Saturday, April 26, 2014

Living Off the Land

The rich moments in family history are those that have stories that cover our lives of growth and development.

In the time I spent with my family at home in Wewak I enjoyed the spirit of family and home. I enjoyed the moments that the brothers came together in the evenings or during the day to tell family histories and talk about moments of importance that are shared in the family.

Stories are also told around sago making activities. The activity provides the occasion for education of family values and responsibilities. Impartation of such knowledge to the younger generation allows younger family members to appreciate their part in the society.

I treasured the moments I spent with the elders of my society during sago making activities. I was taught to work for the survival of the family. We were taught to work as a team and did our part in the survival of the family.

It was a special moment for me, during my time in Wewak, making sago with my nephews. A sago palm I planted 40 years ago was cut down on my family’s arrival in Ularina, Wewak, East Sepik Province.  The sago was just about losing all its leaves when it was cut down. The sago tree was near the house.

The beating of sago pulps was the job of the young nephews and my son, who enjoyed working the whole day to beat the sago pulps out of the palm tree. A meter or two of the palm was split open. Both sides were beaten into small granules that were then transported on to a bed shaped as a spineless pig.

An experienced man was in charged of washing and squeezing the sago on a funnel shaped device made also from the branch of the sago palm. In making of sago at home, the job was easily taken up by my uncle, Lawrence Wuyafuhi.  My uncle saw that all the beaten sago pulps were washed and the sago juice extracted from them. The extraction was drained into a container made from another wild palm (limbun).

The sago extract in the container was then moved into small cylindrical containers made from coconut fibers. All containers were filled with sago then let to dry. After the excess water escaped from the sago captured in the cylinders the dried sago were then fired up to produce dry sago. The burnt sago skin was removed before the sago was bundled up with young sago leaves slightly heated over fire.

Sago making in the Nagum Boiken speaking area of the East Sepik is the responsibility of men. Men are expected to make sago as part of their duty to their families and their village. Men spent days making sago, hunting, or participating in ceremonies in the village. Once a child is old enough to swing a sago-beating instrument shaped as a traditional carving tool known as a ‘kum’ or ‘swangla’ he is expected to join the boys and men in the sago making activity.

In parts of the East Sepik province sago making activity is the responsibility of women. The style of making sago is also different in various parts of the province.

Sago is an important food source for most people in the Sepik province.

In the days I spent with my family in the village we had sago we did not have to buy from the market. Sago was supplemented with taro, bananas, vegetables, and greens that my sisters harvested from their gardens. We were lucky the boys in the village caught bandicoots (marsupials) using traps set in the forest and grassland (kunai) areas. Living off the land was the best part of village life.

For me the life in the village was a slow relaxing experience. There were days we had nothing to do, but rest, especially if it rained. I experienced a slow unwinding of my childhood and teenage experience returning home for school holidays. Taking a peak into the past was what it was, experienced without a cost to anyone.

I am sharing this experience to highlight the importance of returning home to our roots. Most of us become educated and move away from our village and societies that returning home becomes a challenge.

A lot of us deny ourselves the opportunity to take our families back to the village to experience the life that the rest of our relatives and tribesmen live. In this day and age many of our people  still live the way it was lived thousands of years ago.

Yes, modernity has arrived with its good and bad influences. Modernity is embraced in many of our traditional PNG societies.

The reality is that many of our people are reluctant to abandon their simple traditional way of life. Our hunter-gatherer societies are struggling in their own ways to deal with the modern challenges confronting them.

In the East Sepik province many traditional societies are challenged to maintain a balance between traditional way of life and the modern life styles. For example, I noted that even though there was an alcohol ban in the province, yet during customary ceremonies in my village a lot of beer was consumed. I was surprised that traditional ceremonies were now including beer drinking as part of such events.  I noted that without beer most of the younger men and women would not participate in customary activities of the village.

The issue is that as the society changes it adopts new elements of the introduced culture. Appropriation of the introduced culture is a key element that allows the continuity of cultural traditions without abrupt disruption to its fragility.  
The caution, however, is that our traditional cultures must not disappear under pressure from modern ways and ideological persuasions introduced from Western societies.

Papua New Guineans are cultured people. Majority of Papua New Guinean live in our rural communities are still very much in tune with their traditions.

It is important that we continue to maintain our traditions and knowledge systems.

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