Theyyam honours the mother goddess in Kerala, India

Theyyam honours the mother goddess in Kerala, India

What is Theyyam I was asked when I posted a video of dancers on Facebook recently, and why is it at night time?  At its most basic, it is a ritual dance glorifying the mother Goddess and is a mixture of dance, mime, and music.  Let me set the scene – but first a wee taste of Theyyam.

Kerala is a small state on India’s south-west coast – locals call it ‘God’s Own Country’.  Considered clean and green by many Indians, it’s one of the wealthiest states and is always at the top of statistics for high literacy and life expectations.  It has a good healthcare system and low child mortality.  However, it also seems to have high suicide rates according to local papers. About 56% are Hindu, 26% Muslim, and 18% Christian. Malayalam is the official language and it uses a script of voluptuous letters – round curves and looping twirls which match the landscape. Fittingly, the word Malayalam itself means “hill region.”

The name Kerala is apparently derived from kera, the local Malayalam word for coconut, and mythology has it that Kerala was created when Parasurama, an incarnation of Vishnu, threw his battle axe into the sea, resulting in this conflicted countryside, neither all water nor all land and backwater’ cruising is top of the must-dos in this state.

This month-long trip (Dec/January) was my 2nd visit to the state and was there for a month rather than the few days last time.

Staying with Rosie and Hazir at the Kannur Beach House, I was looking forward to hearing local knowledge about Theyyam. Interestingly, unlike much of India, most of the Hindu temples here are not open to non-Hindu. However, many of the places with Theyyam are open and sure enough, Rosie finds one for the half a dozen people staying with her over Christmas and arranges transport for 3 AM the next morning. (Note, although Kerala tourism website sometimes lists Theyyam times and dates, they often change and local advice is best. Also note this tradition only happens off the beaten track in northern Kerala, especially around Kannur, from November to April.)

Our anticipation is high as we walk with our drivers up to their Tuk-tuks and some 30 minutes later we arrive.

The temple complex is already full of local villagers most of who have been here all night helping or watching the preparations.

Drawing on ancient pre-Hinduism mythology the ‘actors’ don heavy costumes and their make-up – quite similar to Kathakali which is seen all over Kerala – can take hours to prepare.

These characters, whose main aim is to become at one with the deity he represents, are interesting, an extended family of Dalits (previously known as the untouchables) and who in this setting are highly revered.  They are accompanied by drum and trumpet music which appears to help put the actors into a trance as they become one of the gods in this theatre-like religious celebration.

The drummers are beating an almost frenzied sounding rhythm and I feel the anticipation rising, not only in me but the whole crowd.  Men, with lit palm fronds, flick embers in the air and unexpectedly the god arrives and an air of magic emanates from a circle of people in front of a small temple.  According to Wikipedia, there are more than 400 different types of Theyyam.

The god, now standing on a small round stool, spins and stomps his feet – the bells and bracelets around his ankles add to the noise. he leaps off the stool to continue spinning, around and around and also around the circle we audience have formed. We all step back when he seems too close, ready to spin into us, then moving forward again as he spins off, away from our section and I wish I knew what the story was that he is telling.

This dance, with its various characters, continued for some hours when suddenly a man in a crisp white lungi urgently swishes me, and others, away from a fire of ambers. I didn’t move quite fast enough, and when one of the gods starts kicking at the embers, some small ones landed on me – easily removed by ruffling my hair although the smell of scorched hair remained until I had a shower.

The main god is now sitting on a stool and young boys are cooling him by fanning towels around him.

Shortly afterwards, it was all over, for now, and many people went forward to get a blessing from the god. Others had breakfast or bought odds and ends from the stalls that had been set up while we were watching. I give a small donation – for the actors or temple I’m not sure – and return to the Beach House which is on the mostly deserted Thottada Beach.

Of course, when all this is over, this Dalit family will return to their homes – mere mortals again. These dances are handed down through family lines and often the boys start training at a very young age.

Sometimes you can witness this event in the daytime, but I believe the fire is only at night – a dramatic addition that added to the atmosphere for me.

Note: I’m sorry the handheld videos are not of a high standard – I was, as always, too busy watching and enjoying to concentrate on technology 🙂

 

 

Oruapaeroa-Travis Wetlands, Christchurch,New Zealand

Oruapaeroa-Travis Wetlands, Christchurch,New Zealand

On a recent trip to Christchurch, I again visited the Travis Wetlands. when I was a child we just called it ‘the swamp’ where my maternal grandfather grazed his cows and then sold milk by the billy from the back of a horse and cart!

I’m glad a remnant of that swamp remains – you can get there by public bus. Check out the sights on this slideshow.

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See more photos I took at Travis in 2009.

Changing ourselves

Changing ourselves

The power of Gandhi’s words – despite him apparently having feet of clay, at times, like us  – can still inspire us to change the world by changing ourselves.

Gujarat is the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi

Here are some of his most famous quotes:

#1:  “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

#2: “The greatness of humanity is not in being human, but in being humane.”

#3: “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”

#4: “Change yourself – you are in control.”

#5: “I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.”

#6: “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

#7: “Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.”

#8: “We need not wait to see what others do.”

#9: “A ‘No’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.”

#10: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

#11: “To call woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is man’s injustice to woman.”

#12: “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.”

#13: “Love is the strongest force the world possesses.”

#14: “Nonviolence is a weapon of the strong.”

#15: “A man is but the product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes.”

Gandhi’s birthday, 2nd October. ( born 1869). Wellington, NZ

Kaikoura’s special seabirds, Hutton’s Shearwater, nest in mountains!

reposting as updated

Kiwi Travel Writer talks food, travel, and tips

I’m reposting this with new photos after my summer holiday trip to Kaikoura earlier this month.

Here are the new photos of the Hutton’s nesting grounds on the peninsula — read more to learn about how these birds were translocated and why.

hutt.JPG

huttons penisuala site.JPG

The earthquakes of November 2016 wiped out huge numbers of the birds’ mountain colonies and I was pleased to see that this new peninsula one is thriving – including now grandchild chicks ie chicks of new colony-raised birds, being hatched successfully.

But, let’s go back to 2005 and see how it all happened…

Once upon a time, as many good stories begin, I went for a misty morning walk in Kaikoura, New Zealand , with members of the Sierra Club (USA).

We took photos of seals, climbed over styles, and walked around the headland of the Kaikoura Peninsula. At the top we came across an eerie scene

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Post-quake road trip to Kaikoura – seals, shags, and slips

Post-quake road trip to Kaikoura – seals, shags, and slips

Early January 2019 I went to Kaikoura on a camping holiday-road trip from Wellington, NZ. It was my first trip there post the 2016,  7.8 earthquake – here are a few of the hundreds of photos I took. more blogs and pic to follow.

What’s not to love about seals – except perhaps their smell 🙂

Shags (Kawau in Māori, or cormorants in other countries) always seem to be posing

Kaikoura means to eat crayfish – and what a great spot to get some. Crayfish are large and in the lobster family – not the little crawfish of USA. (although that’s what many Americans hear when we Kiwi say ‘crayfish’. Nin’s Bin has been here for years and years!

Christchurch – shaken not stirred

Christchurch – shaken not stirred

Christchurch Otautahi was shaken, not stirred by its quakes and New Zealand’s ‘Garden City’ earned itself a hipper nickname after the earthquake’s devastation and there were T-shirts proclaiming ‘Christchurch – The City That Rocks!’ – I wonder if they are still around?

Christchurch thrives not just on pretty gardens and quake humour, but on sport too. Locals are often described as ‘one-eyed’ by fellow Kiwis, due to the unshakeable belief that the Crusaders rugby team is the best in the land if not the world!

It also has a great theatre scene including  – but not only – the Isaac Theatre Royal

New Regent Street
Isaac Theatre Royal
New buildings continue to grow

Canterbury considers its lamb the best in New Zealand and so, the world. Make up your own mind about the food on your Christchurch holiday and join local foodies at the many places that showcase local, seasonal food and well as all the ethnic food restaurants in the city.

Christchurch also has a great coffee scene and an interesting history too  … see my recent coffee blog here.

You could also head over-the-hill to sample fruity wines in the vineyards of the volcanic Banks Peninsula. While there, try the crumbly cheddar, Havarti and Gouda from 19th-century Barry’s Bay Cheese Factory which I’ve frequented since I was a child – many of my ancestors settled on the peninsula in the mid-1800s.

Sweet-toothed people can head to She Chocolat restaurant in Governors Bay where even the main courses are laced with the lovely brown stuff.

Enterprising Māori traded produce with early English settlers in Christchurch and their culture continues to make its mark on the city. Check out vibrant poi and haka performance and feast on a traditional hangi dinner at Ko Tane, a ‘living Maori village’ at Willowbank.

You don’t have to be a super-sleuth to find the old timber home of our local whodunit writer Dame Ngaio Marsh it’s nestled in the lower Cashmere Hills and is well signposted for those wanting a tour.

I’m in my hometown for the next ten days so follow me on Instagram (kiwitravelwriter) for photos and, of course, more blogs will follow soon.

My first few days I will be staying at the fabulous Classic Villa – opposite the Arts Centre.

 

This is where I’m staying next week: Classic Villa Christchurch

This is where I’m staying next week: Classic Villa Christchurch

The Classic Villa has five stars, is eco-friendly – and this beautiful bright pink villa has lived many lives! it’s also been awarded many awards.

From the home of an early minister of religion through to an old-folks home: its’ current reincarnation is a superb Italian style luxury B&B boutique accommodation. With 5 Stars, it’s also friendly, laid-back, efficient, and comfortable with the hosts serving sumptuous Mediterranean, or traditional breakfasts.

I once stayed here during a snowy spell!

Step outside and you’re in the centre of Christchurch’s cultural precinct including the Arts Centre, Art Gallery, Museum, Botanic Gardens, the Cathedral Square, historic tram, punting on the Avon River, the Hagley Golf Course, and of course, restaurants, cafes & inner-city shopping: see more on their website The Classic Villa

As you can imagine I’m looking forward to staying here again 🙂

Breakfast is set at the fabulous Classic VillaC
Coffee coffee coffee

Coffee coffee coffee

Coffee is apparently the most legally traded commodity in the world: The World Bank estimates there are some 500 million people who are involved with the coffee trade and I help support that trade!

New Zealand, until about 1940, was largely a tea drinking nation.  However, the first coffee shop in Christchurch was called the Coffee Palace and was in Market Square (now Victoria Square) in the mid-1800s.  Sadly, I can’t find the photo I once saw of it, beside the animal pound and a women’s prison in the early city beginings.

I knew I was going to have a long affair with coffee by the time I was 8 years old.  Staying with an auntie, while my father was in hospital, I was impressed with not only her shiny pink and black tile bathroom, but the smell of the liquid coffee and chicory that she brewed. That’s when I fell in love – and have remained in love-with fabulous coffee. And, like most New Zealanders (kiwis) I only drink in locally owned cafes with our regular double-shot drinks – not international or chain shops.

Chicory was grown for coffee in the Christchurch area from about the 1870s.  I was surprised to find instant coffee – which many Kiwi still drink -was started in Invercargill, New Zealand, when David Strang applied for a patent for his soluble coffee powder in 1889.

In the early 1960s, I frequented places such as the Swiss Chalet which was downstairs in Tramway Lane off Cathedral Square and also a coffee shop in Chancery Arcade, which was rumoured to serve, not only coffee but Irish coffee too!  In those days I drank espresso with a little hot milk and cinnamon sprinkled on top.  I not only thought but also knew, I was so sophisticated 😊  😊

With my first pay from Christchurch hospital – I worked in the pharmacy – I bought a coffee grinder. Until then our family had bought ground coffee every week.  Now I knew we would have even better coffee as it would be ground as we needed it for our percolator.  We bought our coffee on Cashel Street and I loved browsing and smelling, the bean bins every week to choose the coffee beans to take home.  Trevor Smith, the owner started roasting beans in the 1940s and I believe his son Bernard Smith still roasts coffee beans for cafés under the name Vivace Espresso.

the Cashel Street shop I bought my grinder and beans from

Some coffee history

In the early 1500s, Yemen created or found a new drink – made from the fruit of an Ethiopian plant.  It was quickly popular and by the 17th century in England, France and Holland the citizens loved it. The first English coffee houses opened in Oxford in 1651 and London in 1652

Interestingly Charles 2nd thought the coffee houses were dangerous to his reign and he sent spies to hear what was being said and, in 1675 he proclaimed coffee houses to have evil and dangerous effects and tried to suppress them.

In Paris (1689) the new Café de Procope made drinking coffee more popular there and in London, the Lloyds Coffee House became the powerful, international, insurance underwriter.

Apparently, over 800 different chemical ingredients have been identified, however, the basic principal of roasting raw green beans in a rotating drum over heat has remained consistent for a couple of hundred years.

green beans

Green coffee can be stored for ages, but roasted, it immediately begins to lose its flavour – the sooner after roasting and grinding it’s drunk the better -that’s why I drink an espresso.  Black coffee delivers the kick I like and the satisfying after-taste – the result of the crema – the mixture of gas oils, waters and fine grounds that sits on the top of an espresso. There is nowhere for a barista to hide any lack of skills with my ‘long black’.

The top coffee producers are Brazil, Vietnam, Columbia, Mexico, Indonesia, and the Ivory Coast while the top consumers (by tonnes) are USA, Brazil, Germany, Japan, France, and Italy. I think per capita New Zealand would rank highly!

Sadly, Charles 2nd was right, as poverty, violence, exploitation, environmental devastation, political oppression, and corruption have all been linked to coffee – and still are.  Thinking about my time in cafés, I guess they still can be hotbeds of gossip and intrigue.

 

How to handle grief  . . .

How to handle grief . . .

. . . during holidays such as Christmas, Halloween or an anniversary

Each year we hear of the pressure’s families feel during December – stress from overspending, unrealistic expectations, and often, violence due to alcohol and other drugs.

Pressures like these are multiplied when we’re grieving.

Decisions about a Christmas tree or it to send cards need to be made. Yes? No? Maybe? Will the children want to hang stockings as usual? Will we continue with family traditions or make new ones? Talking about these issues helps not only our decisions but also helps both our grief and our mourning.

Just to be clearer, grief is about our feelings, while mourning is about the actions and rituals we do around a death. Both need our attention.

I’ve not found one right or wrong way of working through grief: just ways that helped me and others I’ve supported during my years as a counsellor – and especially when I was working full time as a bereavement counsellor. I also know the anticipation was always worse than the actual occasion whether that was Christmas, birthday or another anniversary. So, like Christmas, or another anniversary approaches, do what feels right for you – gut instinct worked well for me.

Strange as it may seem, while being necessary, grief is also a privilege: it stems from giving and receiving love. Just as love doesn’t end with death, neither does grief end with the funeral. Sometimes our grief is more painful as the weeks and months pass.

It can be more intense on birthdays; on the birthday of the person who died as well as our own, and, especially for children of the deceased, reaching the age of the loved one who suicided can be critical. Holidays, special family dates and anniversaries all alter the intensity of our grief. These dates may not adversely affect all the family, although the first experience of each event is usually traumatic. The first anniversary of a death can be especially painful as we relive the events of a year ago

So, how will you cope? Will you make a plan or take it as it comes? Most people find simple advance planning helpful; just remember that plans are not carved in stone and they can be changed even at the last minute. For instance, you decide to be on your own then find you want company – if this happens don’t berate yourself for the change, after all, it’s impossible to plan how we will feel in the future so live in the present time, in the ‘now’. I hope these tips will help you, and help your friends, understand grief.

Be as gentle, compassionate, and loving to yourself as you would to a grieving friend. Memories are yours to keep so talking, laughing, and crying over them means you are growing through your grief. By the time the first anniversary arrives most of us have realised that ignoring grief does not make it go away. Conversely, talking about our pain does not make grief worse, although sometimes, or often, it may feel that way.

Often friends stop talking about the deceased person as they assume that when you cry ‘they have made you feel bad’ – as if their talk could increase our pain – we know how painful it is and know their talk cannot intensify it. I believe it’s because they feel uncomfortable with our tears and not their concern for us that stops them from talking about the person. It’s difficult to explain to them that our crying is beneficial. No-one ever says they had a bad cry, it’s always ‘I had a good cry.’

At Christmas, some of us choose to change our routine and be away from our usual surroundings. The choice is yours. Don’t do what you think you ‘should’ do – those ‘shoulds’ are rarely helpful.

Friends and family may urge you to ‘keep active’, ‘get on with life’, ‘you have to let her go’ and other non-helpful advice such as ‘he wouldn’t want to you keep crying’. I am sure you have heard all these and other such homilies. One I hated was ‘you’re lucky to have other children’ – as if our children were interchangeable.

Keeping busy will not heal grief. Experience shows that increases stress and merely postpones or denies the need to talk, feel, and cry. ‘Time heals’ the vague ‘they’ also say. Not true. It’s what we do with the time that does the healing: ask anyone who used medication to dull the pain – when the pills stopped the pain was still there, just waiting to be dealt with. As a past colleague said, ‘time doesn’t heal; it doesn’t get better, what happens is things get different.’

Eat healthy, natural foods or have vitamin supplements if your health practitioner recommends them. Rest is important and exercise, such as walking, can be of immense value. Walking is good at any time but especially now if you are feeling tired or not sleeping well: others prefer a good workout at the gym, run, or cycle. I don’t.

Special dates often, in fact usually, have no significance to anyone else, so be prepared to take what you need. Your grief is your right and I encourage you to claim it. Don’t allow others to damage it because of their ignorance.

If you haven’t tried journal writing now is a good time to see if it helps you – many love their notebook that listens to everything and makes no judgment.

The Canterbury Bereaved by Suicide Society (who I worked for) wrote the following for one of their pamphlets and newsletter – and these ideas apply to all deaths whether heart attack of cot-death, road accident or cancer

    • Remember you are not alone. Find someone to talk to.
    • Use your loved one’s name. Talk about them, good times, bad times, and other holiday memories.
    • Eliminate as much stress as possible. Plan ahead, keep it simple. Ignore others expectations.
    • Involve your children in your discussions and planning…it will help their grief too.
    • Do what is right for you and your family, don’t be pressured into doing things that aren’t OK
    • Use whatever form of spirituality is meaningful to you.
    • Pace yourself physically and emotionally, be tolerant of your limitations…grief is tiring!
    • Christmas will come no matter how much you may not want it. You will survive.
    • Remember the worst has already happened!
    • Take one day at a time, one hour at a time.
    • Anticipation of the event is always worse than the actual day.
    • Buy a special gift and give it to a charity in your loved one’s name
    • Burn a candle over Xmas to symbolise their presence in your thoughts.
    • Write a letter to them in your journal. Describe how Xmas is without them.
    • Change holiday habits: Xmas breakfast instead of dinner, restaurant instead of at home.
    • Keep all your holiday habits. For some, the familiar is reassuring.
    • Expressing your feelings honestly always helps.
    • Volunteer to work at the local mission, old folks home.
    • Have a special toast to absent loved ones before the main meal.
    • Tie a remembrance ribbon on the Xmas tree – your tree, or the town one.
    • Set aside an evening to look at photos and talk about him or her.
    • Make a memory book. Children find this really helpful too.
    • Make a list of things you found helpful to share with others – and keep for next year as grief, although it reduces, continues.

I have learnt to live around the hole in my heart – and you can too.

Heather Hapeta (photographer, author, travel writer)

My Amazon Author page is here

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Ratana Church in New Zealand

Ratana Church in New Zealand

Posting these photos as I visited the area (near Whanganui ) a few days ago.  I’d not been here before.

I was married by a minister of this, Māori, religion – it was supposed to be in my backyard but wet weather saw us crammed into my living room!

The building is interesting, as is the history of the church and its founding by Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana – around 1820  he had a vision and heard God telling him to unite Māori and turn them to god. See more on Wikipedia or the New Zealand history website.