Safeguard our culture

The Duncan family in front of a Fijian bure on their visit to Navala in the Ba highlands. Picture: SITERI SAUVAKACOLO

KENNETH Duncan Sr looked up the mountains of Navala in the highlands of Ba with pride.

He smiled and acknowledged the beauty of the place and shared that the ancestors of Navala were smart to have chosen such a lovely place to live.

Being a visitor to Navala, Kenneth as he is known by, an elder of the San Carlos Apache Tribe from Arizona in the United States of Amerca marvelled at the beautiful natural surroundings of Navala and the lovely settings of Fijian bure on the village green which marked a unique significant view of this Fijian village.

Kenneth is a Native American and recently toured Fiji with his family and a family friend as part of a cultural exchange program organised by the US Embassy.

After their two public performances in Suva and Nadi, the group was taken on a trip to Navala because it was one of the few villages in Fiji that still strictly observes Fijian tradition and culture.

“When we were nearing the village, a different sense of feeling came to me,” Kenneth said.

“I knew this place would be full of stories, songs and rich traditional stories from their elders.

“The place says it all … it is filled with rich tradition and rich history of the past.”

Songs, stories and dances have very much been part of the Native American people’s lives.

It is something they grow up with, something they view as a very important part of their life and something they continue to preserve as they pass knowledge from generation to another.

And while this may be similar to the traditional iTaukei way of life, the trip with the Duncan family was a true depiction of their love and respect for songs and dances.

Kenneth was accompanied by his wife Doreen, three sons Kenneth Jr, Jonathan and Talon and a close family friend Kristy Bedoni.

Navala villagers marvelled at the talents displayed by the Native American dancers who were dressed in their traditional attire together with the various costumes that they wore as a mark of their respect for who they are.

As the dancers lined up on the village green, a lady in her ’60s whispered “Keda dau raica ga nai sulusulu va qo na yaloyalo” (We only see such costumes in movies).

Not only was it an amazing experience, it was also an important educational tour for the students of Navala Catholic School who also learnt some valuable lessons from the touring group about the importance of learning and keeping their tradition alive.

The family is part of the internationally renowned Yellow Bird Productions that specialises in cultural presentations that celebrate the unique spirit of Native Americans.

“To the native people in America, the elders are the most treasured in our society because they are the ones that have learnt as much as they could about life and they are the ones that keep the songs, stories, the dances and all of the arts before they go on to the next world,” Kenneth said.

“Navala and other parts of Fiji are very beautiful so there should be great stories behind them and how their ancestors had first settled in these places.

“It is very important to learn from elders as much as possible especially the children so they can carry with them these beautiful pieces of history and they will share them too with their future generation.”

Kenneth said children should not see the elders as weak and old but see them as treasures of wealth and knowledge in culture.

He highlighted that in their Native American culture, the elders were always treasured and when there was a gathering, they would eat first.

He also believed that the little ones should be taught stories and be taught how to play hand games and how to make simple crafts.

“If elders teach their young ones to enjoy the stories, the crafts and the songs at a very young age, from that time on they would be open to more and more of such lovely historical pieces.

“Before technology takes over their lives, they are already occupied with the knowledge of their culture and who they are.”

Kenneth and Doreen have six sons and one daughter — Christy Duncan Lopez — who has four children, and Tony, 29, a five-time world champion hoop dancer, has three kids.

The newsmaven.io website highlights the clan’s dance repertoire individual talents: Kenny Junior, the eldest, is a grass, eagle and hoop dancer; Christy, jingle dress, Apache rainbow and bow and arrow; Karl, flutist and northern traditional; Kevin, eagle and multi-champion hoop dancer; Sky, hoop and eagle dancer; and Talon, the youngest at 14, is a champion fancy war dancer.

The six grandchildren, from ages one to 10, have bragging rights too, with a list extending to fancy shawl, jingle dress, hoop, fancy war, prairie chicken and butterfly dances.

And because they differentiated themselves with their Apache dances, the family was noticed and awarded the “Culture Keepers of Arizona” by former
Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano.
The recognition has opened the door for the Duncan’s to be ambassadors of Native culture in the US and abroad.

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