What a thrill it has been so far. It seems that around every corner, a celebration of culture, creativity, and giving awaits discovery. That was certainly the case at a simple but moving ceremony that took place on Friday, between a couple of commercial buildings in Hagatna off Castillo drive. The gathering (attended by a real live ko’ko’ named Buenas!) was to bless a gorgeously painted ko’ko’ bird that now presides over what will undoubtedly become Guam’s most celebrated parking lot. The mural is the gift of New Zealanders Charles and Janine Williams, who in researching our island, discovered the plight of our endangered ko’ko’ bird and decided upon this important message and visual delight. “We wanted to paint a giant one to put the ko’ko’ back into the wild and get the attention of everyone here and say protect your ko’ko’s.” Sometimes it takes someone from the outside looking in, to remind us of what is staring us right in the face.
Speaking of, there is something striking about a fully tattooed face. It’s not something one sees everyday and depictions of this choice in our popular culture are usually cast in the context of prison gang baddies or something similarly villainous. That stereotype was blown clear out of the water when the Maori gentlemen (with a full on facial tattoo) who led the hypnotizing blessing walked up to Buenas. He looked at the bird for a moment, cocking his head, to the left and then to the right. Then he extended his hand ever so slowly and Buenas hopped on. I cannot do justice to the magic of the connection that followed, but this gentle giant of a man then brought his massive inked forehead to bump up against that of the little bird in a Maori style greeting, and for a moment, man and bird were one.
The fate of the ko’ko’ remains to be seen. There are, thanks to the tireless commitment of people like Suzanne Medina at the Guam Department of Agriculture, about a hundred or so of the birds being raised in captivity for eventual release back into the wild. It’s sobering to imagine that the beautiful flightless creature that is our little ko’ko might one day exist no more. It would behoove us to look upon this reality as symbolic of the larger stresses upon our environment; climate change, the bleaching of coral, runoff due to erosion, contamination of our ground water, pesticide overuse … and to ask ourselves, what can we do to make a difference. May this atmosphere of sharing and caring live on long after our Pacific island brothers and sisters have left our shores.