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“These souls, fleeing the Sultan’s cruelty, sadly they cannot live with us. To live a life of piratical liberty, one must have sea-worth, able to court and cower before Mother Ocean.”

“In their souls they are uplanders. They have hill-shaped hearts. They can neither read star-charts nor savour the taste of spray. They’re simply not made that way!”

Having justified themselves, the pirates of the island prepared a care package — a barrel of beer; a netful of fish; twelve blankets, folded, lowered by crane onto the outcasts’ largest raft. Along with a letter, saying:

“Ho there travellers! Unfortunately, you may not settle here. Sorry! Have these gifts, no strings attached, with our sympathies, and this whale-bone recorder,”

— at which point a flute fell out of the unfolded page —

“with which you might use to attract a dragon-spirit’s pity. Hopefully! Thank you. Please go.”

I made illustrations for ‘Whalebone and Crabshell’, a fable by Zedeck Siew. It was spurred by the Rohingya refugee crisis, or rather by our shameful response towards said crisis.

Some notes that might be of interest:

The floral motif decorating the landmass in the first picture is a Thazin orchid, royal flower of Burma. The most prized come from mountains in Rakhine state, on the west of Burma bordering Bangladesh, which is also the traditional home of the Rohingya people.

The gilt borders feature the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) emblem, where ‘the stalks of padi in the centre of the Emblem represent the dream of ASEAN’s Founding Fathers [sic] for an ASEAN comprising all the countries in Southeast Asia, bound together in friendship and solidarity’.