Dance Costumes in French Polynesia by gjmpzlaezgx


									 Dance Costumes in French Polynesia
                                                                                   both representative of larger practice throughout French Poly-
 • A Brief History of Dance Costumes                                               nesia and capable of being modified over time and space by local
 • Costuming the Dancer                                                            island aesthetics and preferences.
 • Le Grand Costume                                                                A BRIEF HISTORY OF DANCE COSTUMES
 • Le Costume Végétal                                                              The earliest reports of voyagers Samuel Wallis (1767), Louis An-
 • Le Costume En Tissu                                                             toine de Bougainville (1768), and James Cook (1769) document
                                                                                   a history of elaborate dress for dancers in presentational dances
                                                                                   that entertained both the chiefs and the general population. A
                                                                                   famous drawing by John Webber, artist on Captain James Cook’s

A    mong the customs French Polynesians perpetuate in the
     twenty-first century, the public performance of choreo-
graphed group dances is one of the most popular and highly en-
                                                                                   third voyage to the Pacific (1776–1780), depicts female dancers
                                                                                   in yards of finely beaten white tapa (barkcloth), gathered around
                                                                                   the waist with long pleats extending to the upper back and shoul-
joyed by local audiences. These may be as a school celebration, a                  ders of the performers. Feathers cover the breasts and hang in
way to acknowledge and greet important visitors, an accompani-                     tassels from the waist, while a crown of finely braided human hair
ment to the large buffets that local residents and visitors enjoy at                that Cook described as “near a mile long . . . [and] without a single
the tourist hotels, or as part of the yearly music and dance com-                  knott” (Cook 1968, 126) adorns the head, the most sacred part of
petitions known as Heiva. Viewed as a locus of artistic creativ-                   the body. Admired makers were those who skillfully incorporated
ity in the culture, costumes, often using natural resources, are an                fresh flowers in this elegant headwear. In a remarkable contrast,
integral part of performance, and audiences place high value on                    the male dancers have no head adornment at all and wear an un-
the originality and skilled craftsmanship displayed in costum-                     decorated barkcloth wrap tied at the waist.
ing the dancers. Dance dress worn by amateur and professional                          The Protestant missionaries who introduced Christianity in
troupes on the island of Tahiti, taken as a particular example, is                 1797 found certain aspects of traditional culture incompatible

Costumes of the dance troupe Tamari’i Teahupo’o, winners of the Heiva prize for Best Traditional Costume, with contrastive but complementary designs for men and
women, Tahiti, 2006. Photograph by Jane Freeman Moulin.
420           POLYNESIA

with church ideology. Dance—connected in their eyes to pre-             Whereas dance had previously been the realm of the youthful, fit
Christian practices, drunkenness, debauchery, and prostitution—         teenager and young adult segment of the population, the newly
was prohibited by law in 1845. Special attire disappeared as            initiated dance school competition in 2006 featured overwhelm-
performances moved from the public eye to hidden practice,              ingly female participants ranging from three to sixty years of age.
and Christian assemblies took prominence over chiefly enter-             Children’s costumes appeared; dance schools became sensitive to
tainment. Then, in the late 1800s, colonial politics reconfigured        mature performers’ desire for modest attire (sometimes harkening
“tradition” as national celebration, prompting activities tied to       back to the mother hubbard dress with the new addition of a thick
the commemoration of the July French Fête Nationale, or “Bas-           vegetal belt); and, in the absence of subsidies, most teachers opted
tille Day,” which added competitions in music (1878), “ancient          for simplified dress—all departures from former ways of present-
costumes” (1892), and dance (1894). Competitions between is-            ing dancers at grand events. Moreover, several schools replaced the
land districts had been a feature of precontact Tahitian life; in       pāreu with long dresses and flowing cloth skirts, reflecting the in-
this new context they became a way for Tahitians to transform           fluence of international Tahitian dance competitions abroad and
French political markers into expressions of Islander identity and      expanding the possibilities for fabric costumes.
values. Turn-of-the-century photographs document the splendid               As with variations in costume over time, there are also varia-
costumes at these fêtes, including tapa (barkcloth) skirts made         tions between locales. French Polynesia includes 128 islands
from the bark of paper mulberry, aute (Broussonetia papyrifera),        within five archipelagos—the Society, Tuamotu, Austral, Man-
and breadfruit, ’uru (Artocarpus altilis), trees; tiputa (ponchos) of   gareva, and Marquesas Islands—each of which has music, dance,
woven pandanus leaves (pandanus is a tropical shrub-like tree) or       and attire specific to the place. Islanders view these variations
decorated tapa; and revareva streamers made from the thin white         as an important aspect of community identity, with costume
sheath that covers a newly emerging coconut frond. As fine and           uniqueness often dependent on the resources of the specific is-
delicate as a strip of tissue paper, revareva waves delightfully in     land. For example, festival dress on the Marquesan island of Fatu
the breeze and is still a highly prized addition to head garlands       Hiva incorporates the fine handmade tapa for which the island is
and the most special dance costumes. Other period photos show           famous; dance skirts from Rapa, the southernmost island in the
female dancers in long “mother hubbard” dresses with hip sashes         Austral archipelago, employ the ’ā’eho reed (Erianthus floridulus)
or fiber strips tied over them; men wear long-sleeved, white dress       particular to the mountains of Rapa and its cool climate; cos-
shirts with “grass skirts” over their long, dark, tailored pants.       tumes on the Tuamotu Islands feature shell and mother-of-pearl
     By the 1930s costuming changed substantially. Shirts and           decorations reflecting the atoll environment. Because Tahiti is the
mother hubbards disappeared as dancers became comfortable re-           country’s economic and administrative center, however, perform-
vealing the body once again. Women in some troupes bared their          ing artists tend to emulate Tahitian dance forms, choreographic
midriffs, and long trousers for men were no longer requisite. Also,      ideals, and dance attire even as they strive to place a unique, lo-
during this time the skirt of thin strips of hibiscus bark (Hibiscus    calized stamp on them. Because of this central position in the
tiliaceus) became the standard for Tahitian dance, and certain fea-     cultural life of the country, the focus here is on Tahitian dance
tures of costuming appeared, namely dance shawls, headdresses,          dress—recognizing this as only one of many variations of cos-
and tassels around the waist.                                           tume existing in French Polynesia
     Throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, two dis-
tinct costume categories prevailed: an ensemble of natural ma-
                                                                        COSTUMING THE DANCER
terials, le grand costume, for dances accompanied by slit-drums
and membranophones; and, for dances performed to guitar and             For Tahitians the moment of performance brings to life the val-
ukulele-accompanied songs, a fabric costume en tissu based on           ued arts of poetry, music, and dance. All of these gain increased
the pāreu wraparound cloth just under two meters (two yards)            importance by wearing festive dress that Tahitians view as beau-
in length. The annual July celebrations, renamed Heiva i Tahiti         tifying the performers, displaying the artistry of local designers
in 1986, constituted the highlight of the dance year, and Tahitian      and craftspeople, and adding cultural importance to the event.
audiences eagerly awaited the stunning display of costume design        Dance also brings together the skill and wisdom of well-versed
and handicraft that was presented. Toward the end of the century        adults who share their knowledge with the youthful performers,
organizers initiated subsidies to help artists fund the extraordi-      instilling, among other ideals, appreciation for the beautiful hand-
nary creations for the large troupes of forty to a hundred dancers      crafted items worn—and often made—by the dancers. Whether
that Tahitians prefer. In the 1990s the addition of a third category,   calling for simple garlands, or an entire costume, performances
le costume végétal, designated costumes incorporating a primary         offer dancers repeated opportunities to learn and refine the art of
use of fresh or dried local plant materials and reflected artistic       making costumes.
trends using these materials in new and different ways. With the             Unlike the wide range of ages found in dance schools, partici-
turn of the century Heiva officials deemed the grand costume              pants in amateur and professional troupes fall within normative
and costume végétal obligatory for competition; the costume en          ages of about fifteen to twenty-eight. Amateur groups exhibit a
tissu became optional. This development aligns with Pacific-wide         range of body types; however, professional troupes carefully select
attempts to reclaim Islander identities in a postcolonial world,        dancers with desired physical attributes, including slender (but
and the Tahitian move to autonomy and independentist politics;          not skinny) bodies, average to tall height, developed musculature
it also underscores changing notions of the tie between costume         for men, and scar-free, tanned skin. Competition score sheets
and dance genre.                                                        from the 1970s offer a window on Tahitian aesthetics of the ideal
     The growth of dance schools throughout the 1990s and early         dancer, spelling out desired skin color (brown; not too light or
twenty-first century also influenced dance attire by necessitating        dark) and including points for women’s hair, with a preference for
age-appropriate wear and prompting new approaches to costuming.         long, dark, thick, waist-length tresses. Although frowned upon
                                                                                            DANCE COSTUMES IN FRENCH POLYNESIA                    421

                                                                                tāupo’o (headdress), hātua (belt), a chest covering that includes a
                                                                                tāpea tītī (bra) for the women and tāhei (shawl) for the men, and
                                                                                occasional items carried in the hands, such as ’i’i (dance whisks)
                                                                                of hibiscus fiber or fresh greensand tāhiri (fans) of plaited pan-
                                                                                danus or coconut leaves. A neck adornment—strands of shells
                                                                                or seeds, an ornate necklace, or a gorget (collar) incorporating
                                                                                feathers, barkcloth, and other local materials—may complete the
                                                                                ensemble. In an example of intra-Polynesian exchange, some Ta-
                                                                                hitian male dancers have borrowed the Samoan practice of tying
                                                                                strips of fresh or dried fibers around their upper arms and calves.
                                                                                All costume parts coordinate in terms of chosen materials, de-
                                                                                sign motifs, and color. For competition, judges also evaluate how
                                                                                well the costume relates to the overall theme of the performance
                                                                                and, through their scoring, reinforce the ethno-aesthetic system
                                                                                of what constitutes acceptable and exceptional dance attire.
                                                                                    The more skirt is the basic element of the grand costume; the
                                                                                term more also refers to the fibers themselves. Often called a “grass
                                                                                skirt” by outsiders, the more is made from the bark of the pūrau
                                                                                (Hibiscus tiliaceus) tree. Historically, Tahitians tied strips of leaves
                                                                                around their waists, but a thick skirt of fiber strips starts to ap-
                                                                                pear in photographs around 1900. Manufacturing the skirt is a
                                                                                time-intensive process of cutting straight horizontal branches,
                                                                                making a longitudinal cut to remove the bark in one piece, soak-
                                                                                ing this in water for several days, scraping off the dark outer bark,
                                                                                and hitting the light inner bark to flatten and thin the fibers. After
                                                                                drying the fibers thoroughly the bark is split into fine strips and
                                                                                knotted onto a cord to form a skirt. A second row of interlacing
                                                                                cordage, about six centimeters (2.3 inches) below, holds the top
                                                                                edge flat and secures the strips evenly.
Male costumes of the dance troupe Tamari’i Teahupo’o, Tahiti, 2006. Varnished       More fibers are naturally off-white but may be whitened with
pieces of coconut shell and yellow more fibers on a background of white tapa     lemon juice or dyed to a desired shade. Since at least the 1970s
with white more fibers form the main design elements. Photograph by Jane         makers have used convenient commercial dyes; however, tradi-
Freeman Moulin.                                                                 tionalists prefer the bright yellow of re’a (turmeric) juice and the
                                                                                red obtained from ’aute (Hibiscus rosasinensis). In addition to the
                                                                                natural tone Tahitians call “white” and the favored colors of yel-
before the mid-1980s, tasteful Polynesian tattoos are admired for               low and red, which for Tahitians are the colors of royalty, some
both sexes, with women’s tattoos tending to be smaller and on the               troupes employ secondary colors like brown, black, or even orange
ankles, waist, and lower torso while men’s large tattoos appear on              if these tie into the theme of the dance. For example, the district
legs, arms, chest, back, and buttocks.                                          of Puna’auia is well known for the wild oranges that grow deep
    The annual Heiva competition prompts months of rehearsal,                   in the Punaru’u valley; not surprisingly, their dancers appeared at
careful gathering and preparation of plants and flowers, and long                the 2006 Heiva in orange-colored more to present the songs and
hours of costume construction. The judges’ score sheets assign                  dances of the district. Because of the strong preference for tra-
points for apparel, allocating 14 percent of the total score to group           ditional colors, those produced by natural dyes, Tahitians avoid
attire and reserving a special award for the best costume. Evalu-               pink, blue, green, purple, or fluorescent shades, except for highly
ation criteria include respect for traditional colors, coordination             commercialized productions intended for tours abroad. Occa-
with the dance theme, beauty of the costume, how the costume                    sional creative attempts have meant dyeing the bottom edge a dif-
carries on stage, originality and quality of materials, originality             ferent color, layering skirts of varied colors and lengths, or making
in conception, and research into the chosen materials. In 2006                  more of multicolored strips, but the overwhelming preference is
each participating group received 1,500,000 CFP (Pacific francs                  for solid-colored skirts. Women wear the skirt knee-length or
used in French areas of the Pacific), roughly US$16,225, to help                 ankle-length, while men usually cut it at the knees. With fewer
satisfy regulations that allow only newly created costumes. The                 Tahitians willing to invest the time required to produce more,
following discusses the art of costume preparation and examines                 costs have risen accordingly. Also, small producers have problems
in detail exemplary attire in each of the three main categories.                assuring reliable delivery of the one hundred skirts required by
                                                                                large dance troupes. In an example of globalization and new pur-
                                                                                chasing patterns, many directors order more from Micronesia
                                                                                through a supplier in Honolulu who can guarantee large quanti-
Dance costumes in the twenty-first century reveal Tahitian desires               ties and consistent coloring for dyed skirts.
to connect with the past and yet to incorporate fresh ideas reflect-                 Island resources serve as inspiration for the costume designer,
ing the originality of Tahitian artists and current aesthetic values.           a role increasingly assigned to a costume specialist rather than
The grand costume includes several items: more (dance skirt),                   assumed by the dance director, as in earlier years. The designer
422          POLYNESIA

carefully selects motifs and materials for various costume parts,
considering the chosen theme as well as the color, texture, and
light-reflective qualities of the materials. He or she may use
matching costumes for male and female groups or incorporate
complementary but slightly modified ideas. Sometimes the de-
signer prefers bold contrast between gender groups and opts
for separate costumes of differing colors or designs, while still
maintaining visual links that unite the two sets. Innovation and
creativity are key in designing the various costume components.
Tahitians produce such a variety in size, shape, and design ele-
ments that it is difficult to designate a general style.
    The costumes of the troupe Tamari’i Teahupo’o, directed by
Adolphe Raveino and winners of the first prize for Best Tradi-
tional Costume in 2006, are a useful example to consider. The
striking costumes of this amateur troupe emphasize contrast be-
tween the male and female dancers. The two sets of costumes are
unique, although united in color (yellow and white with brown
accents), materials (more, tapa, and varnished coconut shell), and
motif (flat rounds of fiber strips that resemble starbursts, often
with a round piece of coconut shell at the center). Both use the
basic more skirt, tāupo’o headdress, and hātua belt; in addition,
men wear a tāhei shoulder covering and women wear a bra and
large necklace. Dance whisks complete the women’s costume.
    White more and white headdresses establish the funda-
mental colors and materials for the men’s attire. Recalling the
sixty- to ninety-centimeter- (23.6- to 35.4-inch-) high feathered
headdresses worn by Tahitian chiefs, the tāupo’o amplifies the
height and presence of the dancer. This headdress, of moderate
size by Tahitian standards (approximately forty centimeters, or
15.7 inches, high overall), frames the upper part of the head with
a vertical semicircular shape, a feature that anchors this creation
well within costume styles that developed during the second            The female costumes of the dance troupe Tamari’i Teahupo’o feature the orna-
half of the twentieth century. A sturdy, wide band encircles the                                   ¯
                                                                       mental use of white more, nı ’au, and tapa against yellow more skirts and dyed
head, and a stiff backing holds the vertical front portion upright;     yellow tapa belts and hats with the brown accents of varnished coconut shell
both are covered with white tapa. A slight elongation of the cen-      pieces, Tahiti, 2006. Photograph by Jane Freeman Moulin.
tral high point provides an interesting modification of the basic
semicircular shape, and white more fibers (approximately fifteen         and headdresses with a secondary use of white for the bra and
to eighteen centimeters, or 5.9 to 7 inches, long) line the entire     ornaments. The yellow tapa headdress, more pointed than the
outer edge to extend the overall size of the headdress. Five small     male version, incorporates starbursts and coconut-shell pieces
yellow starbursts along the edge alternate with diamond-shaped         but treats them differently. A seven-pointed, star-shaped cutout
pieces of varnished dark-brown coconut shell to establish the          of white tapa with a large coconut-shell center fills the vertical
primary visual motif, the latter providing a contrast in color and     middle section of the headdress. Thin braids of more loop around
mild reflective quality. Transposed to a large white starburst with     the edge and outline five round pieces of varnished coconut shell;
coconut shell center set over four leaf-shaped pieces, this motif      three white starbursts mark points at the top. Five small bundles
becomes the headdress’s centerpiece.                                   of stiff white nī ’au fibers, made from the young, unopened parts
    The hātua belt echoes the same materials and visual elements.      of the coconut flower, are spaced along the central upper edge.
Worn over the top edge of the skirt, belts require a sturdy backing    Each of the middle three bundles also contains a six- to seven-
material, such as dried pandanus leaves of the fara pae’ore variety.   centimeter- (2.3- to 2.7-inch-) wide strip of curled white tapa and
This belt, covered with white tapa, features the alternation of yel-   long white more fibers that flow down over the dancer’s hair to
low starbursts with coconut-shell centers and white starbursts af-     create a spectacular effect from all sides. The necklaces have two
fixed over four diamond-shaped coconut-shell pieces.                    rows of yellow starbursts with coconut-shell centers affixed to a
    The tāhei for this costume is a bandolier worn over the left       base of braided white more, from which loose fibers hang along
shoulder and fastened at right hip level. Duplicating the patterns     the bottom. The dancers wear strapless bras of plain white tapa
of the hātua, and with white more sewn to the lower edge, the          and carry ’i’i whisks of yellow more; when not needed, whisks
tāhei, with its fringe, replicates the look of the belt, overlapping   hang by loops from the lower arms.
the top edge of the skirt. The overall costume, therefore, presents       The hātua is covered with yellow tapa and, in a visual link
unified elements on the torso and unique, but closely related, de-      to the headdress, uses design motifs based on the same shapes,
signs for the head.                                                    materials, and braided loops. Certain features place this belt in
    The women’s costume reverses the color scheme. Whereas             the twenty-first century, notably the thick bustle of yellow more
men wear white with yellow accents, women have yellow skirts           about sixteen to eighteen centimeters (6.2 to 7 inches) in length at
                                                                                     DANCE COSTUMES IN FRENCH POLYNESIA                      423

the rear of the belt and the five protruding bunches of long white        while husking coconuts. This style of wrap offers dancers a tight-
more that hang down almost to knee length. Each bunch also               fitting garb that shows off the body while providing freedom to
contains two long curled strips of white tapa and several white nī       perform the scissor-like leg movements integral to Tahitian male
’au fibers, thereby linking the belt to the headdress and providing       dancing. Some dance directors, however, prefer a simple fabric
additional freely moving material to accentuate and amplify the          loincloth or—replicating an idea borrowed from Hawai’i in the
women’s hip movements.                                                   late 1980s—a maro with rectangular pieces covering the front and
    The total effect of the two sets of costumes is magnificent.           rear of the dancer while leaving the sides exposed.
Drawing on complementary but different designs and colors and                 Women tie the pāreu into a skirt at either ankle length or
incorporating highly valued, natural fibers, the final product is          above the knee. A simple knot on the side now replaces the viri,
a tasteful blending of historical elements with innovative twists        a style of rolling the top edge of the pāreu, favored by dancers
that lend a new look to older ideas of performance dress.                during the 1990s. Matching or color-coordinated strapless bras
                                                                         have largely replaced those made from two coconut-shell halves.
                                                                         Pāreu come in a variety of colors and patterns. Competition fa-
                                                                         vors traditional colors (white, yellow, and red), allows blue and
In contrast to the durable fibers of le grand costume, the vegetal        green for fabric costumes if related to the theme of the dance,
costume utilizes primarily fresh flowers and greenery. Dancers            and prohibits fluorescent colors (noted in the Heiva 2006 regu-
may also incorporate dried leaves and plant parts, and women             lations). Elaborating the basic pāreu with creative touches (e.g.,
wear bras covered with fabric or natural materials. There are            shells, appliqués, fishnet, etc.) may contribute to the theme of the
many variations of the basic costume parts—dance skirt, hei              dance and the costume’s visual appeal. Because the fabric costume
(neck garland), and hei ’upo’o (head garland)—each creation a            is optional for competition, no award is given in this category.
burst of color and texture that provides a veritable peek into Ta-           The addition of hei—and, for women, often a dance belt of
hiti’s verdant gardens.                                                  leaves, ferns, or flowers—adds to the overall effect of the costume
    In 2006 the first-prize winner in this category was the troupe        and foregrounds the art of garland making that is such an essen-
Hei Tahiti, directed by Tiare Trompette, whose stunning wom-             tial part of being a performer. While men may help in gathering
en’s costume prompted admiration among judges and audience.              and preparing materials or making leaf or fiber cordage, many
Applying fresh plant parts to fabric, Trompette successfully             leave the making of hei to females, who perfect the techniques of
brought to the Tahitian stage for the first time a technique fa-          working with flowers and greens to create finely crafted garlands
vored by Western Polynesians. In this creation petals of the red         for the head, neck, and women’s hips. An experienced person skill-
ginger flower (’ōpuhi) are layered individually like fish scales onto      fully uses fragrance and color to create hei that demonstrate the
a base of red fabric. The slightly curved shape of the petals and        dexterity and artistic eye of the maker as well as knowledge of the
their waxy shine create a richly textured, light-reflective surface.      local environment. Directors are sensitive to the linking of song
The mid-calf-length skirt, worn low on the hips like all Tahitian        text and costume, so that dance songs highlighting specific flow-
dance skirts, avoids a solid block of color with vertical slits that     ers will call for hei made of those flowers. The hei allows dancers
allow for free movement; a strapless bra, covered with the same          to beautify themselves; it also is a way to admire and embrace the
petal-layering technique, completes the ensemble. T’iati’a mou’a         beauty of nature invoked in the songs and dances.
(Davalia solida) ferns decorate the skirt’s lower edge and cover             French Polynesians realize how much time and expertise is
the left breast, and complementary touches of ferns add green            invested in making costumes and hold them in high esteem, appre-
to the right side of the bra and the dancers’ hair. The overall ap-      ciating their often-ephemeral nature as a special part of an event.
pearance is one of elegance and beauty, in which the simplicity of       The Tahitian preference for novelty and the emphasis on original
the cut and reduced number of costume parts allow viewers to             creations for the Heiva suggest a continued evolution in dance cos-
focus on the magnificent color and texture of the ensemble. Im-           tumes over the coming years. As long as large-scale performances
portantly, Tahitians do not read these costumes as sexualized.           remain important for the community, dancers will respond with
    While the women’s attire conveys elegance, the men’s costume         new and unusual ways to turn everyday plants into magnificent
does communicate virile masculinity. Men begin the dance wear-           hei, and costume designers will amaze and delight audiences with
ing a shawl and a belt of large oiled green ’autī (Cordylnie frutcosa)   their innovative uses of local and imported materials.
leaves sewn onto a red fabric backing. Shredded red ’autī leaves,
secured on strips of dried pandanus, are tied around upper arms          References and Further Reading
and calves. As the dance progresses, the men shed the shawl and
belt to dance in a simple red maro (loincloth) that reveals their fit     Beslu, Christian. Cartes postales anciennes de Tahiti. Papeete, Tahiti:
bodies and displays their tattoos. Dance director Coco Hotahota             Times Editions/Les Éditions du Pacifique, 1987.
is credited with “undressing” male dancers in the 1990s, and the         Cook, Capt. James. The Voyage of the Endeavor 1768–1771. Edited by
subsequent use of maro reflects this influence.                               J. C. Beaglehole. Sydney: Boydell Press, 1968.
                                                                         Moulin, Jane Freeman. The Dance of Tahiti. Papeete, Tahiti: Les Éditions
                                                                            du Pacifique, 1979.
LE COSTUME EN TISSU                                                      O’Reilly, Patrick O. Dancing Tahiti. Dossier 22. Paris: Nouvelles Éditions
The fabric costume generally uses the pāreu wraparound cloth, a             Latines, 1978.
coordinated bra for females, and adornments of shells, fresh flow-
ers, or greens for the neck and head of all dancers. Male dancers                                                     Jane Freeman Moulin
typically wrap the pāreu in a style known as tīhere, adopted from
the apparel of copra workers who needed to protect one thigh             See also Introduction to the Dress of the Pacific Islands.

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