14 April 2004

Morobe Field Diary, December 1976: Going-away Party

Yesterday, the Sunday before Christmas, we finally had my village party. We had it early to make way for another one next Sunday. By my reckoning it was a good one. The [M.V.] Sago took off for Kuwi early in the morning to get the pig [people tend not to slaughter and eat pigs they've raised themselves] while we got the church service out of the way. About the time the service ended the Sago pulled in. The pig was alive, tied to a pole and large by NG [= New Guinea] standards and well fatted. People gathered under the men's house at this end of the village while the women went to work on the starch and a few men on the pig who died a rather torturous death due to inefficient killers. One girl cried and I would have shed a tear if I weren't at the moment being very detached & scientific (wonderful how science allows you to get beyond your scruples).

[The young, unmarried men's cohort -- my cohort -- took charge of the slaughter and whacked the pig between the eyes several times to stun it before trying to put a pig spear thru its heart, but they had enough trouble finding the heart that an older, more experienced pig hunter stepped in to put the pig out of its misery more efficiently. Its squeals had set the village dogs wild, and the initial butchering had to be done on the platform of a canoe floating far enough offshore to keep the dogs away.]

The plan was to serve the beer with the food to avoid excessive drunkenness but when we had set a preliminary two cartons before the hot, thirsty and impatient crowd of men -- already starting drum-beating -- somehow the momentum started and they got two more, and then two more, before the food came. They were pretty gone for the most part and up singsinging, which they resumed after eating during the mid- to late-afternoon. Within the context of Nu. society we showed rather excessive appreciation (any at all) for the women who prepared the food by distributing a carton of beer among them as well. And a couple of packs of cigarettes. And many shouts of "yowe!" ('well done, bravo, etc.').

After dinner I joined the singsing which went on until dark. Around 7 pm or so we broke for some more food & a wash (my third well-needed one of the day) and to let the guitar-players get their gear together. Then the "play-guitar singsing" began. Again it was my duty to dance and, after a slow start, I danced and danced. At first it was all males though I called for the young women to join in. They were too shy till one town girl started, rather bravely shy at first. Then she came up and danced with me (knowing our strange custom), then her friend asked me. They were both high school girls (grades 7-10) who I didn't know but when I had asked their names I turned the tables & asked them and several other young women to dance -- danced American style the rest of the evening.

I don't know what time it was when we broke up. Most of the village was asleep by then (or trying to get to sleep). Today I have the pleasant melancholy feeling of having met a nice girl at a party and am getting some paperwork done while waiting to count back 11 hours from high tide to figure out when I went to sleep last nite.

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