Well, I’m glad I stuck around for the Lae Show. It was mostly like any big state fair with games of chance and exhibits of various groups. But it only had one or two mechanical rides and no strip shows. And, on Sunday, it had a huge singsing performance in the middle of the big arena with about 2 dozen groups of various sizes performing simultaneously. I can see how the ‘throb of the jungle drums’ could strike terror into the hearts of even the likes of Jungle Jim. In the show it all seemed somewhat more pedestrian but still very impressive. When the performance for the crowd and judges was over, the singsingers continued in a huge empty field outside of the showgrounds. They were much more accessible to photographers there but also capable of demanding payment for photos taken. I shot up two rolls (2 x 20 exp) before they finished (in someone else’s camera so I don’t know how they’ll come out but I didn’t want to risk mine not coming out again).
After a quick tour around the show Saturday I set out for the boat dock where the [M.V.] Sago comes in to help the guy that looks after my mail drink up a case of beer I had deposited with him. I was late and he and some other wantoks had already started. He scolded me, which I was glad he felt free to do, bought another case, and we all set ourselves to the task at hand on good terms, especially after J. came by and joined us for longer than he planned.
In many ways my return to the village after nearly two months away paralleled my original trip. I got to the dock at about 9:30 only to find out the boat wouldn’t leave before about 1:00. When it finally took off about 3:30 it was crowded like all the other boats after the Lae Show weekend. It was dark by the time we got to Salamaua, pitch dark by the time we made our first stop at Lababia. It looked like rain ahead for a while but then the stars appeared and the moon rose out of the sea like a huge egg yolk and made the rest of the trip more visible. After a stop at Kuwi we got to Siboma in the middle of the nite–after the cocks had crowed the first time.
The big difference was that I was much more at ease with the people on the boat or in the village and they with me and I could speak the language. And I didn’t have to take a wicked piss for the last 3 hours of the trip like the first time I came when I was unsure about whether I could just hang it over the side & do my business or not. [The men could just stand at the back of the boat facing into the dark.]
My reception in the village was easier too. When I got up I made the rounds visiting–at least at my end of the village–and found out all were waiting for the kiap (government officer) to come hear their complaint against two Paiawas who beat up a Numbami man. When the kiap finally got here he came on a bit too strong trying the time honored tradition here of shouting orders at loudmouths and talking before listening. Intimidation used to work here and still does many places but not here in Siboma now. I sat on the sidelines and listened to the various stories & arguments. The kiap finally changed his tactics and said he would take depositions and arrange a court case. It is a coup for the kaunsol that the thing is going to court rather than being resolved (or just aggravated really) by a Numbami-Paiawa brawl which a lot of men in the village seemed to want. The kiap‘s initial approach really antagonized a lot of men who were ready to go at him and then take on the Paiawas. The arguments & tactics of the older men though showed a great deal of sophistication in the handling of gov’t officials who see the world thru quite different eyes, whether or not they are blue. Their arguments appealed, for instance, to gov’t and church law and they either shouted down or quietly allowed the kiap to hear the disgrunts of the more impassioned men whenever either suited the point they were making. A lot of the antagonism is not really at the Paiawa but at the timber company whose camp the beating occurred in and whose rotten deal for Siboma timber is constantly ready to be added to the flame of any other grievance at all connected to the timber co.
After the kiap left the young men of the village invited me to join them for a singsing practice. They’re going to perform at the upcoming church meeting of the whole district near Salamaua. I got a good glimpse at what goes into their bilas (adornment, make-up, decoration) and they helped me bilas as well. Then we snuck around to the other side of the village (we got ready near the washing hole) and made our entrance after heralding it with drum beats. We danced the same sequence of movements (to different drumbeats sometimes and different lyrics/chants) for probably 2 hours so by the end I had it down pretty well. I may have gotten myself into performing with them (before a large crowd I’m afraid). I’m oddly unconcerned about whether I join them or not. They think it would be quite a spectacle and, though flattery may enter into it, I am assured that I perform quite adequately. We performed until food was brought for us (though we weren’t sure it was coming for a while). I worked up quite an appetite and an even greater thirst.
I couldn’t have asked for a better first day back in the village. There was even a warm beer or two to be had that evening.