The world of wild animals by Andrey Gudkov

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Travel to the stone age

A small plane turns for a few minutes in narrow gorges between mountaintops covered by a dense wood. It stirs mercilessly, it shudders, taking up the next wind impulse, and unexpectedly it appears above a small valley clamped by mountain ridges from all sides. Suddenly somewhere below, among tropical vegetation, a runway appears, constructed by the Dutchs yet in the middle of the last century. Jolting stops and everyone in interior has a sigh of relief. In a few more minutes the plane taxis up to an airport building standing all by itself, the hatch opens and hot and dam air beats to a face. We have flied from Djayapura in Jamena — the small town lost among mountain jungle in the very center of the Indonesian New Guinea.

Flight by local airlines from Djakarta up to Djayapura — the capital of New Guinea — takes about 5–7 hours. Duration of flight depends on quantity of intermediate landings on islands. All necessary documents and sanctions are done in Djayapura in police administration. Papers registration takes several hours.

One can get to New Guinea having the Indonesian visa and the sanction to visit New Guinea, with the route indication, the purpose of visit, dates of stay and also confirmation of guide’s presence. These are not bureaucratic delays, but necessity and authorities’ care of your safety. You will not be able to change the route already registered in the sanction — in fact at each exit from settlement there is a military patrol which fixes your movement. Certainly, it is possible to change independently the route and go into jungles but…if something happens to you, rescue team will search for you only on that route you have informed authorities about. Doesn’t worth to make fun with jungles and nobody does so. Besides searches of a lost person in impassable jungles is expensive and by and large unpromising work.

Before departure to Jamena my friend, well-known Russian film-documentalist and traveller Oleg Aliev — the expert of these places who have devoted more than 10 years to studying of this island — told me that things seen here simply freeze brains of majority of not that numerous tourists who manage to reach these places. This is hard to take into a civilized, accustomed to a computer, brain (and moreover — on 40s degree sun), things which open to your eyes — absolutely naked Papuans with stone axes through a shoulder, with bows and arrows, bone knifes, painted faces and adornments made of animals’ teeth on necks and wrists — all this on a background of there-here buzzing cycle rickshaws — “economy class” transport, jeeps of rich Indonesians and European missionaries mixed up with runabout motley crowd.

Huge crowd of local people meets each plane arriving from the coast: Papuans, Indonesians, police, military, numerous dealers and simply idle gapers. All this human mass goes directly on a take-off field and waits for a next plane. Goods, foods and various other cargoes are delivered here only by air by civil planes, and also by “Gerkules”’s of the Indonesian Air Forces as there is no other communication with the civilization.

A white person who has flied here immediately feels careful attention from local population to himself — to be a white means to be a tourist, and this means additional earnings. In these places there is no such concept as “tourism industry”: more precisely, it only arises. Several modest hotels, which Indonesians hold, are able to accept a small amount of tourists. Infinite tips have not yet pampered the local population. Papuans have not yet learned to bargain. For them the amount of USD 20 and 2000 is almost the same. The pair of zeros is added or deleted without long hesitations. Plate of meal or something from clothes of footwear can serve as payment for work. And there is another observation. You will not meet souvenirs used to us — tourist consumer goods. Here everything is genuine, coming from a real life. And almost all items can be worthy museum pieces in our civilized world. Representatives of American and European museums come here frequently and buy up for nothing items of cult, life, clothes, weapon, adornments, instruments of work, items of primitive art, etc., of tribes occupying the island. Here, for example, it is possible to get things from a dealer’s shelf in hole-in-the-wall and use as directed. It is quite probable, that a bow and arrows which you have purchased this evening from a Papuan, only yesterday were in use on hunt and if you have so much liked a stone axe on your guide’s shoulder, he will sell it to you without hesitation even if he has used it for several years. Still Papuans are always affable, smiling, and not aggressive to a white person (fruits of long-term and systematic missionaries’ policy) and straightforward in dialogue. They talk silently, in half-voices, looking around as if they are afraid, that someone will hear them and will see. “Hi a White Brother, welcome to Papua”, — they will whisper in the simplified English on your ear while meeting you, as if you were his old friend. Thus you still have a feeling ob being the participant of a mysterious plot.

And still: Papuans are Christians. More precisely, they try to combine local beliefs and Christianity of Muslim Indonesia, keeping the original archaic culture and crafts.

Basically, there is one more way to investigate the island: by using information of numerous missionary organizations and missionaries and moving by small 2–4 seats single-motor airplanes to remote and yet poorly studied parts of the island. Yet such a way of tourism is unreliable, connected to big charges and conventions, significant time losses and infinite negotiations. And missionaries themselves do not open a site of their flock so willingly. Though sometimes it happens that a rare luck nevertheless smiles to travellers — in one of such flights it is possible to really come across absolutely wild tribe of natives.

There are more than 1000 tribes, unique and original ethnic groups and nationalities in the Indonesian part of New Guinea today, each having the customs, rituals, language, and mode of life inherent to a given group only. New Guinea is the well of the unique and inexhaustible information for ethnographers, anthropologists, linguists, travellers and for simple tourists-fans. One may fancy that just 40–50 years ago bloody wars took place between various Papuan tribes in a valley around Jamena and eyewitnesses of these wars are still alive now.

When moving between numerous villages around the city you can quite often meet elderly men with numerous scars on a body from stabs of spears, arrows and knifes, or adactyl women — in some villages the customs is still in force when a woman having lost a husband or a son, cuts off to herself phalanxes of fingers on a hand. She makes it by herself, with a special ritual stone axe! Villages are built in traditional way: a hut for men (“man’s house”), huts for women and children, and also accessory buildings are settled down circle-wise, territory is surrounded by a high fence where places for loopholes are left in case of repulsion of a sudden attack of enemies. Near to a settlement a viewing tower is installed as a must, from which vicinities are well looked through. Spears and bows with arrows are always in alertness and in a prominent place. The truth is that there it nothing and nobody to rebuff, but old habits are still alive.

We met in the city one Dutch, the unique European and the owner of hotel. This elderly man has lived the most part of his life on the island. He is one of those who built a runway in the middle of fifties of the last century. As he says, Jamena was small Dutch military settlement those days. During airdrome construction Papuans called on frequently to the project site outskirts. Wearing fight painting, with spears, bows, knifes, they came and stood while, looking on soldier-builders and then disappeared the same quite way. But sometimes arrow’s fire happened. However, one gunshot was enough to put the Papuan army to flight. Later they got used to the neighborhood. Since then they have lived peacefully. Since then we are “The White Brothers” for them.

In New Guinea there are still tribes, which have not yet adjoin to a civilization at all, or have seen missionaries only. Between these tribes confrontations and skirmishes are frequent until now. Yet access to such tribes is very difficult and connected to a considerable life risk. Only well prepared expeditions with professional guides can carry out such projects. And no guide will ever give you any guarantees, that you will meet these tribes. It is always a lottery and you do not always receive the prize!

The very day we arrived along toward evening Jamena vicinities knew that Europeans had arrived. By the evening a crowd of dozen of “civilized” Papuans gathered at the hotel’s entrance, offering to have a look on nearby villages. But as nobody knew the purposes of our arrival, revival and excitement reigned in the crowd. In one more hour all have settled down right on the ground waiting for our decision. After short negotiations it was found out, that there will be a holiday in one village, in about 20 kilometers from city, many Papuans will gather, there will be dances, rituals, a pig will be cooked by a special way in the earthen furnace, — in general, there will be many things to look at. “Besides, I shall show you our relic — a mummy, which is already 300 years old”, the guide, elderly Papuan, whispered on an ear conspiratorially. However, only if we persuade the elders as they do not show it to Europeans. Scientists (or just collectors) came here for several times, tried to agree to redeem the mummy. But elders did not agree in any way, up to the armed disorders. Authorities tried to interfere, but with the same result, they were within the ace to provoke a conflict. “Now elders protect the mummy and they try to do not show it to visitors. All in all, there were two mummies. But one has practically ruined. The secret of mummification is lost”.

Early in the morning our newfangled guide was waiting for us near the hotel. Having grasped several packs of cigarettes (as gifts to chiefs) and having plunged into a Jeep, we have moved along the valley filled in by the sun along Papuan villages, banana plantations and military posts, on each of which the copy of our pass was demanded. Our way is to valley suburbs, to village where the nationality “Dani-dugum” lives.

The road ended off abruptly. Then we had to walk about two kilometers. A small Papuan village was hidden at an edge of foothills among trees. Revival reigned nearby — pair tens of men wearing fight painting and with weapons already expected us. Whence from above a shout arose — an observer stood on a viewing tower. As if on command all the armed men moved on us, threatening with spears and bone knifes with many-voiced hooting. Very soon voices lined up in one continuous rumble similar to animal roar. It was clear, that this is a part of presentation made for us, that nothing can happen, but when you meet eyes of Papuans being in ecstasy of fighting dance, jimjams run on your back and you feel rum. Such concepts as “CIVILIZATION” and “COMMON SENSE” disappear by themselves. Men represent pictures of hunting and military actions for almost an hour. The guide explains that even now arrowheads are made of tree, knife web are made of bone, bows pikes — of bamboo fibre. Papuans are conservative and in the given question technical progress has shown powerlessness against traditions.

This time the mummy was indeed shown to us. With trembling, elders have taken it out from the man’s house. It is a man, mummified in am embryo pose. It has turned out that “the Papuan relic” is constantly kept in the man’s house and men of village protect it, live with it. It was being shown to us for about three minutes. Elders were noticeably nervous and cautiously gazed to our side. We did not test their patience and break rest of a mummy anymore. It remained a riddle how our guide managed to persuade the elders.

Piggy squeal was already heard in the village. The youth drove a big black pig (all pigs are black there) around village’s perimeter. Everybody tried to catch it. After capture, a pig is killed by one bowshot, directly to a heart. As a rule, the skilled soldier or the hunter makes the shot. Then it is carved … by bamboo chip — quickly and masterly they take out inside and make an incision in sinews. Children help adult men to carry our procedure with great enthusiasm.

At the time women were preparing an earthen furnace — the Papuan invention. The small deepening is made in the ground and the bottom faces with grass. Heated stones are put above grass, then again grass layer and another stone layer. Then pig carcass it turned into leaves, insides separately. All this is shifted by a grass mixed up with the heated stones and a local sweet potato — big tubers of the size of children’s head until the hill is formed. Meat is cooked for a couple of hours. Meal is prepared without salt and seasonings.

Overall, the whole village is engaged in cooking — nobody is visible idly hanging about. This is also some kind of ritual. A pig is prepared exclusively on holidays and for Papuans it is quite an event. All of them are concentrated and engaged in their job. The Work is humming. Papuans are so keen by it that do not pay any attention to the Europeans whisking here and there with their cameras. The food is shared in the following way: the best pieces are given to visitors, elders and soldiers, what is worse goes to women and youth, and what is absolutely bad to children. They eat with hands, men separately from women and children. After meal men gather in a circle and discuss their business, recollect hunting, silently exchanging words among themselves and smoking cigarettes brought by the Europeans. Passions cool down. The village plunges into a viscous somnolence.

Still the civilization or the globalization slowly yet inevitably changes the life of natives. Today former soldiers are less and less often engaged in hunting. And their children are not starkers anymore. The youth comprehends elements of trade, tries to adapt to the civilization, which inevitably rushes into their life. They still wear watches as an adornment, have not forgot how to dance ritual dances, but have started to wear clothes and footwear, yet still have not learned to work up and use iron. They try to be similar to those “civilized” whites who sometimes fly on great iron birds to have a look at super exotic — the real Stone Age, but involuntarily destroying it by their visits. They, until recently strong spirit soldiers and the hunters, obtaining food for themselves in dangerous fights with a strong animal and day after day proving their right to have a place under the sun, they have seen money — color “magic” pieces of paper which can be exchanged easily for meal, clothes and items of a simple life. Though it is not yet clear for them how to make so as these color pieces of paper are enough … Now they paint their bodies and dance ritual dances only on great holidays or for tourists, but still as before they trust their gods and appeal to them for help at a pinch.

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