26 February 2004

Morobe Field Diary, July 1976: Village Party

Last Friday, Daniel/Sigo paddled in at dusk, beached his canoe and calmly lifted a 6 ft, 50 lb or so sailfish out of the hull. He caught it on a handline and he said it jumped and jumped and pulled the canoe a ways before giving out. It filled the whole front end of the hull. The whole village came down to admire; they cut it up after dark on the bed of the canoe by lamplite; and I had a piece the next morning for breakfast. It was a catch any Kona Coast cabin cruiser fisherman would be proud of. Makes me think Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea was a bit overdramatized.

Some of the fish was saved for a wedding party the whole village waited for from Fri to Sun nite when the overdue [M.V.] Sago came back from town with 10-12 cases of beer. The party got started about midmorning Monday. I drank a beer or two with the crowd at my end of the village, mosied off with the kaunsil to the far end where one guy had a bar going selling gin at 20 toea a capful along with enough Coke to barely color it. He made his 6K [= Kina] overhead and 4K profit. I was treated to a double shot and quickly retreated to beer only (about 4).

Well on my way to oblivion and having turned my skin black (or so many people assured me), treated others to gin and cigarettes, and tried my best to refute notions of how civilized the drinking habits of whites were, I careened back to my own end of the village with the intention of napping a few hours of the afternoon in preparation for the evening session.

But upon my return I was offered a COLD beer (thanks to some of the boat's crew having snitched a bit of the block ice for keeping the fish catch fresh) and perhaps another. Some people got out handdrums and started a rather loose 'singsing' which I was urged to join and which, after some hesitation, I did join.

I must have performed about 1.5 hours, beating on the end of any empty plastic jug along with the other men and one or two females who danced on the periphery from time to time. The kaunsil's wife then called me for tea; her husband was already done for. I drank tea with biskits and went to my house, lay down without making the bed and was out for the rest of the evening, missing the nitetime guitar playing and dancing Western style and never really paying respects to the couple (a local woman and a Wain man--an area inland of Lae).

I awoke about the time everyone was going to sleep (probably about 2-3 am) and had a sleepless nite after taking two aspirins, two antacid tablets and making my bed. The next morning the whole village was pretty subdued and I sat at my desk the whole day finishing a paperback Adventures of Sherlock Holmes that had enthralled me for two days.

My mother sent pictures of the family which I showed around and cited kinship terms for. That is the magic trick for getting onto the mess of kinship terminology. Later in the evening I drew out the triangle and circle and line chart of all my relatives and now I feel I've pretty well got the meaning of each term down but finding out who's whose what is quite another matter, especially since the names of the in-laws are tabu. But I'm working on it.

Indications are that the Numbami used to be matrilineal but due to European influence (possibly local non-Austronesian influence as well) have begun to reckon by fathers rather than by mother's brothers. The kaunsil said the party was rubbish and that when we threw one there would be enough booze for the women to 'spark' as well.

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