Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Love, dating and relationships in Papua New Guinea

It’s been a while since I blogged but in celebration of Valentine’s Day I have decided to write about love, dating and relationships in Papua New Guinea.  Please note these are general observations rather than all my own experience and I've not really done a lot of research. Mi tok stori lo pren blo mi - I asked people to tell me stories.

So I’m going to start with a story of modern love in Mount Hagen. A lady in her late twenties becoming concerned about her marriage prospects began chatting by text with a gentleman in Tabubil. Over time (and thanks to the free texts offered by Digicel) she began to fall in love with this charming young man, a landowner with a lovely house. Finally his intentions became more serious and he told her he was tired of texting and wanted her to be his wife. So she sold her possessions and raised the money for the airfare. She travelled to Tabubil with just a few dresses in a bag. When she arrived she found the street name that he had given her, and asked some boys playing marbles in the street, if they could direct her to the house of the young landowner she had come to marry. When she told the children her name, they all began to laugh and pointed to a young boy no more than 12 and said  - this is the one you have been texting all this time.  She took the boys arm and marched him to his house where she told the full story to his parents, his father looked at the young woman who had given up everything and was now stuck in Tabubil and said “you can’t marry my son but you could be my second wife.” And so she married the man and stayed in Tabubil as the new mummy of the boy that had started the romance.


In the land of the unexpected, where nothing ever runs on time, it can be really difficult arranging a date and getting there on time. If the PMV hasn't broken down, it could be the weather that prevents you from getting where you are supposed to be and the taxi you booked has gone to another address, or your mate ran over someone’s dog and is now trying to pay compensation. To add to the confusion not only do the mega storms of PNG affect the roads, they also affect communications, so just when you need to contact your date to say “Yu Stap We?” (Where are you) then the network cease to work.  I once had a date with a lovely local guy who turned up wearing a Digicel T shirt saying ‘This date is sponsored by Digicel’ because we had spent so much time texting one another and cancelling dates before we finally actually managed to have a drink together.

However, population in PNG increased to 7.8 million this year so there must be successful attempts at dating. I mentioned to a friend that there must be a lot of sex happening in Port Moresby judging from the number of free condoms dispensed outside my building. “No” he said. Then proceeded to explain all the other uses of condoms here in PNG: effective fishing lure, catapult for killing fruit bats, water carrier etc. 


It reminded me of a story from the provincial AIDS committee that may or may not have any basis in the truth.  A whole village came to watch a demonstration of how to use a condom, the worker showed the condom being put over the wooden stick and explained that this would help prevent babies and diseases. Sometime later the worker returned and found the supplies of condoms that had been left behind were not particularly depleted. She asked if anyone was using the condoms and was proudly told the whole village was. Then they took her to the ceremonial pole which the condom was placed over so that all the villagers could have sex. She had neglected to mention to anyone that the condom needs to go ‘lo stick blo man’.  I plan to return from PNG with gifts of packets of condoms for all my friends because I like the instructions so much.

My colleague told me of a lovely tradition from Chimbu where girls and boys find a partner through the boys singing. Girls and boys come together and link their legs together. The boys then ‘sing sing’ and the girls listen to see which one they like. If they like the boy they rub noses. Then a new group of boys comes to sing. Once everyone has linked legs, sung and rubbed noses then the girl secretly goes and pinches the one boy she likes. Because it’s dark she has to listen for his voice to choose the right one. Boys and girls then lie down by the fire and the mothers watch them. If the boy moves around too much the mother throws him out of the house. Once the marriage is agreed then the boy’s family have to find the Bride Price in order to pay for the new wife. This sum used to be paid in pigs but is increasingly a cash sum which can be over 100,000 kina. Whilst some see the Bride Price ceremony as a social event, where a new daughter is accepted into a family, others are concerned that it is a form of slavery.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-sasha-galbraith/papua-new-guinea-women_b_895638.html

In Tari, the men and women live in separate houses, one house for the men, and one for the women. I’m told this was a form of contraception as it prevented too many children, and ensured the women got on with their gardening. If a man and wife did want to get together they had to meet in the garden for a little bit of loving by the garden fence.


The Trobriand Islands (Trobs) have the reputation for being the ‘Island of Love’ so perhaps a great destination for a future Valentine’s day. If you want to know more read Malinowski's 1930’s book, "The Sexual Life of Savages", not only for its archaic attitude but also for a lovely insight into the voyeurism of anthropology.

http://www.newgon.com/prd/ethno/malinowski.html

I did like the story I was told that in the Trobes men and women have to keep their love affair secret from the girl’s brothers and father when they are courting. As soon as Dad finds out that his daughter has been dating then they have to get married. I wonder what my own Father would think of that.

So here is my final romantic story. At an education function a girl noticed a young man sitting alone when everyone else was on the dance floor. Bravely she went over to him and asked him if he liked the music. “Yes”, he said, “I am a music student”. “Then why aren’t you dancing?” she asked. “I need some help finding the dance floor.” “Are you spak man (drunk)” “No ai pass” (blind). So the girl led him onto the dance floor, they danced together and that was the start….

Those who know me will be aware of how cynical I am about Valentine’s Day, mostly because I disagree with the commercialising of love, but also because it puts such pressure on anyone in a relationship, and makes single people miserable. I will be marking the death of a Saint who was stoned, flayed and decapitated for undertaking marriage ceremonies by dancing on Ela Beach to raise awareness of domestic violence. Then I shall dress in black and go to an ‘Anti Valentine’s day’ party.  

I will however still accept romance on any other day of the year and I raise a glass to all of the romantics out there that still believe.  Much love to you all.

http://www.cbn.com/spirituallife/ChurchandMinistry/churchhistory/st_valentine_the_real_story.aspx

1 comment:

  1. love the idea of condoms being used as sling shot's etc...and it has been lovely to be able to keep an eye on you via your blog...can't wait to see you when you get back ..stay safe ..and much love as always xxxdizzyxxx

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