A Trip through Dagga 1984 Part II

While in Alotau I had bought a half a back pack of tinned fish and rice, and a packet of tea, to share while in the Dagga area. I had learnt on an early trek in Central province that sugar just won’t last, as it tends to get added to the tea by the tablespoon. I thought it must be a response to having little in the way of sweet foods. The staple diet was varieties of yam. I actually put on weight after a week in Central province and two weeks in Dagga. Yes, no dysentry, and years of training by mother to finish what was on my plate, and a tendency for young men to have two plates of yam per sitting. One morning, when getting ready to trek up the mountain to other villages, an older women who was boiling yam fo rbreakfast mentioned, “Good for walking up mountains”. A pineapple crop began to ripen at the end of my visit and, after just a couple of weeks on the straight stuff, I found myself eating half a pineapple in one sitting.
One evening in Arigip I was sitting on the floor for a meal with four men two women and a pre-pubescent girl. The older men (chiefs of the village) were speaking to me throguh my host who spoke English very well, and had, I understood later, had spent a couple of years in tertiary education of some sort before the death of his father brought him back to Arigip. It had quickly become evident to me that there was a clear differential in body types of these people who lived by subsistence farming. The youth and young adults wer clearly ‘chubby’, especially women. Adults by 30 were relatively lean. An old person was probably only in their 40s, and I doubted anyone was as old as 60 years
Anyhow back to dinner. In a fashion true to children the world over, the girl was nagging her mother about something. I couldn’t imaginge what as there are no retail shops, no fashion lable, no money. Perhaps she just wanted to get out of a day tending the yams. Or maybe even school (yes they had a primary school). I wasn’t paying much attention to the girl, but after a while the mother said something tersely to her. While the terseness of the words were enough to draw my attention, the effect on the girl and the others at the table were astounding. On her mother’s words, the girl looked to me momentarily with eyes wide with terror, shut her mouth firmly closed, then hung here head. The men at the meal, immediately fell about laughing with the most gleeful delight. The girl watched me through the top of hooded eyes, now more sullen than frightened. I sat very puzzled but very very intrigued. When my host had gathered himself I asked, “What did she (the mother) say to the girl? My host patted me on the shoulder, “She said”, he laughed, “if you don’t behave, I’ll give you to that white man and he’ll eat you.”
I must admit, I couldn’t help smiling a bit myself. But I remember thinking, this is the foot on the other shoe, and , if I try to smile at the girl and reassure her, will it just frighten her more. Thankfully, after a few, more sedate comments between men and women, they all came back to the earlier thread of conversation. The girl finished her food in silence, politely and quietly spoke to her mother and then removed herself from the room. I worry somewhat as I tell this story that the girl is now in her mid to late thirties and may read this one day and still not see the funny side. Because the other shoe I mention, is the one I grew up with which was a saying from an older anglo generation to their children that if we didn’t behave they would feed us to a black man. While I thought it was funny when applied to me as the ‘ogre’ – because after all, what a strangely weird idea – I can feel that it was probably a saying similar to this that helped create in me as a child a certain anxiety about black people. I don’t want to spend time in this story on the psychology of discrimination within myself or any one, but to note that every prejudicial statement to a child may create emotional responses that can never be fully overcome by the sheer force of prayer or intellect or intercultural emersion, at a later time in life.

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