I’m deeply troubled tonight. Angry, sorrowful, exacerbated, shaken up. I’ve just been to Kundiawa Hospital, A&E, having got a call at 8:00 pm Saturday night. Matilda’s husband Joe has been in another fight, only this time the guy he punched went back and organised a gang of his tribesmen, young and drunk - maybe 3 or 4 dozen of them. They set about Joe, and Matilda thought they’d killed him. When she first called me, that was the news. But he’s regained consciousness, and doesn’t seem to have any life-threatening injuries.
Now I’m all too aware that the last post on the blogspot was about Joe having got into a fight. And now, it all feels to me like gang warfare; I guess that’s exactly what it is. In LA someone on the street feels insulted or gets punched, and he goes and gets as many of his gang members as possible, and there’s retaliation. Which leads to retaliation back, and so on. At this point, I am caught between respect for traditional tribal ways, and a complete hatred of the childish and pointless cock-fighting (why mince words? - I’m not talking about roosters here!) which may have had a function in the past, but now causes nothing but grief and short-circuits so many of the attempts at development, nation-building, and peace and harmony which we work so hard to create. So, although Joe has been described to me as a ‘bighead’, and clearly has a habit of annoying men from other tribes, I don’t think that is enough to explain why the violence happened today.
Now, at this point I don’t know the whole truth, only Matilda’s perceptions after a terrifying day (they were down at the Simbu River, when a truck load of yobs arrived and set about Joe.) Susan, who has been working as the Accountant for SETA, is married to Kulame, who is something important in the Department of Works. It was Kulame that Joe seems to have insulted and punched recently. Matilda describes how Susan and Kulame drove up while she was desperately hunting for Joe, who had run off when the youths attacked. Matilda asked whether they intended to murder Joe. They said nothing, and drove off.
But wait a minute, Susan is someone I’ve been working with closely. Someone I trusted and thought I knew. Someone who has been trying to get the accounts for SETA together, and, given the rumours in the past about misuse of funds, and the necessity of making sure that SETA is an honestly and transparently run organisation that I am willing to work for next year, someone I have listened to carefully. She is articulate, with good English, a quick mind, and apparently a real sense of values. What the hell is going on here?!
I would guess that it’s the story I’ve told a hundred times. The women are fairly grounded, because they give birth and are the main food-growers; the men whose role for generations has been to be warriors defending tribal boundaries and pride may adopt ‘professional’ or ‘civilised’ ways, but are driven by more or less unconscious forces which are, quite frankly, those of gang mentality. But the women are, equally, deeply attracted to men who fight and are aggressive. The dark side of the animus knows little and cares less for civilisation.
Well, yesterday I shot some video footage of Joe dressed for a sing-sing in his traditional warrior adornments, his bilas. I stood beside him and Matilda took our picture. Tonight he was hunted down, not for one-to-one combat, but by a pack of baying drunks who presumably thought they were being warriors. Whether I can ever get through to Joe about how he invites trouble - or whether that is even fair - and whether in the days to come I can help in the peace-making and ensure there is no attempt at retaliation by Joe’s tribe, I don’t know. But, as my comparing the process here with LA gangs tries to point out, this is something which we have tried, in our ‘civilisation’, to repress out of existence. It needs more than that, and more than education and professionalism to change our warlike psyches; it needs a deep psychic shift, owning our own dark side. God and Goddess, grant me the wisdom to own my dark side, and help that process in others.
Joe in Traditional Simbu Bilas, Ian in happier mood