A dark curse and a fond final farewell

Clidemia hirta, known in English as Koster's curse, and locally named riahpen rot (dark curse) continues to spread in the forest across the road from the college. This term the SC/SS 115 Ethnobotany class Clidemia hirta pull was optional due to a memorial service.

Six students chose to join the hike into the dark, wet, muddy forest on a rainy day that had heard thunder earlier in the afternoon. The class first visited the Palikir Ethnobotanical Learning garden to learn to distinguish the native Melastoma malabathicum var. marianum (pisetikimei) from Clidemia hirta.

Megan and Nixon get started in a patch of Clidemia hirta.
Sepebriana pulling Clidemia hirta.
The instructor pulling from inside a clump of Clidemia.
Megan and Nixon.
And the Clidemia was hung from the Hibiscus with care, in hopes that Saint Nicholas would soon be there...
Heading back in from the forest - Deisleen, Kasinta, and Megan.

After showering, I headed down to the memorial service, catching the last third.
I slipped in at the back and sat along the back wall of the practice gym, feeling a deep sense of loss and sadness at having lost such a wonderful colleague and friend. 

I rather expected to see a few more students, but only Dayne was actually at the memorial service. Attending the service was not required, and the class was indeed optional.

Still, I felt a sense of disappointment that more students who had opted out of the class had not absorbed the implicit cultural imperative to then attend the memorial service. The class is centered both on the natural and social science of plants and people. The class just finished a unit that included concepts such the germinant corpse and role of sakau in mourning the loss of those we love.

The class was not an intentional test, yet the concept of respect for elders and culture were implicitly tested by the day. I had suggested the week before, at the sakau ceremony, that those who chose not to pull Clidemia hirta could attend the service on my behalf as I wanted to attend the service but felt educating students about this most invasive and destructive plant, a fairly new arrival, was important. And the term is out of days on which to reschedule.

At my age I am nominally an elder, at the very least I am older than my students. Thus in their decision to not pull Clidemia and not attend the service, but rather to skip both, there is an undercurrent of disrespect. And respect is a core cultural value, something emphasized in the material culture lecture. Put the other way around, I was honored by those who joined in the field and those who were at the service.

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