In the late sixties, my husband and I spent sixteen months living with the Baining of New Britain, in what was then the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. Lost Among the Baining: Adventure, Marriage, and Other Fieldwork looks back with wry humor on our fiasco of a field trip, our years of culture shock back home, and our redemptive reunion forty years on with the people who had upended our lives.
The photos in the book are not in color, and they are not very clear. Here are better versions of those pictures from our two journeys.
Here I am in my Marimekko shift with a friend outside the Australian National University House in Rabaul.
Beautiful Rabaul in 1969, a quiet, easy-going, almost magical place, before its destruction in 1994, when Tavurvur erupted and the town was buried in volcanic ash.
Here I am, in my trade store shift, belted with a string, carrying wood on my shoulder--the wrong way!
Gail carrying wood the wrong way
Vunamarita at dawn as we arrive by freight boat.
And here I am, finally, carrying wood in the traditional Baining way.
Gail carrying wood with her amalunga
A bit more wood than I have in my load!
Woman carrying firewood
Our neighbor Madeilas returning from the garden with a bilum of taro and a baby perched on top.
Madeilas returning from garden.
Of the various Baining mountain villages, we chose Wilaimbemki with care. It was the largest of the villages, it was sufficiently remote to have remained traditional, and unlike Puktas, the previous village we had lived in, where small hamlets were scattered throughout the bush, it was centralized: we'd be close to other people, we'd see people all the time.
Wilaimbemki: Plaza and houses
Things didn't turn out quite as we expected!
Our closest neighbor Kyimkyim, with fronds to thatch a roof. He and his wife, Madeilas, watched over us carefully, making sure we had food and firewood. With nine children of their own, what were two fledglings more?
Kyimkyim helping to thatch a roof
While we were in Wilaimbemki, Kyimkyim's father, old Baiki, died. Here, they are heating stones to cook a pig for the feast that will follow Baiki's death.
Heating stones to cook a pig at Baiki's death
Here is our house in Wilaimbemki, on loan from a young man who would be away for the year. In contrast with the previous village--where we waited months for a house--this was already built and needed only repairs, which the villagers did at once. They secured the roof for the rainy season, partitioned off two rooms, built an outhouse. It was finished so quickly I was thrilled.
Our house in Wilaimbamki
Ngoanagait, a lapun--an old man--in his hamlet in Puktas.
Ngoanagait at his house in Vunagalip
Tuvuan, our closest neighbor in Puktas, taught me how to cook taro.
Tuvuan at her house
Taro--andumgi--is a source of great pride to the Baining, and they take pleasure in the many types, which so differ in size, in texture, and in taste that they remind me, in their variety, of cheese.
Mbar cooking taro
Loki, our kitten, no bigger than a grapefruit. We were told to get a cat to catch vermin, which we were warned would invade the hut. New Guinea, after all, is called an entomologist’s paradise.
Loki and pomelo
Here is Jeremy with young Tomamia, as we called him, to distinguish him from the elderly Tomamia. When we returned in 2008, Tomamia had died, but we met his daughter, who recognized him from the photo.
Jeremy and young Tomamia
Kyimkyim's son, Langi, in his bilas--his decoration--for the spear dance.
Langi dressed for the spear dance
Our friend Solmet, just before dancing.
Solmet with bilas and spear
A Baining spear dancer with his child--a youngster who would clearly like to be somewhere else!
Spear dancer with child
One of four amazing masks the Baining gave us to take home. All are now in the de Young Museum in San Francisco.
At the day dance, while the men perform the spear dance and bring out masks, the women dance around them in a circle and sing.
Woman with child at the day dance
Men prepare the masks for the day dance--one of the few times that tasks are divided by gender in this remarkably egalitarian society. But even this division is not so strict: some women, like this lapun (or older woman) are present and may participate as well.
Older woman at preparation for day dance
Kyimkyim's daughter, who remembered us from our visit 40 years earlier.
Youngsters enjoying a photo-op.
Young man smoking.
"Loved this book, which appears to be but is more than an account of an anthropological expedition, more than a travel book, more than a memoir."--Barbara Beckwith, author of What Was I Thinking?: Digging Deeper into Everyday Racism, barbarabeckwith.net.
"It is undoubtedly the best written account of, and reflection on, fieldwork I have read, and --perhaps -- the best book on fieldwork (period) I have come across. --Joel Savishinsky, Professor of Anthropology (Emeritus), Ithaca College, author of Trail of the Hare.
“An impressively insightful, deftly written, accessibly articulate, expertly knowledgeable, and decidedly analytical survey of…book reviewing today.”
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“Captivating stories in an anthology of epistolary fiction from the last 50 years.”
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