Mexico, a kaleidoscope


 (To see photo albums, click on “picasaweb”. Bolded items are in the albums.)


I went to Oaxaca because, years ago, I met Oaxacans who were transcribing elders’ oral histories to be used in indigenous language literacy programs. I wanted to see indigenous and mestizo (culturally and socially mixed) Oaxacans. Secondly, websites on Oaxaca include spectacular images of landscapes, people, food and crafts. (For example, see Norma Hawthorne’s .) Thirdly, I’d be there over Días de Muertos (the days dedicated to remembering those who have gone ahead), and descriptions of the related practices were also appealing.

October-November temperatures in Oaxaca are really pleasant, cool in the morning and evening, warm at mid-day. It’s perfect for walking and being outside; the sun a bit strong, so people do seek shade. The air is clear, and colors brilliant. Buildings are painted, watered plants are green. The temperature, light, and aromas and sounds are exquisite. Many of the buildings are registered – “catalogados” – as colonial. There are cobbled streets, and downtown ones are restricted to pedestrians. Like Trinidad and much of Cuba, from their frontage on the street, buildings go way back to the center of the block, so a lot goes on beyond the front door!

Mexico City, or DF (Distrito Federal) is somewhat cooler and less colorful, but still quite clean and pleasant. It’s a ball to watch masses of people and gorgeous museums, great to travel around except at rush hour, and easy to visit very cheaply.

PEOPLE: places, practices, food, Alameda and Zócalo, protest, economy
















PEOPLE places, practices, food, Alameda and Zócalo, protest, economy

In his family’s tapete (woven wool carpet) shop on Alcalá was Luis, a fellow in his 50s who spoke a lot of English. He’s composing an essay on the benefits of bilingualism; he spoke only Zapoteca as a child, learning Spanish in school and English much later. He needed to re-type a couple of paragraphs to correct them (with a typewriter!) and asked me to help by dictating it to him. It took a while, but it’s a relationship.

Joel (Yoel?) is a Oaxacan who now lives in San Francisco. He’s been gone at least 15 years, and is here to divide up an inheritance with his brother. He finds the people here to be somewhat lazy – but he’s learned that they’re getting what they want out of life, and they’re able to live far more cheaply and with less work than he is! He’s with a woman of Italian descent in San Francisco, and they have a 10 year-old daughter. He owns a trophy shop.

Armando is a young man who sells clothing in his family’s business at Tlacolula. His area of the market was quiet and cool when I got there, and after we chatted a bit, he invited me to sit. I think he’s single, and lives in Mitla with his mother. His sister lived in Vancouver for a while, as a student. His brothers finish woven rebozos (shawls), weaving the ends into a complex macramé pattern. The huipiles he sells are brought in from all over the country. He also bakes and sells cookies.

He says that in Mitla, there is almost no economic activity. Nobody farms any more. There has been so much drought, and so many crop failures, they won’t take the risk. No industry. Even weaving (as in the cotton weaving I purchased there) isn’t the same. At one time, business was really good and they brought in people from other communities to help with the weaving. They learned the skills, returned home to do it themselves, and send the finished pieces to Mitla for marketing. (This might explain why there was only one working loom in the family enterprise I visited, where I bought the “placemats.”) “So how does that make you feel?” I asked. Not good. He thinks Mitla is better off than some towns further off the beaten track, that tourists never visit. One good thing is that everyone in Mitla speaks Zapotec.

On the camión (bus) to Mitla, the young woman next to me began to weep. A few days earlier, her father had fallen and hit his head. He refused surgery, and died. I gave her M$100, the only thing I could think to do for her and the quiet infant in her arms.

There was middle-aged Mexican (i.e. from D.F.) couple on the tour to Monte Albán. They spoke of political demonstrations w/ disgust: they repel tourists, and nothing would be accomplished. (No one agreed or disagreed with them.) The husband kept taking cell phone calls – loudly. He did it even when we were being shown ceramic techniques by a potter; I, too, spoke loudly, asking several questions, trying to make it hard for him to hear the other end of his conversation. He moved away. The wife was robbed at the market at Tlacolula when two couples planted themselves around her, front and back, and wouldn’t allow her to get through. By the time they moved off, her bag had been slashed and camera removed.

Sara and I were warned to keep our bags in front of us by the women we asked for directions when we were at the Tlacolula tianguis. As I walked by a bowl of squirming worms (used to make sal de gusanos – worm salt – and in bottles of mescal), a fellow laughed and spoke in English about how delicious they were. People were seldom unfriendly!

An architect and his wife (also an architect) sat by me at the Pasatono street dance and were joined by a couple of woman friends. He’s the guy who dances with everyone, but best with his wife. He’s at the university – and preparing an interdisciplinary diploma course on the architectural use of space, connected through all other areas of human endeavor.

Attending the concert of Quinteto de Metales Kamaapyë at Teatro Macedonio Alcalá I became acquainted with Juana Vásquez, an indigenous woman. I wanted to know if she knew the group, what she thought of them, etc. Yes, she did; they were good. She also knew Pasatono, and thought it particularly positive that they had people dancing in the streets with no alcohol.

She’s from a town in the Sierra. I thought she called it “Yalala,” but it’s “San Hidalgo Yalálag.” When she grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, they walked two days to get to Oaxaca. Then transport trucks were introduced, and it took 8 hours. At the demand of the community, the Mexican gov’t put through a highway, so it now takes 3 ½ hours by bus, 3 by taxi.

The theatre has changed a great deal, she says. It was remodelled a few years ago. Before, it was only for the elite. “We couldn’t come in here wearing huaraches,” (sandals) she said. She works in culture in her village, to recuperate and pass on the language. When she went to school, if they were caught speaking Zapotec in the classroom, they were made to stand outside in the rain or sun as punishment. Still, they received training in the language at home, so they didn’t lose it. Parents said, “Go to school and learn what you need there,” but they insisted on teaching the important stuff at home.

Since the highway came through. young people don’t want to work the land. Their teachers insist they needn’t learn farming, but how to live in the city and earn money. When she was young, parents insisted they had to know how to live off the land, how to grow food, as a basic minimum, in case everything failed. It is essential the indigenous ways be sustained; that’s the only way humans will survive.

With the road comes television, so even the poorest home has skype. That can be a good thing, but the technology has to be used carefully, and has to be evaluated to protect the culture. Only we indigenous people know how to live sustainably. (Where have I heard that before?) She mentioned that she’d worked with anthropologists and Canadians before, and was very articulate on indigenous rights and autonomy. She’d met Inuit people at an indigenous conference organized by a Canadian. (I didn’t ask her where.) I gave her my card, and she told me her name: Juana Vásquez.

I’ve been looking her up on google since I came home.

Martínez, Gabriela Reconstructing the lives of Zapotec women. Center for the study of women in society. Retrieved October 29, 2012 from

Juana Vásquez Vásquez works w/ ethnohistorians Nancy Farriss and María de los Ángeles Romero Frizzi in Oaxaca on colonial documents in Zapoteco.

Yalálag: una propuesta para la reconstitución de los pueblos indígenas de México (2000). Derechos para todas (Agosto-Septiembre-Octubre 2000). Retrieved October 29, 2012 from

She’s published an article w/ Romero as well.

Vásquez has been arrested for political activity, e.g. Asamblea Comunitaria, opposing the “grupo caciquil.” “El Gobierno del Estado y los grupos caciquiles implementados por éste” is equivalent to “Indian Act Government.” She has also collaborated with North American feminist playwrites.

Have a look at this article.

On my walk to the beautiful Acueducto de Oaxaca, I came to a fellow my age, washing his car. He told me what he knew about the colonial aqueduct. He was still washing when I returned, so we talked longer. He’s an economist, who was in university in the 1970s during the Allende gov’t and the coup; we enjoyed sharing opinions on No. His son also did an economics degree, but is an artist at heart. We talked about the significance of philanthropy here – Francisco Toledo, Harpe, María Isabel Grañén, etc.


Oaxaca benefits from the social and cultural activism of a number of prominent citizens. Francisco Toledo is the world-famous artist who created the Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca (IAGO). It was a colonial house, all on one floor, great thick stone walls, cool and sturdy – and almost all the rooms are walled with built-in wooden shelves full of art books from all over the world, in all languages, collected by Toledo. The whole thing is for the use of art students. It’s the perfect temperature, the perfect humidity, so comfortable and beautiful, even the smell lovely. What would have been the courtyard is now a café with an overhead framework supporting vines.

Toledo was also involved in the creation of several other art centers and museums in Oaxaca – another being Centro de las Artes de San Agustín Etla (CaSA), an eco-friendly art institute.  His botanical and ecological interests are also apparent in the Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca, which he initiated. It forms part of the Centro Cultural Santo Domingo, together with the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca.

One is Alfredo Harp Helú, a former owner of Banamex, founder of FAHHO (Fundación Alfredo Harp Helú de Oaxaca, ) which has created the Centro Académico y Cultural San Pablo in a Dominican ex-convent, with the Museo Textil de Oaxaca and much more. They focus on the study, documentation, preservation and innovation in indigenous cultures and communities of Oaxaca

It’s amazing to be with books in a natural atmosphere, which this climate allows. There’s the wonderful Biblioteca Infantil de Oaxaca, or BS (the children’s library). (The floorplan of the building, in order to avoid cutting down trees, resulted in an S shape!) Windows and doors are wide open to fresh air and natural lighting. FAHHO is responsible for this and for another library, a baseball training camp, etc. The children’s facility has rooms for computers, infants, adolescents, and the Biblioteca Jorge Luis Borges for the visually impaired, initiated by Toledo.

Dra. María Isabel Grañen Porrúa (doctorate in art history) is president of FAHHO and owns Librería Grañén Porrúa, a great bookstore. Her father owned the first store in Mexico City for 27 years, and she opened this one 13 years ago. To celebrate  the combined 40th anniversary of the bookstores, there was a concert of Pasatono, a group of 7 classically-trained musicians who play the many kinds of Oaxacan popular music. It was on Alcalá street, where altars and sawdust tapetes had been the day before. The concert was really a street dance and crowd sing-along, so chairs were arranged in a U around the dance floor. ( is a sample, but the group is now about three times this size.)

The Teatro Macedonio Alcalá is a gorgeous, small theatre, great sound system, and 5 storeys of balconies. I went there for the Metropolitan Opera’s HD Live performance of Verdi’s Otelo, something I’d long intended to do at the Cineplex Odeon in Grande Prairie. In the audience was a smattering of Mexicans, and a whole lot of American expats, (as I gathered from their conversation).

Another concert at Teatro Macedonio Alcalá was by Quinteto de Metales Kamaapyë “Música tradicional oaxaqueña como música de cámara” (traditional Oaxacan music as chamber music). Was it ever good! It included two trumpets, a trombone, a tuba, and a French horn. Like Pasatono, they’re classically trained, and play great traditional music (i.e. Spanish colonial origin). Seldom have I heard brasses that good. Oaxaca has some great public music programs. One fellow, from Puebla, played two trumpets, fingering one with each hand – ambidextrous. All he needs is another mouth. The other trumpet is from Oaxaca. Three musicians are from Tlahuitoltepec and are Mixe (pronounced mije). They all wore ponchos from Tlahuitoltepec. It was a free concert, put on by Centro Cultural San Pablo as part of an international colloquium on applied linguistics.


Women come dressed in many different ways: blue jeans, skirts and blouses, some dresses, wrap-around skirts (enredos), some with rebozos. Age doesn’t always correlate with clothing. Profession does: women in the tourist trade dress “traditionally”. Women’s clothing is, in general, very modest. No bra straps show; no cleavage; nothing above the knees; definitely no shorts! (When I found myself on a street with a dozen girls scattered on both sides, wearing tight pants, high heels and cleavage, I knew I was on hooker row!) Traditional women wear skirts, usually below the knee. Modern women wear trousers. Men usually have on jeans and tee shirts. Older men might wear a guayabera. Women’s ceremonial clothing and traditional dancing are seen at most public celebrations, religious or secular.

Only on my third trip to the Tlacolula tianguis did I notice the variety of community-defining skirts worn by groups of women. There are a lot of short-sleeved blouses (e.g. puffed sleeves, darts) with skirts: satin, plaid, pleated. Sometimes there is also a distinctive overblouse. Flowered headscarves (like Ukrainian babas’) are tied in various ways, under the chin or behind the ears. Erasto spoke of periodic changes in community fashion, how families that can afford it replace whole wardrobes every couple of years, selling the old ones to tourists. Women make the family`s clothes, so they bring about change.

Traditional women – indigenous women – don’t wear makeup.

In complete contrast to clothing, there is a whole lot of sexual physical affection in parks, church yards, benches in the shade, on buses, etc. Really deep snuggling, lying in each other’s laps, everything but actual sexual touching and intercourse. Asians would be shocked – which is likely why they’re not here!

Street vendors sell necklaces, wooden spoons, fruit picks and bookmarks, paintings on bark, dolls, blouses, bags, delicious nut brittle (sunflowers, walnuts, almonds, pecans and/or amaranth in honey) and much more. Street musicians play accordion, guitar, electric piano harmonica and / or sing, often accompanied by a child or spouse who requests money. In DF are organ grinders in khaki uniforms, one cranking, one extending the cap. The uniforms are, I am told, their own invention. There are also quite a few beggars, often women with children and people with various disabilities. Everyone seems to back off quickly in response to “No, gracias,” but I tried to remember to carry loose change at all times.

It is the custom here, when getting up to leave a restaurant, to wish nearby diners “Buen provecho.” As everywhere, when people are asked for directions or advice, they’re happy to give it.

City buses in Oaxaca cost M$5.5, or about $0.40 CAD. They’re fairly minimal, with plastic seats and open windows, but they definitely work! Travelling between local towns cost about $10, I think, often on upholstered seats with air conditioning. The same trip by colectivo (a taxi-cab full of 5 people) cost $15, and was more crowded. Luis (of Rosa y Luis Arroyo Núñez, manager, casadelosabuelosoax@gmail.com advised me to sit in the back seat of colectivos. When three people are crammed into the bucket seats in the front, it is decidedly uncomfortable. These provide great transportation, and only enough Spanish to find out where to find a vehicle is needed. (Luis, Rosa and their sister, Ita, offered most useful information!)

I was interested to see how babies are handled. As a North American friend said, “We have so many containers for babies!” They do not. Babies may be in slings that attach them firmly to an adult’s body, or they may be in arms, but they are seldom in a stroller. They sleep soundly in the arms of their adult, or in slings of many types, whatever motion or noise there may be.  Though they were everywhere (including strapped to a mother working in the market or selling Sharpie pens on the metro, jobs deemed compatible with childcare), because they were always warm and secure, I almost never heard a child cry. (Two to three children per woman seems to be the most common number.)

People are often seen walking arm-in-arm with elders, including those scarcely able to walk. Actually, most people walking together (provided one is a woman or child) touch, hold hands, hold arms.

I’m told that the money spent on funerals here is far more than what is spent on weddings. Everyone who attends anything or plays any role has to be served food and beverages: the novenas, velatorios, funeral, graveside, forty-day mass, anniversary. It’s a great deal of money, plus the burial. It’s hard to find where to bury people, as city cemeteries are full and a person can only be buried in a pueblo burial ground if they belong to it.

Mexican newspaper reporting is much more gruesome than Canadian. There is a section of the paper every morning (fortunately it is a segregated section) dealing with minute details and photographs of injuries and body parts, including cadavers stitched up after autopsies. And I’m squeamish about verbal or written reports!

I learned to ask for “agua purificada” or “agua pura,” and that would get a free glass of water from a big bottle rather than paying for my own bottle. I’m not so sure about the water the glass is washed with, but it didn’t seem to have ill effects.

People very seldom wear sunglasses, but will shade their face from strong sun with whatever they’re carrying – a book, a parcel.

A variety or convenience store is called a “miscelánea”.


People walk the streets of Oaxaca eating constantly. In the door of a restaurant or a shop, someone sets up an anafre (a sheet-metal charcoal burner) on which tlayudas are prepared – large corn tortillas with a smear of refried beans, some chicken and cheese, salsa, folded over. Or quesadillas, Oaxacan pizzas, made with stringy Oaxacan cheese and mushrooms or squash flowers.

I heard a whistle which reminded me of knife sharpeners elsewhere. In Oaxaca, it’s a fellow with baked bananas in the most incredible baking apparatus, attached to a bicycle. Kerosene was in a bottle on top, with a rag in the opening. Don’t know what that was used for, as there was a wood fire burning in the stove. He put bananas on a Styrofoam plate and poured condensed milk over that. Warm and rich! Elsewhere, he’s known as a “camotero,” camotes being sweet potatoes. Perhaps he had them, too!

Another night-time food (perhaps because it’s warm) is corn – elotes y esquites, to be precise. Elotes are corn-on-the-cob. Esquites are corn kernels off the cob, usually boiled. I only ate the latter, prepared with mayonnaise, grated cheese, lime juice, and chili powder. Try this at home!

During the day, cut-up fruit (watermelon, grapefruit, papaya, orange, honeydew) with salt, lime and chili powder hit the spot, or the same with hunks of cucumber and jicama. Those satisfied the need for salad!

Churros can be really hard to pass up first thing in the morning, and I don’t even like doughnuts.

Café de olla (made in a pot, or dripped – not expresso ) is made with cinnamon.

Tejate is a remarkable beverage,  looking curdled. It’s made from maize flour, fermented cacao beans, mamey pits, and flor de cacao, ground into a paste, kneaded a whole lot and mixed with water. (See It’s very good and considered extremely healthy. Only served in markets, one drinks it out of a glass or gourd, as it’s ladled out of ceramic bowls – usually the green-glazed type from Atzompa.

Oaxaca has many wonderful smells, and one of the best comes from the shops where cacao and spices are ground to make mole and tablets for hot chocolate. Sweet hot chocolate is made with either hot water or hot milk (as one chooses), and often served with a sweet roll for dunking. I add a pinch of salt, when available! I`m not too crazy about atole, however. It`s rather like water and corn starch.

I really enjoyed snacking at the tianguis in Zaachila. Like all the towns in the Valles Centrales, it only takes about half an hour to get there from Oaxaca via colectivo.

One woman sold sugar cane, peeled and chopped in one-inch hunks, in a plastic bag w/ hot sauce and lime juice. She showed me how to eat it: bite off a piece with the grain, chew and suck, discard what remains. Given the last step, I really didn’t want a $5 bag, so paid for a couple of samples and to take photos. It just didn’t seem like a great idea to walk through the market dripping cane juice.

Everyone sells food to everyone else. (Does anyone cook meals for themselves?) There were steamed yucca and chayote being peeled and chunked. I finally bought a little bag of chapulines – grasshoppers. They really are delicious, fried with lime, salt and chile. For a while I walked around with that in one hand and a bag of coconut slices (green, just-beyond-jelly) in hot sauce in the other. Great combination. Then I stopped for a goat taco, which was spectacular.

Travel is easiest for the omnivorous.

Alameda de León and Zócalo – used for

Calendas – religious processions w/ brass band

Danzón – foxtrot, elegant, older people – precursor to salsa

Marimba concert

Mariachi band

Folk dance competition

Popular concert – cumbia and danzón

Classical music – horns

Craft – souvenir – vendors

Demonstrations – APPO, teachers

Feria del Libro

Race-car display

Buskers: clowns, mimes, comedians

In front of the Cathedral is the Alameda de León, a rectangular plaza with trees and benches, and beyond that vendors of clothing and souvenirs, under tarps. Immediately south is the Zócalo, a large square with trees, benches, low stone walls and pathways. Government buildings are on one side and cafés and restaurants on the other three. Restaurants belonging to expensive hotels are up on fenced landings. They are empty. The others are at sidewalk level, accessible to vendors. Musicians play in front of these restaurants and take turns moving down the line, after requesting donations. One plays marimba; another is the altiplano guitar and flute; there is a mandolin. I loved my daily americano and newspaper here.

This is a large public area where activities and users shift frequently. There must be management overseeing it, as transitions are pretty smooth! One day, perhaps October 30, a truck discharged men who dug trenches around each section of the Zócalo, then thrust in pots of marigolds (the flower for the Days of the Dead), creating instant gardens. Just as suddenly, by November 13, they were gone.

The Carrera Panamerica is a car race of old automobiles covering a large area of Mexico. It started in Veracruz, with one automobile driver and one motorcyclist killed within hours. The first night was in Oaxaca. The Zócalo was full of people who had come to admire the cars and get photos with the drivers.

Folk dance competition: groups came from around the region to participate in a competition on a stage set up in the Zócalo, with hundreds of observers. The Danza del Diablo is riveting! Although I have some trouble making a parallel between the organization of these dances, the costumes etc. and anything we practice in Canada, I suppose that if I think of powwows or ethnic performances (e.g. Ukrainian) or (as an Australian reminded me) Maritimers, it’s not that different. People devote significant time and resources to working with members of their communities in representation of their culture and history. Am I just incapable of seeing my own society’s practices as exotic?

In the Zócalo one night, a large brass-and-percussion orchestra was playing classical music. They were men – not so young – wearing guayaberas. A loud comparsa band marched behind them, and they paid no attention. I get all choked up with people playing music together that way. They were quite good.



There are loads of political protest and mobilization in this country. I first encountered it at the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca. Employees of INAH (Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia) are asking for the removal of their director, who is building interpretive centers atop archeological ruins.

The Odontology Faculty of the Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca has bought newspaper space requesting those seeking to chair the faculty next year to behave – or suffer professional consequences.

Triqui people of San Juan Copala are occupying the front of the State Gov’t offices, with lots of banners. They are a displaced indigenous community. It’s an issue that’s been going on long enough there’s a book about it, and the grave of the founder of their movement is prominent in the Oaxaca cemetery.

Teachers are frequently in the streets, especially given their severe oppression in the uprising of Todos Santos in 2006. There were deaths. Recently, normal school students were violently expelled by police from a school they’d occupied in Michoacán. It is now said that police actually set fire to vehicles for which students were blamed. A large protest involving teachers, social organizations and indigenous organizations took place on November 16, as Governor Cué was delivering his report.

Small communities are governed by agentes municipals and their committee. In Santa María Ixcotel, the Asamblea General removed the agente and his committee (executive) from office, for not having achieved anything since their July 20 election.

Taxi drivers in Juchitán took over two patrol cars and set them on fire, and sequestered the vehicle of the transit overseer. They pulled him out, drove it somewhere else and set it alight. Nineteen cabdrivers were arrested. They also removed furniture from the Traffic Delegation office and burned it, and blocked the highway to Veracruz and Chiapas. The complaint is that motorcycle taxis have been invading their routes, and the Traffic Delegation isn’t stopping them.

After a time of walking behind a woman in a beautiful, long huipil, I complimented her on it. It’s old, from the Isthmus; you seldom find this kind of work, now. She’s a schoolteacher, isn’t too fond of the current gov’t, and hopes for better w/ PRI. The teacher’s union is corrupt, defending those who don’t deserve it.


It is said that Oaxaca is among the poorest states, and with a relatively large indigenous population. Only some 35% of Mexicans have completed their educación media superior (high school). Unemployment has increased, so employment in the informal sector has as well. The World Bank says 50-62% of the Mexican workforce is informal, neither paying taxes nor receiving social benefits. It feels as if the proportion of the population working in retail is just huge. There are hundreds of stalls in permanent markets, more in weekly ones, and more still walking the streets. Scores of people offer me wooden bookmarks and cocktail forks when I’m having my coffee. It seems that everyone is engaged in selling small amounts of goods at least occasionally, to make ends meet or earn a bit of extra cash. When larger numbers of people are gathered, food stands suddenly pop up. An advantage to those selling any kind of food is that they get to eat.

As Luis said, goods come into the market overnight, are sold to wholesalers who sell to retailers who sell to the street vendors who sell to pedestrians. The price goes up each step of the way. I think a whole lot of people make a little money, rather than a few corporations making a lot of money. Everyone buys in small quantities. It’s very different from our retail model, with the fewest possible employees in the largest possible retail stores selling as much as possible at once. A cab driver told me Walmart may be fine for some things, but he’d never go there to eat.

People who do jobs for which there is no salary, only tips, are said to be working as volunteers. This includes garbage collectors, gas station attendants and the people who bag groceries in stores. The elderly often have this job. I’m not sure about restaurant servers.

One radio discussion on work addiction stated that the normal workday in Mexico is 12 hours long. Incredible.

Religion certainly stimulates a great deal of economic activity (“the religion industry?”). Consider the flowers, candles, bands, costumes, religious icons. . .

Sundays are surprisingly quiet. It’s really only stores and restaurants catering to tourists that are open, so streets are pretty empty. Museums charge Mexicans no entry fee on Sundays, so are often busy, but most close on Mondays.

There is now some mobilization in support of labor migrants. It would appear that in the past the attitude has been that they’re on their own as they cross the northern border. The instituto Oaxaqueño de Atención al Migrante helps migrants who return for a visit to help get medical attention, get documents, convince them they don’t have to leave. www.migrantesoaxaca.bog.mex There is huge dependency on the remittances of the migrants. 40,000 indigenous men have left Guerrero in search of work over the last year or so. The state is beginning a program to assist and protect migrant laborers. Police are to ensure transportation is secure; a medical group is available to help.

Gael García did Los invisibles, a series of documentaries on undocumented migrants. Looks great!

La Bestia – book or documentary – Museo de Memoria y Tolerancia. Pedro Ultreras.

OAXACA MARKETS (lots of photos!)

It is said that “Zapoteca” comes from “Zaa” (people) and “pochteca” – the Nahuatl word for merchant. It is also said that women dominate the markets, with men helping. I should probably have tested that generalization! There are lots of both, and I’m not even sure I could identify gender specialization.

Mercado Sánchez Pascuas is up the hill, away from downtown Oaxaca. It’s small, occupying a portion of a city block, but it’s got the juice bar where I found the most delicious unsweetened yogurt! Great for a visitor to Mexico. It’s also where I first saw chicken with yellow skin, some say a result of feeding them marigolds (which also makes yolks yellow). Chickens look appetizing and tasty, even before cooking. Like all markets, it has a super eating area, where customers share large tables to order from a series of dishes that everyone but the tourist is familiar with. It’s a wonderfully flavorful and inexpensive way to eat.

Mercado Benito Juárez is a block south of the Zócalo. I particularly like it for salted peanuts with dried chili! Photos here are a little out of focus, but good

Across the Street, south of Benito Juárez, is Mercado 20 de Noviembre with delicious diners! As elsewhere, older women working the kitchens have been in the business for decades. The meat section, at the south end of that, has fascinating cuts!

The Sunday tianguis at Tlacolula is sometimes called a “mercado indígena”, meaning that people from many communities come as buyers and sellers (or both) wearing the clothing and speaking languages of their communities. Their products are from the same source!  website put it nicely; it sells everything from “frutas, legumbres, bebidas indígenas como el “tejate” y el exquisito mescal, alimentos como el mole, la barbacoa, en fin, loza, herramientas, flores, ganado, etc.” (Fruit, vegetables, indigenous beverages like tejate and exquisite mescal, foods like mole, goat, dishware, tools, flowers, livestock, etc.) There are ceramics, miniature rug hooks for a needle-punch embroidery, lots of copal, and that’s just the unusual stuff. I had goat meat consommé with a couple of tortillas, chocolate con agua, and mescal “on the house.” (Google Tlacolula tianguis and view “images.”)

A tianguis is an outdoor market, or one held under tarpaulins – not in an everyday market building. There is a tianguis in Oaxaca City at El Llano on Thursdays, with many booths and food outlets. One of my favorite items was fabric stamped with embroidery patterns – hard to come by in Canada! The Zaachila tianguis has loads of produce with everything beautifully displayed, clothing, pots and pans, flowers, leather work, and tons of food. I stopped to ask one woman about her corn. She had both yellow and white corn. She allowed a photo, accepted no money, and gave me a few kernels to take home. Another woman sold a special kind of wood, burned for medicinal purposes. I got a picture, but don’t remember the name.

The Mercado (or Central) de Abastos is the largest in Oaxaca, and this website covers it pretty well:    The place is huge! It’s almost a regular grid, but not quite, and does have different levels and sections – though, for the most part, the sections are not specialized by type of merchandise. It was fun walking back and forth and up and down, rather like walking a cemetery – keep going in a relatively regular grid fashion, side-tripping when something looks interesting. I kept oriented and never felt unsafe, though later I heard tourists are warned never to go there, and pickpockets are common. I asked permission before taking any photos, and was happy to find copal (incense) and aprons. (These are real aprons, worn by market woman and all others involved in serious work!) Flower arrangements are beautiful. I was there once again with the Días de Muertos tour, when many specialized items are found.


Oaxaca’s Iglesia Santo Domingo de Guzmán was the first I visited. It is spectacular. There is gold leaf all over (or at least signs ask one not to rub against the gold) and images of people crawling all over the ceiling. (This video is pretty good:  In front of the church are cactus gardens – relatively large expanses of the same type of cactus, so making beautiful patterns. Next to this church, in the “Ex-convento dominicano” are the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca and the Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca. There are many “ex-conventos” or one-time missions of the Dominicans, consisting of large, beautifully-proportioned buildings which, in addition to churches and chapels, once housed religious personnel. Some of the materials used in their construction was taken from pre-hispanic structures; it is likely that all the labor was indigenous, and is of incredible scale. Aside from the churches, the structures no longer belong to the Dominican order and have been put to a number of public purposes – e.g. as museums.

The Catedral is Nuestra Señora de la Asunción. When I arrived, activities at the Catedral were building up to the October 23 observance of El Señor del Rayo – Lord of Lightning, an image sent by the King of Spain in the 16th Century. (A lightning bolt caused a fire, but the image was undamaged.) A principal Zapotec deity is Cocijo, or Pitao Cosijo, dios de los relámpagos y de la lluvia, god of lightning and rain. The “Señor del Rayo” fits right in. In the chapel of the image, there was constantly a line-up of people waiting to pay respects to it, and many brought flowers. There seemed to be cathedral services taking place all day long, attended by groups of schoolchildren and others. (I walked in frequently, to see what was happening and what was changing.)

In the late afternoon, there was usually a calenda, a procession consisting of a brass band, leading the group of dancing sponsors and their supporters, and at least a couple of monos de calenda – giant dancing figures of paper maché. Women were often dressed in the formal dress of huipil and enredo (wrapped skirt), carrying baskets of flowers or candies on their heads. The sweets were thrown into the crowd when they reached the cathedral, just before entering the church. I was quite amazed to hear a brass band in church!

Calenda procession 2012, Oaxaca –way more foreigners involved than I ever saw, perhaps as it’s for a wedding.

Making monos de calenda

Monos de calenda dancing, with musicians

The cathedral is arranged with the altar in the middle, and a fenced aisle between it and the large choir / band area on the main floor. People can thus walk all the way around the periphery of the church without passing between the altar and the congregation. This might be less distracting to celebrant and worshippers, without excluding visitors and tourists. Florists set up a huge canopy outside the cathedral, where they spent three entire days elaborating enormous flower arrangements, largely of lilies. They built towers of flowers that lined the pillars inside the cathedral, floor to ceiling. The aroma and the appearance were astounding. I was told the flowers were donated by a grateful parishioner.

On the evening of October 21, the mass was in full swing, and it was beautiful. The church was fully decorated in all those flowers; the image of the Señor del Rayo had been moved from its chapel to the altar in the center of the church, the pews were full and it was standing room only. There were women teaching their small children to make the sign of the cross, and many came wearing traditional dress. I now see this is also ceremonial dress. (“Typical” dress.) After the mass and communion, there was one last visitation to the icon. I was delighted to have a chance to talk to the priest, a youngish fellow who looks indigenous himself. I saw him conduct services for two days straight, and wanted to tell him how wonderful it is that he is in a cathedral that obviously means so much to the people that there are constantly new activities, new groups moving in and out. . . He agreed that it’s great work.

Then the calenda procession lined up outside. First were a bunch of monos de calenda – those are the huge dancing figures. There were two floats, one carrying a man in a red satin skirt tied to a cross, playing Christ (He looked Euro.), and a young woman playing Mary Magdalene (who did not). On a separate float was the Virgin Mary representative. She was followed by another pair of monos, and then a score of women in ceremonial dress, with illuminated flower arrangements on their heads.

I was surprised, given the number of people in the church and those in the courtyard outside, that not that many actually accompanied the procession.

Late at night on the 23rd, I was sent back to the Catedral to see the fireworks. A brass band played for each of about twelve young men who ran (or danced) the bulls – or angels, or turkeys – with fireworks spewing. The apparatus actually consists of a wooden frame and cover, under which the runner is somewhat protected. The bull leapt and spun around, as a bull with firecrackers on it would! So did the turkeys. The angels danced gracefully. Each “runner” is sponsored by a mayordomía, and the fireworks are put together by “unos maestros que saben mucho” (masters who know a lot). Each set of fireworks had loud bangs, very loud whistles, and spinners on each side. A sweet young man struck up a conversation with me in English. We tried to stick to English except for some topics. He is studying renewable energy in university, and has run the bulls; your arms get burned, but mescal is your friend! He was enthusiastic on both accounts.

The Castillo of fireworks was a very tall (60’?), very light scaffold that spent most of the day lying down. It had three levels of four wheels each; first one went off, spinning, whistling and banging, then the one above it, and the next above that – and then a shower of white light fell from the top of the Cathedral, absolutely terrifying the pigeons. There were also big Roman candles. (I’m glad I didn’t try photography. Youtube is very disappointing!) It left lots of mess to be swept up – and by this morning, by golly, it had been. Many people entered the church immediately afterwards.

By the evening of the 24th, the image had been returned to its own chapel, mass was said, and the cathedral was dark.

Churches are somewhat overwhelming in their diversity and variety, and my take on them is idiosyncratic. I loved the brown-on-cream designs on the walls of Templo San Felipe Neri, reminiscent of a barista’s artistry. I remember the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad (patroness of Oaxaca) because of beautiful night-time illumination of the Basílica, the Plaza de la Danza outside, the Escuela de Bellas Artes opposite, the nevados stands nearby (Oaxacan shave-ice!), and the youth “hanging out” in the whole area (as they do in all public spaces. Something about young couples necking in a churchyard appeals to me.).

Culiápam (or “Culiapan”) has ruins of another 16th Century Dominican convent (mission). It used stones from pre-hispanic structures, and required an enormous amount of labor. The guide pointed out watchtowers at each of the four corners, needed for defense against attack by local residents and to control the corvée labor force. Many human remains in unmarked graves have been found in the courtyard around the church, again reminiscent of San Gabriel, California and Hawaii. (This came as a surprise to Mexicans on the tour.)

San Jerónimo Tlacochahuaya’s colonial church is elaborately painted in the baroque style and has a wonderful organ w/ faces painted on the pipes.There are many historical pipe organs in Oaxaca!( Instituto de Órganos Históricos de Oaxaca) I attended an organ concert at the Basílica.

Every last grave at the Panteón San Miguel (cemetery) is unique. All are concrete structures, other than one or two. All are Catholic and Hispanic, and I don’t think I saw anything older than 1960 on my first visit. It’s hard to believe that, although no two were identical, they had no connection to the local environment, to indigenous culture, to any language other than Spanish – nothing! I’m betting those in villages would be very different. There was the grave of a Communist who founded one indigenous organization. Most were white, some pastel, a couple bright blue or pink, a few black. No green – which is the color used in Maya cemeteries. There were some very nice trees and birds – haven’t seen many of them before. Some bright yellow warbler types, but not familiar; a hummingbird. Some great butterflies, too, including a very large orange one and a very large black one. One cemetery worker asked what I was doing, and I said I was just admiring. The creativity is something else. I can only imagine what it will be like over the next couple of weeks. Some graves have orange and black Hallowe’en decorations!

I returned for a second visit because I’d read that there’s a corridor with niches where the competition for tapetes (sand or sawdust paintings, in this case) and altares would be held. Turns out I missed an important part of the cemetery on my last visit. It’s the oldest, with some tombs from the mid-1800s. The nichos are on the four walls around this large section, and most of them are empty. I loved the area; I saw the most different kinds of birds I’ve seen since I came, a beautiful red one, and a woodpecker.


The site at Mitla is particularly attractive. The buildings are decorated w/ grecas, geometric mosaics or carvings, repeated symmetrical patterns. It’s not too huge, so easy to picture and get around. Maybe I also feel comfortable because the structures aren’t too high, so I’m not afraid to climb them! It’s also surrounded by contemporary residences, so feels part of contemporary life – not that locals are involved except as the occasional guide or vendor outside.

From a few questions I’ve asked about weaving, I was able to identify some of the patterns used in mosaics, e.g. the four steps or stages of life, the coiled snail for eternity, the mountains etc. These patterns are used repeatedly in carpets! (I bought a circular crocheted bag from a man who claimed to have made it, though I doubt that! It was an unusual design, colors, material and shape. I now see that the pattern on it has the same source.) Wikipedia says there is no repetition anywhere on the site. The knowledge of geometry, design, engineering, and measurement are amazing. I climbed down into a tomb – which I could identify as a tomb, although empty, because the walls are carved as above.


The main distinguishing feature of Mitla is the intricate mosaic fretwork and geometric designs that profusely adorn the walls of both the Church and Columns groups. The geometric patterns called grecas in Spanish seen on some of the stone walls and door frames are made from thousands of cut, polished stones that are fitted together without mortar. The pieces were set against a stucco background painted red. The stones are held in place by the weight of the stones that surround them. Walls, friezes and tombs are decorated with mosaic fretwork. In some cases, such as in lintels, these stone “tiles” are embedded directly into the stone beam. The elaborate mosaics are considered to be a type of “Baroque” design as the designs are elaborate and intricate and in some cases cover entire walls. None of the fretwork designs are repeated exactly anywhere in the complex. The fretwork here is unique in all of Mesoamerica.

Mitla. (2012, July 15). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 03:49, October 19, 2012, from

Google images for Mitla are really good.

There are archeological sites to be excavated all over, but not enough money to do it. Sometimes, the residents and the archeologists argue. Archeologists tell people they have to move because they’re invading a site, and the people ask who are the invaders; they’ve always lived at Mitla, which appears never to have been abandoned completely. The Spanish did a fair amount of destruction to use the building materials themselves (e.g. for building churches). Apparently local people did not, although most sites had been “abandoned” before the colonizers arrived. Although local people are hired to work in excavation, as guards, etc., there are many stories about how they are dismissed when tombs or treasures are found.

There was a museum in Mitla, but it’s been closed for years. Some items were removed. INAH, the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, took the best to Santo Domingo (the Museo de Culturas de Oaxaca.) and never returned them. That’s the common pattern: INAH takes the sites, claiming they’re of archaeological value, takes the artifacts, and nothing is left for local people. None of museum entrance fees go to the communities. People won’t turn anything over to them any more. A couple of fellows Armando knows worked for an INAH excavation at Yagul. When jade objects were found, they were dismissed, so INAH personnel could excavate them alone – and dispose of them where?

Monte Albán is within sight of Oaxaca, and not more than 30 minutes away. It’s a great, grassy hilltop plain surrounded by structures. Some of the site has been restored, some has not. Buildings are not at all decorated as in Mitla though the dimensions, alternating verticals and slopes etc., are pleasing. That may have to do with the angles, placement and orientation; it’s carefully calculated to make use of the cycles of the sun and of Venus. (The latter is, I think 540 days or so. Does that have any practical purpose?) Some openings are calculated for sun ray penetration not on solstice or equinox, but on days important to the agricultural cycle, e.g. May 8.

Monte Albán. (2012, November 20). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 18:24, November 20, 2012, from

Sitting in the shadows of the buildings and scarce trees were men in straw cowboy hats (the local normal head covering) with souvenirs for sale. When we moved onto the grassy plain, they all stood up and converged on us. The guide used them to show us the types of artifacts recovered there. There were some large panels – portraits of temple caretakers w/ deformities: dwarves, hunchbacks, etc. The guide said it’s due to inbreeding. As usual, I doubt it that explanation. It seems likely occupations like this were reserved for people who would have difficulty performing other tasks.

Although I liked the buildings etc., I particularly enjoyed finding tiny wildflowers.

The archeological site in the town of Zaachila is a couple of blocks up the hill from the tianguis, and thirty meters above the church (which looks very much like it’s built on pre-existing platforms). The flat top of one mound has been excavated and restored. There are other mounds on the site, some higher and some down a slope, which haven’t been excavated yet. I walked downhill and stooped to gather and photograph a collection of sherds. An unusual sign advertises photographs of the treasures found in the burials in the excavated mound. Apparently, the first time archeologists wanted to excavate the tombs, Zapotecs ran them off. INAH came back with armed guards, and took the gold and jade treasures off to Mexico City – hence the photographic exhibit.

The hilltop archeological site at Atzompa only opened to visitors on October 18. It has beautiful structures and spectacular views down three valleys which converge below. Little flowers, birds (including humming) and butterflies abound. In the obsession to establish hierarchy and centrality, this is said to be a satellite of Monte Albán. Of the classical period, it was of course inhabited by “nobility” – which is probably true. After all, there’s a whole lot of valley and hillside, and only a little mountaintop. Symmetry is always a consideration, as is orientation to cardinal directions. (In this case, unlike the Prairies, it seems not to mean four directions but literal cardinal directions.) There are several ballcourts, and a tomb was recently found. (See  and

As in Yagul, Atzompa excavators say they were sent home the day a tomb was uncovered.

The Americans on the tour attempted to confirm that the first excavations there were done with funding from the U.S. – colleges or the National Geographic or something. (What would anyone do without their help?) They felt further excavation was urgent, and couldn’t money be found somewhere to fund it? Surely university students could be recruited to dig it up! It doesn’t occur to them that the research is being done and the Mexicans are managing it just fine. In the case of Atzompa, there has been a good deal of negotiation for permission to pass through the village (likely ensuring some business will stop there), and locals have been hired as excavators. They’re also caretakers; they were on top of each and every mound, keeping an eye on us. I talked to one young guy who had the most beautiful white-toothed grin. At the time, I’d just read the placard speculating that the social organization of pottery-making, by families, is much the same now as it has been for centuries. I think that’s so fascinating, because it’s the way to keep families relevant as production and social units.

The Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca is spectacular, both for its displays and for the building itself The architecture, proportion, design and color create many gorgeous views. Exhibits are thought- provoking, both in artifacts and accompanying text. Like Toledo’s other project at CaSA, this area includes a carefully designed water storage system, collecting rainwater from the Museo and storing it underground to irrigate the Jardín Etnobotánico during the dry months. (The Dominicans had a similar system.)

The Museo de Arte Prehispánico Rufino Tamayo is mostly ceramic. From pre-classic to classic what I could see was refinement in the detail of fingers and such. In both, the sculpting of clay was fantastic, with plenty of humor and revealing much of their thinking. It’s mostly women who are subjects in pre-classic art; plenty of breasts, and almost no penises. The post-classic moves away from people, is more religious or mythical and less fun. It’s another a colonial building. I forgot to check the washrooms there, but at all other public museums I’ve visited, they’ve been very modern, with frosted glass doors and walls – quite lovely, especially given the kinds of light there tend to be.

The Centro de Artes in San Agustín Etla is not an ex-Dominican monastery, but a one-time textile factory. There is one round building whose history I can’t identify; it encloses a gorgeous exhibit of black pottery. One leaves that and crosses a yard that includes infinity pools, filled to the brim. On the top level is a huge room that was the factory; floors are of wide wooden planks. There is an exhibit of pottery from all over Oaxaca, not intended to be old but representative. Downstairs are large B&W photographs of salt-making through evaporation and by shovel. Nasty work, but so important. I took lots of photos of all these areas. (The only place photos aren’t allowed is of Francisco Toledo’s work in the gift shop. These days, he’s slicing X-Ray film into extremely fine images, often insects, strung together like a paper-doll chain.)

The whole thing is at the top of a very tranquil valley, green and full of big trees. A number of the big houses (mansions!) have rooms for rent; I think they belong to expats. The church next to CaSA is plain, with some very sad martyrs. The views are beautiful. Walking down the hill, I stopped to eat at a nice comedor admiring the planters made of water jugs, turned upside down, cut in half, with the lid sometimes open for drainage.



For centuries, community specialization has stimulated and been stimulated by trade, and has expanded to provide employment and income in the global economy. Community specialization is also significant component of ethnic identity.

Both Mexicans and North Americans are engaged in innovating, reviving and sustaining methods and materials, some on the brink of being lost. Sara Gorman and her husband Mark Hornaday ( ) are among them, buying in Oaxaca and selling in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Remigio, one of their colleagues, has been encouraging the revival of rare textile techniques in villages for over twenty years. He travels the world to find materials such as cotton, silk, and dyes. One of his clerks told me stories of the various fabrics: this one is Triqui because it’s done in horizontal strips, though when they do it for themselves, it’s red or sometimes white; that one is not accidentally losing its dye, but is intentionally made to bleed when folded wet. What comes out is the soul of the object being dyed.

Wood carvings of copal are brightly painted in elaborate abstract designs – cats, dragons, deer, rabbits, and many more. They are generally called “alebrijes”, a term I’m told is more appropriately limited to fantastic, imaginary creatures. (Copal is the tree from which resin is harvested to burn as incense. Its branches grow in convoluted shapes that can be shaped into animated carvings.) San Antonio Arrazola has a number of alebrije workshops, where groups of young men carve the copal and young women paint the figures. Great hand-eye coordination!

Alebrije. (2012, November 10). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 18:58, November 20, 2012, from

In Coyoacán, a man set up on the street with his woven wire sculptures, so complex they look like alebrijes. I took pictures rather than buying pieces. Huichol beadwork is similar – in colors, in fantastical designs.

In Mitla, people weave cotton in pastel colors. or Table cloths and bedspreads look so fresh!

San Bartolo Coyotepec is known for barro negro. Of course, the clay itself isn’t black; it’s the severely oxygen-reduced burning atmosphere in the kiln. The reason it (and other pottery) isn’t always waterproof is because it isn’t fired long or hot enough. We were shown the technique by Jorge, grandson of Rosa Real, the woman who introduced both the firing and polishing techniques, using rounded and polished pieces of quartz. Jorge took a big hunk of clay, obviously ready to work, looking about as stiff as bread dough, in his hands. He shaped a sphere and then pounded his fist into it, making it surround his fist to the wrist. Then he placed it on a hand-powered wheel he’d made. With a lump of clay, he anchored one wide, shallow bowl on the table up-side down, and placed another bowl on it right-side up. Thus he could spin the upper bowl by moving his fingers along, gradually pulling the clay up into a cylinder shape, narrowing it, adding on more loose cylinders to make the neck, quickly indenting the spout, polishing with a lump of quartz, decorating w/ incisions, etc. Normally it takes up to a month to make a set of pieces; they sit and dry between addition of new parts. The black pottery process was popularized after plastics came in to displace waterproof ceramics; then they turned to the soft, quickly-fired decorative pieces.

Carlomagno Pedro Martínez, of San Bartolo Coyotepec, makes the wonderful black pottery Muertos sculptures. His theme is death, e.g. a skeleton sprawled on the ground, under a black blanket faintly impressed with moons and skulls and more death symbols. Another grouping is a wake, including the body of the coffin and a number of elderly “aunts” who are mourners. showcases the work of his siblings and parents as well. When our tour groupI visited, he was in Canada, and going on to Cuba. Hs wife tended to us. They have kids of 11 and 13, and she was going on a school trip with them to Veracruz.

The Museo de Arte Popular Oaxaca in San Bartolo also displayed some of Carlomagno’s work, as well as that of other artisans.

Our Academic Tour visited “Luis Blanco, son of Teresa Blanco” in Atzompa. We walked up some steps and into a large hall in a house. It had two very large tables set, and a lot of people! Plus the altar to his mother, Teresa, who died in 1980. She introduced a new style of pottery, which includes “pastillaje” – appliqué of lighter (or darker) colored clay onto the other color (both shades of reddish-beige), delicate figures. People seemed rather delighted and excited to have us pass through the room, through the courtyard, to the studio-workshop. Luis and his wife, María Rojas, got out some black clay and instantly began making a flower for each member of the group. Of course, we then bought others. (I bought a devil-angel.) One member of the large family group – an older man who seemed slightly inebriated – served us a mescal. It was so nice!

As we drove away, I asked whether it was certain his name was Blanco, as it was unlikely to be the same as his mother’s. A member of our group said it’s a matriarchal society, so no surprise; I said Mexican law was unlikely to agree with that. I’m sure I sounded like a know-it-all. Still, on googling, I find him (his photo) labeled “Luis García Blanco.” He’s signed the raw clay flower “Luis Blanco,” capitalizing on his mother’s name, I suppose. Then again, Carlomagno’s family is labeled “Martínez” – his mother’s surname – although it’s apparent his and his siblings’ surnames are “Pedro Martínez.” Maybe what’s happened in each case is that foreigners assume the last name in the list is the surname, when it’s actually the second-to-last, the father’s surname.

Gabriel and Manuel (of Academic Tours) had arranged to have us visit a different potter, Angélica Delfina Vásquez Cruz (though I found her work at Mano Mágica in Oaxaca labeled as Angélica “Delfino” Vásquez). She’s no artisan; she’s an artist. She carried a baby in a sling around her body – 21 days old. She seemed a little beyond having infants; it’s a grandchild. She’s an intense, skinny, muscular woman, born in 1958. Her figures are gorgeous. I asked her about her mermaids, and what a story. Her grandmother told her of the origins of the mermaid. She was a young girl who committed 3 faults. The first I didn’t understand. The second was that she insisted on bathing at midday during Semana Santa, which was not allowed. Then she had sex with her lover. As punishment, god stuck her legs together (I’d never thought of mermaids that way!) and threw her in the ocean. Someone took pity on her and gave her a guitar, so she could express her grief. There were calls sent out for help, but the priest said it was too late to save her. However, there would be some mercy: she’d be allowed onto land one day a year, on June 24, St. John.

One could feel the mermaid is a victim because of the severe punishment she’s suffering, but Angélica sees her as brave, a heroine, courageous, rebellious, determined, doing what she wants despite knowing the likely consequences. That takes guts! “I’m a woman and I have the feelings of a woman,” says Angélica. Her art is done with passion. Her father sculpts people, and when asked why this feature or that, he can’t explain; it’s because it was pretty or just occurred to him. Angélica knows what each feature means to her. Her most recent is one she didn’t explain to me – a woman’s chest and belly are torn open, with beings (children?) ripping out of them. She said it was very personal. I didn’t press, but later wondered if it might be about breast cancer.

The colors and designs on some woven wool tapetes (carpets)  of some remind me of our old Turkish rugs. The traditional designs are geometrical. Some look quite Navajo and southwestern, even in the use of naturally colored (or blended) wool. There is pride in the use of natural pigments. Modern designs are inspired by or copy Miró or Escher, or may include turtles and fish. Teotitlán del Valle is especially associated with this work. (Google tapetes Teotitlán del Valle and see images.)

Sara introduced me to Bii Daūū, the weaving cooperative of 3-4 weavers (See in Teotitlán del Valle. (There are many!) The weavers we visited were Mariano Sosa Martínez and his wife, Rafaela. They are a couple in the mid-40s who speak Zapotec to each other all the time. He speaks English as well. They have a daughter in her 20s, who has moved out with her boyfriend, and a son, Carlos, 18. He’s doing his own weaving. Rafaela does the bookkeeping and sales; she also weaves and dyes and cooks and cleans. Mariano weaves and deals most with foreigners. Rafa’s father lives about 10 blocks away. Her mother died six months ago. Mariano’s parents passed on longer ago, his father when he was 6. Each comes from a family of 8 siblings. Mariano has a cargo w/ the village – to do with resource conservation, medio ambiente (environment).

Their two-storey house is on a paved street in Teotitlán. A large double-cab pickup truck is parked outside. On the ground floor is a large show room, family quarters (TV etc.), a bathroom, a big kitchen. Customers walk through the kitchen to get to the stairs leading to the second storey, where there are a chicken coop and raw materials for wool dying: nopal leaves with cochineal bugs growing on them, samples of the plant used to make yellow, indigo (fermented leaves of a plant that, when ready to use, look like blocks of coal), pomegranate leaves and shells (they make brown). (From the second storey, there is a beautiful view of mountains and other rooftops where skeins of dyed wool are drying in the breeze.)

In the explanation of the dye process, cochineal (cochinilla) gets the most attention. Collect the mother cochineal, place in a mesh bag, attach to a nopal leaf (already cut off the plant and hanging on a line). The females’ eggs pass through the mesh onto the nopal leaf, and the larvae distribute themselves all over the leaf and grow for 3 months. Before then, they have to be harvested, the cochineal ground. Wool comes from Mexico (state, I assume), already carded and spun. It’s boiled in water with potassium alum (a dye fixer or mordant, I learn from Wikipedia. It also stops bleeding – e.g. is used on styptic pencils after shaving.). With the combination of the red, yellow and blue, orange and green are made. All natural, all organic.

Academic Tours took us to Teotitlán del Valle to still another weaver’s: Father and Son’s. Bulmaro Pérez Mendoza is a master weaver, and gave a great lecture on natural dyes. (See Friends of Oaxacan Folk Art Like Mariano, he seemed to know a lot about chemistry, the ph necessary to achieve various colors (e.g. through the addition of lemon juice, lime, baking soda, cream of tartar). In his demonstration, he used a piece of paper to apply the various dye-stuffs, then making additions of base or acid. (Mariano added temperature and repeated bathings to his talk.) I rather like Wikipedia’s description of the village:

Teotitlán del Valle. (2012, June 29). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 20:42, November 2, 2012, from

Here, as at Bii Daüü, the wife was also present, dealt in the money, and engaged in all stages of carpet production as well as running the household. I think the men do the travelling, and women do the rest! Oaxacan artists have often been abroad for lectures and workshops at museums and folk art conferences.

Erasto (Tito) Ruiz sells his woven tapetes at El Nahual in Oaxaca City . My eyes came to a rest first on a wonderful piece of the sun over the mountains w/ a diamond in the center. Erasto says, living in Teotitlán, waking in the morning to see the sun rising behind the mountains (a view I’ve seen), he imagined a diamond floating in mid-air. He obtained the silk in the Sierra, dyed it and wove it. “Diamond” is loosely understood; it’s a 4-sided shape depicting the cardinal directions (as he put it), with much more complex grecas inside. He finds that he is increasingly going away from the geometrical – or, rather, the symmetrical. (Some would call it “ojos de dios” – gods’ eyes.) Another piece in blues has a diamond in the center and grecas in the top left corner, disappearing to the bottom and right. One of his best is “El aire” – or at least it was produced for an exhibit with that theme.×724.jpg It’s the usual tidy geometric image, disintegrating or being blown apart by the wind. Tito said he remembered an experience harvesting maize with his father, the wind coming up, seeing his neighbor blown over, the air full of feathers coming from town.

He spoke of having been to Santa Fe and Vancouver (Museum of Anthropology).  He came back from successful experiences and sales all charged up, and bought bunches of material to keep weaving and creating. He loves doing careful, fine work. His mother spins for him; his wife does the macramé finishing. There’s a beautiful small one for M$600 I’d love. The silk is his most beautiful. He also does some cotton, but still, mostly wool. His children are beginning to weave. Tito began with his father, then an uncle and later another weaver, learning from them while working for them; their names went on his work, so when he lost his job there, no one knew his name.

I think he said there are about 17 weaving families in Teotitlán. There is serious competition between them, and lots of jealousy. They’ll claim not to know each other and criticize each other, e.g. calling his too expensive. His response is that his work is more expensive, because he uses natural dyes. Others are less expensive because their yarn is coarser and they use aniline dyes. He sells some of the latter, too, identifying them as what they are. Some of the families actually do very little weaving; they farm it out to weavers in Santa Ana del Valle, and take them the materials and designs.


OAXACA DÍAS DE MUERTOS – FIESTAS DE LOS FIELES DIFUNTOS (Days of the Dead and the faithful deceased)

Comparsa de muertos

The quality of this one isn’t great, but the costumes are!

Día de Muertos en Oaxaca

A documentary w/out words tracing pre-and post-hispanic practices: Ofrenda del Día de Muertos México – Zaragoza 2011

BBC documentary – Día de Muertos en Oaxaca – captures what newcomers to celebration feel

Dia de Muertos 2012 en Oaxaca

Haley, Shawn D. and Fukuda, Curt (2004). The Day of the Dead: when two worlds meet in Oaxaca. Berghahn Books. This is a really interesting book. Retrieved from

I’m not trying to give an account of all that goes on for the celebration of “Fieles Difuntos” (Faithful Deceased). Briefly, the first 24 hours – approximately mid-afternoon on October 31 to mid-afternoon November 1 – is thought to be the time when the spirits of children and infants return. The next 24 hours are to visit with adults who’ve gone ahead. Muertos observances differ according to cemetery and community. There are two basic locations for the observances: in cemeteries, where many people spend the night in the company of family and friends, and in their homes, where altars are arranged. Tombs are mostly decorated with flowers, candles and copal. On altars, there is a good deal of food.

Muertos celebrations picked up in earnest on October 26. A portion of Alcalá (the tourist pedestrian street) were tarped and for a day protected tapetes and altares made by students of the UABJO (Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca) and younger students as well. (Google “tapetes de muertos” and “altares de muertos” for images.) They were cool, but nothing political or sacreligious. Some students were made up with face paint, into skeletons, so I started taking photos.

The comparsas began, too. These are brass and drum bands that tour the streets with groups of supporters in costume who dance in conga lines, etc. Lots of people carry babies. Many people, including lots of kids, were in skeleton make-up. Costumes are often exceptionally elaborate and inventive. One set was made with trash and recycled (or repurposed) materials: a bride’s veil of newspaper strips, another of Styrofoam plates with a Styrofoam cup umbrella, another woman’s dress of beer bottle lids, another of cheezie bags. Comparsas also play a role in bidding farewell to visiting spirits for another year. We attended the comparsas at San Pedro Etla, where brass bands and their supporters, in costume, noisily dance through the streets, sending the spirits of the dead back to the other side. In some cemeteries (e.g. San Miguel) were mariachi bands, marimbas, duos of guitar and voice. Their rhythm was slow, but musical, as they played for families.

Flower cultivation is huge for the Muertos celebration. San Antonino Castillo celebrates the Day of the Dead later than elsewhere because they are so busy with flower deliveries and sales on Nov. 1 and 2. Marigold is cempasúchitl; given its náhuatl name, I realized it’s a local domesticate, though I’ve long associated it with India. Must mean the Iberians moved that around as well! Borla – scarlet cockscomb – is another really important flower for altars. Eight-foot long sugar cane is bent to make the arch – the frame – for altars. In preparation for  Muertos, campesinos come to town with their wares to sell. It’s a huge investment; they sleep in the street for days, and desperately need sales. Manufacturing, processing, travel all are geared to it.

Pan de muertos is also essential. It’s a tender, sweet bread made with a lot of eggs, including the yolks (thus often called “pan de yema”), some butter, some anise. I watched a guy cracking hundreds of eggs into a bucket! A decoration with a face painted on it is stuck into the loaf, which is shaped rather like a swaddled infant. A special flavor comes from the clay wood-burning oven in which it is baked, a paddle being used to shovel in the loaves. A documentary of 2 x 9 minutes:

Centro de Estudios y Desarrollo de las Lenguas Indígenas de Oaxaca (CEDELIO)Elaboración del pan de yema. Retrieved November 2, 2012 from

Our group went first, on October 31, to the Panteón San Sebastián at Santa Cruz Xoxocotlán. (Villagers were expelled from their land at Monte Albán in 1917 when it opened up to archeology.)  In it is the collapsing 17th Century Chapel. Graves are crowded all over, in every direction, some more permanent and some less so. Guide Gabriel gave us some flowers and veladora (tea) candles to place on untended graves. Like others, we drank mescal from shot glasses. There was a great deal of quiet strolling, lots of photography. A tapete competition was outside – sawdust paintings.

We went from there to the newer panteón (Mictlancihuatl), with much larger, more substantial tombs. At the entrance, a huge symphony orchestra played to a large, rapt, seated audience. It was the philharmonic youth orchestra of Veracruz. There were more candles, more flowers – including calla lilies, glads and roses – and more mud, caused by the light rain. Plenty of kids were in costume or masks, approaching us with “Hallowe’en!” I don’t think we gringos were comfortable giving out money as the kids requested, and were unhappy we didn’t have the appropriate (to us) candy!

Santa María Atzompa is another small town near Oaxaca. Judging from the panteón, it is much poorer and more indigenous than Xoxo. According to Wikipedia, people in Atzompa live off of maize cultivation and ceramic production, which is done through family organization.

Santa María Atzompa. (2012, September 23). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 01:07, November 22, 2012, from

Built on a hillside, the burial ground is entirely different from the others. Almost all graves are dirt mounds, with some space in between. We were there at about midnight, and a lot of people were just arriving, carrying enormous loads of marigolds or borla. Also huge candles – these were a meter long, not like the veladoras at other cemeteries. They brought blankets and small chairs on which to sit by the graves during the night-long vigil. Most adult women wore rebozos, covering their heads, as it was quite damp and chilly. There were kids sleeping on sheets of cardboard between graves. People were gathered in family groups, having a great time chatting and laughing. There was much visiting back and forth; it felt as if they were as familiar with the location of each other’s gravesites as they would be with their homes. The community moves from the village streets into the cemetery. I asked one older woman if I could take her photo; she laughed at me and said, “Sure, for $500!” Gabriel said I shouldn’t ask; just take it. I can’t do that. I’d thought since she seemed happy, she might be interested in a chat w/ a foreigner but, not surprisingly, we were just intruders to her and to everyone else.

All along, there was a great amount of gringo camera-shoving into people’s faces, into their family groups, at the graves of their family members, trying to capture the magic. It felt pretty intrusive, pretty voyeuristic. However, I think we were in awe at the comfort they felt in the presence of the remains of their family members. It seems a very effective cultural response to the inevitability of death and grief: specify when the dead can return and be remembered. Rather than waste energy in denial and erasing memory, use it to create beauty, color, light, flavor and scent. Bring them back yearly for a limited time and make the most of it; then send them back, let them go. In the days we wandered cemeteries, I did not see tears, though there was a good deal of solemnity and quiet dignity.

Although there are formal masses, church involvement in Días de Muertos is slight. At a church in the Centro Histórico of Mexico City, a document was posted explaining the church’s view of el Día de Todos los Santos. The dead are gone. They may be in heaven, hell or purgatory (which is why we pray for them), but they do not come back. That’s why the church isn’t involved in all the altares etc. – and why that portion of the observances is extra-religious.

The Catrina – the skeleton dressed in fancy women’s clothes – is a playful take on the “señora” española  or mestiza, the lady who is boss of the maid. Her depiction is similar to the Danza del Diablo, mocking the patrón – well, not really. Catrina’s husband is Catrín, and he’s more like the patrón; the Diablo is more like the foreman.

La Calavera Catrina. (2012, November 12). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 18:46, November 20, 2012, from

A musical and modern-dance performance of Catrina was at the Teatro Alcalá. I attended, thinking perhaps it and La Muerte celebrations in general were about overcoming death, but they’re not. They’re about accepting death and the dead as part of our lives. Octavio Paz apparently said, “La muerte es el espejo de vida de los mexicanos.” (Death is the mirror of life for Mexicans.) Some call it “la fiesta de los ancestros” or “de nuestros antepasados” (of our ancestors), cloaking pre-hispanic beliefs and practices in Roman Catholic celebrations.

A bit too far out for the Church is the devotion to the Santa Muerte – Saint Death – which some consider to be the original form of worship, as Aztecs, Zapotecs and Mixtecs honored Mictantecuhtli, lord of the underworld, as well as Mictecacíhuatl, lady of death. This also involves large processions.

Mendoza, Alberto (2012). Con calenda jóvenes oaxaqueños adoran a la “Santa Muerte.” Retrieved November 3, 3012 from

Some say the presence of witches, pumpkins and superheroes for Days of the Dead is evidence of cultural colonization. For others, these Hallowe’en figures just add to the repertoire. Bright orange jack-o’-lanterns would seem to me to be rather appropriate!


Comunalidad – communality – is a theoretical framework describing the logic of indigenous communities developed by indigenous anthropologists Floriberto Díaz Gómez (Mixe) and Jaime Martínez Luna (Zapoteca). I’ve just begun to learn of it through reading

Rendón Monzón, Juan José (2003). La comunalidad: modo de vida en los pueblos indios. Tomo I. Conaculta.

According to Rendón, the appropriate term is not “indigenous,” but rather, “Indian.” The “indigenous,” he says, have been the objects of assimilation, integration, acculturation, or at least scholarship. “Indian,” refers to individuals or peoples who have resisted domination and oppression (p.35).

It has helped me to make sense of the tenacious grip on prehispanic languages, garments, village life, foods, crafts, ceremony, etc. Juana Vásquez says that, in schools, Mexicans still speak of “integration” and of the substandard Spanish spoken by indigenous children. She says, “They don’t understand that we don’t want to speak Spanish well. We want to be able to communicate, but we want to be fluent in our own languages!” Specific crafts and skills associated w/ different towns and communities, their variations on dishes, on rituals, on ways of speaking, are painstakingly maintained, enhanced, and protected, both to have a monopoly claim and to emphasize identity.

Rendón (pp.52-55) has developed a table summarizing the economic, political, productive and symbolic features of this cultural system. Elements fundamental to communal life are the popular assembly (which organizes community life overall); territory (shared productive, sacred and archaeological resources and infrastructure); political power (a system of unpaid cargos – offices and responsibilities); tequio (collective work for the benefit of the whole community); and fiestas (celebrations). Auxiliary elements are legal systems (regulating relationships between people and with nature); education (so youth learn how to behave themselves and how to make a living); language and symbols (especially important to identity); and world vision (belief systems). Elements of importance to family and personal life are technology (crops, livestock, gathering, cooking, crafts, healing); exchange systems (reciprocal and market); division of labor (full and part-time and gender specialization, etc.); ceremonial life; kinship; artistic and intellectual expression; and leisure activities.

The willingness of individuals to contribute their labor and resources for the good of the collective is essential. Those who withdraw from celebrations, who do not contribute to patron saints’ fiestas or send money (at the very least) for community projects, who do not return to take up a cargo when it is their turn risk being expelled, and no longer recognized as community members (p.15). Modern political and economic systems and some religious sects are particularly likely to encourage individualization and distancing.

This analysis helped me realize that the Catholic Church, with all its religious syncretism and beliefs, has become an integral part of the community fabric. It gives the motivation or rationale for the common celebrations, with the sacrifices cargos entail. Sharing these great multisensory experiences (the smell of copal and lilies, the sight of gorgeous flowers, candles and clothing; the sound of organ and song; dancing to the music of the brass bands – better yet, playing in a brass band!; the taste of feast foods) with family and neighbors gives celebrations a hugely binding emotional power. It’s not Church authority that creates this cohesion, but the community’s responsibility for enacting ritual and observance in processions, bringing flowers, etc.

The Danza del Diablo was performed at a a folk dance competition at the Oaxaca Zócalo by men from Santiago de Juxtlahuapa. The dance defines their community and vice versa; it belongs to their pueblo. There were eight to ten dancers, and they wore the most astounding wooden masks. Some had moving eyes, achieved by pulling on a string that comes out at the chin. Their dance is a prancing one, regularly stomping, some swinging of partners, and some cracking of whips. They wore goatskin chaps, strong boots, suit jackets and ties (though I didn’t notice that until I watched the video later), bright scarves around their necks, and kerchiefs tied around their heads. (I didn’t notice gloves on them, but did on the video.)

I was delighted later to find them seated resting in the Alameda de León. Their masks were in a pile, wrapped in their headscarves. Several were adolescents. I asked them who could explain this to me, and they summoned their teacher, Hugo. He told me they’re all from the community, their masks are made for them personally by an artisan. They travelled 4 hours by bus, coming with various family members. People listened in on the conversation, proud of their work and achievement; they’d won the competition. I asked if there were a religious aspect to the dance; there was, as it’s to represent the gods they worshipped when the Spanish arrived.

That may be, but it’s pretty clear the devil is European. His horns are of goat, deer, bull or sheep; he’s got a beard and sharp features; he’s cracking the (boss’s, taskmaster’s, foreman’s) whip, he’s wearing the suit and tie. I looked at one closely, as Hugo asked the dancer to show it to me; it’s one with closing eyes, and those eyes are blue! The dancer said, “Los míos eran azules también, pero se quemaron con el sol!” (“Mine were blue, too, but they got sunburned!”) Danza de los Diablos Santiago Juxtlahuapa. It’s got some interesting discussion by participants.  – Artesano elaborando máscara del Diablo de madera.

When they asked me what Canada was like, all I could say, looking around me at all the people, color, activity and sound, was “Quiet.”

The most touching thing was that when glasses of Coke were passed around, Hugo was served – and so was I. I also received a stack of tortillas with a hunk of delicious chicken on top. I was really touched. I would have liked to have helped financially, but it was not accepted. The refusal came from the women, the mothers, who come along to accompany their boys.

In addition to the Señor del Rayo, October 23 was also the second anniversary of the assassination of Heriberto Pazos Ortiz, leader of the Movimiento Unificador de Lucha Triqui – MULT. When he was killed, the driver of the vehicle he was in and another guard were members of the Agencia Institucional de Investigación, assigned to protect him. (Partido Unidad Popular is an allied organization.) See on his assassination is a great photo album from yesterday.

Thousands wearing traditional dress came to Oaxaca’s Zócalo by bus and on foot. Older people carried rolled-up banners for their communities. I arrived in the afternoon after the main demonstration. The Zócalo was a mess; waiters were sweeping the trash into piles. (This is how streets and sidewalks are kept clean; each home and business sweeps and mops its own section, much as we remove snow!) There were Indians gathered in groups around men giving instructions. One group of about 20 women sped across the plaza, to get somewhere they should have been. (It occurs to me that members of these communities scurry in much the same way Hutterites do in town, rushing away from the transport van and later back.) I followed one group for a while: men led, followed by women in single file, down busy sidewalks. Those people can really move! Many trucks, pick-ups and buses drove by, full of people, taking them back home. Some streets were blocked by vehicles. I don’t photograph these events, as I might be seen as a spy.

The next morning, I had coffee and my newspaper at the Zócalo. Vendors normally take my cheerful and assertive “No, gracias,” and leave, but I noticed a young woman was lingering in front of my table. It was because she was reading my newspaper upside-down; it was the back page of the first section, with photos and commentary of yesterday’s demonstration, especially the Triqui section (to which I think she belonged). I gave her that part!

Sometimes, intercommunity cooperation is in short supply. Almost daily, there are newspaper stories of land disputes between communities that have carried on for decades, even resulting in fights between men of different villages. The pueblos of Santa María Tatastepec and Santiago Tilantango have been in conflict over 3000 hectares of land since 1892. The pueblos of La Sabana, Capalo and Yucuniacoco, all Triquis, signed a peace agreement . They’ve been in conflict over land for 60 years. Santa María Zaniza and Santiago Amoltepec are carrying out cooperative work together after 50 years of boundary disputes. They signed a peace pact. A sign of peace is when the communities collaborate in a joint project, in a tequio.

Comunalidad describes beautifully the organized egalitarian society that has been the social and political ideal for centuries. I do wonder how it jibes with the hierarchical society that placed some people on the hilltops, and how Oaxacans feel about the demise of their rulers, of the temple builders, and about the archeological ruins themselves.The fact that the structures weren’t disassembled even before the Spanish arrived says something. Maybe they were used for ceremonial purposes, hence respected.


The landscape between Oaxaca and México was beautiful – over mountains, high passes on high bridges (like Kicking Horse Pass), pine forests. The city itself is of course crowded with people, buildings and vehicles, but not unpleasant, and with some beautiful areas and lovely buildings.

The public transit system is cheap (about $0.20 CAD) and efficient, though very crowded during peak periods. It goes everywhere! Subway lines are identified by color and number but, for navigation, all that really matters is the last station in the direction one wishes to go. Memorize (make note of) that! Also, follow “Salida” (exit) only when actually wanting to leave, not change lines! Changing lines costs nothing extra; one could spend all day underground. However, switching to a bus (or between buses) costs another fare. There are no transfers. Vendors hop on and off buses and metro cars selling copies of CDs, chewing gum, or earring backs. They turn on ghetto blasters they carry in backpacks, and recite the songs and artists on this particular CD (sold for M$10). It’s fun to see people singing and tapping along to familiar cumbias.

Personal grooming on the metro is pretty surprising; many layers of mascara, nail polish and eyebrow-plucking. The taxi driver today mimed pulling on socks and shoes while running to the metro, because there just is no time at home to do such things.

Most often, in Mexico, one has the impression that the attitude is, “Too bad you didn’t get here first!” Mexicans stepped ahead of me in line-ups, because I’d left the gap required by Canadian etiquette. (Fortunately, I was seldom in a rush, so could learn.) But even on the crowded metro, where people are rushed, there is evidence of courtesy. Woman carrying babies are given a seat, and women with grey hair may be, too! Getting off a metro when the crowd wants to surge on can be difficult; a man with the build of a wrestler can be a big help, if he chooses to act as a blocker. Much appreciated!

Downtown (the Centro Histórico) at the very least is safe (though I never felt unsafe anywhere). There are many police around, very well-armed and protected, often carrying plastic shields, leg padding, rifles, guns. They’re men and women.

Still, I did “give away” my camera by handing it over to a couple of guys to have it repaired. (The zoom lens was stuck open.) It and they disappeared! However, I had the sense to remove the SD card, and then I bought a better one. Cheaper, too. So there!

The very center (around the hostel) has many gold dealers. Around the corner are tattoo and piercing parlors. My cab driver said this is where he got his piercing – about 2” across the nape of his neck!

On Sunday nights, it is customary to walk one’s purebred dog downtown, allowing people to pet them – for a fee, I overheard. I saw a Saint Bernard, German Shepherd, Great Dane, Afghan and pit bull. I guess it’s a Sunday night tradition.

Hostels and food are inexpensive, especially markets. Pozol at Pozolotli is delicious! Stay away from Sanborne, however. Not only are the cafés expensive, but they charge M$5 at a cash register just to use their restroom. (7/11 coffee at M$10 in one’s own cup is far better. 7/11s in the Centro Histórico of Mexico City are like ABCs in Waikiki.)  Take as much paper as is likely to be needed on the way into any toilet.

Still another snack food: Ramen noodles, for which the vendor keeps a pot of water on the boil. Add lime juice and hot sauce.

Christmas decorations are very common in upscale stores, e.g. Sears and Starbucks. After all, Días de Muertos has passed.

The Zócalo in front of the Catedral is an immense concrete square, a bit like Tiananmen Square in China. Nothing much to it, except a place that will hold a lot of people and has huge flags. Several events took place there, e.g. a Spanish play (free; I missed it over several nights!) and a couple of magic or circus-type shows. One day, scores of chairs were being set up, and no one seemed to know why. It turned out to be a revival, from which preachers screamed via loudspeaker at least until midnight. There was an American preacher in translation. As I left, the ground was being painted to represent a huge map of the city, its waterways (most dry), treed areas (shrinking) and urban sprawl.

One exit from the Zócalo metro station requires going through a rabbit’s warren of bookstores. Around one corner was, of all things, Silver Dog, a band playing 1970s rock-and-roll to an audience of faithful fans who danced and sang along to everything!

Along the side of the Catedral are people dressed in indigenous garb with long hair, shaking rattles and smudging tourists with copal smoke. Some dance with a drum.

On Sunday morning, thousands of motorcycles rode down Avenida de la Reforma through Chapultepec. They were of all shapes and sizes, big hogs, batmobiles, dirt bikes, everything. It was amazing mass mobilization. (In Oaxaca, it’s a large herd of bicycles that take over the streets on Wednesday evenings, and joggers on Sunday morning. Neither group is restricted to the physically fit!)

I think I’m figuring out what’s disconcerting about seeing handicapped people. It’s possible there are proportionately more than I’m used to, but in the absence of private vehicles, they are more often seen in public. I also think they’re more often alone. One would seldom see them in Canada unaccompanied by an able-bodied person, supervised and cared for. In Mexico, they are much more likely to be earning money – e.g. by selling something (candy and CDs on the metro). Today I saw busker with two artificial arms, demonstrating tricks she could do without arms to raise money. Any way  to make a living!

It would be really tough to live here with movement problems. Going through the metro requires walking up and down stairs, and/or a lot of walking between lines. Sidewalks can be terribly uneven, e.g. with driveways and grades and broken cement.

Regina Street has an incredible number of papelerías – stationery stores – and copy shops. There is also an entire warehouse-mercado of stationery stores, hundreds of booths. In some ways, it makes good sense to have kiosks at a market and share utilities and a wall, roof and security rather than separate sites. It also makes good sense to have them scattered in neighborhoods, so people can avoid travel time. It makes less sense to have scores of them on a single street downtown. Why is so much paper being sold? Maybe they use more for projects like papel picado and crepe-paper flowers.

I’ve also realized wearing sockless sandals isn’t popular. Next time I’m in Mexico City: sandals are OK, but toes need to be covered. Going into any sort of upscale store I got the once-over. It stopped at my feet with just a touch of a sniff before returning to my face. No surprise: I’ve often felt that, in the late summer, women with bare toes are at a disadvantage at the meeting table in comparison to men in shoes.

In a courtyard of the Santo Domingo church in México (a pedestrian street now runs through it), there are half-a-dozen old-fashioned printing presses. They still print announcements of baptisms, marriages, etc. In the age of computers, it’s hard to believe something like this is still operating.

Morning deliveries were taking place while I was at a café. Men brought in bag after heavy bag of limes (how could so many be used?), boxes of tomatoes, bags of lettuce and onions. They don’t get any sympathy or respect from the waitresses; when a bag of lettuce slipped onto a customer’s table, the annoyed, scolding response was “Cuidado!” It was amazing how much they could carry.







People here look entirely different from those in Oaxaca, partly due to cool temperature and damp. They wear layers of dark clothes, rather than the relatively light and colorful clothes of Oaxaca. Men of all ages wear the gomina hairstyle, greased back and slicked down with clear comb-marks. However, there are lots of other hairstyles as well, including pony tails and curls.

At Teotihuacán was a large group of girls and their teachers (or other adult women). They spoke Spanish and some English, and were dressed unusually: they all wore skirts below the knees, and they all wore trousers under those – although some of the older women wore leggings. I wonder whether they were Mennonites. No; no headscarves. I didn’t pay enough attention to hair. They were definitely fair.

People working in museums and in tourist booths seldom volunteer a greeting; one has to begin the interaction, and they often say, “What?” Most people on the street are very helpful, when they can be. (Some that aren’t are those who are obviously indigenous. I asked a woman something about her beadwork this evening, and she just ignored me – although this is what she sells. My rule-of-thumb about asking people about what they have to show off does not necessarily work! Or maybe she was deaf, or didn’t speak Spanish.)

Tonight, a young couple staying at the hostel brought me a beer. Israel and Cecilia are here from Monterrey on honeymoon. They were married on Saturday, and will be back at work on Friday. They googled and showed me all the wonders of Monterrey, should I come for a visit. She works for a car rental agency; he repairs cell phones. They did engineering degrees in university. The best thing about Monterrey is the food! Their esquites have cream in them as well as the usual ingredients.

At one restaurant, they got quite annoyed when a couple came in, sat down, she went to the washroom, they looked at the menu and got up and left. Consensus was they’d come in only for the bathroom. I once ate at a modern restaurant with lots of shiny surfaces. It was just fine, with a great big table to spread out my newspaper. All went well until I went to leave and pushed open an emergency door, setting off an alarm. I heard a quick gasp and had time to turn around, smile ruefully, shrug my shoulders, and walk off quickly, hoping armed guards wouldn’t storm the area! Sorry!

I found Café Jekemir, a Middle Eastern coffee shop on the corner of Isabel la Católica and Regina. It offers great coffee and sweets, and interesting looking people. There is a waiting list for those sitting indoors who want to move to the street-side tables. One group out there was a group of Middle-Eastern looking men – the Latin American kind, who have been there for generations.  After a brief Google search, I found:

Antaramián, Carlos (n.d.) La Merced, mercado y refugio: el caso armenio. Retrieved November 12, 2012 from

La Merced neighborhood, where this was located was one that received Armenian refugees.

At Mercado Jamaica, I did speak with an older vendor, a man in his 50s, selling melons. We spoke some English. He had a question for me. There is a bar in his neighborhood w/ a large image of a “buho, lechuza” (owl) on it, and the name of the business is “Hooters.” What does this mean? I explained about the owl’s hoot and the cross-over into boobs, and compared it to naming a bar “Teteras,” (literally, teapots) a play on “tetas” (boobs). (I don’t think he got it.) They’d thought maybe “hooters” had something to do w/ bohemios who stay up all night.

As we spoke, customers approached: an older, wealthy-looking woman, “la señora” coming to market with her maid. He cut slice of honeydew; the maid sampled it. The señora complained of price ($8/kg?), and the maid paid. He placed melon in a plastic bag (with the slice cut out), which went into the maid’s larger shopping bag.

I didn’t know people still marketed like that.

Scratch the surface of a Mexican to ask what they like about their country or region, and the answer always has to do with food.

A street just off the Alameda in Mexico City is very brightly lit because it is lined with stores selling light fixtures – particularly crystal chandeliers! As with many other types of shops (e.g. bathroom fixtures, stationers), they’re clustered together. I was about to take a photo through a window when, looking into one of these stores, I saw a fellow constructing a chandelier. I went in and asked if I could take his photo, and we started conversation. Felipe L. Jiménez is a really calm and peaceful guy. He’s 50, and has been making chandeliers for 28 years. He’s the most senior employee, and now trains others. He showed me some of his designs. The French ambassador commissioned one of his! His chandeliers sell for M$25,000. When I gave him my card, he noted that I teach anthropology. Have I read Carlos Castaneda? The books changed his life, made him think beyond work and home. The U.S. must have much other interesting literature. No one owns the truth. He suggested a reading to me, which is proving hard to come by (Armando Ramìrez, Quinceañera, set in the rough barrio of Tepito). He is self-taught in everything. For a few years he went on weekly trips in this area; met a dancer who was a shaman, and a healer. You can tell with these people; they don’t try to get noticed. They’re just special. (Like he is.)

Very nearby is Chinatown – a street with several Chinese gift shops and restaurants. A young clerk told me, “You should be here in February for New Years! There are more Chinese here than you might think!” (not admitting to Chinese ancestry himself).

My driver to the bus depot had been accountant, and uses his van as a taxi since quitting to be self-employed. His wife (who was an administrative secretary) runs a papelería out of their house. They have 3 daughters, 2 professionals, the third on her way. Years ago, he had to commute 6 hours per day to work. Because he could only see his daughter awake on Sundays, he took a job closer to home that paid far less. The metro has since been built. It makes a huge difference, but still, “no cabe un alfiler” (not a pin fits) between 7 and 9 a.m.

On the six-hour bus trip to Oaxaca, my companion was a nice physician spouting contradictions. Given his occupation, and because he’s a small, indigenous-looking man from the D.F., I expected more political awareness from him. Medical education in Mexico has long been inexpensive, and in return, doctors have to perform lengthy terms of service in isolated communities. This tends to lead to them being more socially aware – or so I expected.

There are health services or insurance plans for various occupational and social sectors, e.g. government, corporations, the elderly. Others pay their own way. Those who have nothing are covered by the government, which is paying for so much these days – medical, basic food basket, school tuition – that a lot of people can’t be bothered working.

Abortion is legal in the D.F. All kinds of contraceptives are available everywhere. The more popular are implants or patches, some injections, almost no pills. However, women have babies and don’t bother with contraceptives etc. because the gov’t pays for delivery and for raising the child. Fertility rates are dropping, now at just over two. Some schools are closing because of insufficient children; the population pyramid is becoming a rectangle as elders become a larger part of the population.

Some diseases he dealt with in the past have been eliminated by vaccines, e.g. polio, measles, mumps and rubella. There are new ones, like AIDS and diabetes. Malaria and dengue remain. Guillain-Barré is associated w/ influenza immunization.

He likes experimenting w/ hydroculture, organic gardening, composting, vermiculture. He has a pharmacy in his home, and does some consulting when people want a diagnosis. He frequently delivers babies. He & wife have 5 children, youngest 27. All professionals, or almost.


Although I loved the Museo Nacional de Antropología, I was disappointed at the absence of contemporary, urban, mestizo life. That’s what markets are for!

Mercado La Merced is pretty much breathtaking. (Google Mercado La Merced and see images.)

La Merced Market, Mexico City. (2012, July 30). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 04:17, November 13, 2012, from,_Mexico_City&oldid=505004837

On the way in and around are many food stalls w/ tacos and soups and all sorts of delicious things. I did have a great quesadilla con flores de calabaza, and really wished I had guidance and nerve for trying lots of other things. Yesterday a vendor gave me a sample of candied naranja japonesa (mandarin); just wonderful.

Although La Merced is mostly known for its food stalls (it was once the wholesaler for the city), there are also multiple stalls of party favors, gift wrapping, ribbons, garlands, Christmas ornaments, and Xmas chains, confetti-filled eggshells and just a few crepe paper flowers.

Outside the market, around the church of Santo Tomás, are sweets. I walked through that yesterday, but could hardly get through quickly enough. It was thick with bees! A vendor and I agreed they weren’t a danger to humans, as humans are too bitter; they want the sweet. I got a photo on the outskirts, just to remind me.

There are beautiful displays of produce – tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, onions, chayotes, avocadoes, corn, oranges, apples, pears, papayas. I asked how they get potatoes so clean; machines do it. There were buckets of jam and something that looked like peanut butter: cajete (caramelized milk and sugar). Almost no produce cost more than $0.75 CAD/kilo. There were stands with bins of spices, chili, mole, herbs, beans, dried corn, raisins, ajonjolí (cranberries) and figs. In some areas, men use large cutting boards to cut the ribs from banana leaves and trim them, making neat bundles. The leaves wrap tamales. In another area, men and women sit on stools scraping the thorns off nopal cactus leaves. (I’ve eaten nopal several times. It reminds me of green beans in color and flavor, but the texture is a bit slimy.) At others, women clean white onions and lmake them into gorgeous bundles. Squash blossoms, ditto.

There were a number of fortune tellers, palm readers, card readers, etc., a lot of people trying to outsmart the present and leap to the future. Men customers were common, as at church. It’s a rough world for men, I’m thinking. There is some sort of odd scheme at the entrance to markets or in plazas, where a man “plays the crowd” and seems to get money from and give money to audience members, perhaps performing some sleight-of-hand, and people are quite fascinated. I haven’t had the nerve.

Another area is of tin ware, cake tins, utensils, stoves, anforas (charcoal burners). The furthest section from the entrance has DVD porn. There were also slot machines where I was refused permission to photograph. I’d say people in retail in Mexico City are understandably cold and distant. I was at the market twice, at mid-morning and later, and both times there were very few customers. Merchants must be pretty desperate, and have little use for visitors who aren’t there to buy anything.

The Mercado Jamaica is much smaller, with several areas for car parking interspersed, both vendors’ and customers’. Pickup trucks come in loaded w/ flowers to wholesale to the many florists and flower arrangers. I can’t imagine the desperate feeling of coming to town and sitting around a truck all day, hoping someone will buy your wares. Almost every florist has something unique, does something a little differently, so they have something to show off. See

The Mercado de Artesanías at the Ciudadela is a typical tourist craft market, w/ a few novelties – colorful macramé belts, elegant bird paintings on bark, great sheet metal masks – but the clerks had no interest in selling to me. As at the camera shop, I felt I was a nuisance. I did buy from the friendly young lady selling net covers to keep flies off food. My favorite place was the Huichol store. There were lots of the figures made of beads in beeswax and jícara (gourd) bowls. The young manager and I exchanged words and phrases in Huichol and English. She told of meanings of symbols: the scorpion stings if you misbehave, the sun, the stars in the sky that protect us. She told a story of the sky falling, of a landslide – not clear to me. She speaks broken Spanish and is studying English. I took a photo of a deer, not of her. It was enchanting. (Google Huichol beadwork, and see images.) (Nihueme Miguel Carrillo Montoya,


In the Iglesia Santo Domingo is the Señor del Rebozo (Lord of the Shawl, a figure of the crucified Christ who received his first rebozo from a dying nun.) There is also an altar to San Martín de Porres. He’s depicted with very dark skin. Who is he? (A mulato y bastard, born in Lima of a Spanish father and black ex-slave mother. He studied to be a surgeon-barber and herbalist. When he became a Dominican, he was not allowed to conduct mass because of his social status. He lived from 1579-1639. (

At the Cathedral briefly, I had to take photos of the ossuary remains of San Vital Mártir, brought here from Italy. Who said only the Aztecs worshipped death?

I’m a bit surprised that, during the day, most individual worshippers are men. This is true for all churches I’ve been in.

Leading up to the Basílica de la Virgen de Guadalupe is a street lined with booths selling food and religious artifacts. An iron fence surrounds the huge, open area with a number of buildings: the old Basilica (which really feels like it’s slipping downhill!), the new and modern Basilica (largely open to the out-of-doors), the Capuchin chapel, and the old Indian church. The new Basilica seemed to have masses going almost all the time, and it was full of people: lots of Mexicans, many Indian-looking, lots of children, many small babies. Israel and Cecilia from Monterrey went there; they’d made a manda (vow) to do so when they were married. The old Basilica was quiet. The Indian chapel had white plastic chairs, and a video was showing. There were images of the Virgin everywhere, and the story of her apparitions to Juan Diego were repeated just as often.

Around the Iglesia de Indios was a lovely little garden, but the most beautiful was the hillside behind – the Cerro del Tepeyac . Water runs down and out the mouths of serpents or jaguars just like those at Teotihuacán. The effort to combine the goddess Tonantzín and the Virgin are relatively explicit. That hillside is groomed lawn, beautiful trees and shrubs, white butterflies clustered on poinsettias, and a large sculpture – the Virgin being worshipped by the bishop, Juan Diego, and many indigenous people, bringing offerings. The water alone is enough to create freshness. I head the most wonderful birdsong at the top of the hill, but it was coming out of loudspeakers on the church! Stairways are daunting for people with limited mobility, but there are many sanitarios.

Altogether, it felt more secular than the Cathedral in Oaxaca. I think by “secular” I mean that it’s all set up for people beforehand; they do nothing to create it themselves. In Oaxaca, they were bringing flowers, brass bands, copal, and clothing. Maybe I mean “manufactured,” but I’m also thinking of “marketed.” David said of the Días de Muertos celebrations that there was nothing that felt contrived; it was people acting out their feelings. This is the opposite.


I am very impressed with the effort and resources Mexicans have put into archeology and museums.

Off the courtyard of Santo Domingo church is the Centro Cultural del México Contemporáneo (CCMC). The México DF museums have much in common with those of Oaxaca. The government obviously put huge resources into these in the 1990s (?), creating gorgeous facilities. They’ve been kept up, and they’re being put to good use.

The CCMC was created by renovating the Dominicans’ cells on both sides of a courtyard, and bridging them with a walkway. The courtyard is under a fabric roof. An altar for Días de Muertos was at the entry, with a good explanation of the necessary elements. On one side were young artists’ mostly 2-dimensional art. On the other was Una vida interna, resin sculptures by Enrique Walbey. They are remarkable nude human figures, of relatively old bodies. What’s amazing about the one that has many figures – probably 100 – March? – is that they’re sexually ambiguous. They have penises and breasts.

The entire first and second floors of the Secretaría de Educación Pública consists of murals by Diego de Rivera. I talked to a woman through the wrought-iron grill to ask if I could take a photo. She invited me in, and spoke of the constant nature of her work, restoring and maintaining the murals. More are in the Palacio Nacional de México I love them because they are such a great depiction of the lives of ordinary people, and he’s so mocking of the rich. He reminds me of Eduardo Galeano, who learned of absurd or quirky events and turned them into history. These are ordinary office buildings; what luck to be there!

The Museo de la Secretaría de Hacienda y Crédito Público, Antiguo Palacio del Arzobispado contains an eclectic art collection made possible by a law that allows art to be given in lieu of income taxes. More of this is in the Palacio Nacional. Remarkable, there, was an exhibit by Colombian Ana Mercedes Hoyos, Oro negro, ca. 1502. It’s about the slave trade. One installation piece is 25 metal 2-dimensional slave ships (in cross section), arranged in the shape of a ship, each modelled on the Brooks.

The Museo de la Medicina Mexicana has several exhibits I wanted to avoid, e.g. on anatomy, foetal development and even botanical medicines. This is also the Antiguo Palacio de la Inquisición. Briefly, it’s a colonial building around two courtyards, as are most others. In an inner courtyard was an exhibit remembering the shooting of students at Tlatelolco in 1968. It consisted of bundles of white shirts and ties which I was just attempting to comprehend when a security guard said, “Está temblando, señora. Tiene que salir.” (It’s shaking, ma’am. You have to leave.) On walls at all the big buildings are evacuation signs – for earthquakes obviously. I’d felt nothing, and the hanging shirts weren’t shifting, so I wasn’t worried. Sirens sounded in the streets, and all of us in the building met in a large courtyard. No concerns, but there was serious damage in Guatemala.

The Museo Memoria y Tolerancia is another impressive museum, five storeys high (exhibits on the top 3), two years old, very modern, with lots of AV effects – sometime too much, hard to distinguish the threads of talk. There were images, recorded material, slides, headphones, particular locations to stand to hear, etc. The first several rooms were dedicated to the European holocaust; I was concerned that might be all it was about. It then occurred to me that, being a country largely of Catholics, anti-semitism may be common and it may not be a topic as frequently discussed as in Canada. However, they also talked about Gypsy and other victims. While there was a tendency to blame it all on Hitler and then on Germans, it was generalized in the end. Many Jewish Mexicans have contributed. There was a description of scientific racism – the use of calipers and color charts in the attempt to assign race, the calculation of blood quantum. A good deal of the material comes from the Steven Spielberg Film and Video Archive.

Broadening out, it covered the massacre of Armenians, of Rwandans, of Bosnians, of Serbian Ustashi in WWII, of Guatemalans. And then it went into the topic of Tolerance, which I would have preferred to replace with interest, admiration, curiosity, but the sentiment was similar, in the end. There was discussion of stereotypes and of discrimination, extending to discrimination against youth, the old, the poor, the handicapped.

There was a video of a reiteration of the black doll – white doll experiment, in which even dark children prefer the white doll. Nicely done, shocking, painful, some of the kids awkward. A few Mexicans were in the museum, few foreigners (little commentary in English, but some!), and school groups.

I was admitted to the Museo de Arte Popular without paying, as I’m a teacher (some museums insist I must be working in Mexico; others don’t), so I went in though I didn’t expect to stay long. It’s got beautiful stuff from all over Mexico – but my camera ran out of batteries, so I’ll have to return. I’d rather like to buy a poster of the Tree of Life for $15, but where will I hang it? At that price, it doesn’t matter. There were only a couple of foreigners looking around there, in addition to a classful of students being told a fantastic story of alebrijes.

Like the other places I’ve been, Mexico defines itself by indigenous food, dances, clothing and arts. Mestizos participate to a certain extent in the first three of these, but less as artisans. That requires almost life-long training in a family, which is not where or by whom Mestizos are raised.

The Memorial del 68 is located in the Centro Cultural Universitario Tlatelolco of the Universidad Autónoma de México. It commemorates the massacre of student demonstrators in October 1968. The museum includes videotaped oral histories by many people only slightly older than I. I wish I could access the recordings to listen at leisure! Contextualizing student protests was really well done – the U.S. Civil Rights movement, Vietnam war, Paris, African independence, Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix, many other things I’ve forgotten. I can’t say the student demands were very well explained, at least not in photographic or text form – but perhaps in the oral histories. I have the first edition of the book by Elena Poniatowska on La noche trágica. Just have to read it!

During the summer of 1968, students occupied the UNAM campus at Tlatelolco. It culminated in a huge demonstration October 2, 1968, when a helicopter flew in, illuminated the area, and snipers picked off 40-400 people. Hundreds were arrested, some of them kept for years. A handful of leaders went into exile to socialist Chile in 1971, but soon returned, when the government stated their absence was “voluntary.” Shortly after the massacre, the Mexico Olympics were inaugurated, with celebrations for the youth of the world.

There were those who criticized the surrender and dissolution of the student movement, but one woman explained that there was no one to go into a demonstration with, no one to continue the strike. That generation of youth was hugely disillusioned with their country and the army, which took up arms against the people.

The window-walls of the Centro Cultural look over Tlatelolco archeological site and a big church just beyond – built using materials from the site.

The Museo Frida Kahlo is in Coyoacán, a lovely neighborhood that reminds me of parts of Santiago de Chile: Providencia, I think. Arriving there on the metro, my first challenge was to cross the street to a modern shopping center with a Starbucks. It was really helpful to have a cup of coffee there (my usual refuge when I’m trying to orient myself!). The Kahlo was about ten blocks away on cool, tree-lined streets. Everyone there was a foreigner, and the art pieces were familiar. One I’d forgotten was Frida’s ashes, inside an urn shaped like a frog or toad, which is how Diego Rivera spoke of himself. It also is oddly reminiscent of public necking– “sucking face” was never more accurate, and there is a lot of licking and smelling each other, inhaling and consuming each other’s essence. Frida’s ashes inside Rivera makes great sense.

The Museo Nacional de Culturas Populares of Coyoacán ( ) had a large exhibit of expressions of thanks to saints – exvotos, usually thank you notes to god or saints. These were composed and illustrated by artists, not serious, but almost. Comical. (There was long a practice, and may still be, of hiring artists to compose illustrations of favors granted to post at the saint`s shrine. The Church often destroyed them, but a movement began to salvage them. Frida Kahlo did them, too.)  ( ) There was a wall piece consisting of 9 or 12 Huichol beaded pieces, like a patchwork quilt. The other exhibit was photographs of Días de Muertos photographs taken all over the country. They’re all the pictures I didn’t take!

There are several important museums at the Bosque Chapultepec, but the  Museo Nacional de Antropología is the only one I saw. I took lots of notes, because I didn’t have a camera! It’s marvellous. ( is a great site, but I’m not sure it’s in English. See videos, too.) I went on a Sunday, when entry is free for Mexicans, to see lots of people and their use of the Museum. It seems to be set up to be navigated counter-clockwise. The first storey consists of rooms dedicated to the archeology of each of the regions of Mexico. On the second storey above each of these (the part I stuck to) is the ethnology section, a space illustrating the current (or recent) customs and practices. MNA has joined the Google Art Project. Clicking on a number of the artifacts seen there allows the museum view, which might provide access to a lot of the printed material. Although it seems most artifacts there are older, there is access to the ethnographic area, though it’s not always clear.

There were loads of families and school kids with their parents; mothers dictated while their kids took notes. Others were reading the English version of information, for practice.

I frequently heard comments like, “That’s how they do it in Jalisco!” Parents told  their children how it was when they or their parents were raised. Then there was, “When we went to see my grandmother, she said. . . “ It felt like a really valuable service, for people to see other parts of their country and recognize other ways of doing things. (I guess Heritage Park or the Grande Prairie Museum have done much the same.) These displays are of current practices, not just the past. A comment common to all culture areas was that, due to economic problems, men have left in large numbers, seeking money and work. (I’d like more detail on that.) Women’s role in agriculture, marketing and as wage earners has expanded.  Communities continue to function as long as migrants send money, come home for fiestas, return for a period to take on their cargos, etc.

In the notes on Puebla, ethnic diversity was mentioned:  totonaco, mazateco, náhuatl, popoloca, mixteco, otomí and tepehua were there prehistorically. They had frequent disputes over land. Then came the Spanish bringing Africans, who created some of their own communities after escaping. In the 1920s, there was a land reform that brought in peasants from around the country and allotted to them some of the indigenous land. What a mish-mash!

The Mam people of Chiapas use communal organization for organic agricultural production of coffee for export. As I’ve argued before, ethnic organization is mobilized for economic purposes.

Crafts that are now often produced for tourists used to be for “autoconsumo” – domestic or community use. Keep in mind that crafts were vital in inter-community exchange; community specialization was what gave them something to sell, something with which to satisfy their own needs or desires. (I wouldn’t be surprised if these often consisted of luxury goods rather than necessities.) Tourists provide a larger market, and perhaps stimulus for the development of greater care and artistry, in some crafts like weaving. In others, maybe less! It helps counteract low raw materials prices. There is a real contradiction in the agricultural sector, I think, between the ideal of national food self-sufficiency and low prices.

The agricultural cycle begins the Día de la Candelaria (Feb. 2) and concludes the Día de Muertos (Nov. 2). Interesting. 9 months. Días de Muertos is a harvest or thanksgiving feast.

I was amazed by the spectacular Templo Mayor two blocks from my hostel. I knew there was an archeological site and excavation in the center of Mexico City, but I did not know how large it was or – more importantly – how much has been recovered (“liberated”, though that usually refers to reconstruction) and how the work continues. It started in earnest in 1978, and has been growing ever since. The excavation area is huge; the museum is world-class. It just celebrated its 25th anniversary, i.e. since 1987. I took so many photos I’m having to start a whole new photo card! For Tenochtitlán, see

Tenochtitlan. (2012, November 4). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 05:18, November 11, 2012, from

Templo Mayor. (2012, September 8). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 05:19, November 11, 2012, from

The trip to Teotihuacán took about 90 minutes from downtown, including an air conditioned bus trip through the suburbs, seeing housing go way uphill – fascinating.

Walking into and around the site was great. It’s the foundations and lower walls of many buildings and countless rooms, and often stairways leading up to them. On a 4-sided structure, stairs only go up one side. Some still have plaster and paint on them, and sculpted stone finishings. It’s not entirely symmetrical and mirror-like; it was added to many times, and modifications did vary, but the proportions are very pleasing. Although the name it`s given in Spanish is Ciudad de los Dioses, the main north-south street is “Camino de los Muertos”. Why? It ends at the Pyramid of the Moon. I loved the sound effects; the sloped walls on either side funnel downward the sound of voices. It must have been really something when there were big crowds! I also love the huge triangular (Toblerone!) step shapes on the sides, the serpents – working partly for drainage, and partly to hold on fill. Rocks protrude from the relatively smooth sloped sides, somewhat at random; they held onto stucco.

It’s not altogether easy to tell what it was like before reconstruction began. One building had been done “in the old style”, filling in features and pieces where they “should” have been, including roof. Aesthetically, it’s nice to feel the size, brightness, cool temperature and décor of rooms, but just as well it’s not practiced now. Then came the kind of restoration in which plaster was applied and small stones added between the big ones, to make reconstruction identifiable. I was thrilled to have conversations with some of the people working in restoration. One was an archeologist who did her master’s in restoration. She and others are reinforcing edges of crumbling stucco with a lime combination; they’re also removing plant material from between rocks and replacing it with masonry. I talked to some other guys working under a blue tarp, and they invited me in to watch and take pictures. They also warned me against standing in the path of ants, with my sandaled feet. They’re from a nearby town.

Teotihuacan. (2012, October 31). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 05:15, November 11, 2012, from

Xochimilco is where one can still see chinampas, the “floating gardens” of the Aztecs. They’re really artificial islands built up of rich lake silt, contained behind fences of sticks and chicken wire so they don’t erode. It is a method used to intensify agricultural production. Now brightly painted flat-bottomed boats are poled through the water; most carry visitors, some carry musicians and sellers of beer and food. I also found a couple of churches – one with a baptism, one a wedding – and the market, for a bowl of delicious ceviche.
















Photo album link:

            “Would you like to join us? Come, sit down so we can talk.” (“Talk story” would be more like it.) In Hawai‘i, I heard those sweet words frequently.

Let me confess right away that I suck at learning Hawai‘ian words and place names! I discovered that I am totally dependent on many consonants to help me identify and remember words. When the number is drastically reduced, I’m sunk. There are five vowels (AEIOU, long and short) and eight consonants (HKLMNPWʽ). There are also accented syllables (audible, but invisible). It took me a while to learn how to reproduce diacritical marks on the keyboard. Please correct my errors!

Shuttle bus drivers from the Honolulu airport are terrific, pointing out landmarks, answering questions, suggesting cheap places to eat, teaching the two most important words in Hawaiian: “Aloha” (love, in one interpretation) and “Mahalo” (thank you). One driver spoke of his “chop suey” ancestry. He looked haole (white), could speak standard English and HCE (Hawaiʻian Creole English) and talk about food with Filipino passengers, and had been in the navy. He recommended being in the ocean to clear all evils (especially skin afflictions) and a diner – the Rainbow – in Waikiki.

Waikīkī Beach in the early morning is quiet and peaceful. The whole area is hotels and condominiums, lots of ritzy shopping and restaurants. Wandering in and out of fancy hotels is no problem. During the day it’s increasingly packed with people, all the way through until midnight. The crowd is friendly, with people from South America, lots of Asians, Americans and Europeans. Whites are a minority. There are buskers and local people, perhaps houseless, who hang out under the roofed shelters on the promenade along the beach. These are ample, with big tables, comfortable places. A couple of nights a week, there is a public hula show.

It’s an easy place to spend a lot of money, but it’s also easy to spend very little by shopping and eating in the International Marketplace. There are at least two ABC stores on every block, somewhat overpriced (fine coffee!) but definitely convenient. I stayed at a hostel there for a total of seven nights at the beginning and end of my stay. Not at all bad as a home base, especially given The Bus system on Oʽahu. Travel around almost the entire island for $2.50. A four-day bus pass for $25 allows unlimited trips and transfers – though there is some waiting!

When I took the circle ride, I jumped off the bus at Kahuku on the North Shore. I’d read of the shrimp shacks there, beside the shrimp farms. I had an absolutely delicious meal at Tita’s Grill of garlic shrimp on rice with macaroni salad. I had no idea the latter could taste good, and the juices from the shrimp permeated the rice perfectly. The shrimp itself was truly succulent; now I know from whence the word “Suck”. Oh, my.

I also jumped off the bus at Haleʽiwa. It’s an historic location, with one of the first churches, named for Liliʽuokalani. I took photos of people eating shave ice, with their permission, but I should have tried some myself instead of declaring it scary looking (teeth hurting).

Whether driving, riding or walking, scenery is always changing from dry desert to lush forest, from plains to hills and mountains, from deep green vegetation to bright red soil, from low to high altitude. Just as dramatic is the change in skies from blue to cloudy, dry to spray (I scarcely experienced raindrops), and then to rainbows.

Riding buses is a great way to become acquainted with the neighborhoods and scenery outside, and the passengers inside. Passengers on buses in Hawai`i keep a sharp eye on who is climbing on, doing a quick mental calculation of relative age. If older persons get on, the younger leave their seats and move towards the back of the bus. Foreigners are easily identified, because they don`t catch on. I learned to graciously accept or give up my seat, as appropriate. I too have Aunties (women of a generation older than I)! When a wheelchair rolls on, the driver leaps up and shoos everyone out of the front seats where s/he fastens down the wheelchair. This has a ripple effect of people springing up and moving backwards all the way down the bus, as elders are displaced. The goal seems to be to have the passengers neatly sorted by age. (To escape cold air conditioning, move to the very back seat, which is warm!)       Consideration for the elderly is widespread. I once saw two young men help an elderly woman out of a car and up onto a curb with her walker. She was with an equally-old man. The guys then said goodbye and passed through the doors of the building they were going to. At a bus stop only a few minutes later, a man in a business shirt helped an unsteady elderly woman wheel her awkward shopping cart towards a bus. When he moved to the back of the crowd, I approached him, and asked if he knew her. “No,” he said, “It just seemed like the right thing to do.” So I told him I’d just seen another similar incident, and we agreed that the world is a pretty nice place. Aloha.

The first morning out on the pier, I met a man covered in the zebra pigeons he was feeding. He gave me some bread, so pretty soon I was covered, too! He’s retired from the mainland (the continent), and goes out every morning to feed the birds. He also pointed out the monk seal on the beach, protected by yellow tape. It’s an endangered species.

The shop at the Kawahaiaʽo Church and Mission Houses had a great selection of books. It was tended by a woman born in Hawaii, of Chinese descent. She lived in Seattle for a few years, because her husband went to grad school there. There is a great deal of exchange between Hawaii, Washington and Oregon, especially for schooling. She used to go to Vancouver frequently to go to Chinatown, which she loved. It was she who helped me realize that it was quite feasible and inexpensive to mail books to Canada, which eventually cost me a great deal of money and gave me a great deal of pleasure!

It was great fun when I found the lei-making florists on Beretania, close to Nuʻuanu Stream and Chinatown. I saw an elderly lady, cutting thread in lengths. She spoke little English. In the cooler beside her, I could see plastic food containers (of the type salad is sold in) with flowers inside. I asked her if I could look at one, and she took it out and modelled it for me. It sold for $5. In another shop, a woman told me that most of the flowers come from Thailand. She insisted on giving me a lei, which she said was too old to sell. From then on, everyone asked if it were a special day for me; why was I wearing a lei? “Somebody loves you!” It was such a nice gesture by her, which made me feel liked and made me look approachable and friendly to others. Another lei-maker gave the “L” sign with her hand as I took her photo. (Extend little finger and thumb; curl middle three fingers.)  It’s used for “Thank you” for letting me into traffic, “All is well,” “Cheers,” etc.

For supper in Kealakekua, I had Hawaiian crab poke with rice. Not too great or healthy-seeming, but filling and inexpensive. The owner dries and smokes fish himself. He was in the Air Force for a time, and had been in Michigan, so knows where Alberta is.

A sign at his place said he accepted EBT, as does the convenience store across the road. EBT – Electronic Benefit Transfer, replacing food stamps. It’s like a debit card. Are many people on them? Yes, lots! Knowing about the EBT allows me to recognize just how empty and run-down, abandoned so many buildings are. Mind you, it’s the off-season. Most tourist businesses are closed: the agricultural cooperative, the art gallery attached to a grill. Across the state, unemployment seems to run 6-10% – but that only includes those still receiving benefits. About 155,000 in Hawaii receive SNAP – Service Nutrition Program.

Kealakekua Bay is a National Historic Park. It is the site of a heiau (temple), a stepped platform of lava rocks now partly reconstructed. Actually, the whole landscape down at sea level is rough lava rock – much like Nisga’a country. This is also where Captain James Cook was killed. There are some beautiful birds and succulent plants. Enthusiastic people wanted to rent me kayaks and a parking spot. The water is obviously fun; people bobbed around in it while large enough waves came in to splash right over the breakwater.

Macadamia nut cultivating is not as lucrative as it was. One nut farm store – the only active part of the business – was tended to unenthusiastically by a son of the owner. The owner started it in the 1970s, and is letting it go. After macadamias were introduced here from Australia, Kona provided about 80% of world supply. It’s a good deal less than that now. After ripening and falling off the tree, macadamias go through a relatively simple process of hulling, drying, shelling, seasoning and roasting. Problems include competition w/ bugs, rats and wild pigs, and prices aren’t that great.

Macadamias seem to be going the way sandalwood, whale oil, sugar, and pineapple have already gone – out. Coffee seems to be solid. When I saw signs advertising “We buy cherries,” it took me a while to realize that’s coffee cherries! There are many small cultivators. I’ve heard tourism referred to as “the next plantation.”

In Kealakekua, I walked up two roads (mauka, away from the ocean) and down another (makai, toward it). Signs at two of the three announced they were private roads and prohibited trespassers. I walked them anyway, figuring John Q. Public paid for the road signs. I’m a bit freaked out by all this private property, no trespassing stuff. It indicates a couple of things to me: these people are pretty scared, and there’s enough social inequality they probably need to be very afraid. (Teri points out that it’s mostly haole who post their property.) Lonely planet talks about thefts from cars being so common people just leave their cars unlocked to prevent damage to windows and doors. I never felt threatened.

The Pu‘uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historic Park is a wow. It covers a large area – say, 4 square blocks? About half of that was aliʽi residence (chiefly, noble or royal), and the other half a puʽuhonua, a place of refuge for those escaping persecution for violating kapu (taboo). The huge stone wall separating the two was built in 1550, and has been reconstructed. The white sand is cleared, and coconut palms are majestic. (I learned to watch for tall coconut palms as a sign of long-term noble residence.) There are fish ponds where fish were reared (farmed?), and these are surrounded by greenery. One temple has been rebuilt – it’s a thatch roofed A-frame, but isn’t on a mound. There are two huge platforms, one older than the other, said to have held heiau, in the refuge area – but no temple in the aliʽi area. It is said that Mauna Loa covered the area in lava 1000 years ago; that seems rather recent, and well within the time of human habitation. (This comes from the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior and National Historical Park Hawaii pamphlet.) See for more info.

Heading away from the site (southeast) is a spit of lovely white sand, and in front of that, black lava rock down to the water. This is great snorkelling country, and there are picnic tables, washrooms and sitting area. Cars can drive down to there.

Paralleling the beach, in the same direction, is a trail constructed over lava, often by filling in with sand. It’s called the “1871 Trail” because, although it was created to link fishing villages to the aliʽi site before the 1700s, it was modernized to be used by horses in the late 1800s – e.g. w/ a ramp leading from the lower terrace to the upper. The last of the villages was abandoned in about 1930. I learned that archeological sites are distinguishable by the lava chopped into small blocks or cobbles; in its undisturbed form, it flows or is scattered at random. Several of the sites are “Wa kapu” – sacred to the Kānaka Maoli, and not to be entered.

The trail passes through three ahupua‘ha – i.e. territories. These were designed to include portions of each ecological zone from the shore (and maybe further underwater?) to the mountaintop.

Walmart, Safeway and Starbucks are the same everywhere, even down to the prices.

On the inland road between Kona-Kailua and Waimea (on Hawaiʻi Island), the changes in landscape are dramatic: from lush forest coffee-growing hill country to lava flow flats to cattle grasslands, with corresponding differences in climate and settlement patterns. In the hill area, houses are tucked in everywhere, in a pattern I suspect might be indigenous. Follow a driveway to one home, and it continues on to link a whole series of dwellings, extending to accommodate more people.

The Kohala Mountain Road links Waimea (paniolo or cowboy country) with Hawi by climbing the side of a huge hill. It is very windy and drivers can lose control of their cars; weather changes from clear sailing to 0 visibility in no time flat. Years ago, the federal government planted trees along the road to act as a windbreak. No wonder pasture switches from brown to brilliant green in no time; dry to rain. There are horse ranches, cattle ranches, and even some Corriedale sheep (I think).

Paniolo (Kānaka Maoli cowboys, a word perhaps coming from “Español”)  were trained by Mexican charros.

Cowboy. (2012, September 19). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 09:12, September 21, 2012, from

Pabuiki Preservation Society

At the village of Kapa`au I met Auntie Mary who, with her husband and a friend, were greeting visitors to the civic center. The old courthouse is now a seniors` centre, to which they belong. She`s lived in the village since she married; her husband is from there. They lived a while in Virginia Beach, on the mainland. She didn`t mind that; what she does mind is Honolulu. Her three children all work in education, one teaching hula, and all live in Hawai‘ì.

There are plenty of art and souvenir stores in Hawi. Hawi Gallery Art and Ukuleles is owned by a couple who moved there from Seattle. I talked with her. They both really wanted a change of life. He loves music, so they sell ukuleles and he gives lessons. She loves collecting and selling vintage stuff – clothing, home decore, etc. So that’s what they do. I asked if it’s terribly expensive to live there, and she thinks it balances out. With a Costco membership, sharing surplus plant or animal food, needing little clothing or utilities, it works out. To live in Hawi, she’s given up on owning stuff, but still has the pleasure of having lovely stuff rest in her hands until she sells it to others. (Substitute “treasures” for “stuff” at will.)

The lava fields themselves are varied. Much is flow, as I said earlier, but some consists of huge chunks of rock flung out by the volcano. Some areas consist of nothing but rock; others have tufts of grass, and still others are more-or-less covered in grass. Along the shore are a number of archeological sites, recognizable by the non-random distribution or piling of rock. I was amazed at the size of the settlement at Lapakahi State Historical Park. The remains consist of rock walls defining many structures, and covering a huge area. I understand from the pamphlet that it was a rich fishing area, but it still seems awfully rough ground to walk on. Portions of the ‘ohana (families) living inland cultivated kalo, etc., each group sharing with the others. An impressive site where I`d love to have spent more time! and

At the Lyman Museum and Mission House in Hilo, the young woman running the gift shop talked a lot about Hawaiʻian family practices. We’re not sure whether Kānaka Maoli were traditionally matrilocal; she thinks not, more mobile and ambilocal, depending on who is headman of the ahupua‘a at the time. It’s pretty clear that women had a lot of influence. Certainly her husband’s grandmother is boss and Pops the servant! This young woman is of Filipina – Mexicano ancestry, her husband of Kānaka Maoli and lots of others. She had a daughter and then a son – the first-born son of a first-born son. Her husband’s grandparents claimed the boy in the hānai system, where grandparents have first right to children, even before parents. She just had to accept it (he was 3 months old!), even though it was very hard. It’s still the way it’s done.

Ahupuaa. (2013, July 31). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 01:06, October 3, 2013, from

Tsunami play an important part in the history and design of Hilo. The 1837 tsunami stimulated a Christian religious expansion. The 1946 one (coming from the Aleutians) demolished downtown and the Japanese neighborhood of Shinmachi, as well as a school in Laupāhoehoe, a town about 15 miles north. Downtown was levelled again in 1960, waves coming from the earthquake in Chile. ( and This helps explain why the waterfront at Hilo is empty, the buildings run-down and somewhat derelict. It’s too risky to invest much. The more prosperous part of town is well out of tsunami reach!

Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park is a super place. Nice walks past steam vents and views overlooking the crater of Kīlauea. Great birds and plants. Good volcanic displays in the Jaggar Museum. At the Volcano were several school tour groups, all Kānaka Maoli kids and teachers.

At the Akatsuka Orchid Gardens were nothing but tourists, most from cruises. I didn’t know orchids could have a perfume!

Shirley Alapa moved to Molokaʻi from the mainland – California, I think – 34 years ago, married to a Kānaka Maoli. She now lives in Hoʻolehua, and I stayed with her. She had all sorts of information on places to go and things to see!

Perhaps because it is smaller than the other islands, Molokaʻi seems to have more coherence. Kaunakakai has all the necessities one could need to buy. The farmers’ market is on Saturday morning, selling clothing as well as food – locally grown and/or prepared. There are small grocery stores in town and scattered in island communities to provide the rest. At least two really nice gift stores deal in art and crafts by local artists, and Kalele Bookstore & Divine Expressions has Auntie Teri to tell you what you need to know. (MALAMA YOUR MAMA! Take care of your mother (earth)!) For instance, she told me of the spaghetti dinner being put on by the community for the women’s outrigger canoe race paddlers at $10 a head, and she suggested I attend. It was quite the cool affair. The food was fantastic: two spaghetti sauces, salad, vegetables, and different breads. Desserts included a chocolate mousse made with French chocolate and macadamia “whipped cream.” To see the beginning of this year’s race (an annual event, from Molokaʻi to Oʻahu):

What’s amazing is the friendliness of the people. When I couldn’t find the spaghetti feast, I stopped in a dry goods and gift store. It was tended by a woman who appeared Filipina, and spoke broken Hawai‘ian English. I don’t know how to describe it better, but it was fascinating. She didn’t know where the supper was either, so sent me to the grocery store. There, a young man explained that it was in a building through two stop signs and next to the police station. Again, the variation of English was fascinating. Both were full of good will, not rushing the interaction at all.

After I filled my plate, I asked two women if I could join them, and was enthusiastically welcomed. One was a councillor for the county; Gladys Baisa is from Mau‘i and she’s running for her fourth term. She worked in social services until she retired, and then ran for office. With her was another Gladys, a retired schoolteacher who knew Shirley.

A very special place on Molokaʻi is Coffees of Hawaii, in Kualapuʻu. My very first day, I stopped there for coffee, and went to use the restroom. (When I said “washroom”, I was directed to a sink.) Four women of about my age were at the table in the courtyard; Nicky and Prisca wore very fancy red hats and makeup, and Denise a red baseball cap. I thought, “They sure know how to wear a hat!” and told them so. They agreed to a photo. The oldest of the four invited me to join them. Wow, was I delighted! They meet one Saturday afternoon a month just to talk and laugh and laugh and talk.

The hatless one, Lori, married Lawrence, her high school sweetheart, about ten years ago, after both had married, raised kids and been widowed. Lawrence phoned Hawaiian Airlines when Nicky worked there, mentioning Lori. She told him Lori was back in Moloka‘i, and five weeks later, the two were married in Las Vegas.

All are of Filipina ancestry. One of the important bonds between these women is their religion. They are Catholic, but their husbands, not necessarily. Two of them are Pentecostals. (Hence, the women were shocked at my account of the Islamophobia I witnessed in Hilo. “That’s not the Hawaiian way!”) Denise has six children. Her husband died a year ago. She’s a school crossing guard, and loves blessing the kids every morning. She was born and raised in California, but one of her parents was Kānaka Maoli – Mom, I think. She’s one of those people of multiple origins. Unfortunately, that’s what she responded on a gov’t questionnaire, therefore didn’t satisfy the blood quantum requirement for Homestead Land. Next time she’ll know better, and just say, “Filipino and Hawaiian.”

Prisca is the elder sister of Lori, and there were 12 siblings. She had 6 children, w/ 5 still living. Nicky, their niece, is gorgeous, artistic, sexy, funny, graceful, a dancer. She worked for the airlines, and now manages the only affordable living complex on the island – where Prisca and Denise both live. She has one son.

After an hour or so of conversation, songbooks came out, and we had a sing-along for about an hour! From church choir, they have beautiful singing voices. Not needing to be part of the official Red Hat Society, they are “Papale Ula”, or “hat red”. I was so lucky to meet them, and ran into Lori several times during my stay. Her father was a fisherman, a very wise person. His children still constantly repeat “what Dad used to say.” They had big family sing-alongs, too. She`s nostalgic about that – and tree houses. There were so many children; they built a tree house to escape to! Her husband doesn`t dance, which she regrets. She worked in childcare when she was on the mainland. Back on Molokaʻi, she volunteers in family services as part of the church’s work. After the ukulele jam a couple of days later, she gave me the most beautiful tiny pineapple – which her brother had given her for her birthday.

Jam sessions are held at Coffees of Hawaiʻi every Sunday afternoon and Tuesday morning. On Tuesday, there were about 6 people at 10 a.m., and at least a dozen by about 11 a.m. I estimate nine of these were Kānaka Maoli, and the rest haole. Men and women range in age from their 30s to their 70s, both genders, 8 ukuleles, 1 base and 2 guitars. It varies. Plenty in the audience play along on their own ukuleles; everybody sings. Several of the musicians are professionals, and they’ve put out a DVD. They play Hawaiian songs (which are about the land), old love songs, and old rock and roll songs. “When I’m 64” was popular, as was “On the bayou.” I love the Hawaiian. (Hapa Haole – or half-white – songs in English are about love.)

I drove to Maunaloa, a little town on the western end of Molokaʻi. The road there is through dry, bare land with very red soil. The town is home to the famous Big Wind Kite Factory, with its refreshingly irreverent owner, an older guy with a big beard. (He and a customer agreed that it’s OK for believers to spout off, but atheists are silenced. No fair!) Three parts of town can be distinguished. One is abandoned commercial buildings and lodgings that belonged to Molokai Ranch (later Molokai Properties Ltd.) Then there was the ordinary housing and people, somewhat run-down but comfortable. The third is rather large new housing.

I made my way Kepuhi Bay, where there are several resorts, condo complexes, private homes (and mansions), a long beach, and beach access. The guide map says “Once a major resort area, Kaluakoi features a beautiful golf course, condominiums, and a defunct hotel.” Like the abandoned buildings in Maunaloa, it had been part of Molokai Ranch. The whole thing looks predictably depressing and deserted. There are a few people around. In condo parking lots are shrouded cars. The road down from Maunaloa to Kaluakoi was all part of Molokai Ranch. Running around close to the beach are “wild” turkeys and pheasants, and signs warn of (Axis) deer crossing the highway.

I didn’t talk to many people. A young Kānaka Maoli guy was at the beach with his family; he comes often, he lives here. “Do you smoke marijuana in Canada, too?”

The road to the eastern end of Molokaʻi towards the Halawa Valley is entirely different, windy, twisty, sometimes very narrow, through heavy forest. (I admit to chickening out just before I reached the Valley. As with downhill skiing, I decided that if everyone I encountered felt as incompetent as I, this would not work out.)

I visited a number of beaches where Kānaka Maoli had built fish ponds. It’s as if everywhere there was an inlet (think U), a lava stone wall was constructed, making a bar over the U, so fish could be trapped inside. It`s possible the walls of the U (the inlet) were also constructed. Very cool. There were breakers on the shelf further offshore; perhaps that made going out in canoes particularly difficult here. Landings would be difficult.

Roy Horner is the owner of Coffees of Hawai‘i and one of the ukulele musicians. He also owns the mule rides down to Kalaupapa, is in the insurance business, and engages in funeral or interment planning. He’s into everything! Has about 6 kids, some off and some on the Island. He recognized me from Tuesday morning’s jam session. He was a policeman on O‘ahu for about 20 years before returning here.

I came to a house with about 100 sets of deer antlers hanging from the rafters of the carport. I asked the hunter about them – yes, they hunt lots; he got his first deer when he was about 17; they’re really good eating; most people just shoot them whenever they run into them, because they’ve really over-reproduced, especially down on Molokai Ranch.

An old fellow sat on a bench outside the garage.

He asked me, “How do you keep your windshield so clean?”

“Being on Moloka‘I, I guess! Rain, no dust. . . “

“The thing is, every time I clean my windshield, I lose all my landmarks! I have to send up a flare to find myself!”

On the bus to Waimea from Waikīkī, the woman sharing my seat befriended me (and vice versa). By sheer coincidence, we were on the same bus coming back, so we spent a lot of time together. She has a Hawaiʻian name I didn’t write down, is a tiny little thing, slim and good-looking in shorts, and has to be about 62. Her eldest grandchild is 31, and she was 31 when she became a grandmother. She was married to a good haole man, and she and her mother-in-law were “like peanut butter and jelly”, they got along so well. They had 5 girls and one boy. Husband has passed on; diabetes complications. One of the girls developed type 1 when she was 13. I don’t think she worked outside the home; her pride is in having run a tight ship. She lives in a studio apartment just on the edge of Waikīkī, and her morning routine includes going around the corner for her senior`s coffee at McDonald`s. (Here, one is usually a senior at 60, so I qualified for $7.50 instead of $15 at Waimea yesterday!) She dances hula, and speaks an easy version of HCE to me. I don`t know about her schooling or real economic status. She was on her way to (and from) a scripture reading group. We talked a lot about food! For such a skinny person, she sure enjoys it! (She taught me where the warm spot is in a bus.)

At Waimea Valley were three people who acted as cultural and craft consultants. One was a young woman scraping paper mulberry bark to make kapa. She used a shell. She said that it would originally have been done w/ a larger shell than she was using! It reminded me of scraping a moose hide, but on a much smaller scale. The leaf was 8-10” wide. She explained that the leaves would be scraped until thin enough to begin pounding. They are placed with the grain in the same direction, overlapping. The pounding makes the fibers stick together. Hawai‘ian kapa is especially soft, compared to that of other Pacific Islands, because the Hawai‘ians discovered a fermentation process which makes the leaves softer. If holes do appear, the fabric can be re-pounded to fill in the hole.

She says Hawai‘ian culture is thought to have become especially patriarchal and sexist after the invasion of Pa‘ae, who brought Pili, a chief from Tahiti. They brought strict kapu, separating the sexes in activities, eating, space etc.

The other woman was weaving palm fronds (lauhala) as a demonstration. She also had a bagful of sayelle yarn in many colors. With this, she demonstrates how to make leis, by using the fingers of her hand as a knitting nancy, with two strands of yarn at a time. Her son was cutting the individual fronds off ferns, which his mother was weaving.



Photo album link:

People of color (Asians and Kānaka Maoli) outnumber anyone else: lots of Japanese, Korean, Chinese.  Whites under number anyone else. I’ve heard a fair amount of Spanish, too.

In Haoles in Hawaii, Judy Rohrer uses “locals” to refer to East Asians and Portuguese reared in Hawaii, haole to refer to people of European origin (mostly American and English), and Kānaka Maoli for people of Hawaiian indigenous ancestry. She translates kama’aina as native-born. Pidgin to da max says that’s for haole residents, so I’ll use Kānaka Maoli for indigenous ancestry. Rohrer also speaks of “the continent” rather than “the mainland” for the U.S.A.

Although Kānaka Maoli are certainly a minority in terms of social well-being (employment, income, health and mortality statistics), it is pretty clear that they are the owners of the expressive culture, identity and history recognized as Hawai‘ian – even the language, whether actual Hawai‘ian or Hawai‘ian Creole English (pidgin). It’s as if property may belong to others, but Hawai‘ians belong to the land.

Many people move or return to Hawai‘i because they love it: the physical setting, the climate, the lack of economic activity (in many places), the time for conversation, art, music and dance, the opportunity to learn ukulele and hula (which I’m sure has many of the same physical benefits as Tai Chi). Beautiful examples can be seen in the many performers at the Merrie Monarch Festival on youtube! Even on the beach at Waikīkī, hula performers were Kānaka Maoli, haole and Japanese.

The contribution and presence of immigrants to Hawai‘i are constantly recognized. The Bishop Museum had a unique exhibit on the clothing devised and worn by Japanese women working on the sugar plantations.

Most of the display at the Hawaii Heritage Center in Chinatown consists of worn Chinese items, but Jewish, Scottish, Japanese and Portuguese immigrants appear as well. There was a mention in the labels of “Sugar masters”, Chinese men of whom seven, at least, became prominent and wealthy. I thought they might be labor recruiters, but learned later that the Chinese knew how to extract sugar when the plantation owners did not. They controlled the process! See from book by Chang.) The Center was tended by a volunteer woman of Chinese ancestry. Sugar, pineapple and rice were the traditional crops, she said, but none are being cultivated any longer. It’s all being imported now, because other places of production and refining are much cheaper.

The west side of Hawai‘i Island has a strong Portuguese influence. The graveyard at St. John`s Church has many Portuguese surnames (including Madeiros, the surname of a candidate), and the owner of the restaurant serving malasadas and Portuguese bean-and-sausage soup could well be of Portuguese ancestry, as well! On the other hand, the owner of the hostel is South Korean. At St. Benedict’s Church, there were four generations of Kānaka Maoli women making and selling religious mementos and doing some gardening. There were a number of tourists in family cars: Japanese and Euro-whatever.

In the coffee hills above Kailua-Kona, I stopped at a small Japanese grocery store – that is, it’s been owned by descendants of Japanese immigrants for decades. It was tended to by a woman who’s lived there since she married a fellow from there, sixty years ago. (Patrilocality is a strong pattern.)

Auntie Mary of Kapa‘au says everybody comes to Hawai‘i, and they all get along. She shared with me a bean-paste cookie given to her by her Japanese friend, and knew the right name for it! Around the civic center are a number of monuments to war casualties and veterans: lots of Japanese names, a fair number of Portuguese, a few Kānaka Maoli. These communities are said to have been socially segregated during the sugar plantation years, but the sugar plantation and mill are long gone.

It’s also worth glancing at the list of war veterans at the Homelani Cemetery in Hilo, as a sampling of the ethnic composition of the population

So many variations of English, and so little time to learn to distinguish them! At least twice, I could have sworn the speaker was of Portuguese origin, and he was Hawaiʻian. And I know that different regions, communities, classes and genders spoke differently, and that all could easily exclude me by slipping into their version of Hawaiʻian Creole English (pidgin). I loved seeing one woman switch from HCE to standard English in the time it took to turn her head to face me. A Tongan, married to a local woman, sells hula regalia – drums, rattles, etc. He likes Hawaii because, no matter the accent, others understand – unlike the continent.

A fellow at the Starbucks in Kona-Kailua had great road navigation advice. His social advice was questionable.

  • Try never to have to turn left. If you need anything, try to get it on your side of the road. Avoid being T-boned. Everyone here is stoned.
  • Go nowhere in Hilo if the address starts with RR. There are lepers there! Just like here, in certain parts of town.
  • Before the missionaries came, there was lots of jumping the fence. That’s why there’s so much disease, so much deformity.
  • I’ve been here 10 years, but I’ll never be accepted as being from here.

The Lyman family of missionaries was just one of several that came to the Islands from the continental U.S. In Hilo is the Lyman Museum and Mission House ( Of the six Lyman children who lived to adulthood, three went to the mainland and became professionals, and the youngest daughter married a son of the Wilcox missionary family. (She later saved the old family home from demolition.) Two sons stayed in Hawaiʻi as businessmen, one marrying a Chinese-Kānaka Maoli woman and having 17 children! Sarah Joiner Lyman, the mother missionary, did make some concessions to living in Hawaii. At first, she insisted on lathe and plaster for all the walls, but was constantly having to fill the cracks after frequent earth tremors. She finally smartened up, covered the lathing w/ muslin, and wallpapered over that. Plenty of flexibility to withstand earthquakes!

Next to a public park in Hilo was a pickup truck with large signs in the back. One had pictures of bacon, a pig, etc.: “ISLAM REPELLENT. ISLAM DOESN’T BELONG IN A CHRISTIAN NATION!” And in white, on a lilac background, “JESUS CHRIST IS GOD.” Grotesque. I photographed the scene, but not the guy advocating it, because I guess I was leery of him. A Kānaka Maoli woman leaned across from the driver’s seat of her car to ask what I thought. I was disgusted. She figured I had an opinion, but would admit to none herself. “I don’t get involved in these things.” Two blocks away I came upon the regular Friday afternoon anti-war demonstration, which made up for it.

An elderly Kānaka Maoli woman (almost 79!) in the audience at the ukulele jam, chatted with everyone around her. I heard her joke that she lives on an Indian reservation – i.e. on Hawaii Homestead land: six acres near the high school. To be eligible for Home Lands, a person has to be at least 50% Kānaka Maoli. Their children can inherit if they’re 25%, but not less. It’s for use (residential and/or farm), but not for sale. Everyone comes to kiss her. She uses a walker, and as she got up to leave, three men unobtrusively left their conversation groups to accompany her down the steps. Once again, that care for elders. Elsewhere, an older woman was getting into her pickup truck; another truck honked twice and the driver called out the window; “Hello Auntie!” In Hawaiʻian, Tu-tu is grandma; Tu-tu kana is grandpa

I’d noticed many, many trees, all of the same type and about 12’ high. In dry areas, they have no leaves. I asked a fellow at the car rental in Molokaʻi what they are: haole koa. They were brought in to feed goats and cattle (hence “haole,” or whiteman). The leaves are fine, but when livestock eat the seed pods, they lose their hair! The seeds in the pods are about the size of apple seeds. They’re strung together to make leis, he says, but they’re so hard they’re boiled to soften them. Acacia koa is the Hawaiʻian version; both are legumes.

Molokaʻi’s Kalaupapa Lookout is a spectacular cliff path that overlooks the peninsula where lepers (those with Hansen’s syndrome) were quarantined. It’s one of those tragic stories: people from all over the islands thought to have leprosy were lifted out of their families and dumped there. Leprosy is not terribly contagious; many people carry the bacteria, but aren’t susceptible to it. About 8000 people went through there, some with the disease, some their family or helpers. Those who had it were thought to be unclean, corrupt, with no other identity, doomed, etc. I photographed a sign with the stereotypes. It interested me because of that guy in Kailua-Kona who characterized Hilo people as “lepers.” It’s a nasty accusation – especially when, in the next breath, he’s implying incest.

I hadn’t realized the degree to which the stigma of Hawaiians is leprosy. Some Mormon converts were taken to Iosepa, Utah. One of the reasons they didn`t adapt was the fear among Euro-Americans that they were lepers. See

The owner (manager?) of the gas station in Kaunakakai was a friendly guy – didn’t fuss about getting my credit card before I filled. (Lacking a zip code, it’s a bit tricky. Have to authorize up to a limit first, then underspend.) He lived in California for a few years, married there, and is very happy to be back living in Moloka‘i. He’s happy to be surrounded by family (siblings, cousins, aunties), “Everybody looks like me,” they’ve got the same story, the same values and religion. “I don’t have to explain anything; everybody understands and gets it.”

I had to laugh at myself often, trying to figure out Hawaiʻian food. My notes state that “I went to the Kualapu‘u Cookhouse for supper of pork conkatsu – strips of breaded pork with a sauce – like ketchup! I figured it was likely Filipino in origin, a verson of “con ketsup”  – with ketchup. And French fries, and macaroni salad, and some cabbage underneath. Run by Kānaka Maoli guys, it’s a good place.” It turns out pork tonkatsu is a Japanese dish, of thinly sliced breaded pork, having nothing to do with ketchup! I love sweet-and-salty plums, but never saw poi.

Honolulu’s Chinatown has some large markets with many booths and vendors. Visiting for the second time, my peripheral vision was more functional. I saw a big “comedor” I walked right by the first time – a food court, but with nothing resembling A&W! – and had a great wonton soup for lunch. There were Chinese and Filipino food restaurants. Great place to go! Long tables, plastic table cloths, melamine dishes, plastic cutlery, not much advice.

Along Nuʻuanu Stream, men play games.

There is still a bitter-sweet, love-hate relationship between Japan and Hawaiʻi, as seen in the Foster Botanical Gardens.

Have read The dark decade: anti-Catholic persecutions in Hawai‘i. Because the first missionaries were Calvinist Congregationalists, there was opposition to Roman Catholicism, which resulted in the aliʽi converts persecuting Hawai‘ian Catholic converts. This may help why Portuguese weren‘t seen as haole, as they were Catholic. On the other hand, they were also middle-men, not-quite-white, the lunas, the managers. It also makes Father Damien (now Saint Damien) a particularly significant figure, a Catholic hero.



Photo album link:

There is plenty of Hawai‘ian nationalism, inspired by – but not entirely limited to – Kānaka Maoli. Many immigrants and newcomers adopt as much as they can learn of Hawaiʻian expressive culture and philosophy and are fiercely protective of their surroundings and the environment. The Hawaiʻian sovereignty movement might or might not include them. There is plenty of contemporary protest against military and corporate influences. The haole version tends to focus on environmental and sometimes cultural impacts, while the Kānaka Maoli is also concerned with increasing economic inequality and expropriation of wealth, as well as the instability of capitalist development.

For example, Kaho‘olawe is a small island that was bombed to bits by the US military. In the 1970s, two protesters disappeared at sea when going to occupy the island. It was surrendered to Hawaiʻi, which declared it a natural and cultural preserve, but there is still a good deal of unexploded ordinance. Wikipedia has a decent article on protests.

There is some public opposition reaction to a twenty-mile commuter train line being built in Honolulu. Courts have called a halt to it because human remains have been found. Similarly, Kawaiaha‘o Church’s construction of a multipurpose center has been stopped, because it has unearthed six hundred unnamed burials in the cemetery adjacent to the church building – where the new construction is to go. Courts have ordered them to stop until an archeological survey is complete. (This reminds me a lot of the San Gabriel mission in Pasadena, where priests’ tombs are marked and there is a single placque commemorating hundreds of graves of anonymous Native Americans.) ]      The Mission Houses Museum is associated with Kawaiaha‘o Church, to interpret the “mission period” of Hawaiian history, 1820-1863 ( Most interesting are quotations from the writings of David Malo and Samuel Kamakau, both of whom were educated by the Missions and worked in their educational system – but not without misgivings and critique.

Important local issues in Molokaʻi include the plan by Pattern Energy and Bio-Logical Capital, with the support (and perhaps at the request) of the state government, to set up huge wind farms and an underwater electrical cable to feed electrical power to O‘ahu. The vast majority of local citizens are very opposed, as it is expected to destroy landscape, endanger animals, cost a lot of money, repel tourists, bring in outsiders as temporary workers, overload social services, and destroy cultural and sacred sites. They’d rather have roof-top solar panels or tiny windmills, but the state won’t support that. The opposition has formed IAM: I Aloha Molokaʻi. One member commented that what really bugs him is that all these people come here because they love the lifestyle, and then immediately want to change it.

In brief, Molokai Ranch (or more properly Molokai Properties Ltd.) is widely seen as a villain. Having been for decades a cattle ranch owned by the Cooke family (missionary descendants) it was purchased by the “Hong Kong-based Guoco group.” They were refused permission to develop a huge multi-million dollar complex on the SW corner of the Island at La‘au Point, and so closed down everything else: the ranch, the lodge in Maunaloa, and the Sheraton Hotel and its tent-alows on the beach at the west end, the movie theater, and the golf course. Well over a hundred jobs were lost. This is part of the reason people of Moloka`i don`t accept the schemes of outsiders too easily; they`ve been burned by the rise and collapse of sugar, then pineapple, then ranch, then tourism. It reminds me of the military base in Masset, and the empty privates’ quarters – empty but for asbestos.

I found a useful articles on this:

Bradie, Sally (2008). Showdown on Molokai: the island’s best-known property closes its doors after locals say no to major development. Condé Nast Traveller July 2008. Retrieved September 26, 2012 from

Hamilton, Chris (2009). Molokai Ranch: a year after closure, times are hard but spirit is alive. The Maui news April 19, 2009. Retrieved October 10, 2012 from

Kubota, Gary (2008). Final day’s dim light: despite the job losses, workers at the closed ranch hold to hope. Star bulletin, April 6, 2008. Retrieved October 10, 2012 from

In 2012, the Ranch announced it has new management, wants to renew lodge and such, and lease out to businesses in Maunaloa.

Cluett, Catherine (2012). Molokai Ranch: new leadership, fresh perspectives. The Molokai dispatch, May 17, 2012. Retrieved October 10, 2012 from

            Furthermore, Molokai Properties is a partner in the wind turbine deal. After the 2008 mothballing, they went looking for other ways to profit from their property. I’ll just copy and paste a brief blurb:

Molokai Properties Limited Joins Forces with Pattern Energy Group LP to Develop Wind Energy Project

Apr 4 11

Molokai Properties Limited has joined forces with Pattern Energy Group LP to develop a proposed wind energy project on the island after it was unable to come to terms with its previous partner, First Wind. The proposed wind farm would have 90 wind turbines and transmit wind-generated electricity to Oahu via an undersea cable. Molokai Properties broke off talks with First Wind in November after two rounds of negotiations in which the two sides were unable to reach agreement on a land price and the approach to community involvement. From Bloomberg Businessweek, at

Molokai Properties held a public meeting in March 2011 explaining that they’re being pressured by the State Government to facilitate this. The State’s Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism is planning undersea cables from Molokaì and Lanai to O‘ahu, but to carry wind-generated power. Environmental assessments are being carried out by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The U.S. Department of Energy held Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement hearings in Kaunakakai on September 19, 2012. These sound much like hearings in Skidegate. 40+ people turned up to oppose windmills and undersea cable, some to suggest alternative energy sources (e.g. biofuel from kukui nuts). It is suggested that if the project goes to Maunaloa, there may be criminal sabotage. One objection is to subjecting smaller islands (e.g. Lanai and Moloka‘i) to the desires of O‘ahu.  ( , molokainewsblog accessed September 26, 2012)

I`ve just looked up “Mo‘omomi Moloka‘i”, having seen a sign that says Mo‘omomi Beach is to be gated illegally. It’s on the North Shore (Not sure where yet.), and there’s an eloquent letter opposing the gating (in response to vandalism) using Hawaiian cultural principles. The letter is by Yama Kaholaa, Sr., published in the Moloka‘i News on September 14, 2012. Communities are to self-govern under the ahupua‘a system. This is to give all members land, water, shoreline, and access to the ocean. The system requires the practice of aloha (respect), laulima (cooperation), malama (stewardship). This results in pono (balance). (He also refers to Kanawi Mamalhoe, a legal principle voiced by Kamehameha I, that rulers may not abuse power.          Purdy’s Macadamia Farm, has a great selection of posters and bumper stickers on the walls. Macadamias were brought here from Queensland, Australia in 1882. Those at Purdy’s farm were planted in the 1920s. The Purdys acquired the land under the Hawaii Home Land Act in 1980.

The Hawai‘ian “yah?”  or “yeah?” is a lot like the Canadian “eh?”, or “OK?”, or “Got it?”

For a long time, I did not understand the lei thing. I’m fine on flowers and greenery, but there are books on making ribbon leis, money leis, and crocheted leis – using eyelash wool! ( This felt a whole lot like retired ladies of leisure developing new crafts – not unlike my own White Lady Dreamcatchers (beautiful crocheted doilies I make and stretch across brass rings). Then I found Father/Saint Damien’s two churches and cemeteries, and learned why crocheted leis are a good idea: around tombstones and crosses, they last almost indefinitely, much longer than flower leis. Ron later explained some meanings of the lei for me. He says a lei is an embrace, expressing love, respect, caring, memory. Grandchildren are the most beautiful and biggest lei, they who hang around your neck.

The Waimea Valley on Oʻahu is nice – a botanical garden with plants from many areas, and a path leading up to a waterfall. There are some reconstructed archeological ruins. The valley is formed by hills of huge boulders that have tumbled down, so certainly available for construction! There were a number of birds I haven`t seen elsewhere, also. A google search for “Waimea Valley history” turned up this great site: The valley was an important priest’s heiau in the 1770s; his grand-daughter was able to retain only a fraction of it in the Mahele, and in fighting for more, went into debt and lost even that. Castle and Cook eventually obtained it (I think there’s hardly a piece of Hawaii that hasn’t passed through its hands!). It suffered serious floods at the turn of the 20th century, and Hawaiʻian inhabitants left, having lost houses, fields, etc. Christian Wolffer, an amusement park developer, operated it for a time. It is now owned by “a partnership including the city, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the U.S. Army and the Audubon Society, with title to the property to be assumed by OHA for eventual transfer to a future Native Hawaiian governing entity.” This arrangement is considered culturally important; the Waimea Valley is said to be the last intact traditional ahupua‘a on O‘ahu: This site has a number of videos on the ownership and management arrangement.

Native Books, or Na Mea Hawai‘i, is a real treasure in Ward Warehouse in Honolulu. It is a store full of beautiful crafts and arts and lots of books. There is a fellow who works there and seems to be manager; he’s of Hawai‘ian, German and some other ancestry – Chinese and Filipino, likely. He told me of a conference at the Hawaiʻi Convention Center, of the Council for Native Hawai‘ian Advancement.

Visiting the exhibits at the Conference of the Council for Native Hawai‘ian Development was the culmination of my visit to Hawaiʻi. On that, my very last day, I was frequently close to tears. Listening to others Talk Story, I heard, saw, and felt beautiful things.

It was held at the Hawai‘i Convention Center. Glass walls soar at least 3 storeys high, with the actual floors floating well away from these walls. Thus the views of ocean and mountains are breathtaking.

In the central concourse were a number of vendors of t-shirts, colored pearls, beads and shiny jewelry, flowing garments. More impressive was feather work done by one woman, the feather kāhili (standards), sculptures, earrings.

Most incredible was jewelry (leis and earrings) made of miniscule seashells, matched for color and size. These are from the island of Ni‘ihau, a tiny place with only a few hundred residents. Shells there are particularly shiny because one side of the island has no fresh-water streams flowing into the ocean carrying silt – thus, they’re clean. I’d heard Teri say the most precious and tiniest of shells are only found “with your butt in the sand!” The woman at this booth explained it’s not just your butt in the sand, but lying down on your hands and knees with your eyes in the sand. Searching for these is exhausting. The most valuable items are those with more shells, and especially the darker ones. There are leis that take a whole lifetime of searching to put together. These are worth multiple thousands of dollars. See

In a large hall were organizational booths, one for therapeutic music, another of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands . Only a portion of Hawaiian Government Land is set aside as Home Lands, and before it can be allocated, utilities infrastructure has to be developed. Applicants wait years to get their land, and pay $1/year for it. Some is designated for residential purposes, some for farms.

There was an exhibit of photos of Kalaupapa. One of the large posters listed the five hundred signatures gathered there opposing annexation to the U.S. I wanted to take a photo of this poster, but felt I should have permission.

Kalani, who at that time was caring for the adjacent booth of the Pacific Justice and Reconciliation Center, laughed and said I should take advantage of being alive and, certainly, take a photograph. We began a long conversation, and he invited me to sit with him. He’s a big man, in a wheelchair some of the time. He has a mobile, very expressive face, ranging from full laughter to tears to a fearsome grimace, reminiscent of that of Kuu and of the warriors of New Zealand. A kukui lei is around his neck. (The kukui is the candlenut, and the tree serves other medicinal purposes.) He also wears a couple of stone pendants. He is deeply angered by the U.S. appropriation of Hawai‘i; those who have invaded the lands of indigenous peoples everywhere need to just leave. All indigenous peoples share the same knowledge and attitudes. Only they can be trusted with the earth and its resources. It is infuriating to see economic development for profit and exploitation taking place everywhere, to see housing developments for the military and not for the people. Kalani advocates demilitarization, period. Quit selling “paradise” to people on the continent and denying it to people here.

Given his great anger, I asked how he keeps sane. He keeps talking, keeps thinking, keeps fighting; he stands in the way of those who threaten the powerless; he will not let them pass. He is an emotionally powerful warrior. I told him of the Haida chief who said, “I will not let you do this.”

He wept as he told me of riding a bus in the southern States. He was unsure of himself, didn’t know where to sit, and the driver insisted he sit up front, which worried and frightened him. The driver stopped the bus to show him locusts. Kalani wept at the memory of sadness and humiliation, and the bus driver’s kindness. He also spoke of being uncomfortable getting on The Bus now, with his big wheelchair – of inconveniencing people.

The Pacific Justice and Reconciliation Center works with the houseless and with penitentiary inmates, practices the Native Hawai‘ian Church as well as Christianity, teaches non-violent martial arts, and advocates Hawai‘ian sovereignty. I’ve now spent a fair amount of time on its website ( ) – very much liberation theology, about non-violent action against the sins of colonialism and greed. It was founded by the Hawaiian Council of Churches. Heroes are Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King and Queen Lili‘uokalani. Through it I learned of the U.S. apology to Hawai‘ians for their annexation (  19981103), and the United Churches of Christ’s apology as well (  19930117). The U.S. apology includes a detailed listing of events – of how U.S. citizens took control of the gov’t of Hawai‘i, declared it a Republic, took Crown, government and public land and ceded it to the U.S., all without the consent of the people, and how the U.S. later ratified this takeover, annexing the territory, along with those of Guam, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. The U.S.A. National Council of the Churches of Christ also passed a resolution to support Kānaka Maoli sovereignty in 1993 ( It’s all very dramatic and impressive. I’ll try to find the originals on a couple of these documents. U.S.:

Na Mea bookstore was set up in another large room, responsible for pulling together important Hawai‘ian artists. One made lauhala (weaving of coconut fronds); there were some great abstract sculptures, and some modern paintings. There was also a woman beating kapa, a pretty constant pock-pock-pock of one piece of wood on another, the beater on the anvil with the strip of bark in between. By the time I was close to her, she was adding the third layer of bark. The amalgam of the three into one strip was a yellowish color, and the texture looked mushy – definitely soft and poundable. Yes, it is fermented; yes, it does smell, she says. If a hole appears, the fabric can be moistened and pounded again. The last beating is done with a textured beater; that creates the watermark.

A wonderful guy makes really great jewelry; I didn’t pay him as much attention as I should have. He had carved bone fishhooks and other things. His name may have been Paul. A really friendly, warm, thoughtful person, he has a client who buys weapons from him who lives in Edmonton. He asked if I lived anywhere near there; “Sure,” I said, “Just three hundred miles away.” “And that’s near?” He’s got a great sense of humor. When he heard me mention “Nobama” (as in a bumper sticker), he piped up with, “Oh, did I hear you say ‘Obummer’?”

An artist appeared at the table next door, which I really wanted to photograph. He makes mahi‘ole, the headdress made of reeds worn by aliʽi. It is like a helmet, and the weaving almost makes it look knitted; held up over the helmet on supports is a crest. (Alternatively, the supports are protrusions with circular ends.) These are covered with a plant net (it grows like a net) which in turn has feathers sewn into it.

The artist is a man Paul called “Uncle Sol” – for Solomon. (I don’t know last name, and am not having much google luck.) He had one completed mahi‘ole under an acrylic cover; another couple without feathers, one of them the “pillar” type (as I call it), and one he was weaving, starting by pinning it on a wooden head form. Those with feathers, Sol makes of ‘ihe‘ihe; the one he was weaving as I watched was reed that comes from SE Asia. He also makes “the best tools” for beating kapa (says the kapa-maker).

Solomon invited me to come sit on his side of the table, so he could hear me. Before long, we were joined by his cousin Ron, in a red Hawai‘ian shirt. Both have some Chinese ancestry – as well as Hawai‘ian. It appears Solomon is really knowledgeable on the art and craft end of it, and is fairly quiet. He speaks in HCE, mostly, and it is beautiful to listen to. Ron is very knowledgeable on history, politics, and culture, very voluble and eloquent in Standard English. He told me a great deal, and continuously dropped the names of books and authors, which I’ve since followed up. He’s from Kailua, and now has an organic farm on the Big Island. “We grow some lavender.”

Paul, Sol and Ron each spoke of the others as “knowing a lot”.

Ron took the acrylic cover off the mahi‘ole, picked up the helmet, and held it out to me. I gasped, put my hands inside it, held it, blew on the feathers, and almost lost my composure. It was beautiful, precious, like the one worn by Kamehameha I in his statues.

The chiefs were very powerful, with huge responsibility for people, land and resources. They were intermediaries with the gods, so had great spiritual responsibility, too. They wore a particular kind of pendant, of whale ivory (?); the shape of a hook, it also had a tongue protruding, indicating the responsibility to speak. (Ron wears a pendant of a beautiful octopus.) While powerful, they could be overthrown. Given power and responsibility, they also had to be physically large, strong, active, with big appetites, consuming, able to take land. (He is very expressive and dramatic, acting it out.) He spoke of the four principle gods, and their many facets. Also the hula which was forbidden by missionaries, especially those that emphasized pro-creativity and sexual energy. He told of Lono and Ku, the love and peace vs. war gods, and their times of year, and the need for both sides.

I have yet to hear anyone complain of missionary schools in any of the ways we Canadians have had to deal with residential schools. (Perhaps the Hawaiʻian counterpart is Kalaupapa.)  However, the Republic of Hawaii did prohibit the use of Hawai‘ian language in schools.

Ron spoke of growing up in Kailua, and fighting with his brother over the body-board they shared. An adult they met said he’d help them resolve the fight, and took them home to have his maid prepare them tuna sandwiches for lunch. Much later, a record store was selling off its 45s; one record had a picture of this guy on it. It was Elvis Presley!

Kalani and Ron are both offended by the desecration of graves at Kawaiaha‘o Church. They may be Christian graves, but that doesn’t mean their remains belong to the Church (and this is United Church of Christ). Kalani proposes digging up the cemetery in the Punchbowl. (That’s one cemetery I missed.)

Although land was set aside for commoners in the Great Mahele, most lost it. For one thing, they couldn’t conceive of land ownership, so when someone offered them $20 for their land, they thought, “Stupid haole!” and accepted the money. Others didn’t know how to pursue land title, or why it mattered.

Paul came over to give me a magazine. It is Ka‘Elele: The messenger, The journal of Bishop Museum. On the cover is the Dalai Lama, wearing a reed mahi‘ole – no feathers. Was it made by Solomon?



Photo album link:

In museums, I’m most attracted to interpretations of the lives of commoners (maka‘āinana). The first floor of the Hawaiian Hall of the Bernice Pauai Bishop Museum is about the early residents and gods of Hawaii, starting about 900 AD, origin stories of land, of species, of humans, and of population migration. Adzes are a big focus: how they’re made, from what material, quarrying, trade of blanks. These websites are informative: Very good! The second storey has great material culture, tools, hula. There was discussion of kin group territories (ahupua‘a) that went from the volcano top to the shores – cool vertical integration.

Third storey is on royalty. This museum got me thinking that those deciding what to present to foreigners were obsessed with royalty. There is a hall displaying beautiful kāhili (the feather standards used by royalty), royal genealogies, and other paraphernalia. The museum itself was created by Charles Bishop, widower of Bernice Pauahi Bishop (princess), in the late 1800s. He was the first banker of Hawaii (from the mainland), and this is one impressive building.

Perhaps I’m obsessed with royalty, too, seeking to understand how the centralization of power becomes possible or necessary, as it’s not a “natural” state of affairs. I’m definitely biased by being a citizen of a country whose head of state is a foreign monarch.

I fear I’m rather irreverent concerning nobility and royalty. I rudely stomped out of the video room of ‘Iolani’s Castle, and couldn’t even bring myself to enter the castle itself. Showcased are ornate furniture, china, silverware, telephones, the luxury with which royalty all over the world lived prior to 1900. All this, and the Christianity and literacy of the Kānaka Maoli nobility were being displayed as they travelled the world to demonstrate they were as good as anyone else. Meanwhile, the population was dying in droves, Americans were taking possession of the land – as were the nobles themselves – and the American residents were making Hawaii a Republic by imposing their own constitution. The Kānaka Maoli nobility acquired wealth from somewhere, and it certainly wasn’t shared with the vast majority of the people. They got it by selling the sandalwood etc. produced by the people. Nobility did create hospitals and schools, however.

King Kamehameha I conquered O‘ahu and most of the other islands, unifying Hawai‘i with the help of cannons, firearms and European mercenaries. He may also have benefitted from huge population losses due to disease. Kamehameha II abolished the kapu system by eating with women. I saw no mention at the Museum of the changes to land tenure system (the Great Mahele of 1848), and am still uncertain how it affected royalty. How long did they keep the 1/3 allocated to chiefs, or the 1/3 for the crown? (This was later ceded to the U.S. by the Republic of Hawaii.) The last monarch was Queen Lili‘uokalani who was overthrown by an American settler conspiracy when she wanted to institute a constitution which would return power to the monarch. Although the U.S. government recognized the coup was illegal, they eventually annexed Hawai‘i anyway.

I wonder what led to the power of monarchs. It could be effects of the Great Dying, the distortions created by the loss of population. Royalty were also dying off like crazy, constantly replaced. Lots of space was left wide open. Wealth increased due to commerce in sandalwood, etc.; there must have been a huge amount of money floating around to build castles and furnish them, to buy firearms. Somewhere I read sandalwood production was also resulting in famine. Perhaps missionaries added to the idea that monarchs should be particularly special, and should be rulers. The woman scraping kapa at Waimea said a ruler came over from Tahiti, bringing new ideas of hierarchy, kapu, and sexual segregation. Marion Kelly speaks of an increase in population in 1200 or so, resulting in a need to build many more fish ponds, which requires coordination, design, command – hierarchy.

It seems to me the centralizing hierarchical monarchy became more possible and necessary as a result of the arrival of outsiders. However, I must recognize that, before the Great Dying, hierarchy was very possibly much more pronounced.

Although I’ve been bothered by the wealth of Hawaiʻian royalty in the 19th century, e.g. their palaces full of foreign luxuries, next to the poverty and sickness of makaʻainana (commoners). I do sort of understand that the royalty had to put on a show to demonstrate they were as sophisticated and civilized as the English and the Americans, but it still seems wrong. Today, Ron sees huge mansions being built by very rich people on the Island, while next door are people who live in extreme poverty. Property prices are pushed really high; hence the need for Hawai‘i Home Land.

There is a really important difference. The wealthy today have no obligation to their poor neighbors, but the monarchs (and aliʽi) did have a responsibility for and a relationship with the people. The monarchs had legitimacy, and collected tribute that was often given with love as a motivation, e.g. in feathers. Could there have been despotism? Certainly, as in persecution of Catholics.

It was the fellow at Na Mea bookstore who first explained something I had not been able to understand. I spoke of my reticence regarding royalty-worship; as a Canadian, it’s just not really appealing. He made me understand that, for Hawaiʻians, monarchs symbolize resistance and nationalism, not conformity and oppression. Auntie Teri first tried to correct my view of royalty. To Hawaiʻians, she says, the aliʽi are protectors, or did their best to be. I guess that, rather than enjoying huge wealth while commoners starved, royalty can also be seen as displaying Island pride, showing themselves as fully worthy of being alongside rulers of other countries, to be displaced only by criminals.

To Kānaka Maoli, in striking contrast to this Canuck, the monarchy is a symbol of sovereignty and resistance to foreign domination.

Quilt-making is a fascinating topic, to me. Hawaiians learned how to make them from missionary wives, but developed their own patterns. They tend to be in two colors, a background color and an appliqued figure. This is a geometrical shape – rather like a snowflake. An interesting description is at  Queen Lili‘uokalani made a famous quilt imprisoned in her palace while the Americans were busy overthrowing her. It includes two Hawaiian flags, upside down, indicating her displeasure with the Americans. The flag in itself is a symbol of resistance. It’s a Union Jack, with a stripe for each island (8). This was something the Kānaka Maoli insisted on keeping.

Flag of Hawai‘i:

The canton of the flag of Hawaiʻi contains the Union Flag of the United Kingdom, prominent over the top quarter closest to the flag mast. The field of the flag is composed of eight horizontal stripes symbolizing the eight major islands (Hawaiʻi, Oʻahu, Kauaʻi, Kahoʻolawe, Lānaʻi, Maui, Molokaʻi and Niʻihau). A ninth stripe was once included, representing the island of Nihoa.[citation needed] Other versions of the flag have only seven stripes, probably representing the islands with the exception of Kahoʻolawe or Niʻihau. The color of the stripes, from the top down, follows the sequence: white, red, blue, white, red, blue, white, red. The colors were standardized in 1843, although other combinations have been seen and are occasionally still used.

Flag of Hawaii. (2012, September 11). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 06:27, October 5, 2012, from

Hilo’s Town Square is dedicated to King David Kalākawa, who is remembered for preserving Hawai‘ian culture and language. The Island of Hawai‘i and Hilo are also important to the memory of King Kamekameha I, who united Hawaiʻi.

Foster Botanical Garden was donated to the City of Honolulu by Mary Mikihala Robinson Foster. Her mother was the daughter of a Hawaiian chiefess, her father a shipwreck survivor, her husband a Nova Scotia shipping entrepreneur. She had no children, but was a religious dabbler. She funded the construction of a Buddhist temple in India. This article does a great job of linking religion and politics in early 20th-century Hawai‘i, with Foster partly demonstrating rebellion (religious and social) by leaving Christian ranks.

Karpiel, Frank J. Theosophy, culture and politics in Honolulu, 1890-1920. The Hawaiian journal of history

Everywhere I go in this hemisphere, it is the mansions and gardens of the rich of the late 19th and earliest 20th century that provide space for today’s botanical gardens and museums. It’s interesting that here, the gardens, palaces and museums come from Hawai‘ian royalty. These probably result in a good deal of pride.



Photo album link:

In downtown Honolulu is the big Kānaka Maoli church, the one the aliʽi (nobles) converted to – and brought their people to, the Congregationalist/Calvinist Kawaiaha‘o Church. It is all wood and stone, with some kāhili, feather standards used by aliʽi.

While I was looking at the burials disturbed by excavation, a wedding was taking place at the church – or was being re-enacted for photographers. I think I was told it is common for Korean weddings to be held there, because weddings in Korea are so expensive, but it could have been a Japanese couple holding a destination wedding. The guests outside were in Hawaiian prints; the bride was in white. I got a photo of bride and groom leaving the church, but missed the moment when they were showered with flower petals!

The combination of the two – wedding and burials – quite choked me up.

Up the hill from Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island is St Benedict’s Painted Church. It was put in place up on the hillside in 1902, and painted on the inside by the first parish priest. It’s a pretty white church on the outside (no priest now) and a cemetery. Some documents were reproduced in a scrapbook; the priest says that in recent years, instead of some 17 Kānaka Maoli villages, the parish has 11 settlements including a number of Portuguese. (And now the Catholics would be Filipino, too.)

One road not labeled “Private Property” was St. John’s Road, which runs by St. John’s Church. The church is not particularly new; some burials date back to the 1920s. Everyone seems to be either Portuguese or Kānaka Maoli, as suggested by St. Benedict’s log. There were lots of flowers along the road! I talked to a woman (of definite Portuguese appearance) in the parking lot of St. John’s, asking permission to go to the cemetery, and told her of my concern regarding the roads and trespassing. She said not to worry; no one is as frightened as they seem, and they don’t really even recognize each other, much less strangers. I’d already noticed that people waved at me from their cars. She was on her way into church, and I soon heard guitar and song.

The Alae Cemetery is just north of Hilo on Highway 19. I walked through most of it, taking lots of pictures. It’s divided into areas A-J, but it’s hard to tell why. Earlier letters tend to be older graves. One area of the cemetery has a sign identifying it as Korean, but I’m not sure how many of the graves actually are. There is also a monument to Korean immigrants and the suffering they endured in sugar fields while working for freedom for Korea. Japanese occupation in 1910 is vividly remembered. I think about 2/3 of the graves are of Japanese, which surprised me; thousands. The remaining 1/3 seem to be Korean and Chinese (the similarity in scripts makes it hard for me to tell), with a few Portuguese and Filipino. Anglo-Hawaiian and Kānaka Maolis are few. I guess I’ll have to look for the other cemeteries in town to find out where they’re going. The Japanese tombs tend to be the most impressive and are closest to the pathways. [In later research I learned that there may be a section of that cemetery that is Mormon – or Mormons are photographing tombs.]

The Hilo Chinese Cemetery is just up the hill from downtown Hilo. In 1875 the Chinese were given a plot of land on which to bury their dead, which they wanted to do following proper Taoist procedure. The graves are arranged so the tombstones all look out to sea. There’s a pavilion with interesting porcelain figures; I believe I recognized year designations, e.g. dog, horse, rooster, dragon. I don’t know if that’s all of them. I loved the green gable tiles – it’s a color of green I’m fond of, like the furniture in the House of Parliament.

Homelani Memorial Park is another couple of blocks up the hill in Hilo. This is primarily, or at least initially, the cemetery for the Protestant Anglos of the town, starting with the missionaries. There are some Japanese, Chinese, and Filipino, but not a lot. There is also a large section for veterans and their family members. The newer the section, the flatter the headstones. There are strict rules about plants, containers, accessories (no windmills, mirrors, photos) quite unlike Alae, the livelier cemetery north of town. The Chinese cemetery was fairly plain as well, though headstones varied considerably and there were some fresh flowers. It’s interesting how often there are fresh flowers on burials that are 50 years old.

The Homelani Cemetery in Molokaʻi is entirely different. Kānaka Maoli are buried there, the family plots surrounded by low walls of lava rock. It’s mostly of beautiful red soil, a fair amount of rock, but little cement or lawn. It reminded me of the archeological sites, w/ their walls of lava. There were horse prints in the soil as well. I’m told it’s the oldest Home Land cemetery on the Island.

Moloka‘i Veterans’ Cemetery is next door to the Hoolehua Cemetery. It’s a Home Land cemetery – only for those with Home Land. That explains why it was all Kānaka Maoli. Graves are decorated (or not) in every which way. I especially notice flowers and many kinds of leis.

I had a conversation with (and took a photo of) a fellow who was creating a flower garden on a grave of the Alfonso family. He put in the soil, alyssum, petunias.He and his wife were florists on the continent before moving here. They’ve been coming here since the 1960s. They now live in Maunaloa, and have seen huge changes there. There used to be Cook Island Pines all the way from the top of the hill to the ocean. Now it’s bare grassland. Those trees act like magnets for rain, but there isn’t any, now.

An unusual grave has a canopy over it. He says it is the burial of a kahuna who taught hula and held a big celebration every year, celebrating the birthplace of hula, near Maunaloa. The gardener and his wife were invited once; it goes all night, under a full moon, with no electrical light; it is very special, gives you chicken skin. For the first couple of years after the kahuna died, the canopy was covered with leis.

Kapaʻakea Cemetery is just east of Kaunakakai. I’d seen it once, but never again. My problem is signs often parallel the road, and I don’t turn my head. I guess I need a co-pilot. This is an ethnically mixed burial ground. There still aren’t many haoles – probably because not that many haoles have died and been buried here. Plenty of Filipinos, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Okinawans. Another kahuna grave. Also some Kānaka Maoli. Dudoit is a common name – likely descendants of Jules Dudoit, businessman and French consul in the early 19th century.

Father Damien (Saint Damien) created two churches on the topside of Molokaʻi (i.e. not on the peninsula of Kalaupapa).

As well as a reconstructed sugar mill, the Moloka‘i Museum and Cultural Center is associated with the RW Meyer Cemetery – Meyer having been the proprietor of the sugar mill. It is a lovely place under huge trees, with beautiful tombs and green grass lovingly maintained. It’s for the Meyer family and descendants.  There is much religious sentiment, art, statuary, poetry, family photos, etc. There is esteem for those who have lived long, and grief for those who have died young – or even are stillborn.



There is an amazing number of cats here. As in Cuba, it seems like a good idea! I saw a couple of mongooses today – they look like ferrets with a thicker long tail. They’re like the squirrel of Hawaiʽi. They were brought in to control the rats that had escaped, but it turned out rats were nocturnal and mongooses diurnal, so now both are pests.

I know that I’m blind to many things. For example, I’m uncomfortable with the lack of access to the beach, seeming to make it very private. I’m sure that’s partly true- but I also begin to spot signs that are positioned parallel to the road, rather than perpendicular, so I only see them if I turn my head directly left or right when driving by.

My photos from Hawaii are mostly of cemeteries and flowers.

The clouds as they move across the night sky remind me of northern lights. They sweep across with the moon highlighting them, swirl, skud along.

In Hawaii, it is legal to carry people in the back of pickup trucks, and to ride a motorcycle without a helmet.

Hawaiian friends (groups including women, at least) greet each other with a hug and a big smack on the cheek.

At night, the streets of Waikīkī are like a constant midway, at least for a few blocks. People thronging, some buskers and panhandlers. It is a happy and colorful crowd. Most tourists seem to purchase a Hawai‘i shirt or dress while they’re here. Locals don’t wear them much. Men in Hawai‘ian shirts are either tourists or deal with them. Women only wear mu‘u-mu‘us for traditional purposes – or to deal with tourists. A bit like guayaberas in Cuba.




ahupua’a – territory from mountaintop to shore

aliʽi – nobles

aloha āina – love of the land

hānai – adoption

heiau – temple

iwi – bones, remains

kahuna – priest

kamaaina – haole resident of Hawaii

keiki – child

kʽiʽi pohaku – petroglyphs

konohiki – steward of ahupua’a

kuleana – responsibility

kupuna – grandparent, elder

kukio – cooperate

loʽi – fish ponds

makaʽainana – commoners, fishermen and farmers

makai – seaward

mauka – inland

‘ohana – family; they’re spread out along the ahupuaʽha

paniolo – cowboy

piko – umbilical cord

umeke – bowl



Aikau, Hokulani K. (2012) A chosen people, a promised land: Mormons & race in Hawaii. University of Minnesota. U of A has hard copy.

Chang, Toy Len (1988). Sailing for the sun: the Chinese in Hawaii 1789-1989. University of Hawaii. U of A has hardcopy.

Handy, Edward, Handy, Elizabeth, and Pukui, Mary (1972) Native planters in old Hawaii. Bishop Museum Press. U of A has hardcopy

Hawaiian journal of history. On-line at

Imai, Shiho (2010) Creating the Nisei market: race and citizenship in Hawai‘i’s Japanese American consumer culture. U of Hawaiʽi press. U of A has hardcopy.

Kamakau, Samuel. Ruling chiefs of Hawaii. Freely available at (He died1876.)

Malo, David (1838) Hawaiian Antiquities (Moolelo Hawaii) is a free e-book on google.

McGregor Davianna Pōmaika‘i (2007). Nākua‘aīna: living Hawaiian culture. U of Hawaii.

In my ebscohost folder.

Merry, Sally Engle (1999). Colonizing Hawaii: the cultural power of law. MacEwan University has hardcopy.

Osorio, J.K.K. (2003). Dismembering lahui: a history of the Hawaiian nation to 1887. University of Hawai‘i. U of A has hardcopy

Panek, Mark. Big happiness. Can’t find it.

Rohrer, Judy (2010). Haoles in Hawaii. University of Hawaii Press.

Simonson, Douglas, Sasaki, Pat & Sakata, Ken (2005). Pidgin to da max: 25th anniversary edition. Honolulu: Bess Press.

Whittaker, Elvi W. (1986). The mainland haole: the white experience in Hawaii. Columbia University. U of A has hardcopy.

Wyban, Carol Araki (1992). Tide & current: fishponds of Hawaii. U of Hawaii.


Videos online

Big drum: Taiko in the United States (clip)

Holo Mai Pele (clip)

Malama Haloa with Jerry Konaini on Vimeo. Great 83-minute documentary on kalo.

Merrie Monarch videos on



Ahupua‘a maps of Hawai‘i – actually posters for sale.

Great article

Bishop Museum, videos, etc.


Center for Oral History – Oral history recorder

Only one issue of the Recorder is online

Chinatown, Honolulu. (2012, June 23). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 08:26, September 27, 2012, from,_Honolulu&oldid=498974133

There was an outbreak of bubonic plague in Chinatown in 1900. Some buildings were deliberately, but fire spread. 40 people died of plague.

Gourds: Elroy Juan – gourds

Hapa project:

Fulbeck, Kip (2006). Part Asian, 100% Hapa. Chronicle Books. and, especially

Hawai‘ian sledding: heeholua, lava sledding. It looks a lot like surfing on water!

Jonah Kūhiō Kalanianaʻole. (2012, August 12). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 07:54, October 5, 2012, from He was instrumental to the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act.

Kahoolawe. (2012, October 4). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 22:04, October 6, 2012, from

Kaiwakiloumoku – Hawaiian Cutural Center, virtual archive w/ Kamekameha Schools. Keep track of this one!

Keepers of the flame documentary; review

Kelly, Marion (1989) Dynamics of production intensification in pre-contact Hawai‘i. Accessed October 3, 2012 at

Koreans in Hawai‘i:

Mary Kawena Pukui Mary Kawena Pukui. (2012, September 5). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 01:44, September 17, 2012, from

Na Maka o ka Aina (2012) Mauna Kea from mountain to sea. Retrieved October 6, 2012 from

Robert William Wilcox. (2012, May 4). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 08:19, September 27, 2012, from  He’s part of the aliʽi resistance under U.S. annexation. Anti-monarchist, anti-imperialist (U.S.) anti-corporations! Quite the character! A number of the members of the nobility did the same thing. See Jonah Kūhiō Kalanianaʻole above.

Silva, Noenoe K. (1998). The 1897 petitions protesting annexation. University of Hawaii at Manoa Special Collections. Retrieved October 4, 2012 from

Wilcox, Carol (1996). Sugar water: Hawai‘i’s plantation ditches. U of Hawaii Press. On my ebrary bookshelf.



And then there were none (the book)

People and cultures of Hawaii

The Hawaiian Quilt

            Creating the Nisei market

            The Polynesian family system

            Sarah Joiner Lyman

            From a Native daughter

            The separating sickness

            Hawai‘i volcanoes

            2007 Merrie Monarch Fest DVD

            Hawaiian voices DVD

            Little Hawaiian poke

            Lili‘uokalani: Hawaiʽis story

            All about Hawaiian

            Aloha Niihau

            Talking Hawaii’s story

            Pidgin to da max

            Kalei: the leis of Hawaii

            Haoles in Hawaii

            Nation within

Tengan, T. Pi Kawika (2008) Native men remade: gender and nation in contemporary Hawai‘i. Duke University Press. U of A has hardcopy.




I don’t want to overstate the degree to which Cuba is in denial about racism. For instance, I took this photo of a wall in Camagüey:

             Yesterday I listened for the first time to a CD I bought in Cuba: Tony Ávila’s En tierra. This is a link to a video performance of the first song, “Científicamente negro”. It’s about being a Black Cuban (and the youtube is entitled “Un negro como yo”). Some day I’ll figure out all the lyrics. (Although I speak Spanish, understanding singing is not easy.)

The Cuba episode of the PBS documentary series Black in Latin America and the kaleidoscope of responses to it provide much food for thought.


Oh, man, is this scary!

As I’d said I would, I’m creating a blog of my activities and observations during my sabbatical year. So here goes, with the first two: two weeks in Haida Gwaii, and three in Cuba. I’ll be trying to make posts more frequent and shorter, but this is a start. I’m keeping it really simple: a written document with link to an on-line photo album.


CUBA, JULY 11 – AUGUST 1, 2012


PLACES & PEOPLE                                               



THE GREAT ECONOMIC DIVIDE                        

POLITICAL ATMOSPHERE                                  


MOSTLY BLACK AND WHITE                           




Photo album link:



I`m going to be brief my description of places, because the guide books do a really good job with these, and remembering these too vividly makes me nostalgic. I’m going to try to just list the places, the sights that most caught my fancy, and important people in each one. These will go into an online album (bolded).

I landed in and took off from Varadero, with its breathtaking Caribbean-turquoise sea and white sand beach.  A person should go for a day-long walk and just drop into the water occasionally. Beautiful pottery, too! During my wanderings, I met the same street vendor three times, so finally asked him to stop and talk in Parque Jossone. A guy of about 66, he’d come from Cárdenas to sell his wares: a basketful of quail eggs, and a box of bizcocho (biscotti). He’s retired, but can’t make ends meet, so comes to sell to tourists. He has many trades and skills: ceramic sculptor is his favorite, but also cook and baker. He worked in culture, as a clown in blackface, and he’s written a play.

A young woman serving in a restaurant in Varadero was the first of several to speak of the benefits of having a Spanish passport, with which it is possible to leave the country and later return.

The street life of Havana is outstanding. They’re full of people walking, working and in the evening, sitting and talking. Sitting on a second-storey terrace at night, I heard the constant hum of conversations, occasional live music and drums, and vehicle horns (which are used by drivers to signal their intentions, not to scold!).

In Old Havana (I want to write “Habana”, the Cuban spelling!) I had a chat w/ a young woman who is an artist, after I poked my head in the door of her studio and she invited me in. She was painting on a garage overhead door. I asked her permission to take a photo of a photo she had for sale. She happily agreed, but refused money in payment. “I’m not doing badly,” she said. I was wishing I carried a gift. 25-year old Iván is self-employed as a vendor. He showed me his license. Working for the others, it’s impossible to make ends meet. A policeman earns MUN$800; a dozen eggs cost $150. People w/ relatives outside the country are best off. They can send money, medicine, many things.

Overhead views of the variegated tiled roofs are a highlight of Trinidad. Colorful old buildings and cobblestone streets are a requirement of colonial cities. 12-year old Aslién kept me company on the hike up to the viewpoint behind town. A girl was in the plaza with her kitten. The manager of Hostal El Tayaba, Iris, is renowned on for her smile. (An hostal ispretty much the same as a “bed and breakfast” in North America.)

Santa Clara has great salsa musicians playing around the lovely Parque Vidal. Besides monuments to the revolution (far too impressive for me to photograph adequately), Santa Clara has bicitaxistas determined to protect their tourists, should the need arise! For every person who was slightly abrupt, there was one to calm the waters.

Camagüey has the whitest cemetery I’d ever seen – until I went to Santiago de Cuba – and unusual ornaments. Great street sculpture too. And a wonderful wood carver, whose carvings look remarkably like himself. At this used bookstore, I found a book of classical anthropology readings for David and Carmita. They own El Hostal de Carmita.

Baracoa is associated with so much natural beauty it is difficult to capture. Since I was there, another tropical storm has overflowed the Malecón, again damaging houses still being repaired after the cyclone of 2010. Luis (Bolo) took me many places here, leading me to water even if I wouldn’t go swimming! He found the polymita almost immediately. Chino is one of the men who rakes the sand at Playa Blanca (white beach), and lives in a shelter by the lighthouse. At the museum, I found pottery seemingly identical to the sherds I have from Carriacou, which I use for students at GPRC. Not surprising, I suppose, as they should all be Taíno.

Having climbed to the top of a hill, I suppose it’s impossible not to attempt the panoramic photo of Santiago de Cuba. Ditto for the views from the sanctuary to La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, and from the Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca or the Castillo del Morro (the fort built for defense against pirates). (I didn’t see the prisoner in solitary confinement until I looked at the photo I’d taken with flash hours later!) I got nice photos of Beatriz of Casa Colonial Nivia, her daughter Betita, and her son, David, but neglected to get a picture of her husband, David.

In Santiago, the second time I saw a sign advertising “Pintor naïf”, I paid attention. It led to the courtyard of an old building, It was one of the late-19th Century buildings, all stone. From the outside, it looks like a ruin. It was once an office building and probably boarding house for Bacardí employees. However, office areas have been converted into living spaces, the entry foyer left empty and open, with no glass in the windows, and  rooms / apartments surround the periphery of the open central courtyard on the first and second floor. A staircase behind the one-time reception area leads to the second floor. I asked a couple of men conversing in the old “lobby” for the painter. Their call for him was relayed as I was ushered into the interior courtyard, then invited upstairs.

Efraín Nadereau lives there with his wife / partner. Their flat occupies two or three of the original rooms, and is an L shape around the corner of the building. She was watching TV with him in the living room, and went around the corner to watch the telenovela on another television so we could talk. (I expect she really enjoys having someone else come by to listen to him!)

What I could see of this place was amazing. Efraín pulled together two chairs and two fans so we could sit and talk. From our seats, I could see the kitchen. There was a fridge covered with carefully arranged magnets; a cooking area with hood; a microwave on a stand built onto a wall; two big windows; a desk he built, where he’s done all his writing (“La Dolorosa”), built-in bookcases, some with ornaments (e.g. a gorgeous black doll in a yellow-gold dress (Oshún?). The walls are filled with his acrylic paintings –one similar to a Navi of Avatar, fighting roosters, the Havana old-car image, abstracts, lots of different types, themes and colors. Brilliant. The use of color just fills his 71-year old life. He wore a sky-blue shirt, and behind him was a bright green wooden blind, backlit by the sun. Hanging in front of that was a beaded mobile. The fan framed by that was blue. What a combination!


Creativity, ingenuity and initiative are particularly obvious in the transportation sector, with so many types of vehicles used! The different styles and levels of transportation are striking.

The toughest to see – and to ride on – are the camellos (camels), so called because they are like trailers dragged by a semi with a hump on the back and one on the front (over the wheels), and lower in the centre.,r:1,s:0,i:76  Windows are open, passengers crammed inside, hanging out windows whenever possible for a little relief from the heat. More of these were on rural roads.

Regularly-shaped buses looked somewhat better, with open windows. Even so, someone told me how hard it was to get to one’s government job (requiring a white shirt and spiffed up appearance) after taking a long bus ride. Tourist buses are nicer than any Greyhound in Canada. (The seats recline further.)

Communal horse-drawn carriages have benches running parallel to the direction of travel. Horse and carriage with driver in front – like the familiar calèche of Montréal. In rural areas are carts drawn by horses or by oxen, hauling wood or the family. Trucks with canopy-covered beds and stairs carry lots of people.–VIOM&imgurl=

Well-maintained, colorful LADAs are considered a high quality car – quite likely because reparable. Passenger vehicles include big old American boats, of course.

Three-wheeled coco taxis enclose a helmeted driver in front, 2 passengers in back, in a yellow oval structure.,r:3,s:0,i:82

It was a little disconcerting to see adult men driving bicitaxis – basically bicycle rickshaws. When one considers the potential earnings from tourists, however. . . Worthwhile!



The heat was high – well into the 30s everywhere. People cope by walking in the shade, using umbrellas to create their own, mop off sweat with towels, and use hand fans.

I was amazed at the efficiency with which garbage is removed. In Havana, big garbage trucks were coming by to empty large bins every night. In Camagüey, people left plastic bags of garbage on the street, and they were removed daily. In Baracoa, garbage pickers went through the construction materials thrown over the malecón (debris from the cyclone a couple of years ago) and chickens cleaned up garbage cans before trucks came.

Rural fences are often made of sticks in the ground. It doesn’t take long before the start to grow green leaves! Life is rife.

There are numerous museums in beautiful, old colonial buildings (i.e. prior to 1900), replete with furniture and ornaments of the same era – lots of china, porcelain, crystal and carved wood. It’s not that the past is revered, but is cared for and has not been displaced. Floors are cool tile and marble, materials imported from Europe. They are a great place to escape the heat. At most, admission to the museum was, say CUC$2; if one were going to take photos, then $3. (In Santiago de Cuba, oddly, the surcharge for photographs often brought the cost up to $5, so I just didn’t take pictures.)

Some of the most beautiful views are from rooftop restaurants in Trinidad. They’re often on a hill overlooking multicolored tiled roofs, terraces, gardens, other restaurants, church steeples, hills, the ocean and the beach. To get to one of these, I started from a relatively wide and prosperous street. A woman recognized I was looking for a certain place, said it was closed for holidays, but she’d take me around the block to the restaurant of a niece of the original. Streets got narrower, houses shabbier, and we came to the front door of an unimpressive building. We walked up and through a living room where men were watching baseball, past a couple of kitchens (each serving a different restaurant), up steep stairs to the lovely rooftop with great food!

You never know what’s behind a wall! Driving by houses in the countryside, it was quite easy to look inside many and see there was nothing much inside. Then I noticed all had TV antennas. In the city, a plain – even dilapidated – façade could open up to huge rooms stretching way back into the center of the block. Rooms might have no windows, but were cool, insulated by thick stone walls. I took a number of photos of cats on the other side of iron grills. Beyond them furniture, ornaments and televisions are visible. Having no outside yards means the roofed area of houses is much larger, with courtyards. In Casa Nivia, kids could ride their trikes in the passage-ways.

While it was fascinating to walk the streets of all Cuban cities, seeing the buildings, parks, museums, houses, etc., in Baracoa there were long walks in the countryside with my guide, Luis. One day we went across the Rio Miel, up the hill to a   finca (farm), then from the Balcón down the limestone cliff to the caves. Later, we were at the small Playa Blanca (white beach), feet in the water; then under the palm trees, eating maracuja and mangos talking with the fellows who rake up the beach. Another hot day we walked up following a river. Families floated in the water together, spending the day cooling off (the original water park). Some roasted pig; others took picnics. There are beautiful natural places around Baracoa with no commercial development and not too many people. Still, they are clean and well cared for. The water is completely clear.

In Baracoan forests are polymitas, beautiful tree snails which clean the smut off coffee bushes. They’re becoming rare. David says that young people who go there to do their agricultural service remove them as souvenirs; poachers place them in ant hills to be cleaned out prior to sale.


The double-decker hop-on hop-off bus around Varadero goes to the resort end, where hotels are huge, with golf courses, tennis courts, swimming pools and enormous amounts of open land. Crowds of Cuban construction workers and hotel employees (the latter in uniforms) walk towards totally different buses and wait at the exits of construction sites. Many of these workers are Afro-Cuban. Permanent employees are in uniform. Those in government jobs are dressed up, men in trousers and short-sleeved shirts, women in blouses, skirts, often fishnet or patterned stockings (to demonstrate their legs aren’t bare) and high heels.

Since 2008, Cubans have been allowed to stay in the resorts, if they have the money. Big “if” but, as one article put it, it’s the end to apartheid tourism.

Miroff, Nick (August 10, 2009). At Cuban resorts, the end of tourism apartheid. Globalpost. Retrieved August 20, 2012 from

The use of the Peso Cubano Convertible (CUC, worth approximately one Canadian or U.S. dollar)) and of the Cuban Peso (CUP, worth about four cents) creates a huge symbolic and practical gulf. On the one hand, we tourists operate almost exclusively in CUC, and frequently pay 24 or 25 times what Cubans do. On the other hand, it is apparent that we are able to pay that much! I’m amazed and grateful at the absence of resentment regarding that difference, and have no trouble at all that my enjoyment of Cuba’s landscape, society and culture is of use to the people and their government!

I found some of the differences disconcerting. For instance, I had trouble figuring out how (much) to tip people. It’s really hard to give CUC$0.10, even though it’s a significant amount when converted (x24) to CUP – but can it be converted, or is it too little to count? Is CUC$1 enough to pay a cemetery guide? I couldn’t readily tell when a business would charge in CUC and when it would be CUP. I expect I paid the former when being charged the latter more than once – e.g. in book stores. I probably would have bought a lot more magazines if I’d figured it out!  It definitely worked this way in museums and theatres, where Cubans were charged in CUP and tourists in CUC.

However, the difference begins to get really dicey when some Cubans have CUC and some do not. Above the bare necessities of life, CUC are needed.  Mechanical engineer Geraldo says there are serious contradictions in Cuba because of the two currencies. It’s not so bad to have differences between Cubans and foreigners, but not OK among Cubans. Anyone who has access to CUC (from bicitaxista on through) is relatively better off than one who does not. It particularly feels as if those in rural areas are deprived – but they have access to free food.  Rural : urban = food : CUC. It’s no wonder there’s a good deal of urban migration, for access to opportunity, money, and a higher standard of living – but with more expensive food.

For example, we visited the finca through which we had to pass to get to the cave with the underground pool, at Baracoa. The farmer’s family has had usufruct rights to this land for at least a couple of generations. He harvests coconuts, sending the copra to a processing plant. There are pigs, chickens, turkeys and a cage of jutías (tree rats), to be re-released into the wild. He served us coco water, guayaba, mango, maracuja, and bananas. Mamoncillos (a relative of lychees) are around, too. He also grows peppers, cacao and coffee. It’s a great mix of cash and food crops, cash and food animals. Most “cash” items have to go through the state. Like fishers, who are to produce a certain amount to sell to the state at a fixed price, the rest is their own to sell.

Those with family living outside the country have a big advantage (and a whole lot of people have a relative married to a foreigner!). If a cousin in Canada can send $100, that’s four times an average monthly salary, and can solve a lot of problems. It can allow the purchase of important upgrades, e.g. to a casa particular or an hostal. This is part of the reason people go into the business of hostales for tourists: they can invest anything extra to earn more CUCs, which in turn allows them to obtain more. In return, they pay high monthly licensing fees, whether or not rooms are rented out. An hostal can provide employment, meals and lodgings to all sorts of extended family members. It can make good use of a house that’s become too large for the family, as fertility rates decline.

Some fear that cuentapropistas (the self-employed, who work por cuenta propia, on their own account) are the wedge through which capitalism will enter Cuba. They also pay licensing fees. I’d be more concerned w/ businesses that employ people and thus profit from their work. This could become a more significant class difference, although I saw little to no subservience.

The monthly salary or pension just isn’t enough. Each household receives a Libreta de Abastecimiento, a book guaranteeing a small amount monthly of basic foodstuffs (sugar, rice, beans, oil, a little pork and chicken, a few bread rolls) at a very low price – if it’s available. Not eggs, and milk is only for infants and the elderly. Above that, supplies are paid for at a higher price (some in CUP stores, others in CUC). People said these basic supplies don’t last two weeks and regular income just doesn’t cover it, so many people have more than one job. See

Rationing in Cuba. (2012, July 23). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17:16, August 17, 2012, from

It seems the government wants to get away from these ration books, but I’m not sure how they can do that without improving wages. At one time, even children’s toys and some clothing was in the Libretas. Nivia says items are disappearing from CUP stores and are only available with CUC.

Beef is one item that cannot be obtained through Libretas, and in fact, it is only legal for children, elders, diabetics and those with cancer to eat beef. All beef has to be sold to the state for these users, at very low prices, thus no one wants to raise it; it’s not theirs to slaughter or to sell. There are other reasons making beef very costly to raise, e.g. lack of feed and the loss of petroleum from the USSR, which made it hard to bring in water for the cattle. There’s a good article on this at

Ganadería (n.d.). Cubaalamano. Hivos (Cooperación al desarrollo Holanda). Accessed August 20, 2012 at

Obtaining the necessities of life takes a lot of time – especially for the hostales, w/ their foreign guests. Even for locals, shampoo was hard to find. Then, it was detergent they couldn’t get. Roberto went all over town looking for guineos (sweet bananas) the other day. No one brought them to market after Carnaval. He went to get propane, but they were closing the shop. After lunch, he went back on another trip. He does most of the streetwork for Casa Nivia. At Casa Azul, Luis does much of it. There are concerns with shortages; will it be possible to buy children’s shoes to start the school year?

Fixing things takes time, too. I watched Frank take apart electrical fixtures to salvage parts, and Roberto opened up a fan to work on it. (He used to be an electrical technician.) Luis said he’d found out his fan’s motor was burned out. On Saturdays, walking around town, I looked into spaces where people stood around tables, watching repair-persons attempting to fix everything from umbrellas to watches.

Many want out of Cuba, and some regret not leaving when they could have. A significant reason is that “Uno no se puede adelantar” – you just can’t get ahead. When trying to save up to purchase or repair one little thing, an emergency intervenes so that one never sees improvement from one day or year to the next. That would be frustrating. I know Beatriz was close to tears the day I left Casa Nivia; she’d just discovered one of the two refrigerators was not working, despite repairs a couple of weeks ago, and she was having to move food to accommodate it in other fridge and the freezer, or on the counter.

The 1990s were the time of the Período Especial, the economic crisis caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Efraín Nadereau said he and his wife each lost weight due to food shortages. Particularly serious was the lack of petroleum products; that affected agriculture, transportation, freight, everything. It was at that time that the Cuban gov’t decided to commit to tourism as a source of revenue. See

Special Period. (2012, July 6). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17:07, August 17, 2012, from


Hernandez-Reguant, Ariana (2010). Cuba in the special period : culture and ideology in the 1990s  1st Palgrave Macmillan pbk. ed.

Faith Morgan (2006). The power of community: how Cuba survived peak oil. Community solutions. (53 minutes)


            Good documentary online.

There are panhandlers. There was just one old man in Varadero, but in the city there are some disabled people. There was one woman around the plaza in Santiago who would sometimes be seen with a child; and I was occasionally pursued by men needing money for their families. Some people would stand outside a restaurant if one were on the terrace, hissing and asking for help. They tended to leave as soon as one said No. I’m guessing there are serious consequences if tourists complain.

The economic blockade by the US causes incredible pain. (See ) No wonder ties w/ Spain are close; they never stopped trading after Franco died in 1975.


I was amazed at how little I heard about the government. Even on the media, there was nowhere near as much about government officials as I’m used to– at least the mayor, councillors, not to mention the PM. It would have been a real chore to figure out who city officials were. Newspapers are not common, and have very little in the way of current events, anyway. Almost nothing on crime, fires, etc. These aren’t ignored, however; there was a good deal of coverage of a fatal car accident in which a foreigner, driving a rental car, crashed into a tree on the highway. It resulted in the deaths of two Cuban passengers. He’d been travelling the highways at a really high rate of speed.

Now, a month later, I see that the Cubans killed were rather significant, especially Oswaldo Payá Sardiña, an important figure of the Cuban opposition, founder of Catholic liberation movement in Cuba. He was 60. It still appears to be a real accident, as the two survivors of the crash, a Spaniard and a Swede, say no other cars were involved.

Oswaldo Payá. (2012, August 20). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 19:47, August 22, 2012, from

Newspapers did offer a lot of historical repetition about heroes of the Revolution and such, but no social or political analysis or critique at all. Bookstores sell literary classics, biographies of revolutionary heroes, historical accounts of revolutionary campaigns, and a number of art and culture magazines. There are also a few academic studies, e.g. El ashé está en Cuba. Miguel Barnet’s Gallego was one I was able to buy – based on interviews w/ a Gallego immigrant. A book on Rastafari in Cuba also provided information. José Martí is everywhere, in effigy and in writing. Camilo Cienfuegos struck me as an appealing person, one of whom I’d heard little before.

Fernández Martínez, Mirta y Porras Potis, Valentina (1998). El ashé está en Cuba. Editorial José Martí.

Barnet, Miguel (1983). Gallego. Letras Cubanas.

Furé Davis, Samuel (2011). La cultura Rastafari en Cuba. Santiago de Cuba: Editorial Oriente.

Criticism of the government is quite cautious, though not as it was. I complimented one person on his English, and he said he keeps it up in order to speak with foreigners about things one can’t discuss in Spanish. I asked if public demonstrations would be permitted – No way! There was a time when, if it was thought one was planning to emigrate, job promotions and other government-controlled privileges would be withheld. Now, these penalties apply to those who are known to be Catholic.

There are complaints about not being allowed to leave the country, although restrictions are hard for me to pinpoint. Some can’t leave because they lack $, of course. Many do not recognize that foreign governments place restrictions on visas. I was told the Cuban government demands a letter of invitation from a foreign country before they’ll allow one to leave – but I know for a fact that visitors require a letter of invitation from a Canadian before Canada will issue a visa! Someone spoke of the cost of a passport – but ours is higher. I was told that physicians, scholars and other groups aren’t allowed out, but I know of doctors who do travel and even work abroad. Merchants, too. Perhaps all these have property in Cuba, so it’s obvious they’re returning. I’m told they are charged a monthly fee for being out of the country. Cuba has also sent medical and military personnel abroad in large numbers. I was also told that the government controls travel within Cuba by recording identity cards. I can see that on some buses (certainly Viazul), but surely not on all, or in private cars – of which there may not be as many as it appears to me.

It’s quite understandable that the various triumphs and defeats during the revolution require constant re-examination; it’s quite amazing how they added up to the social formation of today’s Cuba. Cubans are very proud of their society – its medical and educational facilities, assumption of basic equality, personal security, nutritional safety net, etc. Artists especially told me they feel they earn a good income, have plenty of time to be with friends and family, and that there is a tremendous amount of voluntary assistance among friends.

Efraín Nadereau is a staunch supporter of the revolution. He only began making a living by painting in the Período Especial of the 1990s. There have been mistakes. These are being rectified, but it may be too late. Cuba should have developed its own socialism, rather than sovietising so much.

Sometimes it seems like the scramble for money serves to distract people from paying attention to political processes. Sports certainly do. It also helps to just plain make information unavailable. Consider the silence on the Payá funeral – at least, I didn’t see it.

It feels as if unleashing the creativity and flexibility of individuals could have resulted in a more abundant economy. The initiative  is obvious in the casa particular sector, where so much imagination goes into creating lodgings and caring for tourists. It’s wonderful that the Cuban government monitors the retail trade; at the same time, when regulations are too strict, there cannot be quick responses to changes in supply and demand.

Young people (under forty) have no interest in taking on government responsibilities. They know those in power are selecting only people just like them not those who want to do things any differently. The only new heroes are the five “spies” being held in U.S. prisons since 2000. From Cuba’s perspective, they were working to prevent terrorism – in Cuba. They had infiltrated anti-Cuban groups in the U.S. and have received really long maximum-security sentences in the U.S.

The world is changing so quickly with the Internet; will change come soon enough to avoid the waste of entire lifetimes? (That’s what makes people want to leave the country.) I do know there’s something wrong when you can’t trust your own people with information, as if they’re not knowledgeable or committed enough to understand it. Granted, opening up to all forms of information would require a huge effort of analysis and interpretation.

There was a big procession from Parque Céspedes to the cemetery to commemorate the Día de los Mártires (Day of the Martyrs), July 30, especially Frank Pais and Raúl Pujol. In preparation, curbs and houses along the whole street (a long one!) received a quick coat of paint. (The electricity was off for several hours during this procedure because last year, a couple of people were electrocuted doing these touch-ups, and no one wanted to be responsible for it happening again.) Before the procession started, big limousines rushed down the street I stood on (at right angles to the procession route); a big Black security guy jumped out of one, then back into it. The procession was led by a small military band – then by the political figures, Raúl Castro, Machado, others whose name I don’t know. People recognized them and gasped. My location was about 5 minutes from the start. A bunch of people waited there to join it – and a few left as well! Many were in work clothes and uniforms. It took 15 minutes for the whole procession to go by me – many people.



Music and dance link people everywhere. My first walk in Varadero, I went by a restaurant at which five latinos were being serenaded by 2 young men with guitars. One of the latinos – a Cuban host, I think – joined the guitarrists to sing. It was lovely music. Most tourist restaurants have a salsa orchestra with base, guitars, horns, drums, singers, playing the old songs. I think they enjoy singing and jamming together! At a paladar in Trinidad there was a trio who were briefly replaced by an adolescent boy and his sister. I saw 12-year old boys gathered around a guitar, practicing. In Trinidad there was a bar with several tables in the street outside. Various bands played, and locals invited tourists (especially women) to practice dancing salsa with them. I think it was there at the Casa de la música, on the steps, where a dj spun music and tourists had salsa lessons – but lots of others gathered as well. And in Santa Clara, a large salsa orchestra played under the archway, and people gathered and danced. Then consider the gathering places of Old Havana (e.g. the Café Europa) where both the music and the dance reached artistic levels, rather like the tango of La Boca of Buenos Aires. (Unlike the tango, where the bodies of dancers remain closely linked, in the salsa the essential point of communication is the arms.) The Casa de la Trova in Santiago had the most open, friendly music and dance sessions. It was their 40th anniversary, so acts were continuously changing all afternoon. I loved watching older men on the sidelines singing along. Most are musicians; they just change positions, on or off-stage. They move upstairs in the evening for serious music and dancing. It’s a whole way of life; I saw some of these musicians also playing at the Parque Céspedes, as buskers. And other specialize in teaching yumas (gringas) how to dance and feel sexy.

The Day of the Child (Día del Niño) was celebrated on the Prado (Paseo José Martí). There were lots of children, each with at least one adult, in a street activity  animated by a performer. They asked riddles, with children encouraged to speak up and participate, they led songs and dances which everyone knew (from TV? From school?). Adults modelled and encouraged salsa dancing in the children, so it’s no wonder they grow up knowing how! The cook at Casa Nivia encouraged 4-year old Beatriz in her dramatic pelvic thrusts.

There’s lots of life in the streets. People sit outside and watch others walk by, talk, visit – it’s cooler than in the house. Men group around tables and slap down dominoes with loud hollers, or quietly play chess. On Children’s Day, they practiced dominoes, chess, Chinese checkers and lego at tables on the paseo. It seems logical, with a shortage of cash, to attend all the free street events available! Kids play football. In fields, they play “pelota” – baseball. (Online, I’ve just seen “4skina”, a sort of handball-baseball cross played by teams of 4 players. Wish I’d seen that! Redbull sponsors a tournament.)

There are no foreign films showing in movie theatres. I saw Amor crónico in Havana, and it seemed to be playing all over the country. The movie theatre was large, dark, comfortable, airy, but not air conditioned. Locals paid CUP$3; I was charged CUC$3! On television there were US programs, w/ subtitles – e.g. The good wife and  Frontline.  I also saw an episode of Glee and wondered how it could possibly make sense. Some of these are very violent; others make North American society seem very illogical or unjust. Other television stations cover a good deal of sports. A Cuban station has Cuban music, culture, art. There is a Venezuelan CNN type station; unlike the Cuban TV, it’s full of political personalities. There are also light North American documentaries, e.g. one on Valentino, the fashion designer.

Cuban cemeteries seem to add on little compartments on top and in between, so getting to each of the niches is a little difficult. It’s a bit like construction, e.g. in Trinidad, where a kitchen is added on top of the existing building, or a terrace. (I’m assured it’s all properly re-barred concrete blocks.) The guide at the Santiago de Cuba cemetery explained that the custom is to bury the dead and exhume them after two years, clean off the bones, and bury them permanently in an ossuary, often part of a mausoleum. This is much smaller, so can be accommodated in nooks and crannies. Burial takes place within hours of death, and the state pays for everything but a tip for the grave-diggers. I think exhumation takes place at the same time across the whole cemetery; perhaps the government pays for cleaning the bones then, too. (I came across a blog on this subject.)

For funeral processions, a motorized hearse carries the coffin, with a couple of mourners inside. Others accompany it outside, often touching the hearse. It’s colorful. They take up the width of the street, and others move off to the side.

Hissing and whistling are ways to call others across a distance without yelling. Once I was hissed – “No photos!” Men have a repertoire of whistles, and I’d bet they have different whistles for different buddies. Informal greetings in the countryside: “Hola, cubanito!” “Hola, familia!”

Very few guayaberas are seen. Men wear sleeveless shirts, tee-shirts, cotton shirts w/ collars, and most often, polo shirts. Luis tells me guayaberas are associated w/ guajiros (peasants), so no one wants to wear them.

People commonly drink out of the same glass.

There’s a fairly close correlation between shoes and social status: the more closed the shoes, the higher the status. A clear marker is socks.

Marriage between Cubans and foreigners is quite common, for both men and women. Yunior’s was a sad story – in his words. He was working in Varadero and met a Swiss tourist who took a liking to him; he gave her daughter a beautiful shell, rather than charging her. She invited him onto the resort for beverages and meals, and they developed a friendship. She returned a few months later with her brother, and bought him a house and a car in Holguín, his hometown. She’s 47; he might be 30. Things were set – when an old girlfriend showed up with a baby who looked just like him. The Swiss woman ended the relationship. Now he’s trying to get a work permit to go to work in Brazil with his brother.


Artists have rediscovered the Taíno. One I visited in Baracoa had read accounts of their mythology by Spanish colonizers and painted his version of them. Perhaps, like many First Peoples, they are not extinct but under cover. For instance, a young boy pointed out plants used by his grandmother to prepare medicinal cocimientos – infusions. At least some of them would be prehispanic.

There were several museums, especially in Baracoa, with archeological artifacts. I was fascinated to see that the ceramics were very similar in material, construction and purpose to the pieces of pottery I have from Carriacou. In particular, it appears that one piece I’ve always thought was a handle is one – judging from numerous handles on display at the Museo Arqueológico in Baracoa – and that a flat piece I couldn’t identify before is a cassava bread griddle (comal).

La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre is patron of Cuba. This website has great photos of its location and interior.

Within sight, on a nearby hilltop, is the Monumento al Cimarrón. I didn’t go there, but this website offers interesting commentary and analysis:

Díaz, María Elena (n.d.) El Cobre, Cuba: politics of commemoration. Retrieved August 22, 2012 from She sees the Virgin and the Cimarrón as manifestations of orisha deities, additional to their Catholic and social roles. She provides her own photos and analysis, as well as links to videos, e.g. of Alberto Lescay, sculptor. He explains the importance of the Cimarrón – the person who would rather die than continue in subjugation. Fascinating! The African carries a heavy spiritual burden.

Roland, L. Kaifa (2011). Cuban color in tourism and la lucha: an ethnography of racial meaning. Oxford University Press.

I read this just before landing in Varadero. Roland is an Afro-American who did research in Cuba, so played the double and contradictory roles of being a foreigner and being black. Sometimes it was thought she was a jinetera – a Cuban trying to make money off a tourist. (I suspect that’s a euphemism for prostitute, in the case of a woman, and gigolo, in the case of a man.) Tourist hotel staff didn’t treat her well. She did marry a Cuban guy, and they divorced a few years later. They lived together in Cuba.

She describes how Afro-Cubans are a very saleable commodity, important to Cuban branding. There is orixa, music, dance, sex, art, even comedy. “Let me entertain you,” as Thomas King might say. Think of the clown in blackface. I quickly left the home of a couple who are renowned artists, when I saw the thick red lips of their subjects. Afro-Cuban caricatures are ubiquitous.

Still, there are said to be many Blacks in positions of importance, and I think they’d be offended to be told they’re discriminated against. Daniel said that there is no racism in Cuba – That’s one good thing about this government! He spoke of the disproportionate number of criminals who are black, and attributed poverty, over-representation in prisons, lack of ambition and education to their culture. His wife, Bonita, is slightly darker-skinned than he. Or rather, he is extremely fair. Sometimes she is thought to be his jinetera. Conversely, he is thought to be a foreigner, and has to show ID to pay the CUP price to enter museums. So when he says there is no racism, he must mean there’s no official, legal, institutionalized discrimination or segregation. See

Ravsberg, Fernando (2009). Hay racismo en Cuba? BBC Mundo, December 8, 2009. Retrieved August 30, 2012 from

Prejudice persists. It’s a polite racism.

Bonita is delighted that her son was born “con el pelo amarillo” (“with yellow hair”). Her mother once told her that we walk on black – hence black shoe polish – so she’d better not bring home anyone Black! “Oh, so racism is alive and well!” I snapped. Bonita explained that we’re all equal, and we have good friends who are black – but forming a family with them is a different question. In this same household, the senior man ate with the cook and cleaner, and talked with them freely, as equals.

Skin color of spouses was almost always  the same. (I kept thinking “matchy-matchy.”). Whenever there was a significant difference, the lighter partner was a foreigner, a tourist. Romance tourism.

I attended an afternoon rumba at the Centro Cultural Africano Fernando Ortiz. A dance group was performing – several women of various ages danced and drummed, some in  representation of different orixas. There was a man as well. Most of the audience was Afro-Cuban, but not all; many were familiar with rumba and sang along.  An older woman joined the group on stage, obviously familiar with it all; a young girl was also taken up, and promptly fell into a trance and was removed. El ashé está en Cuba was another book I read while there – the only real contemporary culture book – and made it clear that orisha is observed everywhere. One frequently sees devotees of the orixas in the city, in Havana, in particular, dressed in particular colors – white being the most common. Very prim and proper, very modest. Other orixas are more sensuous! From the Centro Cultural rumba a woman in Havana Centro recognized me and knew I’d been there.

Lorenzo, the bici-taxista, is Afro-Cuban and closely attached to Felipe and Sara, owners of one hostal. Lorenzo is in and out of their house several times a day, does small repairs, sits for a chat, is served a drink of water, runs errands (including bank deposits), does shopping, goes to pick up / drop off / provide guided tours for guests, and does his taxi business the rest of the time. Felipe sometimes loans him money, Lorenzo doesn’t always charge him for work done. I did not catch whether they tutear (address each other by the familiar “tú” but I think they do. Sara introduced him to me as Quencho, and Felipe asked if Lorencito were taking me to the bus.

I don’t know how many homes in Cuba have domestic workers, but in every hostal, the owners were Euro-Cubans and the workers were darker-skinned. Whenever people of unequal social status were together, the lighter-skinned were of higher status. Cooks were often Afro-American; servers, seldom.

I took a photo of a lovely art photo: an Afro-Canadian girl with her blond dollies. I have versions of that scenario from several decades and several societies.

Few couples have more than 1-2 children – “except the Blacks, of course,” said Rubén. They keep having lots. He thinks the best thing the Spanish ever did was to create the mulata – or the trigueña (wheat-colored), or mestiza – through the mating of the Spanish landowner and his African slave. (No mention of the mulato!) Many dark-skinned people have light-colored eyes.

“Chino” is of Gallego descent, his nickname from childhood, due to slightly slanted eyes. He told one of many jokes about the ignorant Gallego – a stereotype from the days of immigration, when Gallegos were the country bumpkins (like the Newfie, or the Polack): Interesting, it was a “negrito” who outsmarted them. (I was with an Afro-Cuban guide, a friend of Chino’s.)

In the photos of those killed at La Moncada and those martyred in 1958-59, almost all are Euro-Cuban (criollos, people of Spanish descent born in Cuba [or other colonies]). Likely the Afro-Cubans were too busy keeping body and soul together to know much about governments and revolutions. People with an immigrant Spanish grandparent can claim citizenship; if underage, even great-grandchildren can. Ties w/ Spain remain strong, as Cuba remained a colony until 1898. Also, Spain has a low birthrate and needs workers – perhaps preferring Spanish-speaking Euro-Cubans to Africans. The availability of Spanish passports for many Euro-Cubans creates a divide between them and Afro-Cubans, who lack that opportunity. Therefore, they also lack relatives who can send money from abroad! Maybe that helps explain why the procession for Martyrs’ Day (on the anniversary of Frank Pais’s death) included mostly Afro-Cubans. The revolution in Cuba is their only hope. See

Rivas Molina, Federico (2012). Racismo en Cuba: de eso no se habla. April 10, 2012. Retrieved August 30, 2012 at

Because the Revolution and the government have forbidden racism, it has surely been abolished, and so cannot be recognized. To make note of inequality is potentially threatening. Racismo en Cuba 2012 vs Lucha Armada  is a video demonstrating all too well how any chink can be exploited to undo all that has been accomplished. The orator ends with a hysterical, screaming call to take up machetes in a guerrilla action to overthrow the government, despite the inevitable innocent victims.

A society in which slavery was only abolished in 1884 must be expected to have a great deal of inequality correlating with the same physical attributes that once distinguished slave from owner. This is mitigated by the relatively high frequency of freed blacks, so there was never a 1:1 relationship between class and skin color, but a strong relationship exists nonetheless. Privilege and disadvantage are both inherited. Prohibiting the enforcement of subjugation makes it tempting to turn a blind eye to the fact of inequality.


It strikes me that the arts benefit when the economy – specifically, employment – suffers. I’m thinking of the great salsa music heard all over Cuba, the terrific Irish and Newfoundland musicians at the Canmore Folk Festival, and the carvings of Haida Gwaii. People have time to learn, practice and perform.

Emigrating to Spain is pretty good, I was told; one woman who had nothing here went to Spain and quickly found work caring for children during the day and an elderly person at night. A church organization that brought her food weekly, so she was was able to send money home to buy a house. Others send money back to build houses.

I remember how the Chilean refugees in Canada felt so rich with a welfare check and furniture collected from alleyways.

A cute Afro-Cuban young man and an ordinary European man came into a bar where I was having a coffee. They ordered guarapo (sugarcane juice), and the bartender made the white guy turn the crank of the sugar cane press. Later, the bartender walked towards me ostentatiously flopping his hands at the wrist. “Un desastre!”

It is not uncommon for people to strike up a conversation. A woman at the beach did, as did the fellow sitting on the Havana sidewalk, who gave me a mango. Then there was Iván, with whom I attended the movie Amor crónico, and Frank in Santa Clara. I learned to say “Hola” to just about everyone w/ whom I made eye contact. It seemed to break the ice and often led to conversation. Almost everyone (w/ the exception of some officials and people in offices) was more than pleasant and helpful. They went well beyond the necessary courtesy. I tried to remember to encourage a conversation with everyone I encountered, and they usually joined in. Then I tried to remember to photograph them, although I often forgot! No one refused.

I saw no news or information about crime or thefts. It could be going on all over, and one wouldn’t know. I expect if tourists were often targets, news would spread like wildfire. I also expect that anyone caught would be severely dealt with by the police and courts. Only once, when a man followed me around one too many turns in the cemetery in Camagüey, did I feel targeted or nervous. (I turned around and said, “Hola!” and that was that.) However, there were lots of times I was rude to people, brushed them off. Although most were likely trying to sell me something, I never figured out how to say “No, thank you” pleasantly.

Except for government employees, people dress quite casually: shorts, tank tops, topless (men), rolling up shirts to expose their bellies (men).

Electricity doesn’t seem to be too much of a problem. I wasn’t asked to limit air conditioner use, and didn’t notice lights being turned off a lot. Carmita did say that the electricity bill alone for her house would cost her entire pension. Cubans never turned on an air conditioner in their homes; it was strictly for foreigners and some government offices, e.g. ETECSA and CADECA. (I usually just used a fan.)

Crossing the street requires caution, but drivers are very respectful of crosswalks (stripes) and lights.

Public bathrooms weren’t bad at all. I never used any of the toilet paper I took with me. However, (just as in Spain in the 1970s) one does have to carry small coins to pay the attendants. If bathrooms are decent, it’s because of them. They fix things even if toilets aren’t working! I’d take RV toilet paper in future – not Kirkland thick stuff. Usually, toilet paper is placed in a waste basket, as sewer systems can’t handle it, and definitely can’t handle the two layers!

I have some pictures of cakes, pastries made by particular businesses or bakeries (never actually saw them being made). They’re in lovely pastel colors, very ornate even in the hot weather. Marg Gray says that, even in the 1950s, the lovely-looking frosting was mostly whipped lard! I rather suspected it.

Books are extremely cheap, costing in CUP what I would expect to pay in CUC, e.g. $15-20. That’s less than a dollar. There are not a lot of books in bookstores, but they seem less scanty, given the price! Still, I only twice saw people reading books. One was David, of Casa Carmita; he picked up Manuel Barnet’s Gallego from the library after seeing me with it, and reads a lot on his own. (I found a used copy of a book of classical anthropology readings which I left him.) The other was a server at the Castillo del Morro near Santiago; his was by a Christian author. was invaluable for reserving space at B&Bs throughout Cuba. And Viazul provided great bus service.

I found it somewhat difficult to find my way around Santiago de Cuba. I learned that maps are two-dimensional, but when there are multiple hills, reality has three! And streets are infrequently labelled, which adds to my confusion.

There are lots of steep ladders and staircases w/out handrails in Cuba! There were a number of times when I just refused to go up, knowing how frightening it would be to come down. Similarly, I’m not good at going out alone after dark. Missed the whole Santiago Carnival for that reason. I’d better make arrangements for the Trinidad Carnival!

There is a good deal of physical affection, shoulder patting (more like hugging) and embracing. I found this a little disconcerting, because it initially feels manipulative, to me.

Supervision – shadowing got a bit tiresome at museums and art galleries. I kept having to remind myself that this was a job for these (mostly) women, and to tip them just to help out a bit.

Knowing how short money is, I’d offer someone money after a particularly long conversation, or for taking a photograph of something they were selling, but I wasn’t buying. They didn’t always accept the money. For those occasions, I wish I’d followed Karen’s advice and carried small gifts, e.g. cosmetics or stationery. Those would have been accepted.

It was a great idea to bring a high-quality thermal mug, for hot and cold beverages, e.g. water and beer. Tap water in Cuba may not be safe to drink. Cubans say it’s safe for them, but not for us. I used bottled water for brushing teeth, too. As always, it’s a good idea to carry a sink plug for sinks that lack them. A small microfiber towel would have been great for wiping sweat. Glad I took my pillow! Should have #20 sunscreen; #15 is barely enough.

I did not want to buy stuff. I resisted wood carvings, partly because they started to look mass-produced, though they’re not. I would have been more tempted had they been two-dimensional. In Trinidad there was beautiful white-on-white embroidery and crochet; I resisted that because of my “allergy” to white, and having no use for it. I did photograph, however! I also resisted buying the animals woven out of palm fronds. The only things I bought were two orixa masks made of leather, shells and wood. Interestingly, they were just about the first thing I saw, at an art gallery in Varadero – and the last thing.

It’s a good idea to have one’s hostal arrange for pickup at the bus terminal. It’s a little hairy wading through all the offers of taxis and lodgings, and it’s good to establish a relationship for one’s departure and various tours.

Lonely planet frequently mentions jineteros/as, and I’m sure that can be a problem. But I had great experiences with people who responded to an “Hola!” by falling into step with me and then beginning to comment on our surroundings, accompanying me to and through various areas. (I often wished I had more such guidance, to explain how shopping is done, for instance! Would have loved to go with a woman into  bodegas, etc.) I’m thinking of Aslién, the 12-year old who walked up the hill with me in Trinidad, or Agustín, the 82-year old in Santiago de Cuba. He led me up the hill to the seminary, down to the Carnaval site, and back up to Plaza de los Dolores, where we finally found coffee.

I love street sounds, and when I can have windows open and fan off to listen.

Some day, walk/run the Varadero beach from one end to the other, popping into the water as needed to cool off.

Although I wasn’t aware of medical tourism, when I had a stiff neck, I quickly found a clinic for foreigners, w/ a pharmacy.

Haida Gwaii

HAIDA GWAII, JUNE 10-25 2012





JOINT REVIEW PANEL                 

HAIDA GWAII PRIDE                                 



HAIDA GOVERNMENT                            

MY FEELINGS                                            



Photo album link:


PLACES – in no particular order

The ferry arrived in Skidegate at 6 a.m. Monday morning, way before anyone was up or anything was open. I remembered to buy a cup of coffee on the ferry before disembarking, and drove around for a couple of hours before arriving at the Vogan’s place, ”Serenity Now,” in Tlell. (Bolding indicates there’s a photo in the album.) All nice, green, clean. Tlell is approximately half-way between Queen Charlotte at the southern end of Graham Island and Masset at the north, so was a great location from which to travel in both directions.

My first walk, after coffee and conversation with Peter, was to the beach, where everyone seeks agates. It’s not altogether smooth or effortless; there are stretches of sand, small pebbles, and larger rocks to walk on. I was happy to return on the paved road! An astounding number of eagles were on the beach: big black-and-white ones, lots of juveniles, in two cases one bird keeping control of a large fish while others hung about, hoping to share. There were eagle feathers on the beach. I come from the Prairies, where eagles are almost always “escorted” by ravens who are in turn harassed by songbirds; here, I have yet to see a gull, and assume they’re scared off by the eagles.

On my second day, I went to the Haida Heritage Centre, Kaay Llnagaay ( Josh, our guide, explained the poles. Six of them were erected at the site in 2001, all in one week, each one in a day. Each honors one of the communities that was amalgamated into Skidegate (and Masset?) as a result of the smallpox epidemics of the early 20th century. [Here’s a great account of the poles: Lordon, Ian (2000). Drawing connections. In Spruce Roots Magazine, September/October 2000]. Josh speaks his language – though not fluently – and has worked at the Skidegate Haida Immersion Program (SHIP). He took a year of criminology and planned to go into the RCMP (along with several of his peers), but then he made a presentation at the Pipeline Inquiry, and several people said he should take on a political role. He told me that the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel hearings would be at the George Brown Recreation Centre for two days. “Would it be OK for me to attend?” I asked. It would be great!

I went for the 1 ½ hour Spirit Lake Walk another morning; it only took me 2 hours! I halted often to seek out birds, including the hermit thrush, mountain bluebird, Steller’s jay, red-breasted sapsucker, and the dark-eyed junco.

Wiggins Road is in Tlell, home to a number of artists at Sitka Studios, the Crystal Cabin with jewelry, and Ernie Burnett’s wood-carving. Ernie builds beautiful carved boxes, trays, plates and placques mostly of cedar cut long ago. He uses many Haida designs, and geometric ones reminiscent of Raven’s Tail weaving. I saw a box fetch a really substantial price at Queen Charlotte Hospital Days silent auction!

After spending all day the 14th at the Northern Pipeline hearings, I stopped on the way home to walk on Jungle Beach – a great, long, sandy, walking and swimming beach. I find it hard to walk on rocks; this was far easier. At the entrance to the beach is a chainsaw carved black bear, by Dick Bellis; at the parking lot is a spiral staircase of stackwood construction, likely made by Netonia Yalte (see article and images in “Queen of the Stackwall,” by Susan Musgrave, at

Just as the Village (once “City”) of Queen Charlotte is called “Charlotte,” Port Clements is called “Port.” And one doesn’t get things (e.g. gas) “in” Port, but “at” Port. It’s a nice little one-time forestry town of a few hundred inhabitants. As recommended, I went to the grocery store first. I spoke w/ a young woman whose mother owns it. She is a student at VIU (Vancouver Island University, in Nanaimo) and works here in the summer. She’s very proud of the grocery store and the produce they bring in. I noted the Nestle’s Turkish Delight dipped in chocolate. I haven’t seen it in so long I almost bought some, even though I don’t actually like it! There are good fruits and vegetables, cheese and milk, meat, cereals, nuts and trail mix, cleaning supplies – just about everything, including wine. Prices are high, but not exhorbitant. I paid more on Haida Gwaii for a tank of gas than I think I’ve ever paid, but considerably less for wine! Harmonie’s Café serves great soup and (I heard other customers say) hamburgers. She came here as a tree planter.

Queen Charlotte reminds me of the towns of southern Chile. Houses on steep hillsides overlook the port: lots of rain, lots of vegetation, lots of wooden construction, often unpainted. It lacks only wild fuschias. I went to see a campground and found a cemetery. A fresh eagle feather sat on one grave. There were a number of WWII casualties, always recognizable because they’re in tidy rows.

In Masset there is a very moss-covered cemetery, close to the wildlife observatory. One grave was piled with agates and scallop shells. Masset had a military base from World War II until the 1990s. Other elements that stand out to me are the abandoned military buildings and the beautiful Co-op store! There is also the Entrance to the Dixon Inlet Maritime Museum, dedicated mostly to maritime topics (!), just as the Port Clements Museum is mostly about forestry. The volunteer at the museum in Masset was a Filipina woman who came here – must be over 25 years ago – with her Canadian husband – military? He and her sons are fishermen, though she gets seasick!

Between Masset and Massett there is a kilometre or two of paved walkway (and road) lined with salmonberry bushes. Many people walk it, passing the hospital on the way. Old Massett consists primarily of roads paralleling the water. There are poles in front of most public buildings and some homes, as in Skidegate. Each is there for many reasons, honoring and remembering people, showcasing the skills and hard work of artists and artisans, and embodying reams of meaning, history and relationships. Flying overhead and on the beach are countless eagles. I came to a place on a wall above a beach below which were many eagles. I got close to the edge to take a picture, and caused a huge flock to take off.  They were focusing on and squabbling over fish carcasses. (I’m not sure why they weren’t on the grass above, as there were fresh fish remains there, too.) I felt rude and intrusive!

Houses in Old Massett are often self-construction, each quite different from the rest. Many are beautiful, multistoreyed, taking advantage of the scenery. Others – not so much. The houses in worst shape – the ones most likely to be collapsing – are the mass-produced ones. I’m guessing the ownership arrangements are different; or the actual construction, materials and designs are a lot worse; or I’m prejudiced, and that’s just what I see. If I understand correctly, houses (but not the land under them) are privately owned, so this could well just indicate wealth disparity. I’m told there are no building codes, and contractors are unreliable.

At the end of the road, beyond Jim Hart’s longhouse and carving shed, is the cemetery. It’s a beautiful and sad place, where one can feel enormously grateful to these ancestors who gave life to the people there today – and grief for those whose remains were taken away, and have only recently been brought back home.  (Not to mention the thousands who died of epidemic diseases, leaving devastated communities.) A number of graves we repatriated from the Chicago Field Museum, one dated 2010. (  The oldest of the graves date back to the 1820s.

At Haida Art and Jewelry in Massett, Sarah has some spectacular pieces, e.g. of copper and silver bracelets. There are many woven cedar hats, and an argillite and walrus tusk carving (these by Cooper Wilson).

Tow Hill Road, Agate Beach Provincial Park and campground and North Beach lie beyond Masset; the road changes from paved to gravel and dirt, but is perfectly passable. Agate Beach is a couple of miles of rounded pebbles in all colors, sorted into sizes by the wave action. There are places on the beach where the pebbles rattle as they’re dragged out to sea by the water, only to be thrown up into the air and onto the beach by the next incoming wave! In other spots, there’s a much lower-pitched rumbling of larger stones. There is much to look at – sky, trees, eagles and ravens – but the pebbles and rocks are mesmerizing. They come in many different colors – grey, white, red, green, amber – and there is always the chance of finding an agate. People seem to have jars of them, polished and not. They are beautiful, and addictive.

Just beyond Agate Beach is Tow Hill. It’s large, and seems to emerge out of nowhere. (Oh, how I regret never taking geology!) It’s made out of a relatively soft rock – basalt, maybe? The boulders that have fallen off the cliff onto the beach below are eroded by pebbles in ways that remind me of gigantic-wale corduroy, or multi-humped camels. But another geological question is, what is the source of all those different pebbles on the beach? Where do they originate?

The trail up Tow Hill is a great switch-backed trail, every inch of it a boardwalk (some with handrails) and a grippy material like sandpaper or roof shingles underfoot. Very secure feeling on terrain and boards that would otherwise be really slippery when wet, which it usually is. On steeper sections there are steps, with yellow reflector on the edge. Going up felt really good, for the physical activity, but I was a little nervous about coming down. I stopped frequently to reassure myself that I would not be too frightened about falling off on the descent. It turned out just fine, given the surface, and I focused on stepping off with alternating feet to prevent myself from thinking of the edges.

About 2/3 of the way up is the lookout to North Beach. This is a beach that goes on for many miles; vehicles can drive it much of the way. Being way up high, the view of row after row of waves was marvellous. At the top, the lookout is over Agate Beach and the countryside in that direction. Most of the surrounding land is swampy and muskeggy. Lots of water showing through between trees.

One morning, I went to Port Clements and walked to where the Golden Spruce once stood. Actually, I walked way past it. When I finally decided the trail I was on through grass was used by nothing but deer and turned back, I arrived at a large log across the trail – and my reading glasses, which had fallen off as I climbed over it! That’s also where the sign was, indicating the place where the tree had been, until it was cut down by a misguided environmentalist. (He later disappeared canoeing across the inlet in a storm.) Perhaps I was distracted by the otter swimming in the water.

Peter met me there and drove me through back roads to the location of an ancient half-built canoe, in the process of being shaped out of a log. There was a tree nearby that had been tested for soundness by chopping a hole into its core. The construction of the canoe may have stopped because the log was found to have split lengthwise, down the center. It’s covered in beautiful green moss, and is surrounded by spongy wet compost.

Then I walked on Sunset Park Trail from the Port Clements municipal campground. It goes to a lovely bird lookout that climbs up to the canopy and overlooks a huge estuary that must just be humming with activity at the right time of day/year. The trail also goes through the woods, past culturally modified trees – but this work could have been done by industrial loggers. I did see one warbler, just as a guidebook predicted might happen at that place.

My last day on Haida Gwaii I joined a tour to Gwaii Haanas, the National Park Reserve including the islands other than Graham. At 7:30 a.m., I took a half-hour ferry ride from Skidegate to Moresby, a one-hour van ride to the point from which zodiaks are launched, and a five or six hour tour stopping at a number of places on Louise Island, returning to Skidegate by 6 p.m. The gravel road by van is rough, and the sea was sometimes rough as well – though not usually. It was raining and pretty cold, but between my clothing and what was supplied by Moresby Explorers, it was fine. I had a rain jacket with a wonderful hood with a large peak that fastens down low over my face, until I look up into the wind. They supplied rubber boots, big rubber overalls, and a rubber coat. These were heavy enough to cut the wind and be pretty warm – though they were also heavy enough to be quite hard to move around in, especially lifting feet!

The tour was by Moresby Explorers; their great description of the tour is at; my part corresponds to a bit less than the first page!

We visited one industrial archeology site, where there is all sorts of machinery left from harvesting Sitka Spruce to make Mosquito aircraft in WWII; light and wooden, radar didn’t detect the planes. Lots of metal debris is overgrown with moss, as are leather boots and bottles. There was a Haida cemetery very nearby (New Kloo); I’m surprised it wasn’t destroyed, but maybe much of it was looted. A Haida village was there for a brief period, as residents of all villages were beginning to converge at Skidegate, as the missionaries wanted. (Much mortality and ease of administration, the likely motives.) We stopped at another site where a few enormous trees had been left untouched, just to see what they were like. Pretty incredible. We also stopped at a sea lion rookery – a small, rocky, very smelly little island. On our way back in the van we saw a bear with two cubs.

The central focus was on K’uuna Linagaay (Skedans), which had been a village of 26 longhouses, with many mortuary, memorial, and house poles. These were earth lodges, and seem to have been sunken some 4 feet into the ground. (It’s not clear to me whether some of this excavation is archeological.) That’s interesting, because I’ve never seen a portrayal of a longhouse that was dug in at all. Housing partly below ground level usually makes sense, depending on the water level.      The major beams of village houses were permanent, but the planks for siding and roof were removable, to be used in building more temporary houses in camps.

The Haida Watchman who toured us around gave many examples of memorial plaques, poles and portions thereof that had been taken away by American tourists, government, museums, etc. Scientists removed the remains of unknown numbers of people from mortuary poles. Although many have been repatriated, they are unidentified beyond whether they were Northern or Southern Haida. As late as the 1970s, lumber companies destroyed much of the village. Emily Carr painted the poles in 1907. The sites and poles had already been recorded and photographed even before that. Recognized as remarkable (if not monumental), how could people justify removing so much? I guess it goes back to the idea that these were dead, abandoned places and cultures, “in the middle of nowhere.” Add to that “finders keepers.” This is the kind of place that gives some the impression Haida culture is gone and dead, the total opposite of the feeling elicited by pole raisings! ( expresses it, but I don`t know whose talk is transcripted! Could be Jim Hart.) There is a direct connection between the two as the places and designs of the ancestors provide the inspiration for the present. Watchman also pointed out that poles that have been propped up crumble quickly, while those that are allowed to fall retain their features.

Sailing between islands, it was really easy to see that, prior to a rise in sea level, these were hills. The narrows between Louise and Moresby Islands has been dredged out, being originally too narrow even for a zodiac! Driving up the valley of the Stikine on the mainland the next day, it was easy to imagine the many small hills becoming islands, if the water level rose. Each would abruptly end in a drop-off at sea level, and no beach at all.

(Today is a spectacularly beautiful day, so much so it has me all choked up and sad about leaving here in two days. As I drove to Charlotte, the landscape was full of landmarks. Even last night’s late drive home seemed short.)




The Haida population is centred at Skidegate and at Old Massett (“the Village”); both are reserves. The other communities (Charlotte, Tlell, Port, Tow Hill) are largely Euro-Canadian.

People wave in the streets, when passed by a car. Rather like me in Grande Prairie, I suppose; chances are I’ll soon know the person, if I don’t already. In Masset in particular, they carry jackets; again, chances are that if it’s not raining, it soon will be.

Barb is the potter at Island Time Pottery, next door to the Dixon Museum.  Despite years in Canada, her American accent comes through (Oregon?)! She sells lots of stuff besides her beautiful blue pottery! She first came to Canada hunting, then had an oil-patch business in Slave Lake, Alberta. She came to Haida Gwaii after the divorce. She seemed to quickly understand what I was looking for, that I wanted to listen to people (both newcomer, like herself, and Haida), and provided me with guidance and pointers. I so appreciate it! (And I wonder what term the people of Haida Gwaii use for what I call “newcomers”!) She suggested I go talk to women who would likely be weaving at the gas bar in Old Massett.

I found the Raven’s Tail weaving at Sherri’s Gas Bar in Old Massett. It’s a big Quonset hut of a place, with a freezer and cookstove on one side, long and immensely thick plank bar down the middle, television and sitting area at the back, and tables with at least one loom going all the time, in the front. Sherri Dick is the weaver here, teaching and helping out many more (including me). (Here she’s on the cover of Haida Laas:

Raven’s Tail Weaving uses the colors I’m used to seeing in Chilkat blankets (black, white, yellow, some turquoise), but in geometric patterns rather than in forms, and the method of finger weaving is quite different. Tsimshian weaver Willy White is her mentor. Sherri has beautiful tattoos, some following very old patterns, some very modern and multicoloured. She owns the gas bar and runs it with her partner, Mick Morrison, when he’s not milling huge logs. She was weaving the apron for a funeral potlatch, I believe.

(Lisa Hageman Yahgulaanas provides a wonderful discussion of weaving and a lovely autobiography of a weaver. She also describes the historical transition from Raven’s Tail to button to applique blankets. (For Chilkat, see (For button blankets, see;jsessionid=7473E3D0368067BF9188A869F9AAFD19?method=preview&lang=EN&id=9457)

I later took the weaving tour at the Kaay Llnagaay, again with Josh. He pointed out cedar plaiting (as in making a mat, over and under – herringbone), cedar weaving with strands of cedar bark, removal of the cedar bark from the tree, stripping it down. The cedar mat on display was made by him and his nonny, his grandmother. (Chinnee is grandfather.) In another form, cedar strips are held in place with mountain goat’s wool; a chief’s robe made by Sherri using this method is on display. Spruce roots are also woven, harvested in a sandy place where they grow long, stripped of bark, split down the middle, the pith removed, then twisted. A robe by Lisa Hageman Yahgulaanas is there, of the Raven’s Tail type. White and black yarn are twisted around the white warp, the one showing in front depending on what the pattern calls for, with yellow substituting for white every six rows. The weaving goes only from right to left – not back again – and I can’t figure out what becomes of the threads on the right, or how ends are finished off, for that matter. Although Sherri buys her wool online from many places, including South America, it was often thigh spun in the past – twisted on the thigh.

There are at least two other forms of blankets made now. One uses a wool background with ultrasuede shapes appliqued on in tiny stiches ( There are button blankets as well.

I spent some time with two young women at Sherri’s place. One had been adopted out to Vancouver, along with her sister. She’s now back in the community, trying to find her way and her identity. (I’d been wondering – given the emphasis on matrilineality and parentage, in presenting oneself, what would be the position of a child born out of wedlock?) She wants to act, she’s a great dancer and a charismatic performer. . . It’s not easy, learning to ask for anything, she says, but that’s what a person is expected to do, with family. The other girl is working in safety (first aid?) in Fort Saint John. She was just getting started on her first Raven’s Tail headband, and got going on her blue and white one before she took it with her, back to work. I also met Mick’s son Owen, who rode with me back to Grande Prairie this week, on his way back to Edmonton.

I met Tasha about two-thirds of the way up Tow Hill. She’s a young girl of about 21 who was walking down. She answered my questions about the descent very knowledgeably and reassuringly; she works for the provincial park, collecting campers’ fees and checking the trails. Her other part-time job is at the Hidden Island campground. She’s taking business at Langara College in Vancouver, while her boyfriend is taking anthropology at UBC or SFU. They hope to come back and put their educations to use. She’s a very positive person, wishing the weather would improve but understanding the rain is needed to create this beautiful environment. I should be in Old Massett for National Aboriginal Day on Thursday, she said. People are madly working on the pole honoring Residential School Survivors, to be raised that day.

Myles and Amy Edgars are father and daughter, carvers of argillite. There is a sign by the road in front of his house, on Raven Street in Old Massett. As I went up to the front door, a 5-year old with a blackened face told me his chinnee  was around the corner in his studio. It’s a small room off a small house; everything and everyone is covered in argillite dust.

I went into the studio because I’d already purchased one of his pendants, because the sign was outside, and because I’d seen a website featuring Myles ( Amy and her brother go to Slatechuck Mountain near Skidegate to get the argillite, which only the Haida can quarry. ( They bring it down in huge hunks which they paint to keep it moist. Any color or type of paint will do, says Myles. Then the slate is sliced with a table saw, marked with a template, and cut out with a small-toothed saw. Features are chiseled and smoothed, and the edges rounded, blowing off loose dust as they go. The material is pretty soft. I’m not sure if something is applied to protect the surface, or whether time dries it out. Often abalone shell is cut to form eyes, glued on with Superglue. The process makes for uniform pieces, each handmade. These argillite carvings are not factory-made in China! Most of theirs are 2-dimensional pendants, but they do some 3-dimensional. I wondered how healthy it is to breathe argillite dust and absorb it through the skin; probably not great.

At the offices of the Council of the Haida National Council in Skidegate,  I found April Churchill behind a desk not her own. Ms Churchill is the Vice President of the Executive Council of the Haida Nation; Guujaaw is the President. She’s smart, assertive, well-informed, has a broad vision, a very mainstream (but not conformist!) political formation and vocabulary, with a very indigenous orientation. To the Joint Review Panel of the Northern Gateway Pipeline Project, she spoke of Parliament currently passing the omnibus budget bill, invoking the larger picture. (  She was the one who addressed the audience as “Honored Chiefs, Women Held in High Esteem. . .” (as opposed to “Ladies”). She uses that term because that’s what her nonny said. Many people speak of the matriarchs, but she doesn’t like that term. “We’re a patriarchal society,” she says. By that she means that the men are the ones in charge, the spokespersons – but on the other hand, the women monitor pretty carefully what the men say. She watched a tableful of Tsimshian (I think) women watching their chief speak. As long as he stuck to the line they’d specified, they looked down at the table, at their hands in their laps. When he began deviating from the script they looked up, one by one, until he caught on and backed away from the microphone until he’d gathered his thoughts. Still, women aren’t matriarchs in the sense of bosses; they sustain, support and promote the men.

April comes from a long line of weavers. I think most of hers is cedar.  This article provides a great example of this artists’ family connections!

A server at a coffee shop in Charlotte is a young woman, six months pregnant. She was living on the Sunshine Coast with her Haida man when she learned she was pregnant. He wanted nothing to do with it, so she moved here, where she’s receiving lots of support from the whole community, including the baby’s grandmother. Although Haida descent is matrilineal (and, for all I know, she may be as well), the Haida Constitution says all people of Haida ancestry are Haida ( I think non-Haida women are often adopted into a family (presumably into the opposite moiety of their male partner) to provide clear clan and moiety membership to their children. The Constitution of the Haida nation states that those adopted by Haida families don’t have hereditary or aboriginal rights to the land. It would be worthwhile to adopt non-Haida to enlist them as spokespersons and allies.

. I sat with a Euro-Canadian woman and a Haida woman for supper at Hospital Day. Both had worked for the hospital before retirement. The first woman came here from Saskatchewan in the 1960s, left and returned to marry. They say births have changed. It was not uncommon for them to have 27 births in a week but now there are very few, because women are sent to the mainland to have their babies. Women no longer come here from Masset to give birth, because they have their own hospital now. There used to be a lot of injuries and accidents with sawmills, lumber work and fishing; those are now uncommon.


Queen Charlotte City (like Hazelton) is full of signs opposing the pipeline, all hand made. Coming from Alberta, where petrochemical exploitation is assumed to be inevitable (“We can’t stop development!” said Premier Stelmach), and people take it for granted because their lives are dependent on it, I love being in a place where alternatives are still possible.

June 13-14 I attended the Enbridge Pipeline hearings here in Skidegate. The George Brown is a large recreational centre, basketball-court size. Although it was built in the 1970s, it’s been beautifully kept up, well painted, lovely murals inside. There were about 100 people there this morning, and 150 there this evening. Presenters were placed in shifts of four, each one speaking for ten minutes. For the most part, there was no clear reason they were together. All were very articulate and well prepared. I think I saw some forty presentations, and no two were the same, though they all spoke in opposition to the pipeline and, especially, the tankers to be loaded in Kitimat.

Long tables were arranged across the width of the basketball court. At the front (perpendicular to the audience tables) were arranged tables for the panel, transcribers and translators. Across from them, two more tables: one for presenters, one for chiefs. Down one side were bleachers; down the other, space for media and tables with coffee, muffins and snacks. Several women in the audience knitted, making me wish I had mine!

Proper presentations begin with greetings to the “Hereditary Chiefs, Ladies Held in High Esteem, Members of the Panel, precious friends, and good people.” The matrilineal system is very much in evidence. Most presenters, newcomers and Haida, began by speaking of their family history: their parents, where they were raised with how many siblings, their children and grandchildren. The farewell to Panel members is, “May you travel home safely and be warmly welcomed by your family.”

Morning presenters were newcomers, and spoke of the need to protect the islands, the beaches and the oceans. Having just arrived, they made me aware of how important the ocean and shore are to the people of this place. Teachers described how the environment of Haida Gwaii fits into their curriculum. The integration and interrelationship of salmon, bear, trees, and birds is obvious to the students, something that is talked about in the stories they hear at home as well as in a science class in school. What struck me in particular was one teacher`s point that zoos, science centres and grocery stores are all right here, in the immediate environment, not in a segregated space and not requiring field trips to unfamiliar places.

People who guide tourists on kayaks and boats and such have been presenting as well. They are particularly aware of the ecosystem, as they get around a lot. Among those making statements at the hearings were fishermen, employees of Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, secondary school students, foresters, environmental consultants, artists and nurses.

There was a large oil spill near Red Deer over the last couple of days. Premier Alison Redford accepts some risk, and hopes the recent heavy rainfall will dilute the contamination over the next while, so it won’t affect the drinking water too much. News of other spills in Alberta (e.g. Elk Point) – and others across the continent was not reassuring.

There was outrage that the federal government of Canada appears to have already made up its mind. In early January, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Minister of the Environment Joe Oliver stated their belief that foreign (U.S.) -sponsored radical environmentalists were behind opposition to the pipeline (Oliver’s open letter is at . )

And where do pipeline advocacy groups get their funding?

Some interesting statements I heard:

–       We have used the resources of this land since before there was light and dark.

–       New jobs created will not replace the jobs lost if there is an accident.

–       The interconnection of all living things is not a theory. It’s a fact.

–       Ballast water discharges from tankers will also be polluting.

–       We’re here today to take care of the ocean, the way it takes care of us.

–       Nature provides for us in great abundance. After all, it once supported 30,000 people; only 1/6 that many live here now.

–       There is much that is magic and spiritual in this location and this environment. Eagles drop feathers on individuals; bears appear upon request.

–       The storms here are incredibly powerful, reaching hurricane strength in minutes.

–       Eight really fluent Haida speakers remain. One (the ninth) died recently, providing 21 new words the day before he passed on.

–       The pipeline is to traverse 600 rivers and streams, many used by salmon, through avalanche territory, in earthquake country. The strongest earthquake ever in Canada measured 8.1 in Queen Charlotte City in 1949.

–       Haida Gwaii is the Galapagos of the North.

–       A student provided a litany of oil spills, many of them Enbridge’s.

–       “Kick the oil habit!”

–       I hope no one comes from far away to your home to endanger your livelihood for the sake of their profit.

–       There is concern about the pipeline and ruptures to it and even more for the tankers, which could cause huge spills, as the Exxon Valdez did in Alaska. The Queen of the North and Red Deer were also mentioned frequently.

–       The bitumen will be sent to China to be paid for by Chinese slave labor, producing goods to be sold here cheaply, displacing Canadian labor and increasing unemployment.

–       Oil should be refined in Canada, adding value and employment, enforcing better labor and environmental standards.

–       There are threats to Canadian sovereignty, as Americans and their tankers don’t recognize maritime territorial rights.

–       Nature deficit disorder: behavioral problems resulting from children spending too little time out of doors. [Nature deficit disorder. (2012, May 7). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 06:37, June 15, 2012, from]

–       The best system is subject to system mistakes – when things just start going wrong. Also called the domino effect.

–       This was quoted twice: Message from Chief Skidegate

People are like trees, and groups of people are like the forests. While the forests are composed of many different kinds of trees, these trees intertwine their roots so strongly that it is impossible for the strongest winds which blow on our islands to uproot the forest, for each tree strengthens its neighbour, and their roots are inextricably intertwined.

In the same way the people of our Islands, composed of members of nations and races from all over the world, are beginning to intertwine their roots so strongly that no troubles will affect them.

Just as one tree standing alone would soon be destroyed by the first strong wind which came along, so it is impossible for any person, any family, or any community to stand alone against the troubles of this world.

Chief Skidegate – Lewis Collinson, March 1966

–       In 1988, Canada signed an agreement to protect Haida Gwaii. Failing to do so would be criminal.

–       We can’t see any possible way this could be in our best interests.

–       Seaweed is used to fertilize kitchen gardens. The sea feeds the land.

–       Joe Oliver, Minister of the Environment, portrays Haida as simple-minded, externally manipulated.

–       Enbridge says 12 First Nations have signed agreements to the project. Of those, only 2 actually have the pipeline crossing their territory. (Gitksan appeared to agree – but seem to be pulling out.)

–       I cannot allow this. Everything that I eat is part of me and says “No” to your project. The foods that we are say “No.” You people scare the hell out of me. I was called forward by my clan to represent and speak for them. I will not allow you to threaten the land.

–       This land is our home. Our passion for this land has been perceived as a threat. We are threatened.

–       I stand with my fellow chiefs. We stand in opposition to the Gateway Project. We have created an accord and we signed it. We represent clans with chiefs and also clans without chiefs, and those who have been adopted.

A group of children dancers wanted to perform; the commission refused, as the hearings are for spoken presentations only. The dancers’ teacher made her presentation; she described what the dance would have been, and the sadness of the children. Dramatization was definitely involved here, coming from both sides: the commission, “The rules is the rules.” The dance group, “We want to present our message in a traditional way.” Really, is there only one way to communicate? Several people spoke in Haida, and it would have been good if someone had used only Haida. (A song was forbidden, also.)

During the course of these hearings, a number of individuals spoke of demonstrations, blockages, civil disobedience, and their willingness to lay down their own lives to defend the land and ocean. They were sternly warned by Sheila Leggett (Panel Chair) that such threats of violence were not helpful to the inquiry and would not be tolerated. In one of the last statements, a Chief suggested – without directly confronting her – that the violence was coming from the threat of environmental devastation, from the pipeline and tankers, not from the Haida or the people of Haida Gwaii. I mean, who is being violent here?

Thinking of Immanuel Wallerstein and the world economic order (globalization): it continues to be true that local systems are destroyed in order to satisfy distant needs. The Haida confronted MacMillan Bloedel over Lyell Island in the 70s, and the consequences of logging on a gigantic scale are apparent all over the Islands. This struggle provides renewed cause for activism.

During today’s lunch break I went to Charlotte for the post office. The Visitors’ Centre has Internet, so I checked out the Northern Gateway Pipeline Inquiry, and was delighted to find a great deal of information online ( – including transcripts of all the statements. That’s a great resource, so not having taken a pile of notes was OK!

I’m so grateful Josh brought the hearings to my attention. They gave me such great exposure to a broad section of the community, and to what matters to them.



In this place, the people’s relationship with the environment has not been severed. They know they can still obtain a great deal of what they need (e.g. for food, construction, medicine, and fuel) from their immediate surroundings. Money is needed for the extras, for luxuries. This is not a place, or a nation, where special-purpose culture camps are always needed. They never cease. There is a clear understanding that sharing food from the sea, from the tidal zone and from the land creates and reaffirms community. The right to use resource sites is controlled by the families that constitute the community.

I’m told much was lost – but much has been recuperated. No wonder it was lost; it is commonly said that the Haida population dropped from 30,000 to 300. The total current population of the islands is not much more than 5,000. The numbers differ in this Wikipedia extract, but the scale of the tragedy remains:

At the time of colonial contact, the population was roughly 10,000 people,[citation needed] residing in several towns and including slave populations drawn from other clans of Haida as well as other tribes. Ninety percent of the population died during the 1800s from smallpox; other diseases arrived as well, including typhoid, measles, and syphilis, affecting many more inhabitants. By 1900, only 350 people remained. Towns were abandoned as people left their homes for the towns of Skidegate and Masset, cannery towns on the mainland, or for Vancouver Island. Today, only some 3,800 people live on the islands. About 70% of the indigenous people (Haida) live in two communities at Skidegate and Old Masset, with a population of about 700 each. In total the Haida make up 45% of the population of the islands.

Haida Gwaii. (2012, June 11). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 08:02, June 14, 2012, from

The decade of the 2000s was really important to Haida revival. Not only was there the raising of the poles at the Museum site in 2001, but also the repatriation of the remains of some 200 people in 2005, bringing them back from the Museum of Natural History in Chicago and others. What an achievement! But it’s so hard to understand why they would have been taken in the first place. The Skidegate Repatriation & Cultural Committee ( says, “Today the remains of over 460 ancestors have been returned home. This has been our first priority. When this work is complete, we will then turn our attention to the work of repatriating other Haida treasures and cultural materials.” Not only the deceased are being recovered. So are the living – many of those children lost to foster families or to adoption.

The joy and pride are palpable. The Haida are very deliberate and determined about exercising possession of their land, culture, language, and society. In addition to land claims and resource control, women are increasingly taking up weaving (Raven’s Tail, Chilkat, spruce root, cedar), and people are learning as many words and expressions in the language as they can. They are repossessing their artifacts (cultural materials from museums, poles) and their people. The re-creation of dances, drums, songs and regalia – much of which they make themselves – is also significant. It’s somewhat different from the individual artistry of jewelry-makers and argillite-carvers; similar to the cooperative effort of pole-carvers. Christian White seems to be central to this effort in Massett. Some songs are known by everyone, and the whole community hall was singing along. I don’t know whether anything similar to White’s family exists in Skidegate.

So many people live here because they came for a visit and fell in love with what they often called “the lifestyle.” Some speak of a slow pace of life (adult women disagree!), and the fact that everyone knows everyone. It is also really hard to go shopping and buy “stuff”; even Prince Rupert has little to offer, relative to larger southern cities. There has to be more focus on doing things oneself, cost-free. There is a price to be paid for protection from modernization, and that is isolation. Once that is accepted, no problem. Newcomers have been delighted to find people coming by to share – and then they realize their obligation to contribute as well. By then, they’re hooked.

This is why newcomers and Haida are united in their appreciation of Haida Gwaii and their opposition to the pipeline. The convergence of the Euro-Canadian and Haida voices on this topic is remarkable. They’re saying the same things; they’re allies. This protest is an attempt to prevent change, to preserve what is felt to be complete. The Haida may be fortunate in having had a number of battles that required a united front, e.g. the logging of Lyell Island and the pipeline.


On Tuesday, June 19, I was visiting Old Massett when Sherri took me to the longhouse of Christian White (Kilthguulans), where a feast and dancing and drumming were about to begin. It was on the occasion of the visit of some twenty Grade 7 and 8 Nisga’a students from Gitlaxt’aamiks. They were partly sight-seeing (e.g. camping at Agate Beach a night or two) and also sharing their songs, dancing and drumming, performing at several locations on Haida Gwaii. The event was attended by many of White`s relatives (several of whom sang, danced and drummed with him) and people who looked like they might have come from the school district – i.e. they looked Euro-Canadian, but I didn`t introduce myself.

I’m tremendously grateful to Sherri for telling me and taking me, and to Christian White’s family for accepting my presence. There is a brief biography at and images of his work in argillite at

The feast food was delicious, and for the second time I ate k’aaw, herring roe on kelp. It’s great, fresh or dried. Many people took home left-overs, and even I got smoked eulachon, a gift from the Nisga’a! (Thanks to Jack!) Other local foods I was able to try on the island were razor clams (cleaned by Peter – thank you! – and harvested on North Beach) and seal meat, at the potlatch in Massett.

The longhouse is a rectangular building with the ceiling some twenty feet high in the centre. Doors are at gable ends of the building – the front door opening from the big hall onto the road, the back door opening into the kitchen. A wall separates the kitchen from a large hall. I think there were five long rows of tables, running from front door towards the back, each probably seating twenty people. There were a number of coppers on the wall, several carved house posts and canoe paddles, and at least two partially completed poles. Woven blankets also hung on the wall.

Perhaps sadly, I did not follow Sherri`s advice and make use of my camera. I feared forgetting to make use of my eyes and my mind, or perhaps causing offense.

Between the tables and the wall separating the kitchen from the great room was a large open space, where the performances took place. The Nisga’a youth performed, led by one man who has been the most active in teaching them; they were accompanied by several teachers and adults, some of who danced and drummed. One song required competition between girls and boys to sing the loudest; the girls were announced winners! They also performed dances appropriate to their clan, and pulled audience members in to join them. The Hobiyee dance is particularly fun! ( That’s the New Years, celebrated in February. During one dance, White was required 3 times to follow the motions of young women! In other words, humor abounds.

As the Massett group prepared, story-teller Kung Jadee (Roberta Kennedy), Haida Raven, told of Bear and how humans learned to respect Taan. She recited  dramatically, with hand gestures, intermixing words in Haida that could be fastened into memory. As she’d visited the Nisga’a, students recognized her (

Rather than dancing differently depending on their clan, the Haida danced in such a way as to show off crests, blankets and regalia, tilting left, right, and back again, 180 degrees, so all could see. ( Oh, and they dance in a counter-clockwise direction – totally wrong for the prairies! They too called for audience participation. The women’s dance is graceful, as described above. The men’s is noisy, stomping, forceful and competitive. ( It reminded me of Maori dancing. There was a gambling song, requesting individuals to come up to give something; I realized this was a chance to contribute money, going to help defray travel costs of the Nisga’a group.

I visited the site of the totem pole carving on Eagle Street. Donnie Edenshaw talked to me; it’s his pole. There were at least half a dozen men working on it; he was using a chainsaw, but the others were using chisels. One of these was Gwaii Edenshaw, who with his brother Jaalen carved the Two Brothers Pole that was erected last year in Jasper. (Jaalen was also head carver of a pole raised on Lyell Island in August, 2013:

I returned to Massett for National Aboriginal Day celebrations. I knew from Tasha and Sherri that, during the day, the village would raise a pole and hold a potlatch. Although I missed the parade, there were pedal-driven bumper cars and cotton candy during the afternoon. Sherri encouraged me to go into the community center to ask if they needed any help, and I did.

Dana Bellis (Jaad Gudangaa ‘laas) ( – major achiever!), the young woman organizing the feast, offered my services to Marjorie, the cook, who had me lay out plates of butter on 11 long tables.  The tables were covered in white paper, and at each setting was a napkin and a packet of salt and pepper. Too late, I saw a sign asking people to bring their own plates, bowls, cups and cutlery, and dessert would be potluck. Bring some fruit to add to the community fruit salad. (I attended with nothing!) Then I helped place small bundles of cedar on the tables. Others placed candies at each cedar bundle. Each table held 26-32 people. By feast time, these were full, i.e. about 330 people with another 150 or so in bleachers.

The hall is based on basketball court dimensions. The speech-making centre is in the centre of a long side, the bleachers on the opposite side, and long tables run parallel to bleachers, leaving a large, empty area in the centre.

While helping set the tables, I met Donna* a woman of about my age with a weakness for candy! She’s about my age, and has worked most of her life as a cook. She has at least a couple of children and three grandchildren. A brother and a friend joined her at the feast, and she invited me to sit with them. Very kind! They came equipped with sets of cutlery, bowls, salt and pepper, everything needed for a picnic except the food! I got lot of photos of her and her family, especially the loving uncle with his great-nieces. Once again, at this feast I was fed like an elder – and once again, I was at the table with the Nisga’a kids.

Before food began, I went outside to the area where salmon steaks were being grilled on really large barbecues. Two guys were running the barbecues, and a third was helping put cooked pieces under cover. They gave me a delicious bit to try. Also loved the baked potato and the Caesar salad! Donna went to get us dessert: cups of fruit salad.

The Master of Ceremonies was Ken Bell, who owns the Haida Rose Café with his wife, Lucy. A woman MC’ed with him. Didn’t get her name or status. The dinner started with a prayer. The Nisga’a kids were about the last to get food, being young! The food was prepared in a kitchen at the entry to the building, by volunteers who also do the serving.

The MC was busy for hours! There were several draws for door prizes and 50/50 during the evening. After supper, the Nisga’a youth performed gamely, despite their fatigue. They were gifted with a box drum! ( One of the teachers got me out to dance, this time. (Last time I refused a young man.) Another boy gave me a greeting card. Over dinner, the teachers told me of the lava fields, of the plentiful fish oil, and of the problems with bears in their territory.

Supper was followed by speeches by Donnie Edenshaw, his wife and daughter. I wish I knew the whole story of each part of the memorial pole to survivors of residential schools. Several survivors told their stories. It seems as if those who went to Port Alberni suffered the most abuse. Earlier, I’d walked to the hall with a man who did not attend the schools, but whose siblings did. He spoke of how strange they were when they came home after long absences. The loss of language and culture were acute. A whole lot were taken to residential school in Edmonton! I can’t imagine the rationale behind taking them at least three days away, to a totally different environment and climate. (This is among the many negative associations with Alberta. There are the oil sands, and just the blatant wealth of Alberta: lots of jobs, no sales tax, the ability to travel. . .)

Christian White and his group then came out to dance, sing and drum. For any song (Nisga’a or Haida), the composer and/or owner of a song is thanked for allowing its performance. There was one (not to be filmed) of Taan (Black Bear) leading a human to healing. Another was a Graduation Song, to honor Donnie Edenshaw, memorial pole designer. He danced around a small sculpture set on the dance floor, and was then surrounded by the whole group.

I joined in the women’s dance, this time, followed again by the men’s competition dance. Here, the carver in particular shone – as did the MC, and White.  A great deal of regalia was worn for this occasion, including the robes described above, hats (lighter-color small-gauged weaving is for higher titles, the lightest being of spruce root), leggings and aprons. Headbands are often worn instead of hats. (In fact, it seems Haida are always wearing something that identifies them as Haida – and as members of a moiety and clan as well! T-shirts, caps, jewelry, handbags, tattoos. . .) I swear pretty girls in Haida Gwaii apply eyeliner such that their eyes look like the ovoids in artwork!

Finally came the big moment, when the performing group led the way out of the hall and down to the site where the pole was ready to be raised. It was on the ground, its base lined up with the hole it was to fall into and lines strung up to pull it up. After a prayer, people lined up on either side of the lines and pulled on cue. It was beautiful to watch scores of people on the lines, hundreds standing around witnessing. They were still making minor adjustments when I left to return to Tlell at 11 p.m.

On the 22nd I went to Kaay Llnagaayfor the opening of the exhibition of the photographs of Ulli Steltzler. She was born in 1923, and has been coming here since the early 1970s (having immigrated from Germany in 1953). When she came, she found artists just becoming active, recovering methods and designs, carving poles, wood and argillite, and began a photographic record of the artists and the community. Prior to that, most photography (and discussion) of the area was of abandoned villages and crumbling, tipping totem poles. She photographed the people alive, children talking, elders laughing together, etc. She went harvesting with them, lived with them, did everything. She was engaged in a bunch of other social-justice stuff, and more indigenous work – e.g. among Navajo. She was here last night, a white-haired lady.

She spent a lot of time with Florence Davidson, who shows up all over the museum practicing artistic and craft techniques: harvesting and processing spruce roots and cedar bark, making baskets, telling stories and teaching language. I’d sure like to know how she was able to retain all this knowledge. She was born in 1896, but seems to have learned everything and passed it all on!

Also speaking last night were her grandsons, Robert and Reg Davidson. Jim Hart was there, and Guujaw. It’s pretty amazing for me to be in a room with these very talented, famous, and achieving people. I’m privileged and grateful.

(The interrelationship between these Haida artists is incredible. I wish I had the time to trace the family trees. Donnie Edenshaw is the son of Cooper Wilson [of walrus tusk and argillite] and brother of Freddie Wilson. Mother of Freddy is Brenda Edenshaw.)

On the 23rd I attended the 104th celebration of Hospital Days at Queen Charlotte. It was spectacularly beautiful day, complete with big white mountains in the distance. It started with a community parade: the RCMP, the Tai Chi society, kids and a couple of businesses. There were silent auctions and carnival games such as bean-bag tosses, all local, for the hospital’s benefit. The Province has committed to a new hospital for Charlotte. Good breakfast, lunch and supper was available at the community centre, too! I did not attend the dance at 10 p.m.

There were several slow-pitch games during the afternoon and evening, fun to watch and new to me. I also checked out the library, a small room but with enough books, movie DVDs and music CDs to keep me busy for a while. While Euro-Canadians manned most everything and did most of the volunteering, there were plenty of Haida around, especially the slow-pitch.

HAIDA SOCIAL ORGANIZATION – I’m working on understanding it!

Both Nisga’a and Haida are matrilineal. The Haida have two moieties: Raven and Eagle. Christian White said the Haida have two “sides.” These two are represented on the Haida flag, in what looks like a two-headed bird – one head Raven, the other Eagle. Within each of these is a number of crests.

Although the Haida have almost seventy crest figures, less than a score are in general use. A few crest figures were used by many lineages, and a larger number were exclusive to a few lineages. The Killer Whale, which is a particularly strong feature of Haida art and myth, is a popular crest. All Raven lineages use forms of the Killer Whale as a crest; one of them, the Raven-Finned Killer Whale, refers to the myth in which Raven pecked himself out of the body of a Whale through the end of its dorsal fin. Eagle lineages of Ninstints use only the Five-Finned Killer Whale, which links them to specific Killer Whale chiefs whose undersea village was near their own and with whom their mythic ancestors had a profitable experience. The tall dorsal fin of Killer Whale crests that belong to Ravens are always black, while those of Eagles have a diagonal white stripe.

All of the land mammals used as crests, except for the Beaver, belong to the Raven moiety. Some of these crests such as the Mountain Goat, the Wolf and the Grizzly are of animals that do not occur on Haida Gwaii; their use was transferred from Tsimshian chiefs on the mainland. All crests of amphibious creatures such as the Beaver and the Frog are the exclusive prerogative of the Eagle moiety and also originated with the Tsimshian. Sea mammals mostly belong to the Ravens, although many Eagle lineages use the Blackfish as a crest. Fish crests are heavily weighted in favour of the Eagle moiety, who use the Sculpin, Skate, Dogfish, Starfish and Halibut. The Ravens share with them the Dogfish and the Skate. (

I don’t really get the meaning of crests! Crests are obtained through purchase (i.e. proving worthiness), or are attached to story or particular events. They belong to the clan, and more than one clan can have the same crest. Then I consider the added layer of patrilineal surnames – at least, I think everyone takes them, but I didn’t actually ask if women take on their husband’s surname, and children their father’s. On the one hand, it seems confusing; on the other, the diversity of principles adds to the flexibility of kinship systems. I wonder how common exogamous marriage is (i.e. with non-Haida). Imagine the degree of interrelatedness of people, having started from a population of 260 and now numbering ten times that!

Nisga’a have a number of Tribes (my “clans”), Eagle, Raven, Wolf and Killer Whale, subdivided into Clans, houses or groups of houses (my “lineages” and “sublineages”). These housegroups were territorial, owning crests and resources. [(n.d.). Kinship, Family, and Social Organization. Retrieved from]

April used the terms clan, tribe and nation. I think by “clan” she meant what I would call “lineage”; “tribe” would be Christian White’s “side” and my “moiety”; nation is Haida. Crest is something else again, and I’m not sure how it’s acquired or what it means.

I continue to puzzle over clans. Perhaps they were originally villages, and when people were forced into Skidegate and Massett, they came to be thought of as descent rather than more territorial-locational groups. Thus, there could be several chiefs in one village, governing dispersed territories and people. Perhaps villages originally belonged to one moiety, so village exogamy would have been necessary. Then each village would have access to some of the resources of affines located elsewhere. The wealth of a village was measured by the diversity and amount of its resources. These weren’t just on the ocean, but extended far inland to the timber stands; as Watchman explained, if a group did not have access to large logs, trade might make it possible. Evidence of the extensive use of inland locations is that there was a name for every place.



Haida Government (according to April Churchill plus Internet):

The Council of the Haida Nation is to consolidate all Haida into one political entity. Polling stations are set up in Skidegate, Massett, Vancouver and Prince Rupert to elect President, Vice-President, 4 reps from Skidegate, 4 from Massett, 2 from Vancouver, 2 from Prince Rupert, 1 from Skidegate Band Council and 1 from Old Massett Village Council. Representatives to the Council of the Haida Nation meet every three months.

The Haida House of Assembly consists of all Haida and is held over four days each October, alternating between Skidegate and Massett. The HOA establishes laws through motions and resolutions, all according to the Constitution of the Haida Nation.

The Hereditary Chiefs Council consists of all 19 potlatched clan chiefs. They meet every 2 months, and provide CHN w/ guidance on cultural matters.

The Old Massett Village Council and the Skidegate Band Council are elected by their members, and responsible for areas of Capital, Education, Membership, Health and Social Development. Sounds like it’s Indian Act matters.

The Secretariat of the Haida Nation receives and administers funds for the CHN. The Haida Tribal Fisheries Committee makes recommendations to the Secretariat about boats and licenses under the Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy Agreement.



I really enjoyed Haida Gwaii. I loved learning my way around Graham Island, walking or driving around the villages and roadways. There is something different around every corner – nothing like the broad stretches of sameness in the Prairie landscape, and certainly not like the huge expanses of housing developments in large cities. Each stretch of beach is different, and there are so many kinds of shoreline – in addition to which they change during the day, with the tide and the wind and likely with the season! The vegetation is equally luxuriant and variable. I must admit I had some trouble with trails through forest with slippery exposed roots and branches underfoot! Old forest seems to be more clear underneath, and gravel pathways are far easier for me. Temperatures are quite pleasant enough, with an undershirt. Rain is very common, but seldom a deluge. When the sun comes out, it’s quite breathtaking, just because there are so many different colors.

The people of Haida Gwaii share a really strong aesthetic identity, epitomized by but not limited to the Haida. A difference is that newcomers’ artistic expression – or just their taste – is individualistic, particular to each person, while that of the Haida is originally communal. Assurance and boastfulness have long been noted among peoples of the West Coast, but it’s about being proud of oneself as a Haida person, as a member of a moiety and a clan.

The artistic self-identification is reinforced by the fact that many of the forms of art produced by Haida are readily recognized and appreciated by others. (Having said which, in The ghostland people so many late-19th century observers described memorial poles etc. as “grotesque” that I had to look up the word, thinking perhaps it once had a different meaning than the “weird, exaggerated, twisted” implications it has for me. No; it comes from “grotto” – cave-like.) Still, wall-art, statues, textiles, carving, jewelry and ornaments in general – decorative more than utilitarian – are certainly admired by Westerners, and are something we’re willing to pay for and keep. The design of and work on these items allows the Haida artist to practice, express and learn her own culture and use it perhaps to infiltrate the consciousness of the consumers of her art.

Haida Gwaii and her people seduce newcomers into appreciating, sharing and protecting her. Those who get satisfaction out of harvesting their own food, sharing it, witnessing the abundance of uncontaminated nature, with a little danger and discomfort (wildness) thrown in, are hooked. Fortunately for them, the isolation and cost required to arrive and live there probably guarantee that it’s never going to get too crowded and thus change completely.


WEBSITES of interest is the link to SHIP, describing its goals and achievements, particularly in collecting, protecting and using the Skidegate dialect of the Haida language. is the website of the Haida Nation – all sorts of information. is a link to the Newletter of the Haida Nation, a really high-quality publication with information, research, and perspectives. There are photos of lots of community members and events through time, descriptions of ceremonies and foods, organizations and issues. is the website of the Haida Heritage Centre at Kaay Llnagaay. I bought a membership and returned four or five times! There are tables on the beach, where I sat to write notes. Once, a young man on a bicycle approached me. Mark and his girlfriend are here to visit the Islands, and they’re volunteering in a project to protect the ancient murrelets I wish I’d taken his photo together with a totem pole! – a bit of many things Haida Gwaii