Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Long Memories

I'm sorry that I didn't write his name down. He was a classic PNG old guy; the bilum cap, a fleece jacket that probably once belonged to a lady in the US or Australia, and a laplap. A laplap is like a skirt. When the Australians first came to New Guinea they were uncomfortable seeing men with no clothes, so they forced their employees, subordinates, and everyone else that they had influence or power over to at least wrap a piece of cloth around them. That became standard for men 50 to 70 years ago. Many of the older ones still wear them. The Prime Minister of PNG wears one on all formal occasions.

This fellow remembers when white men first came to the PNG Highlands in 1930. He remembers that the white men killed several of the men of his village. As his son explained, "There was no communication between them. They [the villagers] thought the white were some kind of spirits, so when they [the villagers] attacked them, the whites had to kill them." To put this in perspective, the whites were here uninvited, not under the mandate of any government or scholarly society, to find and to take what wasn't theirs; gold. That was a rocky start to the relationship between Papua New Guineans and outsiders, and it's amazing that the relationship is so positive today.

By my guess, this fellow must be almost 90. At that age, he won't be around for too many more years. It was a privilege to meet him. I didn't ask if he has any secrets to his longevity, but here's a possible clue. He was brought in today by his son and daughter, who appear to be only a few years older than my oldest. Hmmm....

I apologize for the quality of this photo. My camera was on an inappropriate scene setting, and the photo was badly underexposed. I rescued it to some extent with iPhoto.

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