Mangeshi, Baghdad and Easter Island Frozen Moments

الكاتب: Francis Kalo Khosho

Mangeshi, Baghdad and Easter Island

“Frozen Moments”

By Francis K. Khosho

When I think back to my childhood, I think about all of the wonderful memories in the village of Mangeshi in the late fifties. Almost like static images lodged firmly in my head, “frozen moments” so to speak. My relationship with Mangeshi is like a video where you can pause anytime and continue at will. So I will continue where I left off prior to our last separation. Sometimes I find myself thinking too much about my childhood memories, even though I know I cannot return, but I appreciate the state of mind Mangeshi, the land I love so much, puts me in

My memory of Mangeshi is fixed – a beauty of nature, joy, isolated from the larger world and impervious to time. I consign it to nature, so quiet and peaceful

 

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Mangeshi art painting Painter Unknown

 

There was a pleasant rhythm of life, free from the strains of modernity. It consisted of a small cluster of mud houses with a church in the center nestled on a slope between the mountains and hills (Tori w’ Zori) with a small dirt road that cars now would have a hard time passing through. The houses were so close together that you could cross from house to house without touching the ground. A

thin plume of smoke rose from the roof windows (kawi d’ zopa) of the mud houses. Cows, sheep and goats moved in their pens, squawking chickens ran in the courtyard, and women sat side by side scrubbing their laundry. The children would run along the edges of the fields. This was a farmer village with cattle, goats, sheep, grain fields, vineyards and orchards. The school had six classes with about twenty students each class

The teachers were the guiding forces, true mentors for many of us growing up in a little village in the late fifties (my generation). The revolution of July 14, 1958 was

 

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Mangeshi Primary School Teachers late fifties Photo by: Poles Esho Tapo

 

greatly welcomed by Iraqi people. For the poor, it meant great hope for an optimistic future. The active supporters took to the streets celebrating – a new constitution was adopted, proclaiming the equality of all citizens under the law granting freedom without regard to race, nationality, language or religion. The revolution affected people’s feeling and thinking and, for the first time, simple people became attached to politics – Mangeshi included

 

 

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Mangeshi Primary School in the late fifties Photo by: Dawood Cherko collection

 

This period witnessed freedom of the press, newspapers and magazines were allowed to be published. Watching our teachers reading newspapers, magazines, books, listening to news on the radio and discussing it with each other and older children was fascinating. They got us engaged; to talk about the news and discuss world events. They helped us understand that the world around us was much larger then our small village. However, the interest levels in politics varied, some children expressed great interest, while others did not. The national culture flourished. The book market was filled with thousands of scientific and cultural publications from numerous sources. Many prominent international stories and novels were translated into Arabic and published in Iraq. Our teachers and parents, permanent encouragements of our education, were forces that changed us to gain understanding of our life situation and see the world differently, ultimately changing out perspectives.

What I will remember about my early childhood was the transition from growing up in a little village and then shifting to the big city, Baghdad. Summers were hot in Baghdad with blazing sunny skies from really early morning until the sun set at night. I remember how blistering the temperature would be at its peak, compelling even the smallest creatures to immobility. I recall people spraying the porches and gardens with water to cool the air and add a little humidity to the dry heat. I remember the house was like an oven, and the use of fans offered false hope. We would have our afternoon nap when lunch was over, clothed by our caregivers as lightly as possible. After waking up, the temperature would be slightly cooler and the streets of Baghdad became alive again with crowds of people – the loud roar of city chatter. Some would make their way towards the river along Abu Nawaz Street by the Tigris river bank. Some would go to the local cinema which played an important role in many Baghdadi’s social life. I remember the cinemas Ghazi, Rex, Roxy (an open-air cinema), Khayyam, Al Naser and Sindbad.

When I moved to Baghdad, I developed a habit of introducing myself to the new city by walking and riding buses all the way to the end of their line. Bus #4 (Reqem arba’a) to Muidan Square off Rasheed Street was my favorite. I would examine the places that extended before me – fascinating places full of new people and ideas. I would ride the red double decker bus, sitting on the top level and always hoping to get the front window seat in order to see everything. I would get off of the packed bus at Al-Rasheed Street and soak in my surroundings, wondering where all these people were going? Where were they coming from? I would continue my walk down Al- Rasheed with its pillars and cafes. I would go through alleyways and find myself at Baghdad’s Al Safafir market place with its many shops, including the copper smith. Copper was beaten into pats and pitchers of all shapes and sizes. I always loved the noise inside the shop from the hammer beating against the metal. I continued my walk to Sahat Al Muidan, and hurried through the Souq Al Haraj (the flea market) an outdoor market selling second hand goods and cheap items. There were hundreds of stall holders on every corner with inventory that ranged from nuts and bolts to electrical equipment, tools

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A red double decker bus in Baghdad

radios and watches. Thousands of people from across the region would frequent this market to shop

The interesting part of traveling to the city was meeting and observing people who were born in different villages and cities, with completely different upbringings then my own. We all had our minds fixed on the symbolic center of the city. One distinct memory I have of Baghdad was going to the ancient street called Al Mutanabbi Street, a winding street about one thousand feet long. It was named after the famous poet Abu Tayyib Al Mutanabbi and was located by Al Rasheed Street on the lip of the Tigris River. It was a street filled with bookstores, outdoor

 

 

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Book stall litter the side walk in Al Mutanabbi street, Baghdad

 

book stalls littered the sidewalks, and waved from tables and carts. I would usually spend most of the evening or Friday morning browsing the book shops sprinkled around Al Mutanabbi Street, reading as much as I could and, if I had some spare money, purchasing a book I could take home with me at the end of the day

Many have gathered in this location over the years, a place where they could feel free, surrounded by books and open-minded people who wanted to read and had a

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Cover of Aku-Aku Book

thirst for knowledge. They mixed with each other freely, as human beings, regardless of their religion, creed, and cultural ideology. They were simply book lovers. One day I was standing at a book stall crammed with books and I picked one up about Easter Island. I distinctly remember photos reflecting large statues. The statues had broad noses and strong chins, along with rectangle shaped ears and deep eye slits. The photos truly captured my attention and imagination. What did these statues mean? Who were these people? Where in the world were they located?

Last summer I received an email from a tour company regarding a trip to Easter Island entitled “Uncover the archaecological mysteries of Easter Island’s Rupa Nui National Park.” While I was reading the email, I noticed photos of the exact same statutes I saw standing there at a random book stall on Al Mutanabbi street. My mind instantly flooded with memories and my deep curiosity of these statues came back – I was hooked. I became eager to learn more about Easter Island and its history and knew I had to make the journey. My wife Bernadette and I discussed traveling to Easter Island and ultimately planned our trip for January of 2016

Easter Island is one of the most mysterious islands on the planet, seemingly isloated from the rest of the world. It sits 2,000 miles west of the chilean coast of South America in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It was first discovered by Dutch explorer Jakob Rogge Veen on Easter Sunday in 1722 – hence the name Easter Island – the name has stuck ever since, but natives, who have known their home by its own name for thousands of years, call it Rapa Nui. The present day population of Rapa Nui are a mix of polynesian and chilean desent. In their indigenous language they also refer to their homeland as “Te Pito O te Henu a” which means

 

 

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Moai in Easter Island Photo by: The Author 2016

 

“Land’s ends or Navel of the world,” or, “Mata Ki Te Rangi” which means “eye looking to the sky.”

Easter Island is most famous for the huge stone heads called “Moai” which can only be found there. Each of the Moai are full complete bodies but are interestingly buried up to their necks. The stone heads are carved out of volcanic rock and are incredibly large in size. When I actually saw the first Moai in person on Easter Island with the crystal blue of the Pacific Ocean in the backdrop, I quickly realized that neither pictures or words could ever capture their majesty. The dignity of these statues quickly reminded me of my time in The Land of Twin Rivers, the land of my ancestors, the birthplace of civilization. It also reminded me of the magnificent statues on our history

In 1963, I was able to visit the great city of Babylon. I was able to see the statue of the ancient Babylon Lion standing on the top of a man, a symbol of strength. In 1973, I visited the magnificent city of Nineveh. I was able to see Nimrud, the winged-bull statues that were placed at the gates of the great

 

Assyrian palaces as protective spirits. Both statues were such amazing sights to

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Statue of ancient Babylon a lion standing on the top of a man Photo by: the Author 1963

 

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Statue of the winged-bull of the great Assyrian Palaces Photo by: The Author 1973

Easter Island’s remnants differ from those in the land of Twin Rivers and other ancient ruins because of the ongoing mysteries that surround the Moai and their makers. Did they represent gods or were they meant to be shrines? During a tour of

 

 

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Orongo the Ceremonial Village Photo by: The Author 2016

 

the island, our guide informed us that the first settlers of the island were thought to have arrived in 400A.D. from one of the other Polynesians Islands to the west. Over thousands of years settlers began to develop a relatively advanced culture. They farmed crops, built stone statues (Moai) and their population grew in estimation by some

20,000 inhabitants. The isolated island could no longer supports its human inhabitants and islanders continued to cut down the trees which once covered the entire Island. They destroyed their forest, degraded the topsoil and drove their animals to extinction. The Moais were ignored in order to make way for a new tradition, the “Birdman cult.” Worship of the Moai statues was replaced. The chief was chosen by means of an annual race which involved scrambling down the cliff- top of Orongo and swimming out to Small Island, fetching an egg and returning with it intact

 

 

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Three small Inlets (Motus) where the Birdman cult competition took place Photo by: The Author 2016

 

The winner would be considered the supreme ruler for one year until the next competition. More than half of competitors died from sharks, falls etc. – the birdman cult history is truly fascinating. Consequently, the population size quickly fell, descending into civil war, cannibalism and self-distraction, also European diseases brought their population of thousands to just 111 by 1877. The practice of the Birdman cult was abolished in 1860 when Christianity became the official religion of Easter Island. Their only church is decorated with locally hand carved statues of Jesus, Mary and the Archangel Michael which reflect the Polynesian artistic influence

 

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Easter Island – the only Church Photo by: the Author, 2016

 

Another place where you can see the religious influence is in the cemetery. Some

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Sunset at Hango Roa Photo by: The Author 2016

of the stones are beautifully sculpted and combine Christian and Rapa Nui motifs. On the edge of Hango Roa, the only town in Easter Island, we spend the evening with many people who gather at the hill side, watching the sun set behind the Moai

The evening started with a seam of pink in the sky and exploded into many colors behind the cloudy sky. I closed my eyes and went somewhere else in my brain, thinking of my ancestors and our home town Mangeshi, majestically nestled and guarded by the glorious Mangeshi Mountains and the spectacular hills. I gazed up at the Mangeshi Mountains that edged the vineyards and the Mangeshi River, searching each peak and imagining that spirits of our ancestors, along with St. George, the patron of Mangeshi village, reigned there watching and guarding the villagers. Up so high, they had a clear view us. The imprint it has left upon my heart will be there forever, like turtles who return across thousands of miles of ocean to home, because that is where the heart is. I hope you have enjoyed this article as much as I have enjoyed writing it and reminiscing of our beautiful homeland

 

References

(1)

 Fischer, S. R. Island at the end of the world, the turbulent history of Easter Island London 2005

(2)

 Thomson, W. Invention of the name Rapa Nui Washington-ARSI for 1891

(3)

 Personal observations by me during my visit to Easter Island, 2016 as well as from local informants on the Island and information gleaned from internet sources

(4)

 Hunt, T. Rethinking the fall of Easter Island American Scientist 2006

(5)

 http://www.bradshawfoundation.com/easter/birdman_motif_easter_island.php

(6)

 Rotenberg, K. The mystery of Easter Island 1919

 

More Photos from Easter Island

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