A boy from an Island in the Pacific Ocean - previously undiscovered - is lost at sea and washes up on the beaches of Philipstown, CA. Caught in a culture shock the boy must learn not only about the language and traditions of this alien place but about love, mathematics and how to become a man.
make (someone) stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights.
Wood is burning. People shout. The Island of Akhystai was ablaze but not with the horror of an inferno, with the joy of a celebration. A bonfire. My father and I stood in the middle, he wearing the mask of the Yahea and I wearing the mask of an Ikerno. These translate to English as the cougar and the tortoise respectively. The reason for such a celebration on the Island of Akhystai was the occasion of my fifteenth Birthday, the beginning of my journey to becoming a man. This night I remove the mask of the Ikerno as the end of my childhood and switch to the mask of the Triheh - the bird - so that I might find my wings and soar between this night and my eighteenth Birthday. I must prove myself to my father and the people of my island before I can bear the mask of the Yahea like my father.
My father or Da and I moved together inside the circle of the islanders and around the fire. My mother sat apart from the crowd, watching as Da and I moved to the music that the women played on their drums. Embers from the fire sparked ecstatically into the constellations above. All at once the music reached a crescendo and the drums boomed their final note and the movement stopped. The leader of our people appeared, walking on the hot coals to show us that she was far braver and infinitely more talented than we. This was another ritual of our tribe, the leader, if they are truly a leader will walk on hot coals before addressing their people. As well as proving power it assured the other tribespeople that the leader, the Chieftain, would lead with a pure heart and a sound mind.
"Kahewai!" she shouted to us all. That is my name. The black feathers of her robe rustled in the wind as if a bird were to take flight from the garment on her back or as if she herself would fly. "Kahewai, tonight you begin a long journey. Upon this journey you will learn the ways of your elders and prove yourself to your Da, to me and to all of our people." I looked out to see the strong eyes of the crowd, these were my people, the encouragers, the explorers, the survivors. They empowered me, I was determined to be worthy of the Yahea mask. "You must make us proud. You must show skill. You must show us that you are truly one of our brave men." She, known only as the Chieftain, stepped down from her platform and returned over the hot coals.
The music came back, the drums were louder and people sang a ceremonial song for Da and I to hear. All the dancers wore their masks, they were embellished with shells and stones given to them for brave achievements and the like. When I was twelve I was presented with a big polished shell to put on my Ikerno but I believe that it is not a story for this moment. Each man, woman and child ducked and dived between each other and curled together, all silhouetted against the fire that they played with. This time the dance did not end with a harsh drumbeat but with a fading of the song and sound as bodies melted to a halt. They stepped forward. I stood and as I had seen happen to so many of my people, the Chieftain returned and removed my Ikerno mask, replacing it with my new Triheh, bird mask. She affixed my polished shell to my Triheh.
"Brave Kahewai, much awaits you. The island presents you with this mask so that you may learn to fly." the Chieftain murmured the words so quietly that I barely heard them. Then, placing her hands firmly on my shoulders, she turned me to the crowd and once again shouted my name to them. Each repeated my name and the bonfire was put out and immediately replaced by smaller lights.
Much happened then as people began to bustle off to tables to devour the feast like the Yahea of our island. I looked at Da. He smiled. His Yahea had many shells and stones, I knew the stories of them all. He turned his back to find our seats. My mother approached me with tears in her eyes.
"Kahewai, I am so proud of you! She sobbed and placed a hand on my cheek. I was much taller than her and she could barely reach. I caught her hand in my own and gave her thanks, my eyes were tearing too. The last time my mother had cried was when my baby brother had been born, I saw in her eyes that she was thinking about him too. I wanted so much to comfort her, my brother had been stillborn. The other islanders passed by, their masks adorned with shells and stones, what must I do to become like them?
Everyone else was seated when I finally moved off to my seat between my mother and Da. I was sat opposite the Chieftain though she only attended rare meals like this. I wondered where she ate most of the time. And what she ate. No one was ever asked to bring her food but she was definitely a healthy size, it was obvious that whatever she did, she did not starve.
Da was asked to say a blessing speech for our meal. As he rose he puffed out his chest and took a deep breath. Da was huge and muscly and nothing like me except that he was tall and we had the same colour hair and complexion though all of the islanders had dark hair and tanned skin. Da spoke thanks for all the islanders: the fishers, the gatherers, the builders, the farmers, the hunters. Each word boomed with pride and honour. He sat down again and we were allowed to eat all that was laid before us. The Chieftain asked Da about many of his smoothest and shiniest stones and shells that adorned his Yahea, she spoke to my mother about her duties - mother was from a gatherer family who collected our raw materials - and she asked me about myself. I had never spoken to her before.
"How do you plan to earn your Yahea, young one?" I hadn't really thought about it before but I had approximately five seconds to fabricate a convincing lie.
"I will do something that no one has ever done. Maybe I will climb the mountain." Da clapped, he believed I was going to be great like him. That was what everyone believed right now. I was not so sure, I did not feel worthy of this celebration. As I wallowed in my uncertainty, conversation swelled, all the islanders shared stories and watched the stars go by on a happy, happy occasion.