11 February 2004

Morobe Field Diary, May 1976: Sociolinguistic Notes, Kui Church Meeting

The meeting started out mostly in Tok Pisin and was conducted in parliamentary procedure of a most genuine and impressive kind. No holds barred discussions took place, which the two secretaries (called cuscus after a local animal [phalanger, opossum]) duly recorded in Tok Pisin. But as the meeting wore on, Yabem became more prominent perhaps because the older people are more comfortable in it and they did most of the talking. My presence did not seem to hinder the discussions in the least. Younger men would listen to Yabem and reply in Tok Pisin. The Sunday service was conducted similarly: Hymns & prayers in Yabem were followed by a sermon and scripture reading from the Nupela Testamen. There followed an ordination ceremony in Yabem. Ceremony tends to be Yabem because a prayer book or whatever it's called has been translated into Yabem. Still, Tok Pisin seems to be slowly taking over from Yabem.

An Australian Lutheran missionary came on the afternoon of the Saturday meeting and I got to see the small singsing cooked up for him. The ship was met at the dock and after unloading the passengers headed off for the meeting ground. They were soon accosted by a guy with a padded out stomach and a construction helmet who looked as severe as possible and asked where they thot they were going. They gave some reply and he turned to the coconut frond fence they had erected for the occasion and called out his troops: about half a dozen men and an equal number of women adorned variously with grass skirts, body paint (ochre legs, black & white-face) and some towels the women carried as they danced. The men blew conch shells and beat a drum while they chanted and made threatening motions--one with a tomahawk--and threw coconut frond ribs at the visitors & crowd.

I tagged along with the spectators, who explained to me the setup beforehand and told of cases where some kids had been scared by the display into crying. They, however, were well aware it was all by way of giaman (roughly 'deception') and were as touristy as I was about it all.

The dancers were singing a Siboma singsing which the Sibomas asserted they had done rather poorly. People are familiar with singsings from a variety of places and like the local string band numbers as well as Western music and singsing music. Unlike Micronesia, which seems to lean toward Western stuff as far as I can tell. Well, maybe Yap just didn't have a lot of intermediary music olsem stringband stuff here.

The boat carrying the missionary and 2 dozen others came into the dock head on and nearly knocked down the newly repaired thing altogether. It is an old leaky boat unlike the sound, sturdy little [M.V.] Sago which the Sibomas commissioned and had built recently.

It wasn't till after the service Sunday that I talked with the missionary tho I saw him off and on from a distance. In Micronesia whites living in the village tend to be mistaken for Piskor; here they are taken to be SIL Bible translators. Both perform a similar function in fostering democratization and racial equality. [Several people mentioned that the missionaries, unlike the Australian administrators, would eat from the same food.] Melanesians are rather capitalist & democratic but racial equality needs considerable more work.

The 'informant' situation couldn't be better. The kaunsil puts me to work. People never leave me alone when I'm working; they all come around eager to help and I've so far spent too much time getting & putting on paper & not enough assimilating and organizing. I've really got to work out a felicitous medium ground arrangement without alienating people. For only a week & a day here I feel like I've made phenomenal progress. The trip to Kui allowed me to stop assimilating onto paper and start communicating in it more.

Today I did my big book of seashells, with interesting results. Dictionary work is more fun than grammatical when your informants are not top grade. Together they make a good combination. And being put to work rounds things out nicely. Being able to relax by myself is all I need more of. And I think I'm slowly working that out.

The kaunsil & family are really top grade teachers (he was a schoolteacher for a while--a long while--and has 'bossed' (taken care of, taken responsibility for) a number of whites). [His lead dog was raised by whites and knew how to sekan ('shake hands')--and to eat ship biscuits.]

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