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.


  1. I think the details that you've provided are quite innocuous. I am probably one of the few people that could make inferences based on details, and really, there is not much to go on. Likewise, it appears that some of what you're reporting is second/third-hand information, so again, not much of a problem.

    Interesting to read about what you're up to. Will write you a longer email about the Arctic eventually.


  2. A-Skib,

    Just caught up with your blog. Some very interesting goings-on! Makes Japan seem a little boring, even though it`s actually all fun and good here. I changed jobs and moved to another city since we last emailed.

    Looking forward to hearing some stories the day we meet again!