Travels in Papua New Guinea– Christina Dodwell
Warning: This article has the punniest pun out there.
Like Bhutan, I didn’t know anything about Papua New Guinea so I was very excited to read this book.
Unlike the book on Bhutan, the book on Papua New Guinea was not good.
Travels in Papua New Guinea follows a woman, Christina Dodwell, in the 1970s who travelled throughout the country by walking, riding a horse, and sailing a canoe. Overall, the writing was choppy. The story lacked depth. There were too many in between details instead of summaries to emphasize bigger points. Instead of describing every kaukau meal you had, describe how you were feeling. If you loved Papua New Guinea, then by the end of this book, I should be dying to go there. Also she named her horse, Horse. Seems like a pretty lame name for someone who is familiar with equestrian travels. I would definitely not recommend this book.
I will say that the one thing I enjoyed about this book was learning about the many different customs and tribes that Dodwell encountered. PNG is home to various tribes who are colorful in their custom and beliefs. It seemed each village had different tribes, customs, and general structure. However, many of them spoke a pidgin language, which is a language with common words in order to connect people. For the sake of the length and depth of this blog, I do want to highlight three encounters I found most interesting.
The first is a group of crocodile hunters who stood in the water to grab a crocodile in order to kill it. (Yes, the show Swamp People was running through my mind.) They stood up to their shoulders or necks and waited until they felt the bumpy back of a croc go by before grasping it. It was so interesting how they interacted with the crocs in this way due to their and how they believed they wouldn’t attack them by being there. It went back to a deep belief in how they were connected with the creatures. They traded parts of the crocodile to others, as well as used all the parts in their own daily lives. Interestingly enough the tail is similar to lobster. Putting that on my food to try list!
The second is very similar to the first, and is a tribe of a skin cutters. These people actually cut the skin of the men (and some women who volunteer) to reflect the crocodile. There is a lot of preparation that goes into the skin cutting, including excluding the young men about to go through the process. This exclusion prepares them both mentally and physically to be artistically transformed.
The last encounter I want to touch upon quickly is the cannibals. Dodwell explained that cannibals believed you must consume the dead in order to prevent the spirit from becoming angry and haunting the village. It was also a way for the person to stay with the village and return back to its people. I know this seems crazy, but I can understand their line of thinking when they haven’t been taught anything else. I can assure everyone, I’m not interested in becoming a cannibal. But, I don’t think I’d be scared to ~meat~ one either. (Did you like my pun?!)
Just to tie this back together, the sense of community described in this country was fascinating. A village wasn’t just a geographical area of people. It was a group where everyone looked out for another. A true community. Dodwell noticed the same thing and remarked that the deeper she got into PNG, the more honesty and integrity people had. In fact men in the villages never bothered and the only men that propositioned her for sex were western white men, or men that had been heavily influenced by western culture. I think that speaks so much to another way western culture has had some nasty run off effects. Clearly, we’re still seeing that today in our country with the of the #MeToo movement and story after story about women being sexually harassed and assaulted. It makes me think: How is it that people that have so little material things have the best morals and manners?
Another interesting thing I learned about Papua New Guinea is the diverse wildlife it has. Of course there are plenty of animals I’m familiar with but two kept being described that I had never heard of: the dugong and the cassowary. The dugong is a manatee type creature that lives in water. While the cassowary is a bird type animal that can be vicious in the while.
I will give this book one caveat. While reading, I realized there was no page 128. It’s not that the page was ripped out, the book was simply missing that page with the words written on it. Maybe this missing page would have been a turning point for the book and would have warranted a better review from me. Has anyone else ever found a book with a page missing?
So do I want to travel to Papua New Guinea? To be completely honest, I’m neutral. Definitely interested in learning more so please drop any recommendations for books/documentaries below!