Wednesday, 11 November 2009

The People That Provoked Me to Attempt Pathetic Prose.

Words cant express my joy at being in this staggering (both senses) country sometimes. I have just spent a week in a remote village in neighbouring Madang Province. It was so quiet, peaceful, people pleased with my presence but without motivation towards return. It was very pleasant to spend a week where my role was not that of the enquiring transactor, washing in a murky ox-bow lake and tending innumerable fires. The experience was made more enchanting (don’t I sound romantic if not exoticising! But piss off anthropology purists, I am the individual from where I am from, and it is only a sentence) by the event of our travel to the village. We were held up by raskols, poetic justice. I lost my shoes, most of my clothes for the trip, my medicine and wash things. After 6 months of tempting fate, it was finally my time, and as it did not happen in my province it changed nothing except the tan lines on my feet. I even found myself framing it as an opportunity to see the other side of raskol life. The story of a homemade gun and Town discompassion prompted villagers to much lending of sportswear, kind offers of accompaniment and cant have hurt my baui (betel nut) accumulation through the week.

Nevertheless, after a week I missed Goroka and my friends, and as I followed the buai trade routes at first to nearby Base Camp with the intention of travelling up along the Highlands Highway at night, I ran into Highlanders I knew by two degrees of separation. I did not know them personally so I decided to travel up the conventional way, via two 6 hour buses and an overnight stay at a friend’s house in Madang. The second bus picked me up from my friends house as the driver is a friend of mine from Goroka. From that moment I was back into my sphere, which I now consider to extend from Goroka down the highway like the rapidly developing tail of a tadpole. At the 4 Mile Buai Maket along the road leaving Madang, I met a baui trader friend on his way back from an expedition into the bush to seek out his green gold, a lady who I buy vegetables from in the market near my house, who was down selling onions from her garden, a body builder friend returning from a sponsorship gathering foray amongst Madang wantoks, and a host of people who knew me by name. Flattering to my hard work, I found myself the donee of further buai to complement those given me by the villagers. Back on the bus, Blackie, the comic driver so called for his dark skin relative to other highlanders, heard my story of a hold-up in Madang, and shared his stories with the bus of bigomy, crashed vehicles and family strife as we all laughed, chewed our buai and smoked. Blackie, whose debts and credits lie dotted along the highway as do his four wives, seemed to have either come across some money or felt it was time to repay some of the extensive comestible debts along the road, as we stopped frequently to donate buai to roadside dwellers and maketers. Remarkably, nearing Goroka at 5pm, we found ourselves blocked by a slow moving maintenance pickup belching oil-black exhaust fumes into our open windows. Raining heavily, the ten or so men on the back of the pickup huddled or wore traffic cones on their heads to shelter themselves from the rain they find so repugnant. The completely unselfconscious act of refuge under orange witches hats, unmentioned by anyone, only added to my own private comic monologue, coming from a country where their act would classify them as a group of inebriated students or stags, and their appearance that of subversively racialised gnomes. The effect was further promulgated by the half-moon smiles plastered on their faces by Blackie’s next unselfish and stylised act. Unable to pass them for oncoming traffic, Blackie took individual buai from his white plastic bag by the handbrake and launched them via the open drivers’ window towards their arms outstretched like those of public school teacher’s pets. Each lob was proceeded by a fleeting attempt at stunt driving as we lunged to within inches of the moving vehicle on the winding mountain road. Some buai fell by the side, others rattled around the corrugated cab amid scrabbling hands, others caught by star-jumping political garden ornaments at the risk of discovering their fragility. 20 flings of buai or accompanying daka later, our host swerved out with a stab at the accelerator and we passed our animated delayers, having lost their cabs and now moving so wildly as to resemble just caught fish, and to my surprise, they called my name as we passed. I have to admit I did not recognise them, but the personal touch tacked on to this unique experience will ferment it into one of my sweeter memories of this place (nothing gets corked in Papua New Guinea!).

In other news, I received comments on my 6 month report on cards, quite encouraging and very useful. Much to get on with though, as always. Also I have had some trouble in the settlement that I cannot put on the blog, but I can no longer work there and I am nervous about going to certain places, hopefully it will simmer down, but I may start working in a village for a while until it does, I have been wanting to anyway.

I am back now, my adopted father will be concluding the death ceremony of his father tomorrow and the 6 pigs and 2 cows are no doubt rifling through the rubbish in his car park, so I am off to take pictures and ask questions (it is not all gambling, thankfully). This entry has been a lot of fun to pour over, it seemed to me to require colourful adjectives, similes and metaphors to translate it to writing.

Until next time,


Sunday, 18 October 2009

The Lack of News

I have been busy yet again, but this time it is harder to say doing what exactly. As I think I said in my last post, things have become everyday here. This is nice, but it doesn’t make for interesting reading via this infernal blog. The last week or so was spent writing my 6 months report, on card gambling if you must know. 6 months, I think after the 4th time just picked up to gale force conditions. I still sleep a night or two a week in the settlement, I still go to pokies when I can, I still find it difficult to find time to go to the market. One thing happened last week though, I was finally given a house to rent in the National Sports Institute. After being in a dorm room the size of a british bathroom 50 metres from a kitchen which it is unsafe to leave your kitchen things in, and 100 metres away from a not so inviting toilet and shower (just enough to consider investing in some empty plastic bottles for nighttimes), I now have a 3 bedroom house with hot water and a fridge the same size as my previous room. The first thing I did when I got it was to go to the second-hand and buy a strong blanket I fashioned into a hammock. I now relax and smoke on that any chance I get, ignoring the fact it is now a haven for mosquitos that get up seemingly only to invite me in to their domain and then get comfortable for a good meal. It is very luxurious for me now, and I can have people over and make them feel at ease in a way I couldn’t before.

I have changed my mind about when I will return, which will be in June next year, hopefully in time for my birthday. This means I will be able to sit on a panel at the ESFO conference in St Andrews in early July, and leaves me three months of fieldwork funding remaining to go back when the inevitable questions arise out of the writing process some months later. This means that I have only 9 months more here, and I feel the time pressure. My fieldwork being in a sense multi-sited, with different gambling locales partially disconnected, it makes me feel pushed to go here and there and less so to other places previously looked at, while the relationships I have made and the investigations I have partially completed in those places pull me back to them.

My report though, it is 12,000 words long and has some interesting things in it about card gambling, at least I think so. Especially there is the matter of the history/genealogies of the games, which is fascinating, for reasons I would rather reveal in more formal writing/speech. When I write these I get very excited about my work, which I hope will be interesting for others too. The main question in my mind now is what is luck, or ‘laki’, but this is very hard for people to explain.

What news, what news… Oh yes, Fiona and Simon have come! To those who don’t know who they are, they are PNG national classmates of mine at St Andrews, and Fiona has come back to do her research on gender violence in the capital. Simon has staggering offers which are up in the air so I can’t say what he is doing. I would like to go and see them sometime, but I don’t know when that is possible. That reminds me though, I would love to know how my fellow classmates are getting on in their respective fieldsites, and who of my seniors has finished their theses and moved on, any news? Ha, the tables have turned now, so little news I have that my news section becomes a reciprocal begging enterprise, but I have so little to give I guess I cant expect much!

I do have some trouble in the settlement with people expecting payment for services rendered, which of course I do not mind, but when it is not up front and it becomes a mud-slinging contest bypassing me then I get annoyed. Basically a man who I thought was a really good guy may not be, he may be more a ‘man blo tainim tok’, as we say here. This concerns me because it may be damaging to some friends of mine, and me. I am now intent on spending more time with other members of the community and if that does not work then to lose the settlement altogether, there is enough work to get on with elsewhere.

Anyway, that is all for now, spout generalities at you next month…


Sunday, 6 September 2009

The Respite

Hello again. I guess this blog is turning into more of a monthly routine. As I mentioned in my last entry, Alana came and stayed for a month, she left a few days ago. If I could upload a map I would show you where we went, but as those reading this will probably have tolerable internet access, and by now achieved the status of sustained interest, I will just give you the names and you can do the rest if you want. We spent 10 days in Goroka, to ‘give a sense of my fieldwork’ (translation: I couldn’t tear myself away), where I dragged her to the settlement, had her meet my adopted father, and otherwise let me get on with things while she acclimatised to PNG (translation: bought a Meri Blouse, something rather like a sheet/hot air balloon that women wear). From there we went down to Madang and stayed with some friends of mine for a week, involving snorkelling, a cultural show, various exploits, and then we entered uncharted waters for me. We flew to Rabaul, a city destroyed by a volcano in 1994 and again in 2006, hung around a volcano and got coated in a fine layer of ash for 2 days, very nice pictures (Robert Foster’s territory anthropologists). After that we took a banana boat, got soaked, very cold, and landed in Namatanai in New Ireland where we got a bus to Kavieng, to stay with some other friends of mine for a few days. For the anthropologists and exotically curious, this is the home of the Malanngan (actually Malagan as it is spelt there), the fine carvings made to in some sense abstractly represent a dead person and then left in the bush to rot as their memory fades. Yes I did buy a carving, a mask, and yes it is beautiful. So one day I went diving, then we went to a village and spent the night after picking up Marvin (the mask, my name), and relaxed on some islands. I would just like to say that those who do fieldwork on the islands are sissies, its bloody PARADISE! Joke, kind of. We flew back to Madang, stayed a night, and took the bus up to Goroka the next day.

Goroka is having a facelift as the town gears up for the Goroka Show in a couple of weekends time. The show is the biggest in Papaua New Guinea, and comprises mainly singsing groups (men and/or women dressed in their traditional costumes dancing and singing), but also heavy gambling just outside the main arena. This is going to be a hectic time for me, as such a huge event is very difficult to cover, and brings up questions of how, and who, I should follow. One thing that may help is the fact that I am moving to Banana Block, part of the settlement I work at. I am renting a room there and I spent last Saturday buying a kerosene stove, a floor mat, mattress and bedding and hauling them back to the block. Sunday filled with picking up things like a kettle, another towel, plates and things. The ironic thing is that it is larger and nicer than the room I have at NSI, which I will keep to house my computer and to type up on weekends. It was not until I had taken the room and filled it with the basics however that Peter told me that I would not be alone in there, for my safety he would sleep on a mat on the floor. As I like my personal space at the end of a day of research, this is not ideal, but safety is a useful thing to have. A late development happened yesterday as I went to watch the local Rugby League (biggest sport here by miles) team play, the captain Nigel (Fionas brother for those in the know) gave me an official t-shirt and I rode with the team on the bus. It isnt the first time I have been to watch a game, but the first time in such style. A very tough match, 2nd vs. 3rd, the boys (Goroka Lahanis) won, it went down to the wire, there was a fight, the game was almost called off, Nigel got man of the match, and there were lots of people I knew there. One of these was my adopted father, who confounded my plans in the way only he could, as I happily told him I was moving to the Block, expecting plaudits for being a true mangi blo block, he said 'maski, yu ba slip wantaim mi', meaning I am to live with him. I think I will still keep the place in the Block though and spread myself between the 3, if its allowed.

Peter from the settlement and the security guards of NSI have teamed up to teach me how to use a bow and arrow, which is the funnest thing in the world. I know, people tend to think that as we have had guns for a while they are a silly and outdated weopen, but I can tell you, these things are deadly, especially with the accuracy these guys have. I am on a little (not very little I think but by comparison) one made of bamboo at the moment to learn accuracy and how to pull first, and then I will get myself a big one. Saturday night was spent in a large haus kunai (traditional style meetng house) firing arrows at a burst football with Simon in a trenchcoat from the second hand clothes shop which made him look like a World War I veteran, and a small boy called Kenneth collecting the arrows and bringing them back (a very handy fact of life here that boys have to earn their right to be noticed). It was surreal, but much more relaxing than a night at the pokies. The odd thing is that nobody took any notice of my practicing, it seems taken for granted that I would learn to shoot.

So what has or has not been going on in the settlements: I have had to delete this section as a couple of friends have responded to my asking for advice on whether to keep what I put on here up or not. The reasons they gave persuaded me that it was beter for my informants and better for me if I just didnt say some things. Daily life continues, card games, buai and hot food selling, drinking, people with jobs, and schemes to make money. Since I have returned from my holiday, visitors, that is relatives distant or close, are staying with people in the settlements, preparing for the Show, where they will be performing or selling something. At NSI the bush material houses for selling things are going up, and the roads have been repaired a little. I seem to do little actual observing of gambling here at the moment, but I think that is part of it. Being here and doing what I do has become normal life now, things which scared me or confused me are not frightening anymore, they become mysteries to reach out for. A little respite, maybe.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

The Creature of Habit

Hello those of you who have not given up on this blog yet. I know, I haven’t made an entry for a long time, I was going to when I was in Madang on the coast, but I was writing my first 3-monthly report and was frankly sick of writing. So the title of this post is a self-effacement for not being the thing I had counted on being. Like many things in this country, habits are often broken, only to be reformed in different guises with all the passion of their former manifestation. In fact, this is ‘passin’ in Tok Pisin, at least as far as I understand it now. It really is quite amusing all these disclaimers (‘as far as I understand it now’) I have to put on my statements here and everyday, as if by magic my opinions of what ‘is’ will crystallise upon alighting that plane in London next year.

So what have I been doing? Well the two anthropologists which came to stay with me (I mentioned in my last entry) have now gone home, a while ago actually. One didn’t stay long, the other, Chris, a Canadian, stayed with me for some time (I have forgotten how long, a few weeks). We went to a cultural show in a village together a few hours out of Goroka, and it was a bizarre, fun, and frightening experience. A quasi-tribal fight broke out, and the show was cut short, leading to interesting compensation payment calculations. It was very remarkable before that too, with a mixture of bare-bottomed old men in traditional costumes dancing and singing in groups; boys and young men drummed in regimental lines as ‘brass bands’ with one or two members pelvicly thrusting their way around the groups as they marched (also skimpily attired); finally Goroka based body-builders oiled up and dressed down to speedos, demonstrating their godly bodies to an appreciative and mildly bemused crowd. We laughed, took notes, crapped ourselves, and made the most of being in Chris’ words the ‘super-monkeys in a zoo’ that we whiteboys face when alone in villages. Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t laughing at the locals in general, but again Chris’ words ‘there is more character per capita in PNG than anywhere’. So, with two quotes, you must think me besotted by this New Worlder, eh? Well we did get on very well actually, similar senses of humour and a grasp of the underlying humour of Lamb Flaps saw to that. Chris will be back in 2010, about the time I leave, to study sport in Goroka, so it looks like a fruitful relationship in the making.

After Chris was gone, I fell back into my routine of getting myself in mildly hairy situations, taking notes, and putting them on computer in my safe haven, rather than doing the former and never writing up the latter, as I did when they were with me. In no time at all, as it seemed, my 3 monthly report was due, and I had to postpone it so I could be around for the third State of Origin game: fascinating and frantic again, in the settlement again, with fighting again. I then went down to Madang and stayed with my anthropologist friend Alice Street for a week or so, who was there a few months getting permissions and gathering data for her new project and next long-term stint. She was, by a turn of events, in an apartment in a plush hotel, opposite the pool. It was heaven! Writing, getting wet, towelling off and writing again. I met two German(ish) anthropologists who I respect immensely: Juerg Wassman and his wife Verena (I have met her before). They had some of their students there as well, and I really hit it off with them, one especially, which was excellent. Nevertheless I was very pleased to get back to my place, my guys, and out of the sometimes quite oppressive heat of the tropical coast.

Now I am back and have started working in Kakaruk Market and Chuave Market, the two buai and gambling markets in Goroka and the most tricky and dangerous places. I feel confident about how to approach it now, how to get people on my side, confident about my friends so far and their advice and their looking after me. My tok pisin is good enough to start tackling it, and it is easier to know quickly who you can trust. There are card games and darts games which you simply don’t see in the settlements there, and as a space in the town they hold a lot in the imagination of people as well as much physical activity. You know I never really thought I would become one of those ‘underworld anthropologists’, but I cant get away from the fact of the links this project brings up: the raskols, the marijuana, adultery, stealing, drinking and fighting. I guess I am one, and an ‘exotic’ one at that; oh well, there are worse things to be. At the moment I am interviewing raskols and getting to know their interaction with security men, who often live next door. This brings me to the one major personal problem I have here, which I did not anticipate. Not only is there so little you can take for granted and it is impossible to turn off the learning side of my brain to make simple friends, but actually a lot of the people I talk to often do things I cannot find less than abhorrent under any moral framework. I can cut it out as I work, but it is emotionally exhausting sometimes, and ethically problematic. I do tell people I don’t agree with things they do, either verbally or through expression, I am no wimp on that front, but I have to persevere with them nonetheless. Rapists, murderers, career criminals, all of these people are not only integral to my research, but also my safety. Now I am very aware that while I am free to roam the settlement at any time, I cannot get on the wrong side of these people, and this is now bringing problems in what I can take notes on around people. Any suspicion on their part that I am an informer and I will be dead, simple as that. Again, I don’t mean to be dramatic, but it is cathartic letting this out, and though day to day things are fine, it is a fact I have to live with, like everyone else.

Anyway, my bestest friend in the whole wide world is coming to Goroka on Friday, that’s Alana (sorry to disappoint you Sparky!). I plan to show her how I live and work for a week and a half, and go to my adopted father’s village for a day to see the rural highlands. Then we will travel down to Madang and go from there, see some of the country. A daren’t take her further up into the Highlands, as I am responsible for her safety, and the risk factor is higher with her without the payoff, so it is the nambis (coast), and the islands. This I think will be good for my research, as I will get to know how people elsewhere live a little. I am really excited about her coming, she will be the only person from home to see me out here, and I plan to make the most of it. It may be a little early on, but I won’t miss any big events, which is good. Also, as a budding filmmaker, you never know what ideas may come out of it.



Thursday, 25 June 2009

The State of Origin

My first birthday in PNG was an interesting mixture of fieldwork, hassle and home comforts. I was emailed a few weeks ago by 2 PhD anthropologists coming to Goroka for a few weeks as a preliminary. Chris and Melissa, Canada and America, who could so easily have turned out to be dry, research driven purists, turned out to be sarcastic and sardonic kindred anthropologists, the like of which are rare at least in my experience. They have been staying in rooms next to mine, and took me to the decent hotel for dinner on the night, and the fact we knew we would be ill the next day as we ordered made it all the more amusing. The volunteers who live in the individual houses section of my compound dressed my door and donated a CHOCOLATE cake, which Chris and I immediately demolished for breakfast. I had arranged with my family in Kanchul Kemp to have a kind of party (denoted by the buying and eating of meat) which fell apart, as most research events have since the others arrived. Michael had work, and I was paying for almost everything (as it turned out), including the obligatory ‘lamp plaps’ (the very fatty belly of sheep or mutton), so this came as welcome relief. I was very touched though when yesterday they took me to the same hotel where one of them works and clubbed together for a pizza, which we shared, and I got the drinks as they were going to overwhelm me with their generosity. Incidentally we had to organise this and convince them that I was part of it in order for them to be allowed in. In the morning of the actual day I went and picked up the cake I had bought for everyone and ‘scaled’ it, taking half or so to the settlement to share out with my family and friends, and half for the NSI people. I then had an interview with Boski, the man who had a brideprice recently, and attempted to make sense in some gaping holes in my understanding. This included one of the most remarkable objects so far, and unwittingly my best present, an excel spreadsheet of brideprice contributions on flashdrive. I will interview him again to contextualise these names, numbers, and boxes of lamb flaps (60 kilos a go).

Enough of that, I have been less busy due mainly to helping the new guys, and partly because I enjoy their company. But I did some work at the pokies, Kanchul Kemp, and squeezed in a number of interviews (these are easier and more manageable). The most important thing, outside of my growing love of Friday night pokies and its world of high rollers and political machinations, was watching the State of Origin at Kanchul Kemp. The latter was an enormous breakthrough, in the last few weeks people have taken less notice of me and let me in on the ever present threat of witchcraft and poisoning, but it was this night that cemented me as a part of the life of this settlement. I arrived there some two months ago now, origin unknown, with a notepad and heart palpitations, telling my story to anyone, making crude maps, and catching glimpses of card games at every corner. Slowly people began to know me, and as my Tok Pisin improved I became a real person with a sense of humour, a goal, and a desire to know all about them. Flattering vanity in some senses, many of my first contacts were those whose sense of self-worth or importance demanded my attention. And as these people dwindled or completed their stories, a space opened up for others, those who thought I was busy, but I gave enough attention to not neglect their smoking habits, began to offer their thought provoking questions and reservations, which tested my Tok Pisin and mettle, and led to my acceptance. Nevertheless, it was on the day after my birthday, when I went down to see just what transformation occurred there during State of Origin, despite talk of gender violence, shirt colour affiliation based murder and spakmen roving the muddy dark streets like glass armed zombies. This, again, is not to showcase my research risk pedigree, or recklessness, but I have learnt to take these stories with a pinch of salt, but only when I am a familiar face (though I did admit a high degree of nerves). These stories are as much a part of my research as anything else, which is not to say they do not happen. In any case, I was welcomed by some drunken young men at 5.30pm, and went and sat with Peter and them to wait out the beginning of the match, find out the betting thus far, and generally gather the ambience. The boys, who I gave cigarettes to a number of times before, turned out to be raskols, whose recent escapades (here left out for propriety and ethnographic ethics) had left them wealthy to the tune of K600, laid out their life as a raskol, gave me beer, brus (newspaper rolled tobacco) and lamp plap kebabs, I reciprocated later with more beer. This was the first self identification of such activity involving actual examples, and they looked after me all evening, and I felt as if they gave me the keys to the settlement, all fear of attack subsiding with their approval. You may think I am in trouble if I ever piss them off, and I might, but there is no obligation to be like them, and they understood my purpose and my relative poverty compared to the other whitemen. Above all people appreciate your straightness with them, coinciding with anthropological ethics rather nicely.

So we watched the game outside a house which was charging 50 toea for a view of the small screen. They talked me through the rules of rugby, an inevitable aside to talking to drunken people as a foreigner. I got up and asked everyone in the 50 strong crowd to volunteer their betting at half time, which the raskols helped me with, and at the end of the night, despite smouldering animosity to some over exuberant supporters, and obvious over consumption on their part, elected to walk me back. It was the next day that I learnt how I had ‘brukim history’ that night, that the fact I went, sat with, drank with, and chatted to people at such an event was the talk of the settlement. Michael said now I can go all on my own, which I think is true. So all is going well here, I think the rapidity of my integration so far is a matter of overwork and the current rate of work is welcome respite, giving me the opportunity to reflect and assess my priorities research wise. I have lost the need to pretend that my fieldwork somehow needs to be total ‘immersion’, and the guilt of having a day off (though to be honest I get so behind in my note taking that this is more a day not ‘out there’ than it is a day off. The town is a valid space of fieldwork, and people go back home and cook their own food in the best place they can manage, so do I.

So, State of Origin, fascinating.

P.S.’s: Many of my course mates must be viva’ing and heading off to the field, good luck and enjoy. Fiona, is the little one here yet? When will you head over here?

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

The Settlement

That is right ardent followers, I am titling all my posts ‘The (something)’, not for any dramatic or anthropological reason, but I am a creature of habit, as many will know. I have been very busy since my last post, in four sites: Kanchulkemp/Banana Block, Mambu Maket (the first two are settlements adjacent to each other and the third a centre servicing other settlements), pokie places (fruit machine halls/nightclubs in town, and the National Sports Institute, where I live. I will deal with the last two first, and get to the title later. Since I interviewed a big-man (accidentally mind you, he just happened to own a ‘pokie ples’) called Ben, he has decided that I will be his son. It turned out after I had asked my questions, pressing him in complete ignorance to his status, that he is one of the most feared and loved men in the town. He now takes me out to pokie places on Fridays and you should see him asking people for money, and telling people to do things for him, it is really amazing, his power is immense, you can really feel it. I had no transport to get home, he walked out to the road and the third car which went past picked his face out in the blackness, stopped and took me home at his request completely out of their way, and if you knew how dangerous this place is said to be by people on Fridays (and really can be) then this would seem as incredible to you as it was to me. Pokie places are very interesting, as men (mostly) stand back and watch others play hoping for a win in order to be bought beer, rumours of previous winners lead men like Ben to ‘request’ 50 Kina which the person gives up not so gladly but submissively, and where ‘little men think big’. The latest time I and one of his followers (Ben was injured) went to Lahanis, the biggest Pokie ples and nightclub in the Highlands, and I met some huge-shots, MBE’s, politicians, monopolising businessmen and chief-sergeants. One had lost K5,500 (£1,500) this week and spent K1,200 (£400) on beer for others. Pokies, except for the less wealthy, seems to have little to do with playing pokies, but it is truly fascinating, as my topic ranges out to how money circulates in town.

The NSI is more mundane, but Mama, the cleaner, and everyone else, muse with me over the reason they gamble, tell me of their compensation requests from adulterous husbands of relatives and otherwise slowly give me a picture of life in a national institution and the parts of their respective cultures they retain here. I also get a taste of mumu’s (traditional pit and hot stone based cooking, involving whole pigs), brideprice ceremonies, and the compensation payments ordered from adulterous or murderous men. The brideprice (a relatively small one) I saw was amazing, especially having read so much about them and now seeing one in the flesh. 2 Pigs, one live, one thoroughly dead, piles of banana, kaukau, live chickens tied at the legs, sugar cane, and prominent men calculating the dispensation of such wealth to guests according to their prominence, contribution and what they hope to gain in the future, and making more little piles. Incidentally some even played cards while they were waiting for the pigs to be distributed. Every other Thursday, when government people are paid (this is a major structuring factor in town, private workers being paid the other week, making ‘lus wik’ and ‘gavman wik’), I watch another institutions kitchen and security staff and a local moneylender who used to work there gamble their pay, the subject of my last post. I have discovered playing and writing notes is completely incompatible, and it is much easier to ask questions when I am one among the many spectators at any given card game, or ‘kandis’. Back at NSI, Michael, the security man from my last post is now my most valuable friend and informant, a middle aged unmarried man from Simbu (most people I meet seem to be from Simbu, another Highlands province), who has taken me into his family and opened every door for me he can in his settlement (Kanchulkemp), taken me round in daytime and night, and introduced me to people who look after me at both Banana Block and Mambu Maket.

Once a week I seem to go down to Mambu Maket, with a local leader called Ronnie, who is a ‘professional’ punter at horse races, where I have been concentrating on Bingo at a tradestore called 16 Corner. I feel comparatively safe here; everyone is much friendlier and accepting of my student status than elsewhere. The maket itself and the settlement behind are built on customary land rented from the tribal owners (the Fanifa), which makes it untouchable by the police and therefore it has a less seedy and criminal feel (though whether this is true or not I don’t know yet), it is also away from the centre so people are more self contained there and the buildings are not so packed together. The other day I met the ‘haus lain blo asples’ (Fanifa tribal leaders) and found out they are in the middle of a land dispute with a tribe from Bena (from outside town) for Mambu, which I will be following now. At 16 Corner boys of 12, 16 and 17, run the game for their ‘big brother’ who owns and runs the tradestore, and where some systematic cheating occurs (which I can’t go into details of now just in case anyone connected with the place reads this). Needless to say, those who conspire to partake in it are related. The numbers at the bingo have names such as ‘cemetery’ for 73, or ‘spakman’ for 24 or 48 (‘spakman’ being drunkard, the number relating to the number of beers in a crate). 52 is ‘kas par’ (cards paria), which brings me roundly back to Kanchulkemp/Banana Block.

At the moment Kanchulkemp, Banana Block and Yamba Corner, where they meet, takes up most of my time. Kanchulkemp (Council Camp) is a planned settlement, one of Gorokas two oldest, but this is not reflected in any discernable difference from illegal settlements apart from that the Police cannot arbitrarily throw people out and that it is more densely packed with housing. I have recently had an unfortunate incident where the criminal leader of Banana Block was very spak, and was demanding all my attention, and setting me up to be alone with him so he could do something ‘criminal’ (opinions vary on what) to me. Yesterday I found out he is a cereal (sp?) rapist, so who knows. Michael and Peter, my best contact there not related to Michael, were intent on using their bushknives on him, but as luck would have it a car of the ‘brother’ of Peter made its way down the mud road (it was raining) and was convinced to take me back, a few obstacles (a pickup stuck in the mud on the road and a spak Banana Block criminal unwilling to leave me) later I got back home, and consequently Michael has banned me from working there anymore. I am now only looking at Kanchulkemp and Yamba Corner, though in fact these three form one continuous road, they seem conceptually quite different. A week or so later the same man broke into the SP Brewery to steal beer and was chased through Banana Block by armed Security men. Anyway, fieldwork barely daring-do stories aside, this is an exhausting place to study, as I am endlessly explaining myself, though the worst of this is now over. All this talking in Tok Pisin wares me out, and when it comes to the games I find it difficult to get much more than the rules of the games out of people at the moment as they assume complete ignorance on my part, which is mostly true. However I have been mapping all the market stalls and where there owners live, and where they are from, which I think will make things more lucid in the long term. My aim here though is to know the kinship and history of the people at any given card game, so as to know why they are being sponsored by this person, buying buai and smuk for another, playing T50 Bom rather than K2 Queen that day, who they owe money to, and what if anything are they saving up for. This is going to take some time, and sometimes at night it is too dangerous, raskols can be cajoled into the status of brother, but spakmen might beat up their brother for being there. Nevertheless, all these places are getting less dangerous for me, and I promise my posts wont be full of these kinds of self-styled anthropologist on the edge tales, but this time is my most tricky, so I stick with my good contacts in the risky places and the more I do, the more diminished the threat becomes. It is essential I work in these places, settlements house 70% of all the people in Goroka, and gambling drives these economies. I am confident of my future integration. My birthday is coming up, and I am having a small mumu at Michael’s house, maybe that will help, it will be the third mumu there, my fifth overall.

Another fascinating thing which has been going on here is the furore over the State of Origin (an Australian Rugby League contest between two states which is a 3 match series played once a year). I have been around for the first game, and it is madness, businessmen bet large portions of their businesses, men with no money bet huge amounts for them (men bet mostly, though some women), and everyone but everyone has a team, blues or maroons is the first question I get asked at the moment, I diplomatically say the ref, as I could not care less about Rugby League to be honest, and violence over the games is a popular topic of conversation (particularly amusing for men is the beating of wives), but the joke is wearing thin with as well as me. Anyway the Maroons won, and the next day was quite amusing, as everyone who was really spak was either tottering around the settlements or sleeping randomly often under the burning sun, with smudged face paint sufficing for explanation.

Overall I am really enjoying this, but as things heat up it has become exhausting. Some people on fieldwork in certain locations find it hard to get people to talk to them and let them get involved, I don’t have enough time to do everything and write up my notes. I don’t think this is because of me, (but it helps), it is these people, who are amazing (even if they werent lovely almost to a man, just the amount of kinship they can keep in their heads beggars belief). The one thing I don’t like is getting used to disappointing people as I cant fulfil their expectations in terms of attention. So, the settlement, it is what it is, a slum of sorts, the meat and veg of urban life in PNG, home to some surprisingly prominent personages, and my place of work for some time. Just one example to illustrate this, Michaels cousin Kelly has 36 paintings in Buckingham Palace and has been knighted. Its not bullshit, he has painted for me, its incredible.

Quick note, very annoyingly the internet wont support my putting pictures up, so I am gutted but I guess you will just have to imagine, unless I can find a place with better access and better computers, probably on my 3 month report writing trip to Madang.



Some other P.S.’s: Alana, here you are, mentioned personally, now please bring me Belgian Beer! When you do eventually make it here, you may have to be ‘meri blo mi’, disgusting I know, but sometimes parsimony is favourable to endless questions and for you invitations, unless you want them? (Oh and dont get your hopes up, it doesnt mean you can kiss me).

Charlie (Finster), how is all? Got a job yet? Any news from our mutual starlet Francesca?

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

The Game

This entry is fairly short notice since my last post, but I feel I am fully settled now so this is an update about my day to day life. As with most pieces I write, first drafts consist of huge amounts of brackets as relevant things pop into my head, but it works for this kind of thing, so I am sticking with it. On a normal day in Goroka (See Guinness book of records under Worlds Best Climate) I get up around 7.30, take my chair outside and have my breakfast (usually bread, butter, jam or peanut butter) on the veranda. This is when I say ‘monin’ to everyone at the NSI where I live as they walk past me (I cant get up when they do yet as the altitude and walking around in the heat really tire me out). The clouds begin to clear off the surrounding mountains at around 9, when I leave to do this vague thing called ‘fieldwork’.

See picture of NSI

If it is a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday, I then work out what I will do in the morning and afternoon, which is usually going to town (East Goroka, I live in West Goroka) on the PMV (a private bus service, in 15 seater battered old Toyotas, very frequent and a site of many interesting ‘monin, nem blo mi Anthony, mi skul mangi blo university lo Scotland, mi stap lo Goroka lo wan yia na sikis mun lo lukim olgeta samtin lo gambling’ conversations). An aside: Almost every private car here is a Toyota 4x4, as the terrain is so tough this is where they test them, and even in town the pot holes are a never-ending series of ponds. In the last few weeks I either go to a ‘Pokie ples’ (fruit machine hall), of which there are 6 in town, and map them, talk to the people who work there, and set up or conduct an interview with someone who works there, or the Horse Racing place. By the way, almost all conversations end with an invitation to go to somebody’s village, which is one way of cornering me (‘whiteman’) into releasing my unlimited money. This sounds harsh on people but it is part of how it works here, and all conversations have something behind them, I am forever giving cigarettes to friends (acknowledged as part of my relative wealth) and have lent the 3 people closest to me K10 on at least 1 occasion, which is usually paid back, sometimes with interest or ‘antap’ (this marks interdependence and is encouraging). Other days I just buy shopping, have an ice-cream, and try to speak to the person I need to at the Eastern Highlands Provincial Administration to officially start my research. Other days, if I am feeling unflappable I go to Kakaruk Market, the centre of gambling for drunkards, settlement dwellers venturing into town, and the habitual gamblers. This is quite a dangerous place to be late on in the day, at least at the moment for me, my face is not familiar enough yet, as many of the prizes involve SP beer (4.5%) or Live Lave (up to 75%), and when people drink, especially the disaffected, they get ‘spak’, which is a kind of out of ones head unpredictable and potentially argumentative or violent state (the drinking culture is very different here for some, but I don’t know enough about it to say anymore than this). I therefore have not been there alone yet, and try to go in the morning, as drinking starts early here. Alternatively I am just starting to go to the District Court, where gambling related cases are heard, and I have a couple of interviews there this week with a magistrate and a clerk. On Tuesdays and Thursdays at 4 I have training for my team, the Rapatonas, So it is only the morning and early afternoon I am really free. On Fridays I try to be out early and back early, as this is payday, and a spak-fest (I realise I need to get out there sooner or later as this is also a gambling-fest, but it is too dangerous at the moment. In any case I am back before dark every day, as it is not safe for me yet. On Mondays my friend Michael from security at the NSI is free so we go to Mambu maket, where people play ‘kas’ (cards), ‘snooker’ (pool) and bingo, or to his place in a settlement next to town called Kanchukem, where people play kas outside his house. I really enjoy this, it is only just coming together but it is one of the better settlements and I know a few people there so I suspect this will be my second real field location, the first I will come to in the latter section of this post.

When I can I grab some lunch either at a ‘haus kaikai’ in town or back at NSI. Saturday I do very little, clean my clothes etc, this I think is becoming my day off. I was doing a survey of all the different denominations of church on Sundays, but I have decided that it is more important now to become known to people from the settlements and town, and so I am concentrating on football, many of the players in Rapatonas, and in the teams they play against, are from the rougher parts of town (settlements), so seeing me mucking in and being friendly, and here to stay, is a good signal to give out, not to mention that they are really good blokes who have taken me into the team as one of the boys. So we play on the NSI fields on Saturdays or Sundays, and I am going to churches when they don’t clash. It is also a real change from Scotland to be in a team which wins! I have played 2 games so far, in central defence, and we won 2-0 and last week 9-0! I am very proud of the clean sheets which Trevor, Mark, Jack and I have kept.

See picture of the Rapatonas

During these times, the main part of the day, the sun is out, with a little cloud for the occasional break from its skin cooking intensity. Roughly around 5 the clouds roll in and it rains for an hour or so, sometimes like a rainy day in Scotland without the wind, sometimes like it only can in a tropical country, with thunder crashing against the mountains and echoing back to like a terrible encore. In the evening I write up my notes for the day on the computer, which run to about a thousand words a day. I then take my pot down to the kitchen and make dinner, which is usually rice or instant noodles, with either eggs or a can of tuna. If I have been to the main market or to Lopi market I have kaukau (sweet potato) and grins (any gind of boiled vegetables, there are many varieties of spinach-like things here) By the way if anyone is planning to take a trip to Eastern Highlands Province, PNG, I recommend you starve yourself of all starch for at least 3 months prior to arrival. On lucky days, I get caught up in some activity like a goodbye speech, which invariably involves a feast, and the meat I desperately crave (I miss bacon rolls especially). It makes me laugh how high the people here pile their plates, I am not joking it gets up to about 15cm, not even you Matthew (my brother) could compete with these guys, and then discreetly pour what they cant eat into a plastic bag and take it home. After dinner I read my book (Bertrand Russell’s ‘History of Western Philosophy’, I recommend it to all fieldworkers, very interesting, readable, will definitely need reading more than once, and will be useful to know I am sure), and am asleep at around 10.30. Another side note, people are very friendly here in the vast majority, warm, and interested in what you are doing, as well as incredibly forward thinking and self-reflexive about PNG and its future.

One day though, to materialise the suggestion I made earlier, I realised just how prescient my topic is here, if I didn’t know already by all the gambling places they have in this small town of 30,000 people. At a certain workplace not mentioned above, which I cant reveal as it puts peoples jobs in danger, I was asked to come along to a gambling session on Thursday, private payweek (people are paid fortnightly here, private workers one weekend, public sector the next). It started at 12 midday, playing Queen (a complex strategical game where 5 players attempt to rid themselves of their 7 cards via certain combinations) with K2 central bets each and matching side bets. However, the game lasted until 6.30 am the next day! I have to say I didn’t stay for all of it, it gets very repetitive, I got very hungry and tired, and as it was a secret game, there was little to no talking, but I was writing up my notes until 4 that morning, and they ran to three thousand words. What was really surprising is I knew these people, church goers, upstanding citizens one might call them, and some lost almost all their pay packets, while some won big. Not only this, but because of the businesslike nature of play, the fact they had just been paid, and their concentration, all other transactions came to the fore, I saw payments for money borrowed for death ceremonies, loans in the making, and seniors (not an easy thing to discern in town) ordering juniors to buy them ‘buai’ (betelnut, a mild stimulant that is chewed) and ‘simuk’ (cigarettes). It was hard work keeping up, but there is no doubt if I can make the right friends, and make myself safe, I can collect some very interesting data with this topic. So that is why this post is called ‘The Game’, but the intellectually sensitive, the anthropologists, or those who know how my language and humour work, will realise that the first part of this post is also ‘The Game’.

Until next time,


Some P.S.’s:

South African John, and Duncan, I heard Belinda Carlisle’s ‘Heaven is a Place on Earth blasting out of a Supermarket and thought of you. In fact I often think of the three of us, South Africa, Japan and Papua New Guinea, I do hope we get a chance for the three of us to meet up sometime.

Deans Court People: It must be light until really late there now, wish I could have seen it, and yes I do miss the food, even Deans Court has more variety than my diet here. But I don’t miss The Rule. Can someone email me when the DC hoodie is ready to send. Bronnie, eat a bacon roll from Cherries for me, and go to Oxford. Cheer up Gretel, it’s only 1 year of hard work, and it is almost done (if you work with others, you get more done if you talk less!). Only messing with you petal, you know I love your monkey face. Mark, wish you were here, no one knows the importance of the blues, Bob Dylan, The Ramones or Radiohead here, not even Buckley! AmeriKen, nice one mate, cheers for the email, much obliged. To AmeriKen and the PhD’s, I will see you in a bit.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

The Anthropologist's Handshake

I have arrived in Goroka, Highland Papua New Guinea, in fact I have been here 2 weeks or so now. I am not sure whether it is the heat, which is pleasant and not too demanding, unless the weather is clear, or the sun, which is intense when it pops out, learning to understand and speak Tok Pisin, the altitude, or trying to be alert all the time, but I have been sleeping more than usual. I have no pictures for you yet, as I want to build up trust and show I am not a tourist before snapping at everyone and everything (and get a good tan after Scotland!). I have been well looked after and am writing this from an office that the Maths department of the University of Goroka have given me to use, which is fantastic. I think I am getting it quite easy as anthropologists starting out in the field go, but I have to pat myself on the back for making these connections before I got here.

I have done quite a few things since I arrived, set up a phone contract, bank account, made friends with a few students and some other locals, watched one play football on Saturday and basketball on Sunday after Lutheran church. I have learnt 2 card games called Bom and Queen, and talked to a group of land dispute administrators passing through my guesthouse about all manner of things. My colleague at the GLEC, Rex Matang has been very helpful in getting me set up, and understands my need to be independent. I think it is a prestige thing having me here so he doesn’t expect me to be focused mainly on mathematics. The university is also putting an article about me in their newsletter in which I ask people with experience of gambling to come forward for interview, which will get me off to a good if unorthodox start. I like the way it is working out now, this urban anthropology is all about getting information however you can at first, making the ‘network’ early so people can get comfortable with you. After the university I think there is a coffee processing plant where workers gamble a lot, right next to the university, so I will try to get to know and interview them. After that, which will take some time, I will tackle Kakaruk Market, a more volatile place, but the main centre of gambling in the town. I moved into accommodation at the National Sports Institute, and will be playing football with a local team if I make it through training. I don’t want to stay there forever though, when my Pidgin is good enough and I have met the right person, I would like to live with a family, but all in good time. I met Fiona’s (from St Andrews) brother, and yes Simon, he is a big guy isn’t he! I might move in with him. Overall I have been lucky, outgoing, and received in kind, long may it continue. The bigman of a nearby village called Hilla on Mount Michael talked to me today, he was buying equipment to start digging his land for gold (a geologist just found a vein there), and as it turns out, his son works at the university, I lent him K20, and am going over to see him set up in a couple of weeks, if I am lucky I could witness the birth of a new gambling community, and get my K20 back in Gold! Don’t worry, its not a scam, I am learning that these encounters are the kind of things that happen here every day, and succeed or fail, they will look after me and I may get the village contrast I am looking for.

Another thing, in the paper the other day, a tribesman is suing Jared Diamond's publishers for misrepresentation. Power to the people! I was going to write my entry on that, as I find his writing pejorative and based on a model of humanity as profit maximizing, colonising robots. But I think I will follow the story and report back when more news arrives.

Anyway, let me explain the title of this post. I really haven’t had time to miss home too much yet, though the prospect of missing it sometimes gets me down, and I am enjoying the way this place unexpectedly fills my days. But in the few moments I have missed home, what soon springs to mind is my anthropology PhD friends, who are at home, or all over the world, off the top of my head and not exclusive: 3 in Brazil, 1 in Italy, 1 in India, and 1 in Senegal. Before I left I spoke to my friends about what I called ‘the anthropologist’s handshake’, where we say goodbye knowing we may not see or hear from each other again for up to 3 years, and then miraculously pick up exactly where we left off when we do. This is definitely one of my favourite things about being in anthropology, the understanding of each others mentalities and the immediate and deep friendship which comes from it. But in the brief time since I came out here ‘the anthropologist’s handshake’ has come to mean something more to me. When I think of the trials of fieldwork, of which I have limited knowledge so far, mostly in terms of anticipation, I think of all those friends out there feeling similar things and facing different but relatable difficulties, and I know that we will know it in each other when we see one another again. So the handshake, rather like here in Goroka, after formally ending, retains the lightest contact which acknowledges ourselves as a collective. If others don’t feel this, mores the pity, some will read this and know they helped inspire my confidence, and I offer this perspective as just another ‘method’ in thanks. To everyone else, know I am well, happy to be here, and ready for the task ahead.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Heading off...

I thought it would be a good idea to write something before I go to the field. I had my PhD research proposal viva the other day with Tony Crook and Huon Wardle, and my tickets are booked for the 11th of April, so now is as good a time as any. I thought it went well, I had no revisions to make, though it was not without 'robust debate'. The question which arises after these first sentences is what I want this blog to be, an account of my thoughts and feelings? a diary of events? an anthropological assessment as I go along? Well we can discount the latter, much as it would be an interesting experiment, I dont want to make public things which I may change my mind about, or to make premature judgements which might affect others (and myself) detrementally. It has to be something of the first two, with a little context from my anthropological training as and when. Essentially, this is a way of reaching people easily, to let you know how I am doing, and give some idea of what my daily life is like in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. I have a diary to overfeel in, so it wont be too soppy I promise.

So, the set up:

For those who dont know I am doing a PhD in social anthropology at the University of St Andrews, supervised by Dr. Adam Reed, and am about to do my period of fieldwork in Goroka Town in Eastern Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea, for the following 18 months. I will be studying gambling as well as other activities related to calculative decisions. By this I mean all things money related, as well as counting systems (peoples way of counting with their bodies, in 10's and 100's or not, etc.), and different peoples attitudes towards gambling. I will basically be conducting interviews with gamblers, their families, religious leaders, judges, specialists in indigenous mathematics, and anyone else who knows something I dont. I will also be gambling, and watching others do it, with migrants and locals, learning the games, and watching money circulate.

In more detail my work is about the relation between 'gift exchange', the traditional economy of certain Papua New Guinean groups, and the money economy which is now everywhere in PNG. Meanwhile PNG is famous for its diversity of languages and counting systems, yet gambling, which is not indigenous, has spread across the country very rapidly indeed, despite the games relying (to Our eyes) on a particular numerical understanding (to do with the decimal system and an appreciation of odds) which is often quite different from recorded traditional numerical and gift exchange knowledge. This coincides with the spread of money, and how these combine is the focus of my project. It also focuses on causality, how people perceive why events occur, to do with both chance and fate etc, but from a PNG perspective. As a result I am doing a semi-urban ethnography (this word is what anthropologists do in the field) in a town called Goroka in the Highlands of PNG of 24,000 people, and following migrants back to their villages to observe differences between the two places in terms of my project.

Anyway, in order to prevent sending annoying group emails every now and then (as I said in the email), I am going to write this blog, and anyone curious can check it or comment whenever they want, without pressure, well you know how a blog works. I will try to update it regularly (once every few weeks). Unfortunately this first one is necessarily a bit dull as I am not really doing anything, I hope you find later ones interesting...