18 March 2004

Morobe Field Diary, August 1976: A Visit to Gitua

Dear Residents,

I have a mind to visit you and compare villages, notes, and diseases before heading for Mosbi. G. wrote and said you were thinking of a panel discussion for us three [fieldworkers] on our language work. I'm a little uncertain how it would work....

The visit might be around the end of the month, after which I'll head back thru Lae, pick up my materials and get set for Mosbi by the 16th.

The doldrums have hit my fieldwork and a fever has laid me low the past couple of days. Everyone in the village is getting it. It doesn't seem bad enough to be malaria but it's no fun.

The [M.V.] Sago goes to town tomorrow. Fishing has been terrible lately. [The 48-hour vivax malaria hit hard shortly after the boat left the next day, so I took a treatment dose of chloroquine but had to wait a week before getting into town.]

Let me know if your plans make mine possible. Did J. pay you a visit?

Tako ['okay, enough' = Tok Pisin em tasol]


Just got back from a trip to P.'s village. It's a bloody resort. In fact, only 10 miles down the coast there is a resort (at Sialum) where Europeans come for a weekend from time to time. The beaches are sandy, there's no jungle, not too much rain, beautiful coral reefs offshore, wide, clear, cold rivers nearby, an airstrip--everything great for a resort but detrimental to easy livelihood for the village dwellers. The flat stony ground can't be near as fertile as the bushy slopes of Siboma; the reefs hinder access to the ocean by canoe (and there are indeed few canoes in Gitua); coconuts are the only likely cash crop; and the place is so windy (from lack of forest or ground contour windbreaks) that small gardens are frequently protected by [manmade] windbreaks. But there is plenty of room to walk about so you don't get the feeling of 'living at the bottom of a well' (P.'s phrase) as you do in Siboma.

The geology is spectacular. The village is on the north coast and the coastline is terraced from the collision of the Australian plate with the one to its north. It makes the ground very rocky and full of limestone (which may make the rivers so blue) instead of volcanic soil as most of the coastline is (when it is not swamp). This collision is what causes the numerous minor tremors that occur all along the north coast and the periodic large ones as a recent one in West Irian near Djayapura.

P.'s language is unbelievable. Its lexicon is practically Proto-Oceanic itself with very few sound changes. A. picked Siboma for its conservativeness but Gitua outdoes it. P. wants to surprise A. with it when he goes through Auckland on the way back.

J.S. & I flew out there in a 9-passenger, twin-engine plane as far as Sialum and then transferred to a 4-seat, single-engine for the 10 mi hop to Gitua. We flew along the marshy coast on the southern side of the Huon Peninsula at about 2-3000 ft, turned inland and climbed to 7000 to go over the mountain-tops (10,000 ft on the way back to get over clouds as well), then descended fairly quickly when we came out on the north coast.

We brought taste treats to the [fieldworker family] like salami, steaks, fresh vegetables, bread & cheese & butter and beer. They were overjoyed. We also took betel nut, pepper catkins & lime. I was made much of when I chewed and complimented on my Tok Pisin by people in the village.

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