The highest village in the Dagga language group made for a cold november. The sunny days were quite mild. The man who met me at the previous village, to accompany me as a translator was not a local from Dagga, but rather the husband of a schoolteacher who had come there. You will notice in the flickr photos, he has a bright blue tracksuit top.
This village had a large central grassed ‘square’. When we arrived, we walked straight on through, hearing a few shouted voices from within huts. It was common to hear shouted voices either from within huts or from outside. They were not voices of anger, but voices of messaging. As it came to be often translated, this was the efficient method people would relay information about needs, decisions. So, at what seemed to me like any time of day, a loud voice would be heard. When I asked the translator, “What is he shouting about?” I would be told something like, “Oh he says that a hut is being erected for a person, and men are needed to cut down trees for posts, tomorrow.” and then replies and questions would issue forth from huts.In this case, as people saw us enter, they simply shouted that we were here, that to go and put things down and then come back and meet the chiefs.
So we left the main square of the village and crossed a small stream to a large grassed paddock. To the left side of the paddock was a large hut with broken panels. On a slope from it was a yam garden. Across the paddock, was the translator’s hut. As we crossed the stream we heard a child’s voice calling out. As I looked toward the voice, I saw a child perhaps 3 years old, coming down the steps from the hut. As she got to the bottom of the stairs and began running toward us, the translator said proudly and happlily, “this is my daughter”. Then a strange thing happened. As she was running towards us, she suddenly stopped running and calling. Then she started calling againg in a strident voice. Then she ran two steps forward, calling to us as if for help, then she ran back a little, and continued so that she began making circles. By this time she was quite keening in her cry. Perhaps, then, her mother called for her, as she then turned and ran back into the hut. I asked, ” what happened?” My translator said, “Oh, she hasn’t seen a white man before. She got frightened. She wanted to come to me for safety but I was with you so she got confused.” It reminded me that nine or ten years without a white person meant that anyone under 12 probably wouldn’t remember or wouldn’t have seen a white person. And without books, no way to show what one might look like or tell stories. Of course the stories they had about ‘different’ people weren’t that good for children. Nonetheless, I think she almost got used to me during the few days I was there.
And a few days it had to be. Once we set down and had some yam for lunch, we went back to the main village to meet the village. First we met with some chiefs in a hut. Here they told us that they had organised a Feast with a few of the nearby villages. A feast meant that these villages would all come with a pig and hauling yams. Then they would spend the afternoon slaughtering the pigs and butchering the meat. The men particularly would get prepared for traditional dancing. Then they would cook the meat and share it and the yams out into portions according to families. Then, by village, there would be a ‘dance off’ in teams of dancers with drums (kundus). They would all have a large meal during the dancing, with families keeping a portion of the cooked pork for the next day (maybe longer).
During the afternoon, I went to a few huts to have conversations about the Baha’i Faith with groups of people. In one of these huts, a man about 30 years of age, spoke to me in very clear English, asking me where I was from? Did I know Melbourne? “No I had never been” “I like Melbourne”, he said, “better than Frankfurt.” I think since I have never heard comments that caused such a dissonance for comprehension. The voice in my head was reflecting, ‘yes he is speaking very clear english, yes he did say Melbourne, and, it did seem that he was talking about Frankfurt, ?Germany. “How do you know these places?” I asked. And so he told me of being a merchant seaman and the routes he had travelled, cities he had seen. And that know he was homesick and needed a rest so he came bnack to Dagga, where the company can’t find me. “But people here are quite ignorant, so it is hard to stay for long.” I though he was a little harsh in his comments about his ‘onetalks’ but looking back I suppose he was just telling it as he experienced a life on both sides of two vastly different worlds. He wasn’t so interested in the Faith, and was committed to alcohol, cigarettes and perhaps other enticements of a seaman’s life. Yet he was not hostile towards the idea of the Faith, perhaps with the pragmatic view that it might help the progress of the people.
In another hut, I met with what I found out were members of the elected Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’i Faith. See here, for information about the administrative order of the Baha’i Faith. I was pleasantly surprised to see a couple of women sitting in this group. We spoke about a number of things to do with Baha’i principles, elections, the work of the Spiritual Assembly including socio-economic development. Then, in a sedate manner that I didn’t see coming, I was asked, “so if the Spiritual Assembly can make all the decisions with the community, what do we do with the chiefs?” I was far too nervous and felt far to young to provide the flippant responses that comes to my mind’s bidding today. I remembered Baha’u’llah’s teachings on Kings, so I referred these to them, “”Erelong will God make manifest on earth kings who will recline on the couches of justice, and will rule amongst men even as they rule their own selves. They, indeed, are among the choicest of My creatures in the entire creation.” (Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, p. 73), and suggested that they consult with the chiefs on the role that the chiefs would now play. I never heard how such a question has played out.
Later, once the feast had begun and the drums and dancers were in full swing, a few of the chiefs came to me with a gift of a ‘peace’ bilum. They told me whenever villages come together for a feast they would first plant this bag on a spear in the square and that would be a sign that there are no aggressions while the peace bag was standing there. It seemed they were saying that they no longer had need for the peace bilum to be set up, for now they were always at peace with each other. I still have the bilum hanging in my cupboard and it reminds me of the mission for world peace, how easy it is forged in some cases, how immensely difficult in others.
The drums played on all night. I went to the hut to sleep much earlier than most of the village (yes I know, party pooper). It was freezing. I wore my tracksuit and two pair of football socks and in my sleeping bag and was still cold. I woke to see a few people sleeping around the fire, but many young people just sleeping in skimpy clothing on the dew laden grass. Perhaps they had a good dose of ‘beetle-nut’ to get them though the night. I understood from them that some ‘beetle-nut’ was just taste but some types would make a new taker fall down.
Slowly our hut came to life, and, after some breakfast of yams, we went off down the other side of the mountain.