Jane Fajans is a professor of Anthropology at Cornell University. She was invited to join the James Cameron expedition during their time in Papua New Guinea and share her insights into the culture of the Baining people. Jane conducted fieldwork with the Baining on the island of Papua New Guinea, near the Mariana Trench in the South Pacific.
The day after the fire dance people got off to a relatively slow start. Around 10 a.m., I had an interview with James Cameron about the fire dance and Baining life, in general. We sat outside and the film crew filmed the interview. I found Jim an excellent interviewer, and the whole event felt more comfortable than I had imagined.
After the interview I set off for the North Baining. I had only five days left before my departure, so I chose the village that was easiest to get to. The journey turned out not to be as easy as I expected, in either direction. The driver, James, took me to a place where the coastal Baining and other residents navigate across the big bay, called Atiliklikun Bay, in big speedboats, called ‘banana boats’ because of their shapes. I thought I would be able to find a boat to take me across the bay. It was midday when we arrived, but the people on the beach said that none of the boats would be leaving until 5 or 6 o’clock in the evening.
Being reluctant to just sit on the beach and wait, we called the district administrator for the coastal Baining–who had said on Thursday that he would be at this beach around noon–only to find that he was still in Kokopo. After several conversations, he persuaded us to drive back to Kokopo to meet him (an hour’s drive). When we did find him, he said he wasn’t ready to go, and found me another ride instead. That ride was also not ready to go, but I got into the car anyway. We proceeded to drive around Kokopo from store to store, while the various passengers bought supplies and talked with friends. Most of the passengers in this car were teachers from one of the local Baining schools; they were in town because they had been paid on the preceding Thursday and were now spending their earnings. They were not Baining themselves, but represented a spread of people from across Papua New Guinea.
Finally, around 4:30, we left Kokopo, but to my surprise we didn’t go straight to the beach where the boat was docked. Instead, we went to the home of the school inspector. He insisted on feeding us with rice, noodles, and chicken pieces, and some greens in a coconut sauce to put over the rice. This meal is fairly typical of what a teacher or other salaried person might eat regularly.
Just as it was getting dark we loaded into the truck again, this time along with the school inspector, who actually owned the truck, and headed for the beach. The school inspector then drove the truck home, and we got into the speedboat to head to Lassul Bay. Lassul Bay is the government headquarters for the Coastal Baining. There is a brand new health center there (to be opened with great fanfare at the end of March), a police station, the district administrator’s office, and the local government council offices.
Continue reading “Papua New Guinea Blog 6: Lassul Bay”