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Mr. Étienne Heifara Shares His Memory of Vaima Springs
After His Group Repatriates Tahitian Skeletons that Were
Smuggled Out of the Country by American Anthropologists

by Kimo Armitage

We enter the museum
where the human bones
await to be reburied.
To the left, cardboard boxes
are labeled with their final destination:
HIVA OA (This is an island in the Marquesas)
HUAHINE (This is a Society Island)
MAKATEA (This is in the Tuamotu Archipelago)
MOOREA (This is a Society Island)
TIKEHAU (This is in the Tuamotu Archipelago)
MANGAREVA (This is an island in the Gambier region)
TAHITI (The main island)
We cry when we see
pencil marks on their skulls,
these white men
with tape measures,
calculators, and theories of evolution.
Our spiritual adviser instructs us
to introduce ourselves to the bones
so they will accept us.
I am Étienne Heifara.
My fatherʻs family is from Rotoava, Fakarava.
My father is Hotu Heifara,
son of Vatea Heifara,
    son of Raimana Heifara,
              son of Tua Heifara,
                        son of Heifara.
My mother is Hina Hiefara,
daughter of Ra and Mata Teanihei
of Maumu, Makatea.
I speak to the bones,
"Please forgive any mistakes I make
with my hands or my mouth.
I am a child of Makatea.
I will help you elders return."
The work is 9 hours in silence.
The bones of each ancestor are removed
from cardboard boxes
then wrapped in barkcloth,
then placed in cases woven
from pandanus leaves.
We work through the night.
At sunlight, the ancestors begin
their journey back
to their home islands.
We cleanse the area and ourselves
with sea salt and prayer,
our words grateful and humble.
We dive in the ocean,
to release the cloak of burden and sadness
from touching death.
A large eel
slides into the space between
my daughter and I,
I am old and know the signs
of these things when spirits
communicate with us so I reach
for the eel to stroke its back.
It coils around my hands,
returns into the coral caves
at the reef's border.
I confess to the eel and my daughter,
"I am sorry that our people
allowed the bones to be stolen."
I think they understand
colonization and helplessness,  
that the history of one is incomplete
without the other.


Biography
Kimo Armitage draws upon the rich stories of his youth spent in Haleiwa,
Hawaii, where he was raised by his maternal grandparents. Armitage
published his first novel,
The Healers, with the University of Hawaii Press
in April 2016.
World's Best Poems, p. 2

Mr. Étienne Heifara Shares His Memory of Vaima Springs
After His Group Repatriates Tahitian Skeletons that Were
Smuggled Out of the Country by American Anthropologists

by Kimo Armitage
(Honolulu, Hawaii, USA)

First Place: Socially Engaged Poetry Contest #2
Originally Published in
Wax Poetry and Art, August 21, 2017
"Mr. Étienne Heifara Shares His Memory..." by Kimo Armitage
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