Thursday, November 29, 2007

Spondylus salape': Non-classic colors

On an earlier post, I mentioned that the classical Spondylus salape’ beads are usually orange in color. Most people are convinced that the Spondylus species that the ancient Chamorro artisans fashioned into orange beads are Spondylus varius. I am not too convinced yet if this is all that correct because of the varied species of the thorny/spiny oysters that are found in our waters. Classifying or naming a specimen using pictures from a shell book or even from Internet sources is a difficult task. Expert and amateur taxonomists alike can attest to this challenge.

One of the people I “talk stories” on biology with is a good friend and former colleague Dr. John S. He looked up in the Micronesica (the University of Guam journal of natural sciences of Micronesia and the region) to find that we have have present in CNMI waters: S. varius, S. multimuricatus, S. nicobaricus, S. squamosus and S. violascense. At times I wonder if I should have been a taxonomist because of the way I want to catalog/classify things in nature. You see, I want to be sharp enough to pick up any Spondylus shell fragment and say to a certainty that this is what it is. I know: NERD!

So how does this all translate to the pendants that make? Again, the classical Spondylus salape’ are mostly orange and I experimented with other fragments that I found that are what I call non-classical in color.

I call this salape’, Korason, the Chamorro/Spanish word for heart. It has a beautifully striated red color. The toggle is from a smaller fragment that I found that matched Korason’s colors surprisingly well.

This next piece is Papakyo, which means stormy in Chamorro. The word pakyo is very similar to bagyo, the Tagalong word of the same meaning, which hints to the Austronesian language link between the Mariana Islands and my mother islands of the Philippines. I am sure that Papakyo is a Spondylus squamosus which has an unmistakable dark maroon color. I picked up this shell fragment after a small tropical disturbance in the area hence the name. Papakyo has a rectangular toggle cut from the same shell fragment.

The piece below I named Putitainobiu after the Chamorro name for the flower Bougainvillea (puti=pain, tai=not have, nobiu=lover). I used to paint acrylics a lot and orange was a difficult color for me to utilize. I am convinced that only the Creator, the Master Artisan himself, can put pink and orange together and make it work this beautifully.

One day I was cutting a beautifully colored shell fragment with soft pink and white striations. In handling it, I knew this piece would polish quite nicely. My mind raced though, troubled by some odd news and some deep wounds caused by the remembrance of a recent break up. Although I was outside on a beautiful day, under the shade of a kind mango tree and a light breeze cooling my bare skin, my cutting was disturbed by what was effectively turmoil inside. I knew I had to calm myself down and focus on the task of creating.

You see, I somewhat believe that there is something to energy, be it positive or negative, and how it affects things you touch or handle, and in this case create. I know this is all hokey to Western science, and maybe even some Christians would think it a bit odd too, this theory of energy transfer. Well, although I can’t really explain it or prove anything I can personally say that I know there is something to it. Just for an example though, so you don’t think I am all weird and everything, when I practiced massage on Guam a few years back, I’ve experienced feeling ill after treating some clients that were really in bad shape. A number of experiences like that convinced me not to treat anyone if I was feeling out of tune (physically, emotionally, mentally, etc.) as well, so that I don’t transfer any negative energy to the client.

Anyway, although in cutting an inanimate object such as a shell fragment is not the same, I tend to apply the same personal theory. I’d like to approach the art of creating like a Zen Japanese sword smith who undertook their task with great solemnity, and purity of heart and mind, undergoing fasting and ritual purification before laboring in the art of metallurgy. Well, my mind should at the least be clear and positive anyway.
So anyway while cutting this particular piece, thinking about a friend who came back from vacation as a single woman really bugged me. I took it a bit to heart since I at the time was mending a broken heart and although I never really met the former nobiu, I thought their relationship was all good. It made me think of how fragile relationships really are and how many things could go wrong. But I know that there are reasons for breakups and they are usually for good reasons. I had to dig deep to not be so bothered and accept things that I couldn’t do anything about really.

So how did I get rid of the internal drama and perform the task at hand? I focused on who my friend was. Although we don’t spend a lot of time together, I know that she is special. I firsthand see that she is well loved by colleagues, the kids that she teaches, the drama team she’s a part of, and so on. I think they also call her, the Northstar, since her unwavering character is a good reminder to all of us what beauty really is inside and out. She is a real beauty, as is this piece of salape’ that I made with her in mind. This one is called Mai-Rhea. Isn’t she lovely?

Thanks again for letting me share.
The Beachcomber

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I missed the show!

I was thinking of selling some Spondylus, hima (giant clam), and bone pendants this weekend at the Christmas Artists Bazaar at the Multipurpose Center, Susupe, Saipan. I missed the boat though and they ran out of space while I contemplated if I had enough pieces to sell. We all should go though in support of the very few handful of artisans that we have in the CNMI. I believe it is on both Saturday and Sunday from 09:00 till 19:00. Bring some cash for some good art. I hope to see you there!

Here is a classical style Spondylus salape' pendant that I made for my good friend Tina S. The shell fragment that I cut this from had a gorgeous red orange color and I really did not want to waste any of the shell. The best way I thought to do so was in the style that you see now. Even the toggle that closes the necklace is from the same shell fragment.

Now, I usually think about the significance of the characteristics of a piece quite extensively. But this design really just made me think of an exclamation point and the Exclamation perfume bottle that was marketed a few years back. From a graphics arts perspective, the design was genius in my mind.

But what significance does this have in terms of my friend Tina? Well, she has surprised me in many occasions in the many things that she is involved with in our community. But if anything, I wish that this little piece of Spondylus is a reminder of how precious the community that both she and I serve is. In our work together a few years ago, she was the one who quoted to me, "Community first, above all." Courage, strength, truth, honor, equity, compassion and so on and so forth is what I wish for you to have and is really who you already are to me, Tina. Good luck on your new role.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Spondylus salape’: The classical shape

Disc beads made from the Spondylus or more commonly known as the spiny or thorny oyster, were used as ornaments by the ancient Chamorros of the Mariana Islands. Some archeologists believe that they were also used as money or salape’. Purportedly, the beads were greatly valued and were treated as heirlooms as well . Archeologists tell us that these beads were produced during the archaeological milestones of the Mariana Islands known as the Transitional Pre-Latte (AD 1 to AD 1000), the larger Latte Period (AD 1000 to AD 1521), and even through the Early Historic Period (in between AD 1521 to 1700).

The traditional or classical characteristic of the beads are disc shaped, orange in color, highly polished and without any surface blemish. Their dimensions are generally about 10 to 20 mm in diameter, 1 to 2.5 mm in width, and weighing about .5 to 2.5 grams. Most beads are biconically (two cones) drilled from both the front and the back surface but some are drilled completely through. Most beads have holes drilled in the center of the disc. There is a picture of some bead artifacts found on Tumon Bay, Guam here:

Below is a picture of some ancient Spondylus disc beads housed in the CNMI Museum of History and Culture in Garapan, Saipan. The biggest disc bead here is about 51 mm in diameter. Look closely, and you’ll see that this particular bead has two holes to accommodate binding. Can you see the conically shaped drill hole of the top middle bead?

The next two pictures are also from the museum. It's a display collection of different ornamental artifacts collected by former United States Marine lieutenant and archeologist/naturalist Hans Hornbostle in the 1920s. According to the label, the artifacts were returned to Saipan by the Bishop Museum in Honolulu Hawaii in 1999.

After learning a little about the history of these artifacts and seeing how beautiful they are, I was hooked. I decided that I too would like to embark on a creative journey, much like the ancient people of my adoptive island home. So I “cut”, polish and bind my own versions of the Spondylus salape’ to give homage to the past and hopefully inspire others to discover for themselves the beauty of the ancient Chamorro culture.

This is a finished necklace and some bead discs that are ready to be bound. You can see that the Spondylus varies greatly in color which we shall explore on an upcoming post.

Finally, here are three more finished necklaces all in the classical shape of the Spondylus salape’ (the bead on the left is a toggle that closes the loop of a necklace. These are bound by beading cord of 100 % cotton.

Thank you for letting me share once again.
The Beachcomber

Monday, November 26, 2007

Hafa adai, everyone!

Hafa adai! Welcome to my blog and my first post. Being an avid beachcomber and general nature lover, I thought it would be nice to be able to share some of the things I see and discover in the wonderful islands of the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas.

I have lived on Saipan for 5 years now and there are still many things to do, see, experience and learn even though the island is just 20 km (12.5 mi) long and 9 km (5.5 mi) wide. Saipan is all about the things that enjoy so I hope I am able to share with you some interesting anecdotes on my interest in nature, history, health, or really just about anything and everything.

Blogging has become a favorite past time here on Saipan. I will mostly keep my blogging anonymous since I like my privacy very much. Please do the same for me and respect my privacy. I hope that this is something that I will find fun to do and fun for you to share in as well since I feel like there are somethings that I see or do that others may appreciate too.
So, Here we go. I'll try to make this entertaining. Thank you for allowing me to share!
One of my hobbies:
The ancient people of the Mariana Islands had an affinity for the Spondylus, or spiny oyster. The Chamorros made coin like beads with a hole (mainly in the middle) that they bound together and used as ornamentation. Some people believe they were also used for monetary purpose as salape' (money).
After seeing only a few artisans here on Saipan fashioning pendants and other ornaments made out of Spondylus and other natural materials, I decided to give it a try myself. Future posts will showcase the learning process that I go through in developing my new hobby, but ultimately, I hope that this inspires others to reclaim the lost arts of the past and so that knowledge of the ancient Chamorros is appreciated and not forgotten. I invite other artisans to share ideas and techniques within these blogs as well so that interest in the ancient arts grow and continue to be refined.
This is a picture of the first three Spondylus salape' pendants that I cut, polished and bound. Although you cannot see it in this picture, the necklaces are bound by a simple loop and small salape' toggles. I used hemp-like beading cord that are made of cotton. Finishing the first three gave me a lot of satisfaction since it was accomplished all through trial and error. I hope you like them too.