Friday, February 15, 2013

Growing Up Gende


Book Cover: Growing Up Gende 
January was full of surprises for me. A day before the end of the month I had a yellow card from the Post Office at UPNG advising me to collect a package from Marengo Mining Limited.

I collected two copies of a book entitled: Growing Up Gende (2012). Marengo Mining Limited had published the book. The author of the book is Dr. Laura Zimmer-Tamakoshi, an anthropologist with long-term engagement with the Gende people of Papua New Guinea for thirty years of her life.

Dr. Zimmer-Tamakoshi writes that “the work I have done writing and putting this book together has been made without any payments, my only request being that Marengo print plentiful copies to be freely handed out to local schools, individual Gende and other community organizations.” In her Facebook message to me she stressed the same point to me.

This is a marvelous little book dressed with rare historical photographs captured in black and white films, more recent and not-too-distant photographs captured in colored frames, and of course, the simple, terse narratives that strewn together a visual, oral, and printed world of the Gende.

Here is a book that gives a profound impression of a people many people have yet to fully understand who they are and where they live. Do they live in Simbu or Madang?

Les Emery, Managing Director and CEO of Marengo Mining Limited is very supportive of the author’s work and especially his willingness to support the young generation of Gende, especially the children find a meaningful place in society.

Dr. Zimmer-Tamakoshi brings to life a world permanently captured through the lenses of early missionaries, government officers, and anthropologists.  One particular group of photographs was those taken by Fathers Heinrich Aufenanger and Joseph Much. Having photographs of the past published together with photographs taken by the author and others such as Susan Boothby of the New Tribe Mission and the Australian school teacher, Bernadette Dendle. In her message to me on Facebook Dr. Zimmer-Tamakoshi specifically mentioned the old photographs of Fr. Morrison.

The montage of photographs complement what words fail to describe what the Gende experienced, felt, touched, smelled, heard, and lived throughout their lives. Illustrations and color plates highlight information that requires such specifications.

The book itself has two parts that capture the narrative and spirit of the Gende. It is a brilliant collaboration that produced a small book that will serve as an important link between the Gende people and the authors of the book.  
It is also an important collaboration between the Laura Zimmer-Tamakoshi and Les Emery, the CEO of Marengo Mining Limited because it documents the social-cultural elements of a society already at the threshold of massive modern development with accelerated mining activities in the area.

“For centuries the Gende have lived the mountainous southernmost region of what is now Madang Province in Papua New Guinea. The Gende’s territory in the Bismarck range is bounded on the south by Simbu Province and Mt. Wilhelm ) the highest mountain in Papua New Guinea at 4500 metres) and to the north by the swampy Ramu plains and Ramus River,” writes Dr. Zimmer-Tamakoshi.

Dr. Zimmer-Tamakoshi does an excellent job of keeping the ethnographic details short in one or two paragraphs. Part I of the book concerns itself with the customs, rituals, practices, and way of life of the Gende people.  The prose is easy to read and keeps one turning the pages for more.

Part II of the book is on changing times.  Dr. Zimmer-Tamakoshi captures the dramatic contact experience of the Gendes as well as others in the 1930s.

“The opening up of the highlands in the 1930s and 40s by foreign missionaries, Australian patrol officers and labor recruits brought profound changes to local cultures. The first missionaries to open stations in the highlands did so in Gende territory. In June 1932, Father Alfons Schaefer and Brother Anthony Bass of the Divine Word Mission in Alexishafen left the Madang coast and headed south towards the Bismarck Mountains,” the opening remarks of this section of the book.

The first mission station were built in Guiebi on the 1st of October 1932, from where they visited other Gende villages, according to Dr. Zimmer-Tamakoshi.

The wheels of change began to spin in various communities the missionaries touched.

“By the late 1930s there were local catechists and mission helpers in every major Gende village. They directed the building of churches and schools where everyone over six years of age was to learn Tok pisin (pidgin English) and their catechism before they were baptized. They also taught hymns, the ABCs, and simple arithmetic.” This was an exciting period in the history of the Gendes.

What happened after the Second World War swung this innocent society into the whirlwind of changes.

“The effects of World War II were profound. Exposure to the wealth and power of the combatants encouraged a desire to achieve equality with the foreign “big men” and the end of the war saw the first real wave of migration away from the area as men and boys headed south to the new towns of Goroka and Mt. Hagen to work as cooks and domestic servants or as laborers on construction projects. Others worked on coastal plantations as far away as Kavieng and Port Moresby or worked on contract in the Wau-Bulolo goldfields in Morobe. Yet others became carriers and native police accompanying Australian patrol officers into remote areas of the country.”

These changes are captured in the book as Dr. Zimmer-Tamakoshi proves her skills as a writer and great storyteller of the Gende world.

Dr. Laura Zimmer Tamakoshi did a wonderful job of researching and writing this book. Its publication is timely as it introduces the Gende to the world where history is constantly being made as the Gendes struggle to gain a foot-hole in the modern world.

It is a great addition to one’s personal library. It is a fit-to-size coffee-table book. Other Papua New Guineans will find the book informatively valuable. 

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