We started the day not really knowing where, what or how.
Typical day for us!
Before long John Doa arrived at the guest house gate honking his horn.
We all piled in the van and followed John Doa through the streets of Goroka. None of us know exactly how far or how long we would be following him.
Soon we turned off at a store front down along the highway heading towards Kainantu.
A man behind a cyclone fence gate unlatched the chain and our van disappeared inside.
One by one we filed out of the van and was greeted by a outgoing woman named Margaret. She told us to get into the truck. We looked at each other, gulped, and began to pile into the bed of a small Toyota truck. One by one we made space for ourselves, wondering when we would have no more space to give. There was no more room for Todd, so he piled into the cab with Margaret and our fit, young driver and off we went.
We left through the gate we entered and headed a short distance down the highway.
As we turned off the paved road, we started down a one lane, dirt (no muddy) road with ruts the size of small craters. Rhett and I looked at each other: surely this wasn’t a Juniors Abroad approved road. But then our mode of transportation wasn’t GFU approved either.
Soon we turned onto a smaller road with more ruts and cliffs on each side.
The ups and downs and turns of the road felt more like a wild ride at Six Flags.
Everyone was squealing with delight! It was so much fun! And scary!
After about 15 minutes we arrived at our destination.
We knew we were headed to a village for the mumu and sing sing. But we just didn’t know what to expect.
Margaret beckoned us all to get out of the truck and with a flair of sophistication she climbed over a style...you know...
There was a crooked man and he walked a crooked mile.
He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked style.
Our style was also very crooked.
We followed a path, muddy with piles of dog and pig poo (at least that was what I hoped it was) along the side, making our way to the center of a village where several men and women were sitting in the center of the village preparing kau kau.
As soon as we arrived the people, as if they had been practicing, gave us a big “Whoop, whoop!!”
At first, our insecurities kept us huddled together in a group, but once I got my bearings I took the lead, as the group’s extrovert, and started walking to those sitting preparing the food, shaking their hands and greeting them.
Soon other joined me. Jessie jumped in, asked to help and began scraping the skin off kau kau. Other’s soon joined in. Stephen and Jordan began their ‘man talk’ with the men in the village who were sitting along the perimeter of the center of the village.
For 30 minutes or so we were all engaged with a group of villagers, happily chatting away like we were the visiting family from another village.
Then came the announcement: They were waiting for us to arrive before the pig was killed. Great.
Margaret had told us that they would kill the pig prior to our arrival. I am sure they wanted to watch our white faces squirm with fear during the kill. How entertaining that would be.
Or maybe they really just wanted us to give us the full meal deal.
Either way, the squeamish removed themselves from the village center, while those who wanted to capture the event stayed around.
The 200 + pound pig was tethered by the leg thus keeping him ready for easy capture.
You know me: I love animals. And while I have nothing against pigs, I wanted the full meal deal.
With the barrier of my camera I snapped several pre-whacking pictures. When the sounds of wood crushing pig skull started, I shut my eyes and only heard the sickening sounds. Having been around pigs as a child, the sounds could very well have been caused by a another pig stealing his food, or a human pushing a pig out of the way. Pigs squeal horribly for just the slightest offence to them.
Soon the pig was out of it’s misery. Nicole suffered the most, she ran away crying. Several women, amused no doubt by her reaction, consoled her by telling her how much they themselves love the pigs. They raise them like a child from birth and let them sleep with them at night. Once they are old enough to forage the land, they are encouraged to do so during the day, but at night they are brought back to the hut. It goes like this until they are old enough to spend the night outside.
When they are young, the women may nurse them if the sow doesn’t want to or doesn’t have enough milk.
5 men removed the lifeless body from the pen and took it over to the bed of banana leaves that had been prepared. At this point, the man who killed the pig began sharpening a knife. He was the pig specialist. A few men were his assistants but basically he was in charge.
First they cut the throat and drained the blood out into a clean (?) bowl. Later, when the pigs belly was cut open, kumu was used to soak up more blood that was put into the bowl. Much later, all the special parts of the pig (NOT the penis though…that was actually removed and thrown onto the fire) would be placed into this blood and cooked in a special banana leaf wrap.
All of the intestines were removed from the belly of the pig and placed onto the waiting banana leaf mat of three women. Soon these ladies were carefully cutting each organ from the connective tissue and placing them in a bowl. Some of these parts were added to the blood bowl.
One of the most interesting part of the pig – the rectum – was removed and cleaned. Later it was stuffed with some meat and greens and placed into the bowl of blood. Apparently this was a delicacy and would be eaten by someone special. Hopefully it would be Todd.
Back to the main carcass – the specialist was removing each of the rib bones, and the hips of the pig was broken with an ax.
Once everything was removed, including the spine, the pig was turned over onto a clean bed of banana leaves and kumu (greens).
And now it was time for Bilasim Skin – or dress up time.
Several elderly village members ushered each of us to an isolated location around the center of the village. Some people were taken into huts: Others were taken behind a hut. Since I was just having a headdress, I was positioned in front of one of the huts.
Everyone else was asking to remove their clothes. And they did.
With each student stripped down to their underwear, certainly not Juniors Abroad approved, the village elders began working to create their masterpieces. I wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate was each student endured until later.
For myself, an older man and woman pulled out the head dress pieces from a leather bag. Each adornment was carefully unwrapped from a thick cloth.
But first, the man prepared what became the foundation. He stuffed a knitted hat with dried banana leaves. This hat was then put on my head.
One by one they attached a strip of kuskus fur, beads, or feathers around my head, positioning each one just right. After 10 minutes of this the two argued and the man removed each of the strips. Using a different order each strip was reapplied to my head very tightly. Then came the single feathers. Not having a mirror I had no idea what he was doing with the feathers. Each point of the feathers were dug into my knitted cap and into my skull. It was NOT comfortable.
Every now and then the lady pulled a large knife out of her bilum and handed it to the man standing over my head. Was he cutting my hair?
The last items to be placed on my body was a large kina shell necklace and a smaller sea shell necklace.
After 45 minutes of work I was free to walk around and see what my team mates were up to.
A man was walking around the village with a broken rear view mirror to people could get an idea of their appearance before making one in the center of the village.
Gingerly, one by one everyone began immerging from their ‘dressing room.’ The looks on everyone’s faces were priceless. From the every smiling Whitney to the pensive Sara: but where was Rhett?
He too failed to escape the ceremony, although he was allowed to keep his shorts on.
Once everyone had a chance to drink in the sight of each other, the ladies of the village took the team , arm in arm and began the sing sing.
Roars of laughter erupted from both groups.
Everyone danced in a line, at least that is what was being attempted. More laughter.
After a feeble attempt to dance, the women left us to get the group their special meal.
The women were gathered on one tarp and the men on another. Each of us were given a large bowl of kau kau and nice chunks of meat. It was delicious.
The entire village watched as we ate our special mumu.
The men were given the ‘special food’ including the blood and stuffed rectum dishes.
It was hot and each one of us suffered from the tight headdresses. Karith was the first to go and quickly Margaret had her host usher her to the hut to have the head dress removed.
After 30 minutes or so we had reached our capacity to eat so we picked up the bowl with the remaining food and walked around the village sharing our meal.
Hoping we didn’t offend anyone, we began to inquire as to when we could remove our costuming.
While our hosts removed our finery, a light rain began to fall. Exhausted, I sat under the eaves of the house with Kadish.
Who is Kadish you ask?
Let me take you back to when I first met Kadish.
After the pig was killed and the butchering well underway, Rhett, Jordan and I went on a walk about with Palo. He had invited us to his house to look at his herbs.
We made our way back up the path and to the road. A couple of kids came along: one of them was Kadish.
She was dressed in an oversized blue dress. I guessed her age to be about 6 years old. As we walked up the path she handed me a mandarin. Although it had seeds in it the juice of the fruit quenched my thirst and hunger.
Along the way to Palo’s house we met up with another man who spoke very good English. He explained that Palo grew plants that he used for medicinal purposes.
Some of the ailments he could take care of had to do with birth control, internal bleeding and arthritis. He explained that for 70 kina he could cure my arthritis.
Palo’s wife met us and gave each of us some more delicious mandarins.
I shared mine with Kadish.
After returning to the main village where the mumu was taking place, Kadish seemed to be my constant companion. Once in a while she would disappear only to return with something to eat: more mandarins, bananas or roasted corn.
After the sing sing and bilasim skin I was exhausted. The rain gave us all an excuse to sit and relax.
While relaxing under the eaves of the hut, Kadish once again disappeared. Soon she returned bringin her sister and another mandarin. Her sister’s name was Mapet.
Soon both girls were sitting on my lap as we waited for the rain to abate.
My camera became our entertainment as I let both sisters take turns taking pictures of those sitting around us.
As I rested I wondered who the girl’s parents were. Soon my question was answered as a woman walked towards us and Kadish called out “Mama!” She ran into her arms and brought the woman to me.
I never did catch the mother’s name, but she brought me a bilum and asked for my name and address….for Kadish.
After another mumu ceremony where Rhett was given the hind end of the pig, with leg attached, it was announced that our transportation had returned and we were walking up the path to the road.
Exhausted and tired, but with great anticipation (we knew what kind of a ride we were in for) we climbed back into the bed of the truck, squeezing in even further as we made room for a woman from the village.
As the day came to a close, we all acknowledged that we had been given an incredible gift. We had been invited to an up close and personal glimpse of what it was like to live in a culture that was on the opposite spectrum of our own
Our journey had taken us into the past to see what life was like for a people whose existence depended upon the success of their crops and the hard work it took to cultivate and grow their own food.
Exposed, these people welcomed us with open and happy hearts. What an amazing gift.
Okay, we did pay for this experience: we bought the pig. Yet all in all, the village’s generosity could be felt by all.