Animals the ancestors hunted: an account of the wild mammals of the Kalam area, Papua New Guinea.
Readers familiar with Ian Saem Majnep's and Ralph Bulmer's Birds of my Kalam country will be delighted at the appearance of Animals the ancestors hunted. Some of them may have on their bookshelves, like me, dog-earred copies of a series of Auckland University Working Papers in Anthropology, Archaeology. Linguisitics and Maori Studies called 'Kalam Hunting Traditions', which marks the genesis of this book, and will be pleased to see the 'full monty'. Two decades have passed since the appearance of the Birds book, Ralph Bulmer's sad death in 1988 delaying the Animals volume, and we owe a large vote of thanks to Majnep's and Bulmer's staunch colleagues Robin Hide and Andrew Pawley for taking on the task of bringing it to publication. If Ralph was still with us, I am sure that he would be overcome at his colleagues' dedication and the care that they have taken to produce a book that is a worthy companion to the Birds volume.
The book is based on a series of accounts, which comprise the core of the Working Papers, dictated and transcribed by Majnep in the Kalam language and Pidgin lingua franca on the ecology and behaviour, hunting and local lore relating to different animals found in the Kalam region. Bulmer subsequently translated these with painstaking care into English, and added notes to explain points to the reader where Majnep assumed too much local knowledge. The editors have contributed further to these notes as appropriate and added references to some of the more recent work on ethnozoology and hunting in New Guinea.
The book follows a similar format to the Birds volume, albeit not produced as a hardback folio publication. It is divided into thirteen parts with chapters dealing with various mammals, many of them marsupials such as wallabies, cuscus, ringtails and possums, and various rodents including giant rats and water rats. The ordering of the chapters and their contents are of interest with respect to Kalam thoughts about animal classification, which, as we might expect, differ considerably from those of zoological science--for example sometimes combining marsupials with placentals. Again, as with the Birds book, there are some delightful illustrations--eighteen in number--of some of the animals, drawn by Chris Healey another close colleague of the authors. My favourite is the striped possum (p.138). There are also fifteen photographs, largely illustrating various vegetation communities of the Kalam region, but also including portraits of the authors.
Similar to the Birds volume, this book seeks to give the indigenous author the lead, in contrast to most ethnographic writing where the anthropologist aims to represent the local view. The Birds volume was path-breaking in this respect, albeit the anthropological partner had an unavoidable and, as the postmodern critique affirms, sizeable influence, as translator and commentator, on the final production, which is after all a presentation of Kalam lore for an English reading audience.
The book contains a wealth of fascinating information on the various aninmals discussed, as well as insights into Kalam culture, l chuckled to read that the Kalam call aggressive idiots who start fights 'wallabies', an allusion to that animal's small upper body (including head) and large legs, symbolising someone who reacts physically with little thought (p. 35). There is much ethnography related to animals including accounts of the several food taboos that surround the consumption of meat, such as those on uninitiated youths eating meat until they have eaten the kidneys of a giant rat (p. 68), and those imposed on persons who have consumed the grub-winkling striped possum, who cannot enter gardens for fear of ruining the crop, the leaves of taro developing a blotchy disease paralleling the animal's dappled coat (p. 141).
Animals is rich in ecological and zoological information, such as details of the concealment of giant rat nests (p. 70), the feeding behaviour of bandicoots (p. 186), and the arboreal antics of the jumping tree-mouse (p. 229). It also includes several stories from the ancestors about how animals have come to be as they are today, such as how the ringtail once lived under water but came to live on land (p.61) or why the striped possum is the only animal with long grub-winkling claws (p. 142) or how dogs came to be hatched from the eggs of a magical owlet-nightjar when a man killed the bird (p 278).
The book also contains much hunting lore for example what spoor hunters look out for as indicating the presence of certain animals, such as stripped fragments of bamboo-shoots when hunting giant rats (p. 69). It describes the setting of various traps such as pits for wallaby (p. 29) and springes for cuscus, sometimes adjacent to trees that produce a soft wood-pulp on which these animals feed (p. 116). And recounts other methods such as climbing trees to take cuscus in their dreys (p. 117). It outlines how the Kalam make dogs into good hunting partners by feeding them charcoal believed to originate from a time when the ancestors used marsupials as fuel for fires, followed by pouring water treated with clinging plant products such as burrs into the animals' snouts to clear them to scent effectively (p. 274). And also how they train wild dogs by feeding them bespelled sweet potato and slapping them around the ears so that they will listen to their new human masters (p. 294).
The volume is excellently referenced, and includes some useful appendices that list the various animals and plants discussed in the book, which are particularly valuable for guiding the reader through the various unfamiliar Kalam terms. And the index is exemplary. In short, the wait for Animals has certainly been worth it: a wonderful book.
University of Durham
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2007|
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