22 February 2004

Morobe Field Diary, July 1976: ELCONG Sunday

The kids at school in Kuwi were hungry and ELCONG Sunday was coming up so Friday Mr. & Mrs. S. & last daughter & I paddled over to pay a visit. ELCONG Sande commemorates the coming of the Gutnius to New Guinea, i.e., the founding of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of [Papua] New Guinea. The Gutnius was first brought to the area by Johann Flierl [who could hardly have had a more unpronounceable name in an area where few of the local languages distinguish either /f/ from /p/ or /r/ from /l/], a great huge bearded German from Neuendettelsau [in Bavaria] who established himself at Finschhafen ["Fints" at the eastern end of the Huon Peninsula] in 1886 and gradually, as his numbers increased, established mission stations at Salamaua (Kela), Lababia and Kuwi (later relocated to Siboma) among other places. Fortunately they had already begun work in Yabem or they would have had to work in Kela, whose speakers inhabit Kela, Lababia and Kuwi. [Though fairly closely related to Jabêm and Bukawa, Kela has much more severely eroded morphology and is one of the few local languages to phonemically distinguish nasal from oral vowels.]

Three men told the stories of how the Gutnius came to Kuwi, Siboma & Paiawa [whose language is non-Austronesian, thus not related to the other local languages in the Jabêm Circuit]. But they told it in reverse chronological order that briefly threatened to be set aright. The Paiawa guy, who is a relative of the kaunsil's, acted out part of the story about a guy who planted taro according to the Gutnius (not accompanied by traditional magic) and, not impressed with the lack of immediate results (à la Jack and the Beanstalk I guess), angrily threw the 'black mission[ary]'s' church bell into the sea. The Paiawa man had apparently been around to hear the story from people who witnessed the first encounter themselves. The Kuwi & Siboma storytellers were less histrionic and were repeating stories that had been told to them. The Kuwi man told how the Kuwi [people] were slow to accept the mission; they mostly ignored it so it didn't take root for some time. Also their local convert and lay missionary had a shakey grasp on Yabem which the storyteller illustrated by giving his pronunciation of Apômtau as [abomdou]. The Siboma guy got a chance to mention the mission school that used to be at Siboma. Evidently it was after mission contact that they moved from the old village in the next cove to the present site, which is a good place but not so easily defensible [from the sea].

The school kids enacted the arrival of Flierl in a decorated canoe. The guy playing Fl. dressed in white shirt & trousers, white plastic helmet and wore a long beard (actually a Standard 6 Siboma boy). All sang a singsing taught them by the 'meri tisa' ['woman teacher'] we usually stay with when we visit Kuwi. She accompanied them on a hand drum with lizard skin top tuned by rocks or something [actually beeswax] fastened strategically on the playing surface. [The kaunsil was especially supportive and soliticitous toward the meri tisa, who was also an outsider, as he had been during his own long years as a schoolteacher.]

Some young folks from Kuwi acted out the story of the Good Samaritan dressed in modern conception of Biblical garb.

The service, stories and plays (called 'piksa' by older pidgin speakers and so written in the program) were all in Tok Pisin except for the Yabem songs. The commemoration service had locally composed Yabem songs, the regular service had translations of German. [For the difference, see Morobe Field Diary, June 1976: Naive Ethnomusicology.]

A special collection was taken up for ELCONG Sande by each village beforehand. The aim was one Kina from each Kristen memba. Siboma came up with K59, Paiawa with K41, Buso with K44, and Kuwi I think had K49 with the schoolteachers contributing K7. I suspect those numbers tell more about the cash income of the various villages [i.e., how many relatives they have working elsewhere] than about the number of Kristen members or their fervor.

An afterchurch circuit meeting took up the afternoon. It was conducted in Tok Pisin and Yabem in about equal portions. I've gotten so I can hear a number of things in Yabem now. It's nearly as easy as Siboma, especially since I got a little mimeo on some grammar basics of Yabem [the last time I was in Lae].

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