|View of the Sepik.|
I got to fly a plane today! Ok, no, not really, but I did get to sit in the co-pilot’s seat. It was awesome! Ms. Cupcake doesn’t like flying, so this opportunity was all mine. Flying from grass airstrip in Karawari to grass airstrip in Timbunke, along the Sepik, it was only about a 12 minute flight, but it was a really cool experience. I am not into gadgets, but seeing all the different devices and gages, etc. got me pretty into flying.
When we touched down we had to wait for the other flight to come back with our bags and in the meantime explored the mission at Timbunke. PNG continues to amaze. The mission church was actually built in the style of one of the spirit houses and the inside contained spirit house columns, but with carved saints instead of ancestral figures. The alter and lecturn were both also carved in a similar manner. Our guide, who is Catholic and attends that church, said that hymns are sung with kudu drums and in a sing-sing fashion. The people of PNG are indelibly tied to their cultures.
The Sepik River is home to the Iatmul tribe and the crocodile cults. When it is time to become a man, boys are “initiated” through a month long process living in a spirit house. Imagine pledging a frat, but much, much more serious and, frankly, scary. At the end, ritual “scarification” is done. The figures of abstract crocodiles are carved into the boy’s (now men’s) chest and backs with knives or razorblades. The bleeding out is meant to represent releasing the “women’s blood” from your body and the new blood that regenerates is that of a true man or a warrior.
|Inside of a "man's house"|
|Men that have been initiated.|
We asked if boys ever die during the ceremonies – they said only if the spirits know that some family members are not supportive of the initiation. Women play highly subservient and secondary roles in this society and are not even allowed into the spirit houses. Our white captain of the ship we are on now actually decided to partake in full initiation into the Yoakim tribe along the Karawari river. He showed us his scarification and explained some of what he went through and his motives for doing so. It is all pretty intense. He is undoubtedly one of the first white men to ever do it.
|Debating in the man's house|
In the largest village along the Sepik, Tambanum, we had the opportunity to walk into a Man’s House – one level of initiation down from a Spirit House, but otherwise nearly identical. There was actually a debate taking place when we walked in. Men, wearing cast away western clothes, were using their orator’s stool (imagine a beautifully carved side table) and standing alongside it, banging the palm fronds, as is tradition when you are speaking in a debate. They stopped the debate for a few minutes so we could look around, but seeing the village elder making his points was a unique experience. There were no women or children present. Once we finished with the spirit house we had the chance to look through the beautiful carvings the villages had made. Each village has a distinct style so we took full advantage.
Cruising along in our air conditioned (thank God) ship is just beautiful and I am really pumped for the next couple of days out on the river.
|Sunset over the Sepik|
|The Sepik Spirit, our home for three days|