Wednesday, December 19, 2007

18 January 1945

The rains are letting up slightly these days, and instead of our daily downpours we are only getting them about every other day, and not in the huge doses to which we have been accustomed. The saddest news to date was posted on the bulletin board this morning to the effect that there will be no beer ration this month and that there is no relief in the drought in sight. War is hell!

Although I have had little first hand contact with the local natives (mainly because their villages are off limits) some of the boys who have been stationed elsewhere where restrictions have been less severe have come up with some interesting sidelights on their customs. First of all, the man of the house is the big boss. He doesn’t do any of the menial household tasks, this is left to the women. In the coastal villages, the young girls do all the fishing. The old man principally hunts, does some labor in order to support his family and as soon as the children grow up, he retires and does nothing. The average New Guinea native is small, averaging about 5 feet. It is very difficult to judge their age. Some have mustaches, the children are skinny and have pot bellies. I have seen whole families of them out scavenging. The husband goes first, carrying nothing but a machete or spear. The children are strung out behind the mother who is usually burdened down like a truck horse as are the older children. The other day about 25 of them walked down the airstrip armed with spears and bow and arrows bound for a wild boar hunt. This vicious tusked animal abounds in this locality. In fact, returning from chow this morning, two of them ran directly across the road in front of the jeep. In hunting them, the natives head through the brush and upon discovering the pig try to encircle it, and then close in by making a racket and driving it to the center of the circle where it is killed with spears and arrows and then impaled on a pole and carried home. The party mentioned above returned in about an hour with two large pigs strung up thusly. I have not tasted the meat as yet, but understand it tastes quite similar to pork and is very delicious.

The natives marry very young, about 11 or 12 for the girls and 14 for the boys. In order to marry they must stand up before the tribe, announce their intentions, the bridegroom must prove he can support a wife---and that’s all there is to it. A man can take as many wives as he can support.

A few have been educated in mission schools. Pidgin English is used primarily when dealing with whites. One little shaver about 9 astounded the boys the other day by singing “Pistol Packin’ Mama” in a curiously accented English. One of the boys, Jack Stein, was down at Port Moresby last year and he had studied the New Guinea guide book and proceeded to try out his efforts on the No. 1 boy of a bunch of natives employed cutting Kunai grass.* After opening up with a few well rehearsed phrases on the native, he was really taken aback when the bloke replied, “That is quite good Sergeant. Where did you learn to speak our language?” He had been educated in Australia, and was Jack’s face red!

* Long grass native to New Guinea used for thatching huts. Sometimes called “sword grass” because of its sharp, serrated edges.

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