Sunday, February 15, 2015
It was difficult to make this "Hungku turn-a-round" in the short time allowed by international flights but guide Yoris and my friend Annette at Asti made it work. It was important to speak at the Heritage Society in Jakarta and exciting to visit Asti in Bogor (www.animalsanctuarytrustindonesia.org). Asti is doing an amazing job rehabilitating and releasing animals belonging to endangered species.
Arriving in Manokuari, West Papua I found chief Moses surprisingly emotional. He was reduced to tears of joy and made my visit a wonderful reunion.
What did I expect? They wanted water and electricity and now they have both. It was meant to be a "good thing," but I was so surprised. Hungku is so much different. Gone is so much of the primitivism that I love. Tribal houses on poles still remain, but the village is re-designed and all new houses are on the ground with cement floors. They are in open spaces with little roads of dirt. Bright blue synthetic houses run from house to house. Houses have windows. The hoses are the water system. The windows are indications, and they are no longer afraid of tribal wars.
We drove to the largest of these new houses. Here we would spend the night after a long wild journey by four wheel drive. Yaris, Moses, and I had long enough arms to reach and hold onto the roll bars. Thomas sat in the back. The rest including Thomas' wife and several children held onto us and each other as we dodged trees, boulders, and gaping erosion holes. We missed by inches bright yellow bulldozers and road building equipment.
Our exhausted driver, a Muslim from the Celebes went right into the new house and set up a place to pray and do his ritual washing. Yoris began cutting vegetables and boiling rice for dinner. I looked around. The cement floored house has five rooms and a little porch with a chair (Imagine!) that faced Mt. Hungku (as on the map Moses had drawn several years ago). A large cloth banner hung on the exterior wall. A colored logo and printing in Indonesian. It said:
District Government Arfak Mountains office politics and National unity protection of the public.
Dr Dominggus Mandacan Ullong
But, the good news was the logo had a colored picture and it was a picture of the mountain and the Bower Bird.
I was so happy and even happier as tribal friends came down the road the road carrying a real mattress for me. It was still covered in its plastic wrap. Everyone came to visit and show off their new wives and babies and darkness fell. Suddenly little tiny lights came on and people cheered. Electricity! We would have light for one half hour.
Their cheers cleared my confused mind for I suddenly realized they are happy on their land. They want to stay when they leave the mountains for it is hot and dirty and busy. They get headaches and are confused and malaria troubles them. The road helps them get their beautiful vegetables to market and they can stay home to enjoy the cool quiet environment.
Water and electricity appear to be a good moral boost for these beautiful people!
There would not be time to build my usual "Hotel Hungku" and visit the bowers and Moses understood. He took my two disposable cameras and four of his men to climb to the bowers at dawn.
One was his grandson, Bayan, whose mother had just died of malaria. Apparently, she refused medication which she believed caused cancer.
When the men returned in the late morning Moses was sad. "They are not ready yet and your old Hotel Hungku is covered in vines." Bayan had a big gash in his bare foot, but was stoic. I cleaned it and wrapped it and fell grateful he has been to the Bowers.
As we left he displayed his affection as is customary by placing his hand on his heart. I retured the gesture and felt happy this teen age boy had been to the Bowers with his grandfather and knew the story. Some day he will be chief.
The developed photographs show there is still activity at the bowers but there is a disturbance.
I left forty revised copies of The Clever One in their language and English for the children. Twenty of these were paid for by Maureen Hogan of Marblehead.
Hopefully I can return and focus on the bird. The people will be okay, but will the bird adapt? Will there be a renaissance in Bower Bird History?
Thursday, September 4, 2014
News from West Papua has been sparse but a recent contact with Hungku by an ornithologist gives a glowing report. No trees have been cut and no birds have been disturbed or eaten. Sadly, only two of the twenty children's books have reached the mountains. The books did sell well at the Peabody Museum gift shop and it has been given a new cover and republished. I will take twenty more with me when I speak in Djakarta at the Indonesian Heritage Society, October 29th.
The PowerPoint talks will be revised with less emphasis on biology and more on technique of conservation. Their brochure reads as follows:
"Artist Mary Jo McConnell has been making annual trips since 1992 from her home in Massachusetts to the Arfak Mountains of West Papua for one purpose - to paint the creations of the Vogelkop bowerbirds in their natural habitat. Her keen observations recorded the bower birds' creative behaviors using endemic materials. The local people of
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Finally Yoris said the ambassador had lifted the ban and he was free to help me, so on September 28th I flew from Denpasar to Macassat in the Celebes Islands. I carried only the books as it was too late to consider going into the mountains. By four o’clock the next morning we were on the runway to Manokwari. By four fifteen we were back at the gate with a broken airplane. All morning we waited for a plane part from Djakarta and then there was a discussion of getting another airplane. Passengers from Irian began to get quite upset and food vouchers were passed around. People wondered why I wanted to go to Irian. One gentleman who spoke English said he knew of the Bower Bird and of Moses. He offered to carry some books for me if I had to turn back. Flight personnel escorted me to an office to discuss my dilemma. There I met an interesting man from Spain who was trying to get food to his charter dive boat (diving with whale sharks!). They sent us both to an Executive lounge where we would be informed of any progress. Others went to hotels by bus for a “rest”. Txus was well traveled and said that due to storms Manokwari travel was already backed-up there and if I did get there I might have trouble getting out. He also said if we didn’t take off by three we wouldn’t be able to land as Manokwari has no lights. Three o’clock came and went and I had to make a difficult decision. Txus also offered to carry some books for me.
Sunday, March 11, 2012
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Moving on I have turned to fish. My father loved fishing and my first print was for him, a rainbow trout. Now it is koi, bass, herring, sardines and a whole Jimbardin Bay series from Indonesia which will be shown in Spring 2012 at Christopher Brodigan Gallery at the Groton School in Groton, Massachusetts. "Alewife" and "Sardines" recently sold at the Frying Pan Gallery in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. "Koi" prints were sold to the Keys Gallery in New York City.
Ditto press in Concord, New Hampshire is in the process of capturing High resolution prints on German Etching of four feather prints. This is inspired by the sale of eight originals to the well known Robert McKracken Peck of Philadelphia. He has just curated a show on Edward Lear's feathers for Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts to open in spring of 2012.
These sales are wonderful and encouraging but cannot help the Bower Bird. It is good to have a record of their creations.
Visits from my grandchildren in July added fun and enthusiasm. Moments with Michael(age 10) at the Koi pool at the Peabody - Essex museum in Salem, Massachusetts inspired en caustics and a trip for him to Skip Seiglers fishing expedition(www.striper.com) His catch can be added to the help of John Michael La Dodge of Hollywood, California and Tristan Howard of Portland, Maine and Skip Seiglers of Marblehead who has given me fillets, heads, tails, and skins of stripers, mackerel, and herring.
Michael made a nice slide show of my birds and granddaughter Cinnamon(age 6) made a video of her sister Willow(age 4) in my gallery. It can be seen on Youtube "Willow at Joey's House".
Today I am doing my version of a large salmon head. Wonderful black markings!
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
With boxes of field notes spread across my studio floor and fourteen paintings of the work (or play) of the Vogelkop Bower Birds, I wonder why I was driven or “fascinated” by feathers. Why collect, arrange, wear, paint feathers? I just read Cynthia Gardner’s “A British Invasion of Fascinators” And last month I bought a book “Plumes from Paradise” by Pamela Swadling and read of Plume trade in the (Vogelkop) Birds Head, West New Guinea. A great invasion of plume hunters in Bower Bird territory. Were the Bower Birds the first to use fascinators? My brilliant friend Jimmy loves them because they remind him of flying, having wings, escaping earthly bonds. Checking the dictionary I read: Fascinator. 1. One who or that which fascinates. 2. A scarf of crochet work, lace or the like, narrowing toward the ends, worn as a head covering by women.
I still wonder.
As I work on the 2010 painting of “Leonardo’s” bower a certain sadness settles over my old enthusiasm. I see no “fascinators” in the display. Are the molted feathers no longer available? Have the Sickle Bill Bird of Paradise, King Parrot and Harpy Eagle left Hungku for a safer forest or have they been destroyed by road workers and hunters? I’m afraid a bit of my fascination has fled. No questions will be asked as I’ve promised guide Yoris I will speak only of the Bower Bird while on this trip in the Arfak Mountains. No questions especially about money, water, missionaries or politics. He won’t talk either.