A Trip through Dagga Part III

Many of my memories of Dagga involve sitting in a hut talking, or rather mostly listening to Dagga and occasionally being asked through a translator, a question. I want to just list a few of these stories here. Each have their own lesson in life, and opened my eyes to the workings of another culture.
My friend, the coffee merchant of Arigip, brought out a map of the world one evening. He asked me to point out to the chiefs there, where I was from, and where Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith came from etc. I started by pointing out the places of people they might know about – Americans, British, Australians, Japanese, Papuans. I pointed out the birth of Baha’u’llah (Iran) and discussed his exile to Baghdad, Istanbul (Constantinople), and Akka (Israel). I pointed to my region of Australia. When I finished this ‘presentation’ one of the chiefs made a short but serious comment. My friend laughed gleefully, then turned to me and said, “this old man says, ‘I have walked for two days to the north and two days to reach the sea, and two days to the south and two days to the west, and I never came to the end of my country. So I think my country is very big. But one this map it looks very small, so whoever drew this map, drew his country large just to make my country small.” He then discussed the idea further with the older men. I couldn’t help being amused by the idea, but in this and other ‘amusing’ conversations I found myself admiring the easy discussion of people towards some new knowledge and decision about it. This comment in itself shows an astute paranoid reckoning of chiefs whose primary attitude was that they are as good as anyone.
Although Dagga is a remote area even in PNG, it has had a volatile 20th Century history. One of the old men in a talking group had said, “We are pleased that you have come here from Australia. We know about Australian white men. When (the earlier Baha’i traveller) came, we were anxious about him. We learnt that he was a wonderful man, but we didn’t know what punishments black people bring with them. When we saw you we were happy. We knew that Australians would only throw people in jail for punishment.” There was a sense from these types of comments, although translated by a person with limited English, that the ‘punishment’ might not have been. in their mind, related to any offence but just an ad hoc event as if visited by a force of nature. I concurred with some bewilderment that we are even more peaceful, now, wondering whether he thought I might have some punishment in store. And I am sure I took the opportunity to explain the teachings of Baha’u’llah on ‘unity in diversity’ for world peace and the respect of all peoples.
Another old man then related the following story from his father about the first white men to come to the area. It is not clear when that was, but perhaps under British rule prior to World War II. He said, “My father’s people saw some strange animals coming towards here. They didn’t look dangerous, and they thought they looked like they would be easier to hunt than pigs, and probably had more meat. So they went out with their spears and killed one and brought it back. They thought the shoes were some part of the foot and were dismayed that they didn’t soften when boiled.” I didn’t dare to ask any detailed questions about this story for fear of humiliating the old man, especially how far they might have gotten in meal preparations. And I don’t want to give any impression that the Papuans were cannibals in any way. It was clear that the idea in the story is that they didn’t see whit soldiers all in kit, as humans. To them, they didn’t look anything like ‘people’. “Then, he continued, the other soldiers came up and saw us. They drew strange sticks up, but they didn’t look dangerous, so our men just shook their spears and bows at them and shouted. Then one of the soldiers shot his gun. The people didn’t know where the loud noise came from. It gave them a shock. One of the men fell down. He was lying still but he didn’t seem injured much. He had a small hole in his chest that leaked blood. But when some other men went to get him up they saw he had a big hole in his back, and was really dead. They didn’t understand this but knew it happened when the soldier pointed his stick. So they knew they had to get away from that ‘magic’. A few more of them were killed running away. Later we got to know that they were people, that the loose skin was clothes, and the stick were guns with bullets.”

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