Trek in Dagga 1984 Part VIII

By the time we got back to Arigip I was limping heavily and in some pain from the sprained ankle that I sustained on the way down the mountain. So I rested a few days. Then we went on to another village around the base of the mountain. My main host in Arigip asked me to take a bag of rice and a few other supplies to share at that village. I was only too happy to comply.  Arigip had a small store that kept a few food items like canned fish and rice. Mostly it was too expensive for anyone to buy regularly, so it wasn’t strange to think that this would be a good gift from a stranger.

This time we trekked off through the tall Kunai grass. In this photo you see a women with a bilum around her head. You could never tell what was being carried. I think, in this case, it turned out she had a piglet in the bilum. Sometimes it would be a baby. Sometimes food collected from the garden. Even wood for the cooking fire.

Eventually this trail came to the rainforest and we entered in single file. The trail wound through trees in a barely discernible manner. Then it came to a steep dry creek bed and my companions turned down the creek bed. Well, there was no real track here, so if I had to find my way – well, no way.  After some time walking over rough creek rocks, my companions found the exit trail and we went on through the rainforest. We came across the village all of a sudden among the trees. The ground was completely bare. I can’t remember being met but we were ushered into a largish hut in which a number of older men were already sitting, chewing beetle nut. I was show a place to sit against the wall near a doorway to another room. Some younger men came in and also a young woman who sat a little apart but near my end of the group. A young man, maybe 17 years old, sat near to me. He spoke a few words of english and made clear he would translate, as we didn’t have another English speaker with me.

However my translator was quite weak in English (not surprising, I was more surprised he spok any English at all). He asked me, “Do you have some food.” I said “yes” and immediately took the rice, canned fish, and tea out of my backpack. The young woman set to and put the whole rice on the boil.  Still it was a very slow meeting as we waited for the rice to boil but as soon as it was ready, everyone stopped and shared out some rice and fish. There was not much lunchtime conversation. Then everyone had tea.

At one stage, there was a brief conversation between one of the old men and the young woman which ended with the young woman standing up and facing me. The lad said, “She wants to go into that room behind you” I nodded, not taking much notice. She stood there. He repeated his comment. Then it dawned that she wouldn’t walk in front of me to go there, so I got up and moved away so she could go in. Later she came out with something (I can’t remember what) and we did the same little ritual.

Then, all of a sudden, a shout went up from outside, and all the men got up and grabbed spears and bows and arrows and ran out. I was left sitting in the hut with the young woman. Out of surprise I said out loud to myself, “Where did everyone go?” To which the young woman said, in very clear English, “There is a pig that has been coming down the montain and destroying our gardens. They saw the pig and everyone has gone out to catch it.” I was a bit gob smacked. Her english was much better than the young lad. I asked her a hundred questions. She explained that she had done a few years of highschool on the coast and learnt English. The young lad was her brother. The pig was from a village up the mountain and had got away. It had destroyed all their gardens and that was about 6 months food supply. They had been very hungry. I was quite aghast at this. It brought home to me how precarious was such a life, not at all idyllic. And it occurred to me that what I had though was a laid back quietness in the village, was probably lethargy from lack of nutrition. The only way they would eat is if a close relative was married to a person in another village, and then they would send some food across every now and then. But this was limited when everyone was living hand to mouth.

Slowly the men came back to the hut. They had not caught the pig. However they seemed more animated and spoke with more purpose. I asked the young woman to help her brother with translation and discussion went well then. After the general conversation about the Baha’i Faith and some other things, the surprise question came. I say surprise, because in Australia, these questions were more theoretical, but here they were fully about how they would govern their social lives in a practical way. The surprise question started with the statement, “We are very angry. One of the men has run away to the coast with one of the women who was another man’s wife. What should we do about them?” An unmarried young Australian is hardly the best person to be asking advice of such sorts, but I think I managed to have a discussion about Baha’i law on marriage, divorce, but I don’t think they were adequately satisfied that there was no firm punishment for the perpetrators. Perhaps I recommended they write to the National Assembly for advice.

We didn’t stay in that village even for one night because hospitality on their part would have been too great a strain. Late in the afternoon we walked our way back along the creek. I had no hope of finding the trail again. Yet we were soon back in Arigip.


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