My last post on my personal journey through domestic violence brought a lot of pain, anguish and fear. With the graphics being provided in the New York Times film by Carey Wagner, my mind took a long trip to many forgotten places where the monster lived.
I have taken some time to work through things I kept to myself for a long time but in response to the article, many kind words have been spoken by friends, family and even caring strangers both here, personal emails, phones and my Facebook Page. It is a long hard walk to the end of violence against women but we have to continue to talk about it and fight the monster.
I have two very important people in my life; my sons Nathan(18) and Chris(15). As a mother I always worry that whatever actions I take that the boys would be watching me and there would be consequences. I always worry I may hurt them emotionally. This is one of the things we need to teach our boys and young children in PNG if we are serious about starting at ground level.
For my own case, all these years, I did not speak much about my life with the monster. I felt very strongly about many things and my priority was always to protect sons. I knew they would soon learn about me and the culture they are part of. Because they were born into a combination of cultures and parents the responsibility comes back to their father and I to teach them about what is expected of them and how they should treat others.
My past did involve my sons but only just. I recall a confronting incident in 1999 that involved my children and my past. I had fled from the monster in 1988. I changed my life, settled several years later in a very happy relationship and had my sons.
Our family went to a friend’s place one day. My sons were barely 3 and six-months-old. We were invited to the friend’s place for Sunday brunch. When we arrived, the boys my partner and I, in front of my friend’s house was the man who had beat me for four years. He was invited! It was absurd. However, when you look at the big picture, which took me a long time to see was that – everything was ok. Even friends accepted that what this man did was ok.
I was shocked but having my baby (Chris) in my arms, I pretended to ignore the beast and proceeded forward. What I did not expect was he came forward, passing me, to pick up a ball my three-year-old had dropped. Stunned, I watched him hand the ball back to my son. Then the man did something that made me want to kill him. He gently touched my son’s head. I nearly fainted.
We left the party and returned home because my partner and the father of my sons could see that clearly, I became very ill. We never spoke about this incident but I knew that I could never let that person come near my children.
Like all families, life continues and we grow as people and as a family, we take on life’s challenges together. I believe as a parent, I must always do my best and show what is in my heart. Show love. This love that I teach and show is the greatest conqueror of all hardships and it teaches my sons to love others and treat them as they would want to be treated. That was what my late grandmother, Geyam Kauc always said. I tell my sons to always treat people with love and respect. And when they are older, especially in relationships, treat women with the same love and respect and the women will appreciate and reciprocate.
Thank you to all those people that commented on the “PNG Women: When can we be safe in our own country” post and I hope that what I wrote made a small contribution to help in creating more awareness and also give hope to victims of violence.
As promised, I am sharing a story I wrote based on a true story of another woman who was a victim at the hands of the monster. This story hopefully one day will be published in a book of short stories. I thank my teacher Isabel D’ Avila Winter for editing and formatting this story. If you have any comments about the story, please let me know. Pictured below is a picture of women I worked with in Eniyawa Village, Suki, PNG where I was told this story. I met several very talented women weavers, leaders and also victims of domestic violence relationships. It was in the evenings after our weaving workshop that we would sit and discuss some of our own personal triumphs and how we got away from the “the monster”.
My Last Walk
By Joycelin Leahy
I could feel his eyes burning into my back as I struggled uphill and over the grass stubs. The air was tight around me. It is almost four in the morning and chilly.
This time I felt Bomoga’s heavy breathing, close and menacing. I longed for the day’s first warmth, for the softness of my three-month-old baby Boni and for the giggles of his older siblings. I felt extremely fatigued and wished I could stop walking. A sudden breeze brushed over the tall grass making a shoos sound. I shivered.
This was how Bomoga and I walked to the garden, except I walked behind him with a child on my shoulder, one in the bilum on my back, whilst pulling my eldest by the hand. Their father walked proudly in front with his spear, his small bag strung across his chest. This time I was in front, wearing my favourite red meri blouse. In haste, I had worn it inside-out. It hung loosely on me.
As I reached the top of Kasu Hill, I struggled for air.
I could feel myself sweat vigorously as my heart pumped wildly.
Kasu was the only hill in Domogu Village in the wallaby plains of Western Province in Papua New Guinea. The rest of the area was flat grassland hunters burnt often to entrap wild game.
As commanded, I marched a further three kilometers along the ridge and then descended gradually. I stopped feeling the mud and my sore right foot. Near Kasu Hill, NGO environmentalists were studying the tailings allegedly from Ok Tedi Mining. Along the river bank, hundreds of fish and plants had died. Usually there would be people here, but it’s too early – there is no-one.
I felt my milk starting to drip down my blouse. I hadn’t worn a bra, so my breasts were full and uncomfortable. My heart beat faster as I steered my thoughts from my baby. The sun rose and faint shadows began to form while warm air caressed my face. I was sure now: we had crossed the open country and left Domogu Village. Bomoga’s ancestors, nomads like mine, had decided to settle in this land because of its fertility.
We’re up high and it is clearer. My eyes scanned over the mountains where mining giant Ok Tedi explored. To the south, there was an airstrip; Airlines PNG flew in weekly. From the top, the village looked like an exquisite jewel, a deep jade opal, festooned with glassy lakes of various sizes.
“Move!” his voice cut through the silence.
I stumbled forward.
Soon, we entered a dark forest, the only obscure part of the land. Strangely, the birds were silent. I had never been here, but I knew sorcerers came here often for bush medicine. I looked for the outside light through the tree openings. I saw only the lingering fog, separating me further from my children.
“Keep walking,” he hissed behind me.
From the moment he’d woken me this morning, I had not looked once in Bomoga’s eyes. It was still dark and I had felt his sweaty hands touch my arm. His physical stench was almost invasive. I thought he wanted sex but he shook me roughly and ordered me up and out of the house. His shadow had loomed over me as I carefully took Boni off my breast and put my meri blouse on quickly. My baby stirred and nestled into his flannelette blanket, eyes still shut. Thank God, I thought, he didn’t wake up and cry for more milk. I hung on to the last touch of his tender little fingers. Eka and Maria were asleep. I heard Bomoga pick up something and then close the door behind us. The mood between us was chilling. He was quiet and cagey, unlike his usual loud and showy ways.
If we were not having sex, which was rough and unpleasant, we had arguments which would end with a sudden punch in my eye or stomach, sometimes causing me to blackout. I knew if I answered back or cried out, the beating would be worse.
He repeatedly told me no-one would help me because I was his wife. Not even his mother, sisters, or other villagers. I always felt like his prey, moving under his watchful eyes while I went about my daily chores.
My thoughts reached out to my children, then my mother. Our years of marriage had worked this way: while Bomoga ruled, I kept my mouth shut. My bride price had been paid and when my family left after the wedding ceremony, I knew I would never see my mother again. I ran after her. We cried and hugged for a long and last time.
The sobbing began from inside now, my eyes warmed and salted with tears.
I remembered a slight improvement in Bomoga at the birth of our first son. I’d made him a proud Melanesian man by having a first male child. Eka was my child of hope. I held this hope close to my chest along with the bible. Children can change a marriage, the village pastor had said. Sadly, Bomoga’s cousin came back from the city one day with SP beer and some other alcohol. The two had many days of stories. I saw a change aroused in Bomoga, followed by his old ways. When I had two more children and threatened that I would leave, I saw something new in his eyes. He started beating me.
Today his manners are different again. He is like a time-bomb, ready to go off at anytime. As I walked on, I remembered how no-one had seen us leave the house. Not even Tau, the old Papuan. I wish he had already opened his trade store. He was a kind man. If he or someone else saw us leave then, one day, they could tell my children. I did not leave willingly. It was not my choice to leave them behind.
As we descended through the gloomy thick undergrowth into a flatter area, I glanced across a small opening. I could finally see sunlight touching the mid canopy. It was a pretty sprinkle of luminosity touching various leaves and the moss. I caught a glimpse of a beautiful Bird Wing butterfly on a fern, just waking up. I felt a flash of hope.
We left the dense of the forest and approached a Y junction. I could hear rapids.
“Turn down towards the River,” Bomoga commanded.
I turned towards the sound of the rapids. My mind focused on the returning pain in my foot. In each step, I felt the sharpness of the rocks greeting me as I descended over each one. The rapids became louder. Before me was the belly of a fast flowing river and it was full from the rain last night. Is he going to drown me? Perhaps this was my last walk, I wondered.
I imagined villagers rushing to screaming children. My body laid there as the women rushed to the children. My laplap had been swept away and only my treasured meri blouse, still inside out, was clinging to my slim frame. I was dragged ashore with a paddle shafted under the hem of my blouse. Here, I was left on the pale silky banks of Suki River while everyone gathered to look. Then a woman ran up and started yelling and then, in a cry of recognition, she bellowed my name: “Sulita!, Sulita! It’s Suli!.” Everyone would turn and ask; “Who is Sulita?” They had not recognised me half dressed and impaled by a black palm spear. By then my corpse had been soaked pale and bloodless by the hours in the river.
“Stop!” he yelled over the rapids.
I stumbled and halted, snapping into reality.
On the river’s edge lies soft silky mud. The ground is pale and covered with smooth boulders of all kinds. In places there were no stones and the ground looked easy to dig. I kept my face down and turned away. My staggering feet were covered in mud and grass. I needed to relieve myself. Under my extreme state of duress, blood rushed to my head, causing a war of pins and needles.
“Turn around and face me. Look at me.”
Slowly, I raised my head, looking up into the point of his most prized black palm spear. In the background everything there was to see and hear faded.
Bomoga had speared the biggest pig, the fastest wallaby and driven the largest cull of deer. Many feared him because of his mastery with the weapon itself. My eyes shifted from the spear and held my husband’s eyes. Even after ten long years we stared at each other as if we were strangers. I finally felt at peace.
Bomoga’s eyes were wild, bulging and red. His nose flared and his eyebrows twitched in the anticipation of violence. He raised and pointed with the spear.
“Where would you like to be buried?” he asked.
In the beginning of 2013 there was an up-rise in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (PNG), to stop violence against women. It was called “Women Arise (PNG)”. The theme was “Enough is Enough”. This up-rise brought in media and world-wide attention on gender violence in PNG. This issue is not new, it just escalated to another degree. Foreign interests in this issue peaked and organisations such as UN and World Bank started speaking out against the gender violence again in 2013.
For me, a past victim, this new spark of re-lived activism (about ending violence against women in PNG) gave me hope for many victims who face this monster (violence) daily and for the baby girls who would be born innocently into the monster’s hands. I watched the campaign from the distance. I had offered some help earlier on the the Women Arise (PNG) Facebook Page but no-one took notice. Many people I knew took active roles to fight against issues of violence against women.
Upon reflection, I have to admit, at that time last year, I did not feel confident enough to take part in the march organised in Brisbane, Australia where I live. I had been part of a similar up-rise campaigns two decades before – organised and successfully executed by women leaders such as Josephine Kanawi and others through the PNG Law Reform Commission. I was studying Journalism in the University of Papua New Guinea and at that time I supported the campaign and felt that finally, things will change for PNG women. In 1985, I became a journalist and covered news as well as got involved in the protests against gender violence.
A year later, I fell victim to it myself. The “monster” got me at a ripe age of 20 when I had begun my first relationship. While I suffered and tried to work out what I had got myself into, laws were introduced and I believe changes were taking effect. However, when I went through my own situations, I noticed just by the reaction that although good people were doing something to stop the violence, the general state of affairs showed clearly that the monster lived on.
In the city itself, we all hid behind tall barbed wire fencing, security guard dogs and male security gates. Incidences and violent crimes against women continued. The women would be snatched at gates and pack-raped. Some were raped by gangs and others by people they knew. A close friend who lived in the settlement, a mother, was taken by a group of men and in conversation of her rape, she said she thought knew who the men were. She just could not work out exactly why they did this to her.
I still felt unsafe living in Port Moresby. And inside my own home – it was worse.
During the time of the recent Women Arise campaign, I was horrified at how easily I transported myself back to the past. I have been away from PNG for ten years. The various scenes running like a film in my head depicting a young version of me being chased. Sometimes it would be the cold touch of the gun barrel and the waiting for the click and the low menacing voice.
These thoughts made me afraid. I felt sick. I could not go back there. I wanted to keep those images where I had kept them safely for two decades. Each day while watching the news on the 2013 campaign, I felt better that we were all talking about the violence again and it would help to make change. I know it would take a long time to end violence against women in my country or anywhere. It may not even happen in my lifetime but we need to keep hoping.
Today, my friend Kevin Miller sent me this video (click link below the story) about how women are violently treated in PNG. The New York Times video and interview by Carey Wagner stirred deep emotions in me and forced me to write this post.
The video did not shock me. It made me cry because this video is so true. I have not tolerated foreign media as often as I find many stories to be one-sided and exaggerated. This one is true. The sad part is, there are so few of us – the victims of domestic violence and violence against women who are prepared to speak out. The majority, hundreds of thousands of women are being reduced to nothing daily. Many die at the hands of the monster.
PNG is a Melanesian country. Violence is accepted. Violence against women is a global issue. I speak for my own country because I want it to change. I want my young sisters, cousins and daughters to feel safer. Here, a woman’s ‘place’ is accepted as lesser and insignificant. Educated men and leaders beat their wives and get away with it. Brothers cut sisters with bush knives and get away with it. Sons beat mothers.
“Em meri blong em, em ken paitim em” – (“that’s his wife, he can beat her”) or “Em sista blong em, larim em, lainim em” – “that’s his sister, let him teach her”). That’s how we as a country are always quick to justify a beating. And if a woman goes out and comes home where she is taken from the gates and raped, she is blamed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is shocking sometimes to hear this culture and attitude echoed by women themselves. It is almost as if to say – what else is there to do? That is the way it is.
PNG, can we as a country resolve issues without violence? Is there a need to beat someone to get the message across? ..Really?! What about the rapes – what is the message there?
The topic of gender violence was something that has been part of my past – aged 20-23. I had moved on. We migrated to Australia when my sons were six and three. We were shot at the night before, and coming home from a farewell function at Port Moresby Golf Club. Months before I made the decision to leave, my manager, a young woman and a mother who ran my store, Beyond Art, got held up, stripped and almost pack-raped in the middle of the day in my store about 2pm.
I have seen it all as a police officer and a journalist. With difficulty, I was allowing time to drag my own personal shit about this issue slowly out of me. Almost two decades later, you would think I could just forget it. I cannot. I wish there was a way I could tell it easier, softer, and nicer. I also wish I could make sense of it all and why it is happening and what our culture holds against us women. I don’t know.
Today, I want to speak up against the evil monster that suppresses lives of many women in PNG. There is no other nice way to tell it. Men and women – we need to fight the monster together. This is a root, we must uproot and let it die. It is something a healthy society has to do.
On my street called Mavaru in Port Moresby, I recall throwing myself between a man who was trying to stab his wife one morning in 1989. After screaming and attracting neighbours to the scene, he fled. I tried to help the woman to take her to Boroko Police station but she would not do it. She believed if she did, he would kill her. In another incident, during a community development workshop I conducted in Suki, Western Province, PNG in 2011, I met a woman on the first workshop day who looked very familiar. She had fresh bush-knife scars all over her body. I did not recognised her at first. The bandages were still on her head. I sat with her two days later with Neurofen and water and realised, I had met her before in 2009. She was one of the women leaders. A young, beautiful, active and very intelligent woman. A high school graduate (that is the second highest achieving level for many PNG girls – the first would be primary school). This woman was a mother of four. The woman, (her name is withheld) told me the story of how she got her injuries. Her husband had gotten angry one day and decided to chop her with a bush knife in several places including stomach, neck and her arms which she held up to defend herself with. She was left to die. Villagers helped her to the nearest hospital which was miles away and she lost a lot of blood. Surprisingly, although badly disfigured, she survived.
I asked her if she would take her husband to court and leave him. She refused because she was worried about her children. She was also concerned about what her own people and her husband’s would do to her if she left. I understood her.
I am no expert. I do know that the issue of violence against women is still very serious in PNG. The laws have to be even tougher. PNG women need to have an environment where they can feel safe to get help. There could be like triple zero phone lines or a task force to intervene. There has to be practical accessible help.
As a victim, I just want to say it was not easy and is never easy – do not judge the victims, they need your help. Every human has a right to feel safe. Never begin to imagine or say to the victim that you know what it is like. Every woman deserves love and security and appreciation for what they contribute to their loved ones, families, their community and their country. We cannot take it for granted that there are safe places.
I was even working for the police as the media person at that time I was attacked. I did not get help. On one specific day I was physically beaten in my police accommodation while neighbours and colleagues heard and saw me dragged away to a car and driven off. I was in the police ‘safe’ compound, the Bomana Police College. What took place afterwards remains in that secret place.
For me, finding that no-one could help me, I lived inside of myself and let my captor do as he pleased at least for a few more months. But what he did not know was that I had grown a rebellious monster within myself and my monster wanted to fight back and get out and run. There were times when I tried to go to someone to help and even before I mentioned anything, the gun barrel was on my head, in my ears or down my throat warning me – my helpers would become victims themselves. The monster, the man, read me too well.
For the happy ending, one day, I woke up bruised and bleeding. I was not sure if I was dead or alive. Even if I had to crawl out of there, this was the day I had to do it before he came back home. I was determined to live.
A miracle happened.
Someone or some people heard me and quickly and surprisingly help came from friends and family. I ran. I was on the road and in the air. I travelled over the sea. I stayed with people with kind hearts and protective spirits. And, wherever I went, the monster went.
With the support of a friend lawyer I went to court with hard evidence; bullets, doctor’s report and photos. I had journals, dates, ‘incident occurrences’. These provided a strong case but I still needed some very important people to protect me. When my ex had been jailed one night, he cried and the male police let him out. They said it was not right for a grown man to cry like that in the cell.
I kept on running for almost three years after I got away. And it took me a total of five years before I stopped looking over my shoulder. I truly believe I had gotten away only because the man monster had found himself his new victim.
To this day, I am indebted to so many good people. Thank you for giving me my life. You all know who you are. We need more good people to help our women and make them feel safe.
Next week, I will post a short story based on true events of a friend of mine who also ran and survived.
Below, click on links to watch Carey Wagner’s story or join Women Arise PNG. You can also Google many related stories about the violence against women in PNG.
One of my earlier posts was about Sopikarin, a Kula Trading canoe from the Trobriand Islands in Papua New Guinea. This canoe was acquired by the South Australian Museum. In this story I gave some insight into the Kula Trade and what it means. While researching other work tonight, I found this article which I thought some of you may find interesting as it offers a different perspective on the reasons behind the Kula Trade.
The article was written by Anthropologist Mike Reid on Mises Daily.
Anticapitalists like to use examples of supposedly selfless gift exchanges in “primitive” societies to contrast with the greedy behavior of modern markets. But a closer look at one famous exotic gift exchange, the Trobriand Islanders’ Kula, actually reinforces libertarians’ claims about the universal power of the profit motive.
In the elaborate Kula trade among the islands off the eastern tip of New Guinea, men sailed for many miles to receive ceremonial gifts of shell jewellery, apparently for the sole purpose of giving those gifts away again within a year or two.
Such a journey was both costly and dangerous. Men hired craftsmen to build special seagoing canoes sturdy and swift enough for the task. And the Trobrianders’ Kula journeys took them as far as the home of the Dobuans, who lived on an island 60 miles away, spoke a different language, and were regarded as cannibals.
When the visitors arrived, if all went well, their hosts greeted them with ceremonial gifts, “dirty, greasy, and insignificant looking native trinkets,” as one anthropologist jokingly called them. The most coveted of these were shell necklaces and armbands, which belonged to the special category of valuables called vaygu’a.
But despite having come all that way to acquire these trinkets, the visitors did not plan to keep them for very long. Instead, the Trobrianders intended to give all the vaygu’a away within a year or two when they acted as hosts in turn to their own visitors from other islands.
In fact, men who held on to vaygu’a for much longer than that were “universally recognised as reprehensible and discreditable,” and called “slow” or “hard in the Kula.”
Can all that risk and effort really have been undertaken just for the joy of giving the grimy baubles away again?
The socialist economist Karl Polanyi seems to have believed just that. And he admired the islanders for it. Polanyi praised the Kula exchange as “a gain-less and market-less economy … one of the most elaborate trading transactions known to man,” in which “no profit is involved, either in money or in kind.”
In an informal memo, Murray Rothbard ridiculed the Kula and Polanyi’s love of it:
He is apparently enchanted by the “Kula trade.” … What Polanyi especially likes about this is its lack of true mutual gain — or is it its obvious pointlessness?
“Gainless”? “Marketless”? Obviously pointless? What was really happening in the Kula trade?
When anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski travelled to the Trobriands in the 1910s, he found that the Kula was the consuming passion of men’s everyday life. Gaining vaygu’a was proof of a man’s “luck, daring, and enterprise.”
the temporary ownership allows him to draw a great deal of renown, to exhibit his article, to tell how he obtained it, and to plan to whom he is going to give it. And all this forms one of the favorite subjects of tribal conversation and gossip, in which the feats and the glory in Kula of chiefs or commoners are constantly discussed.
These “dirty, greasy” bits of shell were in fact prestige goods, just as valuable and just as arbitrary as Rolex watches, luxury cars, and sports trophies. Such goods attract attention and advertise your achievements. They say, “I am powerful enough to have this.”
In North America, when a team in the National Hockey League wins the Stanley Cup, it brings the team members enormous fame (at least in Canada). But instead of making a new cup each year, the NHL uses the same trophy over and over; so the winning team holds the Stanley Cup only until the next team wins it away. The cup is a storied artifact that brings fame to any man who possesses it, even though no man can possess it forever.
The vaygu’a were the same. The point was not to have them permanently, but to get them for a time.
Giving to Receive
Within the Kula, each act of generosity was in fact a careful investment. Whomever you gave a vaygu’a to was obligated to repay you later with a “counter-gift” of a different artifact he owned. So a man planned out whom to give things to in order to control whom he would get things from. In this way, a patient and clever giver of vaygu’a could maneuver the most famous artifacts into his own hands.
The Kula was not pointless (contra Rothbard) and definitely not gainless (contra Polanyi). It was an organized search for personal profit. True, the profit was reputational, not strictly material. But ultimately, every “profit” — whether in fiat dollars, or NHL trophies, or shell necklaces — is a mental phenomenon, a fulfillment of our subjective whims greater than the costs we paid to achieve it. The remarkable thing about free exchanges like the Kula is that in every exchange both parties make a profit.
But what about Polanyi’s claim that the Kula was “marketless”? In one sense, he is right: the Kula itself was just an elaborate gift exchange, not a market.
Yet the Kula also protected and encouraged extensive barter between the Trobrianders, the Dobuans, the Amphlett Islanders, and the several other cultures who took part in it. In each Kula journey, the visitors’ canoes came packed full of food, or pottery, or artwork — whatever goods their community made best. And after the initial gift-giving ceremony on the hosts’ beach, the visitors remained for several days of bartering over this stuff with their hosts.
As in much of Melanesia, the islands off the east coast of New Guinea were rife with the danger of warfare, which certainly threatened to disrupt trade and force each village into economic isolation. But the Kula mitigated this threat by providing a kind of “peace-making ceremony” between men of different communities and cultures.
A good Kula partnership between two men could provide a steady flow of vaygu’a through numerous gifts and counter-gifts over decades; the relationship could even be passed down as an inheritance to a son. Each man thus had good reason to protect his partners against theft or violence when they came to visit his island.
In short, the decentralized network of Kula gift exchanges provided the social scaffolding for international trade protected from robbery and warfare. No state required.
The Power of Profits
Western socialists like Polanyi are often eager to use a romantic interpretation of traditional cultures to attack markets or profits as unnecessary or unnatural. The rhetorical strategy is to cast the “primitives” in the role of generous, uncalculating tropical pixies, and then compare us very real, selfish, scheming apes unfavorably to them.
Caught in this rhetorical battle, Rothbard can hardly be blamed for hastily dismissing the Kula as “obvious pointlessness.” Indeed, if Polanyi’s nonsensical account of a profitless Kula were accurate, Rothbard’s characterization would be perfectly correct.
But the truth is this: every human in every culture chooses the best means he can imagine to achieve the ends he desires. Each participant in the Kula carried it on because he expected to make some kind of profit. And the net result of the Kula, like that of all systems of truly voluntary exchange, was mutual gain and international peace through private profit.
Mike Reid is primus inter pares at Invisible Order, a libertarian publishing-solutions company. He also teaches anthropology at the University of Winnipeg. Send him mail. Follow him on Twitter. See Mike Reid’s article archives.
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Copyright © 2012 by the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided full credit is given.
 Bronislaw Malinowski, Argonauts of the Western Pacific (London: Routledge, 1922) p. 351.
 Malinowski, pp. 360, 94.
 Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time, 2nd ed. (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2001) p. 52.
 Malinowski, p. 352.
 Reo Fortune, Sorcerors of Dobu (London: Routledge, 1932) p. 209.
When you are a child, things can seem simple and beautiful. You may know something more and you can sense it, but you are afraid to ask. You pretend to only understand what you could because you knew – you were told only what you needed to know. As you grow and your mind opens more, you lose that innocence and protection of your thoughts. Your older mind sees the ugly side to those things such as people and how they treated others or bad places and bad things.
This story is about a friend of mine. Many that knew our small village, Wagang, on the Coast of Lae, Papua New Guinea may remember Mucga. She was a distant aunt. We had a special relationship which no-one really understood but sometimes, friendship and love do not need any explanation- they can just exist. My story is for Mucga.
It was a crispy morning about 9 o’clock. The blue sky threw dancing crystals on the Budac River. The river had a lazy flow today. My eyes could see through the water to the other side of the bank and the river was full of fish feeding on the mud and shell fish on the beds and mangrove roots. A slight breeze rustled the pandanus and swept the long green leaves over the golden ripe seeds. Already the seeds were attracting insects and birds with its sweetness. The breeze gathered sand and dried leaves bounced quickly along the hardened sandy bank to the river then floated back gently.
I had to be first to get to Budac before all the other children so I can catch enough dinner. The fish did not tolerate crowds nor noise. It was the main river used by Wagang villagers, just along the coast of Huon Gulf in Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea.
I set up my trap, an empty 500g Nescafe coffee jar and waded into the water. I had filled it with a quarter cooked rice and water. With the labels and lid removed, it was one tall glass cylinder. The rice grains were twirling around in the clear bottle as I filled it to the brim to let out the bubbles, holding it under water. I took a deep breath and just as I went under water, I heard singing;
‘Musawa ke se leng geleng gwec, oh geleng gwec ngademu geo sasa, geo kesuc
Oh geoc ke soc o Bukawa.
(The giant easterly was drenching in the ocean as she swept and stirred the sea dirty and rough – outwards and then inwards and finally she arrived at the shores of Bukawac).
Bukawac is a coastal sub-district down the coast. It would take more than three school lunch breaks to get there by a motor boat. On foot, it takes nearly a day.
Muc ga! I yelled out loud.
She was startled and stopped on her next deep breath before her second verse. Mucga looked over the water at me. In our culture, we would sing while we worked. With the corners of her lips turned downwards quickly, I upset her because she wanted to sing to help me catch fish. Then suddenly, she gave me a very big grin and stood up. I had seen this grin too often and knew what it was for.
‘Are you catching OUR fish?’ she asked coyly as she walked up to the bank near me. Quickly my annoyance turned into a smile. Mucga had mental illness at a very early age. She was a grown up now, but I would not know for sure how old she was. The children in the village called her ‘longlong’ in pidgin. She would act funny and talk funny. Most times she was like a child. Mucga can go from a normal conversation to an extremely angry or sad mood and say very bad words like “Satan” and the “K” word which is really the “C” word.
When I was growing up, I would hear her cry and scream and an ambulance would come and take her to the Angau Hospital. I heard the adults say she was in Ward 9. I didn’t like it went she was beaten. I knew she was mis-treated. She would be gone for weeks so I would fish alone at Budac. In her good days, Mucga would tag along. My mother told me not to fish with other children because they used many bad words. Often the children would torment me and call me names. A couple of those words were “bastard”, “white bastard” and “sting” which was a pidgin word for stinky. I often wondered if they meant that I smelt funny because I look different or that I was lighter.
My cousin Elsie Joseph who was younger then I would fish with me sometimes. I loved her. We always had fun. She was often sick with head Malaria. My other two friends did not like fishing.
When I asked grandma about Mucga, grandma said Mucga’s spirit was not at rest. If Mucga’s spirit was rested, it would stay calmly inside her and Mucga would be herself. The restless spirit was something Mucga was born with and we have to accept her.
Mucga’s walk was up and down and sometimes sideways with her bad foot dragging behind her. This foot would draw a line on the sand as she went. Mother said it was because leprosy ate her leg. I always wandered how leprosy chose to eat Mucga’s leg and not everybody’s leg. Mother said that when you wear another person’s shoe and they have leprosy, that leprosy would eat your feet too, then your leg. That always worried me because in my head, I had pictures of people trying to walk without their feet and legs.
Mucga stood in front of me. Her sore feet pointing at me and every now and then she marched quickly to chase the flies off.
I can catch OUR fish, I stressed, but only if you stop singing. You know the fish don’t like singing or noise and if you keep singing to the big easterly wind, that wind will come, I said.
Mucga’s usual troubled eyes were reflecting the dancing happy crystals from the water. She was happy, thinking she was helping me. Mucga looked straight at me again with her 20 year-old eyes and then nodded. She had a slight smile and I saw her teeth – never been touched by beetlenut stain.
At seven, I had never felt any animosity from this woman. I felt like hugging her. Mucga had always frightened children and adults alike in my village. She would scream and launch at them when they abused her. I was glad she did. They all deserved it.
Mucga tried to smile, showing just a handful of teeth this time and I knew she would wait there for me – the whole day. I also knew, there was no guarantee the singing had stopped.
I waded further into the river and eight metres from the sandy bank, water quickly came up to my neck. My feet stirring up mud and the softness indicated that I was deep enough. I let myself into the water and with two kicks I steadied into position and placed my coffee bottle ‘trap’ on the river floor. The bottle’s mouth faced the bank. With a gentle wave of my right hand underwater at the mouth of the jar while holding the jar with my left, I encouraged the rice grains out in a trail along the body to the mouth of the coffee jar. It is the bait.
If I placed too much rice outside the jar, the fish will fill their stomachs outside the jar and then leave. This is a routine I have expertly mastered in my many years of fishing with coffee and jam jars.
Now the fish would innocently come for the rice and follow the trail to the back of the bottle. When the fish discovers it is a trap and starts to panic and struggle to turn to get out of the bottle, I dive in, close the jar mouth with my hand and swim to the shore to empty my catch on the bank. The whole process is repeated until I had enough fish. Sometimes my cousins or aunts would give me an extra bottle but rarely do the fish get trapped simultaneously.
When I returned to the bank, Mucga started singing again and the wind picked up.
MucGa – nem we tom. I called to her – don’t sing, you will make the wind come, the water rough and scare the fish.
She nodded and looked down; peeling at her sore toes. Her very faded floral cotton dress hung loosely and her skin was palely dry. I looked at her contrasted wet black tight curly hair; a rough cut closely to her ears. It was not fetching. That haircut would have been forced and she would have fought her barber, I thought.
Lost in five minutes of thoughts, I suddenly caught glimpse of scales flashing and ran and dived into the river to my coffee jar. When I got out to catch my breath and held up the fish in the jar, Mucga was jumping up and down making strange noises. She was in already dancing in my waiting spot. I came up to her; water running down my shorts and T shirt and emptied the fish onto the wet sand. As the fish jumped, she jumped and started singing out of tune.
I told Mucga – Ok you can have the first one, but please, be quiet. I refilled the bottle and walked back into the water. This routine went on for a few years. At the end of each day, we split the fish.
Just before I reached ten, my aunt told me Mucga had died in the Angau Hospital, in Lae. I took my fishing tackle that morning and made my way to the river. The Easterly blew hard and I sang her song loudly. I wanted to frighten the fish, rustle the leaves and scare the birds in memory of my friend.
A short background about “The Hillside Find“.
My work as a journalist in PNG took me to police work as the Public Relations Deputy. I was based in the Police Headquarters, Papua New Guinea (PNG). My job was to handle media, write press releases, write speeches for the Police Minister and Commissioner and handle all public relations for the Police Force. There I rose through the ranks to become the deputy of the Community Relations Directorate. The late Commissioner David Tasion pushed for me to become the head of the Community Relations. He set up a rigorous training committee and programme that ensured all my training was packed into 12 months. During this time, the crime rate in PNG was very high and the Police PR was not good. My main role would be to improve this negative image.
Among all my training, I completed an inspector training course at Bomana Police College to earn an inspector’s ranking; I spent time in various sections of the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary and worked in many squatter settlements throughout Port Moresby in community relations programmes. I also had an attachment with the Royal Hong Kong Police in 1986, whilst Hong Kong was under British rule.
I became the Director at the age of 21 and took over a staff of 400 civilians and trained policemen (mostly male and much older than I). People like Beth Harding, an Australian, a very strong woman and a dedicated teacher in PNG for over 30 years was working in the constabulary training. Beth also pushed me to become a strong managerial contender in one of PNG’s most fragile disciplinary forces and we did it! We set up many community programmes that linked police and the public and they joined hands to fight crime together.
My years in PNG Police were very interesting, exciting and sometimes dangerous and challenging. Because my role was multi-faceted and complex, my friends often joked at parties, rather than giving a long explanation, that I was a police dog trainer.
We established very good networks with the people on the streets and we had police living amongst squatter settlement communities. I had the best, teach me and I pay my respects to many that have passed away. I will always remember that time in my life from 1985 – 1989.
It was one of those days that I went out on detective work with head of the Investigating Unit, Supt Roy Tiden that left permanent imagery in my mind. I wrote this short story, “The Hillside Find” mid year, in my Creative Writing Class. The story is part of my memoir that I am writing. If you like this true story, look out for my memoir next year. With my teacher, Isabel D’ Avila Winter guiding me, I hope to complete most of the writing for the memoir this year.
Please click on the link below to read The Hillside Find – by Joycelin K Leahy
A few days ago, the temperature in Brisbane was a blistering 44 degrees. Our average is about 27 degrees but summer averages are about 35.
Seeing my sons had gone down south to see their father, and boyfriend gone to Papua New Guinea, I was on my own with our pet lorikeets, Kaz and Nisha and in the backyard were our six chickens and a rooster.
We have a tin roof so imagine how hot the house was. Fortunately the house is two stories and brick in lower level kept the bottom half of the house cool. I moved quickly downstairs with the lorikeets. Not one to watch TV and being in the middle of the morning, I switched the TV on to see what was happening around Brisbane and Queensland with the very high temperature. I was also concerned about bushfire.
Within hours that morning, the heat was cruel. The ever so proud looking greenery and tropical plants and flowers in our surroundings slowly weakened and started browning and shrivelling right before my eyes. I made sure the chickens had a lot of water and the lorikeets and I settled into the cool comfort of downstairs and before I knew it, I felt drowsy and then had fallen asleep. The heat had taken its toll.
It must have been at least an hour before I heard loud shrieking and flapping of wings and woke up to the two piercing bird cries. I had thought the two lorikeets were fighting initially. Then I left the couch and moved to the window and there was the head of a metre long green tree snake trying to squeeze through the closed door. It must have been desperate to get off the burning concrete floor it was on. Its long green back and yellow belly slithered very quickly as it glided over the glass door and falling off at all attempt. I felt sad but afraid at the same time. They were harmless, but what about the birds? There was a small gap which only the snake’s head could fit. It tried a few times to enter. I guess in this heat, all living things feel the temperature.
Quickly and out of my sleep, I jumped up and down and made a lot of banging noise against the glass door, my turn as by this time, the lorikeets were quiet and starring at me. The snake turned and quickly slithered away. I praised the two birds and returned to the couch and drifted off again. Half an hour later, the same thing happened. The snake had come back. This time, I closed the gap with tape and went outside and with a stick, chased the snake into the bush. I was running as the ground and grass was so hot, it burnt my feet. The interesting thing about the situation was, while I was outside; I spotted another scale-breasted male lorikeet bopping up and down in our swimming pool, almost on its last breath.
I ran across the yard to the pool and gave the drowning bird a stick to climb on. Not far from him were six dead ducklings floating in a small group in the pool. I felt sad. By the look on the lorikeet’s face, the wild bird seemed so relieved and did not make a single sound. I took him with me downstairs and fed him some food and water. Within minutes, the new bird met and became acquainted with Kaz and Nisha (our two lorikeets) and we stayed in the cool room for nearly three hours. The three lorikeets shared the food and water. With its beak, Kaz tried to comb and groom the new lorikeet’s feathers but he did not like that. Nisha being the scale breasted lorikeet and still a baby was excited and became very chirpy with the ‘visitor’. By the end of the day, the ‘visitor’ started getting restless so I opened the taped door and the “visitor” flew away. I re-taped the door and went outside to inspect the sun’s damage and bury the ducklings.
Pictured above Kaz and Nisha and later with the “Visitor”. A similar Green Tree snake tried to get into my art gallery last year and when I disturbed it, it tried to hide in the bricks. As in the Google Image photo, they are very common in our area, Bellbowrie, Western Suburbs and Queensland.