Posts Tagged 'Madang'

Too busy / wasman.

I recall that Hunter S Thompson dedicated his book Hell’s Angels to the many friends who had mercifully kept him free of employment for much of his life. It’s a nice notion, especially when you find yourself in a constant state of work-induced turmoil – constantly bucketing and rowing towards a horizon that never stops receding. If I may put it that way.

Without divulging too much, I will say only two things – one, it should go on for only a fortnight longer, and two, it seems frightfully easy to change this country’s Constitution. Additional details are not interesting. They have taken over my life of course, much like Jonah’s life was taken over by a whale for a short time. There are already too many Moresby-based colleagues who have endured my profanity-riddled reflections on these matters and to them I apologise – sorry to everyone except my wonderful darling Kitty who, in the midst of this ridiculous period in my world, has managed to evacuate herself to the beautiful and lugubrious town of Madang, where she has even managed to get some scuba diving in. The fish are big over there apparently.

An anecdote for those good enough to keep coming back to this page – thank you dear readers. On the way to work I see a shirt with a slogan. It says – Jesus em wasman bilong mi! Pisin is a funny language in case you haven’t heard me say that before. The verb ‘wasim’ means ‘to wash’, while if you go for a swim or a bath you ‘go waswas’. I was puzzled then whether or not this man’s shirt was subversive or even deliberately absurd – Jesus is the man who washes/bathes me! What?!?! Even your bum?!?! Maybe it was a reference to baptism? Anyway I was disabused of my folly soon after, with my colleague telling me that ‘wasman’ simply means ‘watchman’. So Jesus is this guy’s guardian. Of course. That’s all.

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“Bigpla pik blong Kwin i bai kam!”

Pigs are fantastic beasts. I was smacked by this revelation as we stood under the twilight stars and lazy palms negotiating a price for a boat ride the following day. While our companion discussed the details with the boat owner I looked around and saw two mottled swine rummaging through foliage. One was seized by an urge and backed itself against the trunk of a palm, vigorously scratching its backside by rubbing it against the tree. For some the purest image of uninhibited freedom is a hawk in flight or perhaps a motorcyclist at top speed. For me it is a pig shamelessly scratching its arse on a coconut palm in the tropical twilight. This may be linked with my outlook on life. For some, the ultimate itch to scratch is that of itchy feet, relieved only by travails across the globe and residences in exotic cities. For others, sex or addictions. My equivalent is much baser, and much more easy to satisfy – provided one has a similar attitude to a pig in paradise.

I have found that the best justice I can give our two weeks away can really be best rendered in momentary glimpses, the snippets of memory that persist vividly despite the jumbled competition of everything else that preoccupies me. The best of these images of our two weeks away, especially during our two nights in the Eastern Highlands, are all swine-related – as evidenced by the example above, or the too-cute piglet tied by the leg to a Goroka pikinini as they both sat and waited for ‘mum’. Other pig related moments also stick solidly in the mind – like the nun we heard on ABC radio who was explaining the source of tribal conflict in the Highlands – invariably land, women and (of course) pigs.

What beast can stand atop a heaped mound of organic market refuse, snout its way through the debris until it finds something edible, and still look magnificent? Only the mighty Highlands swine! These fantastic animals have no fear or hindrance, and seemed to roam parts of Goroka as one would expect a stray dog to – except there would never, ever be a ‘stray’ pig in PNG. The animals seemingly face only two grave dangers in life. The first danger is that of the speeeding PMV. These vehicles – typically fifteen-seater minibuses – career recklessly around the sharp corners and over poorly-maintained bitumen up and down the length of the Highlands Highway, from Wabag or Mendi to Mount Hagen, Hagen to Goroka via Kundiawa, from Goroka to Lae or Madang on the coast (the Madang-Goroka route was incidentally the trip we took, up into the Eastern Highlands and back – what a ride!). Villages line the highway, inhabited by people who are not accustomed to the general rules of road safety that are drilled into the typical suburban Aussie kids’ head (Get off the road! Get here! I said get off the bloody road! etc etc). Mind you there are many suburban Aussie roads that are trafficked more heavily than the Highlands Highway, by vehicles that often travel faster – except the PMVs. With a roadside population unfettered by road safety worries, it can be understood why concern for animals straying onto the road is also minimal. Thus the three (maybe more) situations on our rides to and from Goroka where the PMV we were in had to brake suddenly, veer wildly, or simply rely on the self-preservation instincts of the unsuspecting pig who moments before had been snorting away, merrily and unmolested, on a nice sunny patch of road. Our PMV drivers were both skilled and lucky, and no pigs were killed or injured during our travels, however there is no way every pig on the highway could be so fortunate.

The unfortunate event of a pig’s injury or death is not a cheap one. I have been told of a Chinese saying, that if you run over a chicken then it’s the chicken’s fault, but if you run over a duck it’s definitely YOUR fault. Substitute the chicken for a skinny dog and a duck for a mighty Highlands hog and you have a pretty solid PNG aphorism too. You accidentally kill a pig, then you’d better have some handy cash – maybe half a grand, maybe two grand, depending on how angry the villagers are, how big the pig is, and whether or not you managed to speed away without anyone taking note of the vehicle you were in. Pigs are items of huge value, especially in the Highlands, they are not killed and eaten willy-nilly. They have ceremonial functions, and are ‘outlaid’ to settle tribal disputes, bride prices, or to honour guests of high esteem. It is simply not cool to smash one up with your car.

This brings us to the other certain danger of the Highlands pig – the mumu. A mumu is a feast, involving the cooking of pigs and other (less important and delicious) items underground using the hot-rocks technique. A mumu takes hours and is accompanied by an event of great significance – as aforementioned, a wedding, or the brokering of peace between feuding parties, and honoured guest, or maybe an aspiring leader trying to impress his ‘constituents’ with his magnanimity and generosity (and thus consolidate his constituents’ obligation to support him in elections). Many, many pigs have died over the ages thanks to the threat of the mumu, often en masse. They often don’t die well from what I have read – accounts include pigs only just stunned being thrown onto fires to burn off their coats of hair, or bludgeoned brutally by hands wielding sticks, the same hands that until moments before had nurtured the animal, fed it and comforted it with as much pride and dedication as would be given a human child – perhaps more. A dire end to a previously unfettered life of luxury. This was probably the fate of the pig who we saw trussed and hanging from a long pole carried between two men as we sped on our way back to Madang.

Another great pig memory is indeed not even my memory, and it actually had little to do with any pig whatsoever. Martin is a friend who we met in Madang, a film-maker who is from Rabaul but who lives in Germany (prospects in the movie industry are better in Europe). He recounted a tale from his youth, when the Queen sent an elephant on tour of Papua New Guinea as a gesture to celebrate the territory’s imminent independence. The arrival of the great beast was in the offing and many villagers of all ages clamoured exitedly by the roads, giddy with anticipation. A large motor was heard in the distance and the word spread rapidly – “bigpla pik blong Kwin i bai kam!” The Queen’s big pig is coming!