Not far along the path I reached the village shrine to the Lord of Land and Water. I reached up, standing on the tips of my toes and placed my bamboo dragonfly offering on the altar. Freshly lit incense curled skywards. Jackfruit and longan and sugarcane juice had been left the night before. I paid my respects and went on my way.
Soon I reached the tree that must never be cut down. The bpa day bpaw tree which protected the spirits of our children. I rubbed my hands against the bark, leant against it. Pattibuwah told me how when I was born my father cut the sacred cord with a small sliver of bamboo bark. This was wrapped in a special cloth and put in a bamboo shaft which my father brought to hang from this tree. This tree kept my spirit safe until I could talk and walk. Then the bamboo shaft was removed and buried at the roots of my kla tree which became my guardian tree. I knew this tree like I knew myself. It grew on the other side of the village. In the evening it sometimes whispered to me, stories from my past. Sometimes it sang to me of my future.
It was then I noticed how dark the sky was and I knew that a storm was coming. Y’wa sent the rain, I knew, for without it we would not have the rice which kept us alive. Y’wa had created the world, Pattibuwah told me. And when I looked at the clouds I could see Y’wa ‘s face.
I was a little girl playing by the great Moei river. How old would I have been at the time? I can not remember exactly. I must have been very young: five, maybe six years old. Pattibuwah was in the village with the others, and I could just see the smoke of the charcoal fire above the tops of the trees.
Behind me grew a cluster of bamboo lit up in the afternoon light. I took out the small knife that Pattibuwah had given me and cut off a tall stalk of bamboo and started whittling it as I had seen the men of the village do. The fact that I was a girl didn’t stop me. I wasn’t interested in the things I was supposed to do, like learn the weaving and the way of the loom, preferring to run barefoot with the boys. I worked the bamboo, shaping it into a dragonfly body which I placed on the riverbank. Then cut off two more smaller pieces of bamboo and started forming first one wing and then another. When I had finished I took a piece of river weed and fastened the wings to the body by wrapping it around and around, twisting and turning and fastening the ends. I ran with it along the riverbank until I slipped on a rock and fell. Bright red blood oozed from the cut on my foot. It didn’t hurt that much but I knew Pattibuwah would scold me if I didn’t return.
I turned and looked back up the path that led to the village, picked up the dragonfly and started on my way. I weaved in and out of the great forest which was my home, passing trees birthing white ghost orchids, remembering the old song Pattibuwah had sang into me when my own father lay dying of fever. He had sang my kla into me, sang how I was a child of the forest, a child of our people. This path, this village, this river were all I knew.