Two clans, one family and an extraordinary legacy
When Sydney local Kalo uproots herself to oversee the complex cultural negotiations involved in the ceremonial return of her grandparent's ashes to their ancestral burial ground in a small village in Papua New Guinea, she has very little idea of what awaits her in 'the land of the unexpected'.
History comes alive and spirits are stirred as Kalo's journey to assist in the homecoming plunges her into the complex world of clan traditions, inter-tribal negotiations and an awakening of a shared history between her Australian family and the people of East New Britain.
Sydney girl Kalo has roots that stretch from the intrigue of the Danish throne across the vast Pacific to the German and British held territories of 19th century Papua New Guinea. When her Australian family begin to make plans to return her grandparent's ashes to a remote island mat-mat (cemetery) in PNG, she puts her hand up to oversee what will prove to be a powerful homecoming.
In this documentary the filmmaker is both subject and storyteller and presents the story through a remix of modern technology woven into modes of knowledge-keeping that have been practiced by her ancestors in centuries gone. Traditional forms of dance, song and tatau tell the tale of a strong line of female ancestors, whose spirits stir in the shadow of an active volcano, and to whom Kalo finds herself increasingly drawn to.
Her great great grandmother is Phebe Parkinson, daughter of the American Consul in Apia and a Samoan woman descended from the kingly Malietoa Laupepa family. A compassionate and courageous woman, she remains greatly loved by the Tolai peoples. Phebe’s story of giving herself a Samoan tattoo inspires Kalo to do the same and she travels to Samoa to undergo the traditional female tattooing of the legs. She begins to understand in an experiential way the power of storytelling through dance and tatau. This is where the story began and this is where it will begin again, for her.
The homecoming event is one that will see approximately 60 family members fly in from around the world to a land where the byword is to ‘expect the unexpected’, and Kalo will have to navigate the complex and evolving challenges inherent in the cultural negotiations. Beyond the necessary cooperation of two local clans, the raising of pigs for food and exchange and the sourcing of tabu for shell money, are the protocols surrounding the Minamai, the burial ritual and ceremony.
Arriving in Kokopo, PNG, Kalo wants to comprehend why the local people are ready to honour her grandparents with ceremonies that are not normally shared outside the clans and how they perceive their connection to her ancestors.
Unable to make contact via phone or e-mail, Kalo takes a 4 wheel drive through rough jungle terrain and over crocodile infested rivers in search of old Timmy Nandre, the little boy who became the minder to the first 5 Uechtritz children.
She meets Litia from neighbouring New Ireland who asserts that she knows the history of the Parkinson family Tumbuans, an important aspect of the upcoming ceremonies. Curious to authenticate this tale, Kalo takes a 3hr boat ride to the island. While there, she visits the gravesite where Phebe was originally buried and abandoned in the jungle by the Japanese invaders. Kalo, who has been struggling to find the central story she wants to tell, begins to understand that by walking in her ancestral footsteps, she has invoked the principal binding element, articulated to her by a local Tolai woman who proclaims, ‘history is coming alive!'