'A catalyst for positive healing': Reflections on the Yumi Olgeta workshop
(Waskam) Emelda Davis is the President and co-founder of Australian South Sea Islanders – Port Jackson and a descendent of the Australian blackbirding trade. In August 2019, Davis joined Aunty Lydia George and textile artist Helen Fraser for Yumi Olgeta a craftivism workshop and conversation event. Davis spoke with workshop participants about Australia’s history of blackbirding and the importance of recognition for Australian South Sea Islander people.
Here, she reflects on her advocacy work and what the Yumi Olgeta workshop meant to her…
The Yumi Olgeta craftivism workshop
The workshop hosted by the Museum of Australian Democracy (MoAD) titled ‘Yumi Olgeta’ was a great success reflecting the ongoing commitment to social justice by craftivist and workshop facilitator Helen Fraser. She consciously immersed herself in getting to know and understand the descendants of Blackbirding both here in Australia and ladies from Vanuatu in this instance.
The day offered a unique opportunity for all in attendance to participate in the exchange of stories through Helen’s concept of commemorating descendants of the trade through the craft of embroidery. This was coupled with Melanesian customary practice, song and language of the napen napen women from Vanuatu.
The workshop was honoured to receive respected Torres Strait Island leader Aunty Lydia George who welcomed participants so graciously and shared intimate history of her custom and cultural insight being also a Blackbird descendant of Pentecost – Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Lifu – New Caledonia.
On reflection, the opportunity to engage and exchange with community participants that demonstrated genuine and enthusiastic interest in the history, craft and importantly the exchanging of goodwill and culture of gift giving was a gesture of great peace and positive change for our nation.
What does Yumi Olgeta mean?
The workshop title ‘Yumi Olgeta’ is a Bislama word that means ‘you and me all together’. Bislama is the national language of Vanuatu and spoken throughout the Pacific. Bislama language was born in Bundaberg far north Queensland during the Blackbirding era (1847-1908) as a means of communication between slave traders, plantation owners and the many clans taken from their tribal regions.
Yumi Olgeta was such a meaningful and magnificent cultural concept of the unspoken word through chain stitch and of great significance historically for our communities.
For me, Yumi Olgeta was the catalyst for a series of positive healing workshops for our communities. Witnessing such an overwhelming response and interest in the lead up to the raising of the ASSI flag in Sydney and our inaugural Sugar Fest hosted on the Sugar Wharf - Port Jackson gave our people a greater sense of belonging and sense of family.
To celebrate the ASSI contribution to our nation ASSIPJ we have released an ASSI Educational Resource guide titled ‘Hardwork’ that references the significant contribution of Australian South Sea Islanders through self-determined political advocacy, literature, education, film and documentary works to name a few. The term ‘Hardwork’ was slang used at the dinner table when our people made a cup of tea they would say ‘pass the Hardwork’ instead of saying pass the sugar. Download for free: www.assipj.com.au
About the Australian South Sea Islanders
Australian South Sea Islanders (Port Jackson) (ASSIPJ) was formed in Sydney NSW with the support of an elder’s council and younger ASSI community leaders in 2010. The purpose of ASSIPJ was to build on past and continue the much-needed advocacy work that will eventually see the truth told of a history that is challenging, conflicting and very complex for the descendants of Australia’s Blackbirding trade.
The ASSIPJ journey has been one of both extreme frustration and heartache as well as breakthrough and joy as we worked for the recognition of some 60,000 Melanesian men and women that were stolen, culturally kidnapped and displaced from the eighty islands of Vanuatu and Solomons. This included many children who were not documented on ship-logs. These people were forced into a Sugar Slave trade and worked alongside First Nations peoples in pastoral, maritime and other industries that established the economic base of our country.
Today, some 172 years later, the work of ASSIPJ and many ASSI organisations continues to advocate for inclusion, with minimal progress. This in a country that prides itself on Diversity and Inclusion through Multiculturalism as part of the great Australian narrative.
This year marks the 25th Anniversary of the recognition of Australian South Sea Islanders by the 1994 Keating Government as suffering severe discrimination and racism. The recognition by that Government of the community as a ‘distinct cultural group’ who valued our islands of origin and cultural heritage promised greater inclusion in programs and services.