Welcome! Selamat Datang! Bien Venue!

Dedicated to all those who are interested in world folklore, culture and nature. Comments and constructive criticisms are welcome!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Phoenix Song to be published in September!

Phoenix Song will be published in early September 2015!  Many thanks to the dynamic duo at Lantana Publishing, Alice Curry and Caroline Godfrey, for making Phoenix Song possible!

To pre-order :

As both text and illustrations have been finalised, I'm finally allowed a share a few pages from the book. Enjoy!

Cover of the book. Illustrations are by Martina Peluso.
A shout-out from Kevin Bathman, Administrator of The Chindian Diaries :
"For Mums with young children from 4-8 years old, here's a wonderfully vibrant storybook called Phoenix Song by Lantana Publishing.
I'm a big fan of culturally diverse children's book, as I think its important that children can see themselves reflected in the stories they read." 

Summary: Arohan is desperate for a guitar. What eight year old boy isn’t? So when Arohan’s grandmother gives him a plain old bamboo flute for his birthday, he is understandably a little upset. But the xiao is no ordinary flute. An instrument steeped in the myths and legends of China, the xiao has its own special magic, as Arohan is soon to discover.

Notes: Notice the gorgeous Nyonya costume worn by the grandmother! What is a Nyonya? 
  1. The Nyonya or Baba-Nyonya are the descendants of Chinese immigrants who came to the Malay archipelago and British Malaya (now Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore) between the 15th and 17th centuries. Sometimes known as Straits-born Chinese (Straits refers to the Straits of Malacca), members of this community in Malaysia also call themselves "Peranakan." They practice a culture which is a fusion of Chinese and Malay - most obviously reflected in their dress and food.

When his brothers go missing on the slopes of the hill behind their home in Malaysia, Arohan must ensure they return safe and sound. But does he have what it takes to placate the guardian of the bamboo grove and summon the mythical phoenix? A touching and courageous story of a young boy’s love for his family and the magical things that can happen when you listen to your heart.

‘A wind of music and brotherly love takes us soaring through the pages of Phoenix Song. Children everywhere will see their own talents, disappointments, and heroes’ journeys mirrored in Arohan’s adventure.’
      – Mitali Perkins, author of Tiger Boy
‘An evocative ‘song’  that echoes in the heart.’
      – Mahtab Narsimhan, award-winning author of The Tiffin

Apart from Phoenix Song, Lantana Publishing will also be releasing Dragon Dancer by Joyce Chng and Jeremy Pailler, and Chicken in the Kitchen by Nnedi Okorafor and Mehrdokht Amini in September 2015. Both Joyce Chng (Singapore) and Nnedi Okorafor (Nigeria/USA) are Science Fiction & Fantasy writers.
Dragon Dancer by Joyce Chng and Jeremy Pailler
It is the eve of Chinese New Year.  Lanterns are hung in the shopping malls of Singapore and Yao is preparing to wake the ancient sky dragon, Shen Long, from his year-long sleep. From the moment Shen Long opens his great amber eyes and unfurls his silver-blue tail, Yao will be propelled on a magical journey through the skies of Singapore to battle the bad luck of the previous year and usher in the good. Will he succeed? Will his grandfather watch over him and protect him from harm? A beautiful story of a Chinese festival and its symbolism for Chinese communities everywhere, told from the perspective of Yao, the dragon dancer.

Dragon Dancer: Stunning illustration by Jeremy Pailler

I met Joyce briefly in Singapore in May, this year. She is an astonishingly prolific writer, considering the fact that she holds a full-time teaching job and is the mother of two young girls. I have an autographed copy of her book Rider, the first book of a trilogy.

Joyce mentioned a book she is editing with Jaymee Goh, gloriously entitled : The Sea is Ours: Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asia.  I wished I had heard of this project earlier, I would have loved to contribute... So what is Steampunk? It's a sub-genre within the larger Science Fiction genre, which I'm not going to attempt to define. It's easier to give examples of Steampunk anime and movies: Fullmetal Alchemist for one. If that doesn't ring a bell, how about Disney's Atlantis - the lost empire? And of course, Howl's Moving Castle.

Nnedi Okorafor is a rising star in the world of Science Fiction. Her latest sci-fi book is The Book of Phoenix. 

Chicken in the Kitchen by Nnedi Okorafor and Mehrdokht Amini
What would you do if you woke up one night to find the shadow of a giant chicken passing your bedroom door? Go and investigate of course! When Anyaugo follows a giant chicken into her kitchen one warm night in Nigeria, she embarks on a hilarious adventure where nothing is quite as it seems. Is the nature spirit that lives in the wooden walls of her house a help or a hindrance? Is the mischievous giant chicken a friend or a foe? Most importantly, will Anyaugo be able to save the food her aunties have cooked for the New Yam Festival the next day? World Fantasy Award-winning author Nnedi Okorafor provides us with a hugely entertaining look at the fascinating masquerade culture of West Africa, told from the perspective of a plucky young Nigerian girl who finds the courage to protect the traditions she loves.

It would be remiss of me not to mention Looking for Lord Ganesh by Mahtab Narsimhan and Sonja Wimmer (somewhat like not noticing the elephant in the room ;) )  Mahtab's book is the latest addition to Lantana's portfolio.  Looking for Lord Ganesh is scheduled for release in 2016.

Looking for Lord Ganesh by Mahtab Narsimhan and Sonja Wimmer

Anika has recently emigrated from India and is having a difficult time adjusting to life in a new country, not to mention life in a new school. Remembering the advice her grandmother gave her, she prays to Lord Ganesh, the Hindu elephant god. But Lord Ganesh is slow to respond and Anika takes to the internet to attract his attention. When her problems begin to resolve themselves, she can breathe a sigh of relief. But has Lord Ganesh truly been helping her, or has she been relying on her own inner wisdom all along? This is a sweet and witty story about staying true to one’s beliefs and finding strength in unlikely places.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Pua Kumbu - Spinning Yarn and Weaving Tales

An ancient metaphor: thought is a thread, and the raconteur is a spinner of yarns — but the true storyteller, the poet, is a weaver. The scribes made this old and audible abstraction into a new and visible fact. After long practice, their work took on such an even, flexible texture that they called the written page a textus, which means cloth. [Robert Bringhurst, The Elements of Typographic Style]

 Heritage pua kumbu pieces on display at the exhibition. Some of them are part of Welyne's personal collection.
Dayan De Silva and I attended the Pua Kumbu exhibition at the University of Malaya, on 12 July 2015. For those unfamiliar with the term, pua kumbu, is a traditional hand-dyed, hand woven ceremonial clothg, originating from the state of Sarawak (a part of Malaysian Borneo). Pua kumbu is created exclusively by the women of the Iban tribe, and the dyeing and weaving of this remarkable cloth is steeped in myths, rituals and taboos. About 10 of these women, who are master weavers, are recognised as 'living heritage' by UNESCO. 

Dayan having a chat with Welyne. Dayan is an editorial consultant, she undertakes
projects which are mainly non-fiction and academic in nature.
The Curator, Dr Welyne Jeffrey Jehom, walked us through the exhibition personally. It's not often that this happens, but we were impressed with absolutely everything: the beautiful pua kumbu pieces, the research behind the artefacts and the audio-visual presentations and the animation of the myths encoded the textiles. Being a writer myself, I've heard the terms 'weaving a story' or 'bringing the different strands/threads of a story together' often enough and in the case of pua kumbu, a story is literally woven into the cloth. 

Why is telling a story similar to weaving a cloth? Perhaps these expressions in English arose from the weaving of tapestries, which often served as a medium to record an event. The most famous textile art in history must be the 900 year old Bayeux Tapestry, which tells the story of the Norman invasion of Britain.

Excerpt from Wikipedia:

A small part of the Odo Bayeux Tapestry - royalty free image from Wikipedia.
The Bayeux Tapestry  is an embroidered cloth nearly 70 metres (230 ft) long and 50 centimetres (20 in) tall, which depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England concerning William, Duke of Normandy, and Harold, Earl of Wessex, later King of England, and culminating in the Battle of Hastings.
The tapestry consists of some fifty scenes..., embroidered on linen with coloured woollen yarns. It is likely that it was commissioned by Bishop Odo, William's half-brother, and made in England—not Bayeux—in the 1070s. In 1729 the hanging was rediscovered by scholars at a time when it was being displayed annually in Bayeux Cathedral. The tapestry is now exhibited at the Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux in BayeuxNormandy, France (49.2744°N 0.7003°W).
The designs on the Bayeux Tapestry are embroidered rather than woven, so that it is not technically a tapestry.[2] Nevertheless, it is always referred to as such.

Close-up of the design of a beautiful yellow and blue pua kumbu
Back to the exhibition - Dr Welyne, who is from Sarawak, said that the exhibition was the culmination of three years of research among the Iban longhouses of Sarawak. One of her discoveries was that different pieces of pua kumbu made by different tribes may actually code different parts of a longer story i.e. the cloth from one village may have the beginning of a story, a weaver from another village may have the second part etc. She found out that the weavers themselves did not know this fact and she decided to piece together several myths based on her interpretation of various pieces of pua kumbu.  

A pua kumbu depicting the love story of the god Keling and the beautiful maiden called Kumang. We will have to
wait for Welyne's forthcoming book for the whole story!

Artistic rendition of Kumang in all her finery...

Dr Welyne explaining the story behind an intricately woven pua kumbu
 The other surprising piece of information from Welyne is the fact that pua kumbu has gender - some pieces are considered to be male and some are female.

These two pieces are 'female' pua kumbu.

Another interesting fact is that, every piece of pua kumbu must have a provenance. The weavers must know the story behind the cloth they are weaving; they would never attempt to weave a particular pattern if the weaver who first created it passed away without telling them the story behind it... Similarly, there are patterns which belong exclusively to longhouses with a head-hunting tradition and it is taboo for weavers who did not come from such a heritage to weave these patterns; however, longhouses which did not practice head-hunting in the past also have their own special heritage pua kumbu designs.

Artistic rendition of the Iban god, Keling. To find out more about him,
you may want to read Golda Mowe's book, Iban Dream and Iban Journey

So where do the inspiration for the pua kumbu designs and story come from? They come from dreams which sometimes visit these weavers. Which is why, they are also known as the weavers of dreams. I made a reference to this in the story of Santubong and Sejinjang, in my book, Eight Fortunes of the Qilin (also refer to the previous blogpost - The True Identity of Nakhoda Ragam.) 
And the reason why, people refer to telling a story as 'spinning a yarn' in the old days...

The metaphor is obvious; you tell a story like you make clothing. Repetition and pattern, moving the story along a path like a piece of thread you're spinning, putting large pieces together, crafting small pieces carefully, to get things put together right. It's art and it's craft and it's a valuable skill. Especially in a non-literate society.
So the metaphor theme Storytelling Is Weaving
as well as the fact that storytelling is lying
licenses these instantiations
  • loom of language, weave a story/spell, thread of discourse, warp and woof
including these, where the textile metaphor has an association of telling lies:
  • fabricating evidence, spin a yarn, tissue of lies, pull the wool over X’s eyes, out of whole cloth
Invitations are already coming in for the pua kumbu exhibition to be shown in Australia, Canada, Taiwan, UK, US and maybe Paris, France...

These pictures taken at the Pua Kumbu Exhibition at the Art Gallery, Chancellery building, University of Malaya.

Comments about the post on Facebook: