fields.

There are many stories that are tangential to my main one and they will be told in good time, possibly by me or by those who walked the walk. My story is that of my maternal grandmother or Awea (pronounced Av-ia) in the Korafe language from that part of Papua New Guinea.

Today we hear of single mothers who are struggling to get by. They rush home from their second job and passed the supermarket to get something to throw together for dinner.

My awea had seven children to care for after my grandfather passed away. She had her own garden and would gather food for the daily meal on her own. She fixed things around the house that a man would normally do and right before sunset, she would rush out and throw in a line to catch fish to go with the garden staples. Some nights she caught two little fish and other times she got a few more. That was all the meat that the family had with their dinner.

Yesterday evening, I listened to my mother tell the story of how she herself went down to fish to help her mum out. The third sister in my mum's family was a much better fisherman than my Mum ever was but this one day, it was my mother's go to provide for the family.

Mum threw in her line and pulled out a fish that was about 20cm long. It was a decent sized fish for one person and in the end fed all eight of them a small piece each.

Listening to my mother tell this story made me sad in that happy kind of way. She beamed with pride as she spoke of her chance to contribute and how much it meant to her family. This little girl with so many siblings and so little of anything else, had provided for the people she loved.

It is as if that one fish marks a very important moment for my mother, who now will not let a single person she knows go to bed hungry. She gives and gives without end. I often wonder when she will stop and give to herself but I guess after hearing that story again, I actually understood why now. That contribution felt so good that it changed her. It has lasted a lifetime. It makes her feel better to give and know that even if it is very little that people around her are not alone.

You can always have half of what I have. That's what my mother taught me. At least then, we both have something.

My mother is wonderful. Her mother was wonderful.

My grandmother, my awea was named Damana. In Korafe that means "star". I am honoured to have her name.


Kathryn said...

I love this story! I hope you write more.

Alison said...

Incredibly well-written and moving post, thank-you for sharing a glimpse into your family history Damana :)

Alice said...

Such a gorgeous story, Damana. I love hearing about your family.