Daily Archives: 9 April 2004

Morobe Field Diary, December 1976: Texts on Tape

Texts on tape have been eluding me and getting me worried as hell. I felt something would turn up but I wasn’t sure how and how good it would be. Well, last nite I hit a gold mine. During the day the kansol put out a story of war [WW II] coming to the area that was 1st class — well organized, clear and slow with good constructions I’ve wanted and a sprinkling of new vocabulary. And I forgot to press the record button. I was ready to bash in my head but the kansol said, “well, good, now you’ve heard it so you’ll understand it better next time: I’ve practiced telling it and you’ve practiced hearing it. Let’s go chop some poles for a smoking platform and come back and try again this evening.”

Physical labor was, along with less worry about tapes, exactly what I needed to dispel a case of hemorrhoids that was plaguing me. That done, we came back, rested up and that evening after dark I hauled out the tape recorder and the kansol told his story again — not as good as during the day but covering very much the same material and almost exactly the same length. Before his wife put her account of the preparation of food by women, another fellow came by who is chock full of stories and has a clear slow way of speaking besides. He lives in Paiewa but is visiting thank God. He told a good personal experience war story with Japanese pidgin [“A, banana sabis, ye?” = (‘banana free, okay?’) uttered by a starving Japanese straggler], conversation and dangerous experiences. He also told a somewhat shorter story about a woman who didn’t want to get married, supposedly true from before contact times. His war story is about 35-40 min. (This guy’s brother is a truck driver on the Mt. Hagen to Lae [Highlands Highway] run and is such a talker that his cab mates don’t get any sleep on the 12 or so hour ride.) Finally the kansol’s wife put her piece on tape clearly & concisely. I’ve got about 70-80 minutes of unbroken talking on the several cassettes I went thru last nite. I want to transcribe as much as I can here so I can get unstuck as I go along.

The day before, in my desperation I recorded some old men who got together to put something on tape after putting me off several times. They got together, bullshat about what they were going to say and decided they would do it better later. I got some revenge by surreptitiously recording them but it’s going to be hard to transcribe. That nite I was carrying my recorder to ask a man to tell me about canoe-building (another promise). I started talking with some kids around a fire and secretly pressed the record button. It too will be hard to transcribe but has good mixed language conversation (30 min.). [The two surreptitious tapes remain untranscribed.] So, I’m breathing much easier and my asshole itching less.

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Morobe Field Diary, December 1976: Swimming in Fish Names

Things are getting pretty busy for me now. Finishing up the lexicon and trying to get some of the half-dozen or more texts people haven’t gotten around to giving me. Only two weeks to work’s end and I’m paranoid that I’ve left out something important grammatically that the texts won’t solve for me. Grammatical elicitation the way we did in Field Methods class is nearly impossible with informants as unschooled as most of mine. I don’t like it or trust it anyway. I prefer texts but people are very reluctant to give me stuff off the top of their heads, especially if it’s cultural info — they want someone authoritative to accompany them in the telling or else they practice first and wear out their interest in that so they are not keen on repeating it again for the tape.

Lately I’ve worn out my patience with eliciting fish names from two huge tomes — one quite authoritative ([Munro’s 1967] Fishes of New Guinea) but with inadequate (i.e. only B&W) pictures; the other (Guide to Fishes, an Aussie book) has good pictures (in color and [of] live [fish]) but is not well-arranged and not exhaustive and shows little of the relative size so a snapper can be called an anchovy. Combine that with some hard to distinguish subgroupings of fish (esp. among goatfish, trevallies and sea bass) and imperfect but confident knowledge of most everyone and the result is an incredibly frustrating job trying to match Nu. to genera & species. I am interested in folk classification and its relation to academic classification and was prepared for some difference but mostly the correlation between the two is pretty good (after I’ve filtered out misnamings which I can often tell are wrong because they cross genus or family lines). In some families there are names for the majority of individual species — some grouped together, usually on the basis of markings when shape is the same: mottled, banded, striped; and often on the basis of habitat.

The big men [usually elders] are supposed to be the authorities (on everything: even ladies underwear if it was anything elaborate probably) but they often can’t see the page clearly. Everyone is convinced that others don’t know what they’re talking about and that a consensus (20 people going thru 20 fishnames for 3 hours is impossible) will solve everything. I’m well past the point of diminishing returns but some still come volunteer to straighten it all out for me (and give yet another name to some picture beside which I’ve scribbled 3 names already). For most now I have statistics like 4 for, 2 against (or 2 for 1 name, 1 each for the others) so I’ve told them I don’t want anything more about fish to upset me. One the whole the world of Nu. fish naming is as unsettled as the world of zoological taxonomy when it comes to species. Genera & families work out OK. I figure (or hope) my effort is worthwhile: it not only boosts my dictionary considerably but is an are that is worth comparing carefully with other Austronesian names & classificatory systems since they are most all sea people.

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