Friday, October 9, 2009

Bring an Open Mind: An Evening of Song and Dance in Honor of the Kiribati People

Last weekend, I was invited to an interesting event in Seattle on the waterfront by my friend. She invited us to a botaki. I had no idea what that was. She explained that is was an event where we would celebrate with song and dance of the Kiribati (pronounced kiri-bas) people. The Kiribati islands are located in the South Pacific along the equator. My friend's mother and stepfather sail there often. They spend most of their time living on their sailboat or with the Kiribati people in their village. This is very rare. According to my friend, there are very few people who know the Kiribati people intimately. They don't allow many outsiders into their culture. Julie and Tom spent so much time in the Kiribati islands, that they were adopted by several families on the islands. The elders of the islands are dying and so are their traditions. Julie and Tom have been recording the traditions of these people and have been preserving their song and dance. It is beautiful, to me, to see all the love they have for such a far-off land and such a different tradition. They have sacrificed their own comforts to live with these people and to learn from them. All the discomforts they have encountered are unnoticeable. In the botaki, Julie and Tom displayed a tremendous joy. They danced and sang and there was an enormous amount of food for everyone.

We could not help but feel uplifted up by this event. People from Asia, Africa, America, South America and other countries all came together to experience this intimate evening of celebration in a private home in West Seattle overlooking Puget Sound. The full moon was quite appropriate and seemed to symbolize how I felt that evening.....I felt full of all that is good.

When I was invited to the event, I wasn't sure what to expect. It was something I didn't quite understand. At the same time, I was curious and it sounded fun. I asked my friend what I should bring and she said, "Bring an open mind." So that's what I did. Here's the information we received from Julie before the botaki:


We are very excited that you will be joining us on Saturday for our celebration of unity with the Kiribati Elders and people. The theme for our botaki is E Naaka O.

E Naaka O refers to departure from the known, from routine, from the old, the seen, the everyday, from all you know and impart to others. E Naaka O---it is the wisdom of the Soft Wind blowing, cleansing, purifying, renewing, testing, changing, transforming.

The Elders say we live in the time of the dark moon, but that amid the encroaching darkness there is a tender blossoming that occurs, like the rare Pandanus bloom, the sacred Mataboro— the young, innocent flower that holds its love and promise for us all. It can be seen, felt, and heard in the stillness of your loving heart. It is an opening of great beauty, and the moment is now. (A picture of my husband, Seong Yoon, receiving a fern crown from a dancer)

We will celebrate E Naaka O with the traditional Kiribati dance, called the mwaie. This ancient dance comes from the ancestors of the Kiribati people. The mwaie is sacred and multi-dimensional. It is much more than what you see--an energetic dance in colorful costume. It is a sacred vehicle for journeying into the Beyond, a language that draws Spirit near, and a magic that draws people into unity, strength and happiness.

The dancers have been preparing themselves for many weeks for this day of merging and rising with Spirit. When Spirit comes, it can be very strong. Sometimes, the dancers cry, tremble, shake or scream. This is not nerves. It is the power of the flow passing through. It is different for each dancer, and different every time.

When this happens, you, too, may feel something. This is normal and good. The energies of the mwaie are very healing and uplifting. Take them in. They only bring goodness.

Below is a video of botaki that evening:

PBS Now had this to say about the danger the Kiribati people face:

Week of 12.12.08

Paradise Lost

Just this week, a top UN official predicted that by the middle of this century, the world should expect six million people a year to be displaced by increasingly severe storms and floods caused by climate change. But for many island nations in the South Pacific, climate change is already more than just a theory—it is a pressing, menacing reality. These small, low-lying islands are frighteningly vulnerable to rising temperatures and sea levels that could cause flooding and contaminate their fresh water wells. Within 50 years, some of them could be under water. This week, NOW travels to the nation of Kiribati to see up close how these changes affect residents' daily lives and how they are dealing with the reality that both their land and culture could disappear from the Earth. We also travel to New Zealand to visit an I-Kiribati community that has already left its home, and to the Pacific Island Forum in Niue to see how the rest of the region is coping with the here-and-now crisis of climate change.

According to Julie, my friend's mother, The Kiribati are already dealing with contaminated water. Tom and Julie are trying to bring a water purifying system to the islands, but it is expensive. During the last Tsunami that hit Samoa, the Kiribati were prepared to die. According to my friend, they all gathered in the center part of the village to wait for their death, but when it didn't happen, they just carried on as usual. More horrors of global warming can be expected to hit this part of the world, but the people, who have lived the same way for thousands of years, do not appear to be in fear of this. How sad it is that a people who have only sought to live in harmony with nature are the very ones that will most likely be destroyed by it due to the modern world that continues to pollute it. It seems a bit unfair, in my mind, but these people continue to dance and sing and live in harmony with what remains.


  1. Wow! Picked up your blog entry on my Google Alert set to "Kiribati". I have lived in Kiribati now for nearly twelve years, but am right now in Seattle, of all places. How I wish I could have been part of that botaki. What an awesome event. Kind of fun watching 'I-matangs' (white nosed ones) doing the Kiribati dance. Thanks for sharing it!!!

  2. Hi Diane,
    Glad you found my story. It was an amazing experience for me.

  3. simply amazing to read about how two people adopt a totally different culture and make it their own!

  4. Thanks Neelu. I'm so happy to share this story. These two people who embraced a different culture, learned the language and traditions, are so inspirational to me. We, as a world, can all learn something from this. We can all learn something from each other. There is love everywhere. Thanks for reading.