III: Understanding the Exotic

How does an anthropologist make the familiar exotic and the exotic familiar? How can we achieve the epiphany that McPherson experienced? In order to understand - to see what is happening around us and make sense of it - we must first find the common threads linking the particular experiences and activities of people of different cultures. Second, we must realize the complexity that characterizes the seemingly ordinary activity of every-day life. For example, there are numerous and obvious differences between Kandokan villagers and full-time RVers. Their physical appearance, clothing, housing, work-places, and daily activities are dissimilar. Villagers are sedentary, while the organizing principle of the life of RVers is their desire to travel. In spite of their differences, they have similar problems to solve. The solutions they have found to their common problems - living in proximity to others, building communities that provide not only mutual support but mutual satisfaction - are strikingly alike. So how do they do it?

Community in Kandoka: our roots are in the land

Most Kandokans are born, or marry, into pre-existing communities where people share kinship, history, culture, and land-rights. Ordinarily, children and adults marrying into Kandoka do not have to create their community. It is already there, and their task is to find their place in it. Land and kinship are the roots of community in Kaliai. People live, garden, hunt and utilize the resources on land that has belonged to them and their ancestors for generations. Their shared history and legends tell the stories of first settlement, of relationships with the spirits who belong there, and of how early settlers either fought over the land or peacefully agreed to share it and legitimized their agreement by marriage and exchange. Their ancestors were buried there on the land and their spirits reside there still. Mount Andewa is the site of a village populated by the spirits of the ancestors of the present-day Kaliai, including the people of Kandoka.

Mount Andewa

Creating community in Kandoka: you are what you eat

A person's place in community is expressed in numerous ways, the most important being the idiom of kinship. Everyone who lives in the village must have kin ties to the other villagers. If these do not already exist, or are not established by marriage, then they must be created. For Kandokans, kinship is an expression of shared substance. One way they share substance is by sharing food.

Substance sharing between parent and child begins while the child is in the womb. A father establishes kinship to his child by giving his 'water' (semen) to the child's mother. Kandokans seem to consider a woman to be an incubator until she begins labour and spills her vital essence - blood -- during the birth of her baby. The father and his relatives, who will claim the child as a member of their kin group, compensate her for her loss of substance - and claim the child as a member of their group - with gifts of shell money. After giving birth, a mother creates kinship by giving milk to her infant. The baby-talk name for 'mother' is tutu, a short form of turuturu 'breast'. A baby subsists almost entirely on breast milk for about the first nine months, but as she grows both parents and their relatives provide her with solid food. A young child addresses the adults who feed her as "mother" and "father", for they are the most important people in her life (see Counts & Counts Father's water equals mother's milk1983 for a discussion of Kandokan notions of conception, parenthood, and kinship).

The importance of food sharing in creating kinship may be most clearly observed in the process of adoption, a common practice in Kandoka. Anyone, including an unmarried person, may adopt a child, usually the son or daughter of a sibling. An adopting parent of either sex has several responsibilities to the child. One of the most critical is to provide it with food. While an infant is still nursing, the adoptive parent indirectly feeds it by supplying food to the lactating mother. Kandokans say that food given to the lactating mother is also consumed by the nursing child in its mother's milk.. Meat and fish are especially appropriate gifts, for these foods are considered to be strengthening. Failure to carry out this obligation nullifies the adoption.

Feeding growing children is a continuing responsibility of parents, and it is hard work. People sweat when they work in the garden to produce food to ensure that their children will live and grow. Their sweat - their vital essence - is incorporated into children when they eat the food their parents provide. Indeed, the exchange of substance between parent and child that begins with donations of semen and milk to infants and continues with the sweat required to feed them, eventually leads to the parents' bodily dessication that is a mark of old age. When a Kandokan father gives his child food saying, "Eat my sweat" he is reminding the youngster that part of his very substance is in the gift. When Kandokans see a wrinkled elder they are reminded of the years of giving, hard labour, and loss of bodily fluids that are required for the continuation of human life and society.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of food in creating kinship. It is so powerful an agent that it generates a kin relationship even with people who are not constructed of the semen and milk of their lineage - people such as anthropologists. Kandokans continuously brought us food "for the children". By doing this they were using their substance to build ties of kinship between them and our children and - by extension - between them and us. Although we never had all our children with us in the village at any one time, they all went more than once and we always had at least two children with us. Over those years we acquired Kandokan relatives, were incorporated into Kandokan kin groups, and became a part of the community of Kandoka.

On September 15, 1975 Papua New Guinea became an independent state and member of the British Commonwealth. As part of the Independence Day celebrations the young people of the village planned to perform a traditional singsing. End note #1 When we arrived in August, 1975, young women in the village invited Rebecca, who was sixteen, to participate in the celebration and she practised with the group for weeks.  On the eve of Independence Day, some of the adults reminded us that since the young people's dance was a traditional one, the girls would be bare breasted. They asked, how we felt about her making a public appearance that way? We replied that since it was her body they should ask her how she felt. Their smiling response was that she would be dressed "like a bush". Her modesty would not be compromised. She was, indeed, dressed like a bush, as were the other young women, and although members of an audience can eventually pick out which bit of shrubbery is our bush in this photograph, they have to look for a few minutes.

Rebecca dancing to celebrate PNG Independence 1975

The aftermath of Rebecca's first public performance in Kaliai had repercussions, both serious and hilarious, for us. Because six women had formally acknowledged her first public performance, an acknowledgment we were required to formally reciprocate, she - as our first-born child - was formally incorporated into Gavu Sae, the patriline of one of our best friends and consultants, under the sponsorship of the man who acted as David's older brother, Jakob Mua. Operating on the principle that if you have to sponsor a ceremony you might as well do it right, we found ourselves desperately scrambling to find enough food, pigs, and shell money to co-sponsor our daughter's coming-of-age without humiliating ourselves and David's village kin. As Mua told David when, at 4:00 a.m. we were still several fathoms short of the shell money we needed to distribute to our guests, "for years you have written down what we've told you and you knew it intellectually. Now you feel it!"

While our children were formally recognized as members of their father's patriline, the rights of their mother's group had not been formally established. Kandokans recognize the bilateral nature of kinship. Although the father's line has the stronger claim on children, mother's kin may claim the children if father's kin do not meet their ritual and ceremonial obligations by paying bride wealth and correctly sponsoring the first-born children of the union. David's kin ties were obvious to the Kandokans by the end of 1967, but it look longer to establish the identity of Dorothy's relatives. By 1976 our original house had become ramshackled, and the villagers built us a new house near the centre of the village close to David's Gavu Sae kin and also to the members of Puanu patriline. With that move, Dorothy's friendship deepened with our new neighbours, Maria Datima, the wife of Mua's (and David's) younger brother Benedik Solou, and with Sergeant Ngaloko, Maria's father. Sapanga Biskit, the widow of Ngaloko's older brother, also began to announce her conviction that Dorothy was her mother, returned from the dead. When we returned to the village for our fourth stay in 1981 we discovered that our house had been incorporated into the family compound shared by Solou, Maria Datima and the family of her brother, Puanu. So, when Ngaloko, head of the Puanu line, decided to sponsor a ceremony recognizing the first born children of his sons as members of Puanu, the village also recognized Dorothy as belonging to Puanu and our two younger sons, Riley and Stephen, as having rights and obligations as members of Puanu through their mother.

Dorothy's kinsman Ngaloko and some of the taro he distributed for the ceremony

By the time of Riley's and Stephen's incorporation into Puanu, we were full members of the community. Therefore, for the first time, when the spirits appeared in the village, Dorothy fled with the other women, joining them to feast and parody the ritual presided over by the men (we discuss this event in Counts and Counts Clowning among the Lusi-Kaliai 1992)

David Riley Sakaili is carried on a shield to be presented to the ancestor spirits

Maurice Bloch has argued that we anthropologists learn much of what we know about the cultures of the people we study at a visceral, non-linguistic level achieved by experience (Bloch 1991).We acquire much of our "cultural knowledge" by doing things rather than by just talking about them. This is the strength and the true heritage of the method of participant observation, especially when it involves long-term research. In the process of sponsoring our children we learned a great deal about doing and feeling (not just knowing intellectually) what it is like to be a villager with debts and obligations, and we understood viscerally, for the first time, the nature of kinship in Kandoka. We discuss our learning experience in Counts and Counts 1998.

Because our research in Papua New Guinea was long term and we lived with and, to an increasing extent through the years, like the villagers, they brought us into their community. They sought for and formalized their recognition of our ties of kinship with groups there. Although we either did not have, or had forgotten, our earlier lives and our kinsmen there, our apparent lack of the usual white people's agenda and our behaviour provided evidence of our affection and affinity for the community in general and for certain lineages in particular. Using this evidence, the village brought us - through our children - into the community by providing them and us with food, by including us in everyday activities, and by ritually incorporating our children into the patrilines to which they clearly belonged. By sharing food, residence, and ritual with us, the villagers re-established our kinship with them and transformed us from strangers into Kaliai.

Kandokans share food , but they also exchange it, and the way that food is distributed expresses the relationship between the food giver and the food recipient. People share food - and substance generally - with those to whom they are kin. They exchange food with their affines and their competitors. Paternal semen is thought to predominate in the creation of a child, and so the Kandokans are patrilineal. When a patrilineage celebrates the marriage of a son to the daughter of another group, the celebration includes the exchange of food, as in this photograph of Kandokan hosts preparing to distribute food to their guests. The exchange establishes the equality of the two groups and their status as affines. However, the affinal relationship is characterized by paradox. Affines compete with one another, but they also share their most precious resource -- their children. When members of a patrilineage make ceremonial claim to their children, they must feed all those who come as guests. The participation of the mother's patrilineage in this ceremony expresses the ambiguity of the relationship between the two groups. The patrilineal group must present the mother's kin with gifts and food to demonstrate the priority of their claim to the child and their ability to meet their responsibility to her. However, both groups also have a life-long interest in the child, and they demonstrate this common concern by cooperating to provide food for their guests .Kandokans would applaud the insight of Marshal Sahlins when he observed that food distribution is a statement of social relations and, therefore, food is both a sustaining and a destroying mechanism of society (1972:215-127-18).

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