Fate has painted the Ancestral story belonging to the Misa-eje clan—Fate’s late husband Fall Savari’s clan. She explains the story: “In the times of the Ancestors there was a brother and a sister. When they were out hunting they came across a big tree standing in the middle of the forest known as the Kunnoo’ino tree.”
The two juxtaposed circular/central motifs are ijo behe, representing the trunks of the Kunnoo’ino tree. The lines that fan out from the circles are the man’s gardens with the cross-hatch design marov’e han’e, leaves of the fig tree.
Fate was actively painting for Omie Artists at Gora Village Art Centre between 2008-2019 and during that period she painted this design only three times, this piece being the most detailed and complex example of the story, with a highly resolved composition.
Fate has painted a traditional men’s Ujawé initiation ceremony. Her late husband, Fall Savari, told her the story of how he went inside the guai—an ancestral underground site in the forest on the ouskirts of a village. Pubescent/teenage children stayed in the guai for a period until they reached sexual maturity and were ready for initiation into manhood and womanhood. Before their initiation ceremony boys and girls were tattooed inside the guai by their families. Mens’ entire bodies would be tattooed while only the cheeks of women were tattooed.
Fate tells how tattooing had begun on Fall but due to the pain he left the guai and did not go through with his Ujawé initiation but his friend Ureekureh, otherwise known as Tabarigua , did.
The painting shows Ureekureh at Borrohojë, one of the villages of Gora in the Gora valley, during the Ujawé ceremonial feast after emerging from the underground guai (tattooing pit). It is a big and lavish celebration attended by the whole community. Through Ureekureh’s nose is a bisone (bone jewellery for initiation nasal septum piercings) and a dubié (ring for nasal septum piercing). His hair has betelnut tied to its ends and he wears a headdress of feathers from birds such as the gojave (parrot) and booroohidahe (eagle). The band of chevrons across his forehead is an aresai, which was made from shells traded from coastal tribes. Around his neck is a necklace known as tamajai which is made from stones from the River Nëhö. The circlular motif around his navel is vinohu’e (tattoo design of the bellybutton). He is surrounded by foods prepared for the ceremonial feast including deji’e (yams), mage (taro) and mahubiroge (pig meat).
The circle at the top-left is a design known as ije bi’weje (boys cutting the leaves of a tree). Fate explains: “The mother was cleaning the bush to make a garden with her two young sons. The boys climbed a tree to cut all of the branches and leaves down. The branches fell down and the mother took all of the leaves and threw them away. Then the mother got plenty of bananas, taro and yam to plant in their newly cleared garden. When they finished planting all of the plants, they ate all of the food from the garden and lived a long life.” The border is painted in the traditional Dahorurajé style with gori hane, Dahorurajé clan design of the fern leaf.
The animal seen at the bottom righthand side is called a jubujé. It is a small to medium sized noctural marsupial that live high in the mountains. Ömie people use to hunt, trap and eat the jubujé. When I asked Fate why she drew it she said, “That is me”. I was confused, so I asked her again what she meant and she said with a big smile on her face, “That is me because my hand draws fast!... just like the jubujé hunts through the trees!” The jubujé was Fate Savari’s artist signature in many of her works.
The border is known as orriseegé or ‘pathways’ and provides a customary compositional frame. The bristle design around the orriseegé is nyoni han’e, the Dahoruraje clan design of the fern leaf.
Note : At the time this information was recorded in 2010, Tabarigua’s son Jackson Tabarigua was living at Kinado, the next village over to Borrohojë at Gora in the Gora valley.
With her profound uehorëro or ‘wisdom’, Fate has painted a dramatic scene common in Ömie territory and likely to be of historical significance among the Ömie or certain clans. The border is known as orriseegé or ‘pathways’ and provides a compositional framework for the designs.
The large zig-zag that Fate has painted represents a bend in the river, jowo tahgwe. The river is the same one that Fate often paints known as Uborida, or the Jordan River, which is close to Gora village where she has lived most of her life since she married as a young woman. The fine yellow markings through the centre of the work are the powerful flooding waters of the river after rain. The fine red and yellow markings at each side of the work are the breaking banks of the river as it floods. While Fate has not painted the man crossing the flooding river in this particular instance, this design originates strongly from this story.
The spots within both the orriseegé and the river bend are known as sabu deje representing the spots which can be seen on the sides of a wood-boring grub. This grub is sacred to Ömie people as it plays an important part within the creation story of how Huvaimo came to be volcanic. It is a traditional sor’e (tattoo design) which was most commonly tattooed running in one line under both eyes. Today it is applied to Ömie people’s faces for dance performances with natural pigments.
The slanting lines within the river bend are ije biweje, representing boys cutting the leaves of a tree. Fate explains: “The mother was cleaning the bush to make a garden with her two young sons. The boys climbed a tree to cut all of the branches and leaves down. The branches fell down and the mother took all of the leaves and threw them away. Then the mother got plenty of bananas, taro and yam to plant in their newly cleared garden. When they finished planting all of the plants, they ate all of the food from the garden and lived a long life.”
The criss-cross design within both the orriseegé and the river bend is mi’ija’ahe, animal bones found while digging in the garden.
The bristle design of fine, short lines seen within the orriseegé are dubidubi’e han’e which are small white plants that grow on mountaintops.
The chevron (arrow-tip) design within the river bend is buboriano’e, beaks of the Papuan Hornbill (Rhyticeros plicatus).
Note : Similarly, an Ömie song written by Aiden Gadai of Duharenu village (artists Aspasia Gadai’s late husband) also tells of a man’s dangerous journey to cross a river during a flood.
Fate learnt this design from her mother Majaho, a Dahorurajé clanwoman from the old Dahorurajé clan village, Sidonejo, which was situated close to Savodobehi village and the sacred Mount Obo — the home of the first people, Mina & Suja).
The conjoined concentric circles are vinöhu’e, the design of the bellybutton. This circular design was tattooed around men’s navels during the Ujawé initiation rite, which were performed in underground chambers known as guai. The vinohu’e tatto design is sometimes also called siha’e, a design which represents the fruit of the Sihe tree. Sihe is a yellow fruit found in the rainforest and often eaten by cassowaries. In the time of the ancestors during times of tribal warfare, the Ömie male warriors had no food while they were defending their borders in the forest far from their villages so they survived by chewing the sihe fruit, swallowing the juice and then they would spit out the pulp. And so the vinohu’e design is a powerful symbol for male warriors’ strength and endurance.
The squares are bisected by a design known as jö’o sor’e, uncurling fern fronds, which was traditionally tattooed on both sides of Ömie women’s cheeks/mouths for initiation. The zig-zag designs are taigu taigu’e, an important ancestral Ömie tattoo design believed to have originally been inspired by the pattern on a leaf.
The border and lines that run through the works forming frames are known as orriseegé or ‘pathways’.
Fate also commented about this painting, “These tattoo designs began in the time of our ancestors. They have been passed down from our ancestors to my grandmother, to my mother and then to me. If I do not paint this design, who is going to hold this after I pass away? I am painting so my children and grandchildren learn, they will see and remember me and my designs. That is why I paint my tattoos on the barkcloth.” - Recorded on 5th April 2014, translated from Ömie to English by Raphael Bujava.