A proud Papua New Guinean
Mightier than the sword

State the obvious - you never know where it may lead


HAVE you ever been asked a question and you automatically give your answer without thinking, only to realise five seconds later that it was an obvious question or statement?

We seem to state the obvious every minute of our lives but are not aware we’re doing it.

It is one of those social quirks that just exist. It is an unspoken habit that the obvious is one way people begin conversations whether with each other or with strangers.

Asking an obvious question or making an obvious statement, is the first baby step before a conversation flows.

I can confidently say that the obvious is a special form of ice breaker in PNG. Asking the obvious has resulted in many lasting relationships.

Sometimes, when things are obvious to us, it becomes a routine. You may see certain behaviour as normal but to another person it could be a shocker. For example, it is normal for men in some parts of the highlands to walk around holding hands in public which is a brotherly show of affection, but to a foreigner this gesture can be interpreted as a gay couple showing their affection for each other.

The obvious thing may be self-evident and not everyone will notice it. Only when people point it out do they realise it has been staring them in the face and they have never noticed it or were too ignorant not to have paid more attention.

We state the obvious every day and do not even realise it.

I gave a wolf whistle as my neighbour Agnes walked past with a bottle of lime in one hand, a mouth full of red betel nut and a half chewed mustard protruding from behind her left ear.

“Hi Agnes, are you chewing betel nut?”

She nodded in reply as she walked towards Steven’s betel nut stall which I was minding.

“What are you doing? Selling betel nut?” she asked.

I said yes as I moved over to offer her a seat beside me. After ten minutes of exchanges about the weather and the rising price of betel nut in Goroka, she turned to me and noticed my hair.

“Oh, is this hair extension? I like the red colour” .We both agreed that it matched my complexion. As we talked about hair products and it’s unavailability in shops in town, a friend of ours from the next street walked over, carrying clear plastic bags of groceries.

“Hi Steffy, did you just come back from shopping?” We both asked in unison.

She gave a tired yes, as she lit up a cigarette using the match from our betel nut stall. She took a long drag before she started giving an explanation of why she went shopping and about what she bought as if we really wanted to know. After all, we could practically see all her shopping through the plastic bags of course. At long last her husband drove up the road in his popular red sports car and parked alongside the betel nut stall.

“Hey Steffy, is that your husband?” Agnes asked.

I pinched Agnes under the table because her husband was the only person in Goroka Town who owned a red sports car. Obviously it was him.

“Are you going now?” I asked her as she nodded and quickly said goodbye to us and got in the car. They drove off leaving behind a cloud of dust.

Obvious questions sprout from all sorts of things. The topics are about anything and everything. They range from the kind of food one is eating, the accessories they are carrying, the type of activity that one is involved in, fashion, car model, music genre and the list goes on.

Some people avoid asking the obvious as they feel it would make them look dumb or shallow. However, some obvious questions and or statements are asked generally to confirm ones suspicions or assumptions.

For example, you walk up to a lady selling bilums and you already have a fair idea on the price range but you ask anyway just to confirm or find a chance to haggle at the price to get it to a lower price as you can.

When spoken in Tok Pisin, an obvious statement or question made carries a more significant meaning. Most of the time, people consider what we Papua New Guineans usually term as the ‘second meaning’ of things rather than take it as it is.

For amusement’s sake, when people play a joke on their friends they usually ask a certain obvious question, emphasising on it as to force or prompt their friend get the “second meaning”. By second meaning, I’m referring to the not-so-literal meaning of a certain sentence.

Yu karim samting blo yu kam ah?” (Are you carrying your thing here?) In Tok Pisin, samting can refer to a thing. So the person asking could be laughing while posing that question or he/she could be giving a cheeky smile to accompany the question.

If the person being asked is carrying a bag, for example, the bag is not what the question is referring to. In fact, the question is aimed at the person himself/herself. If you get the meaning then you can laugh along with it but some people do not and then it becomes a problem.

Of course everybody is different to some extent so most people know the different personalities of their friends in their circle of friends and they know which ones they can share certain jokes with and those that they cannot. It has nothing to do with what someone says but it’s how they say it that makes a big difference.

Asking obvious questions sometimes receives a very aggressive response especially when one is in a bad mood. Yu no save les lo askim o? Save pinis na askim yet (Don’t you get tired of asking? You already know but yet you keep asking!).

Some people who do take notice or pick up these little exchanges tend to find it annoying and irritating. Especially when they are asked certain obvious questions that make another person go “Wait a minute, that’s none of your business?” after they answer the question that is. Most people do not answer it at all or they quickly change the subject as the question makes them feel uncomfortable or awkward.

So the next time you’re out shopping at the local supermarket and you happen to ask a friend this question, “Hey, what are you doing here?”, and you receive this reply, “Oh you know, hunting for elephants!”, then you’ll know that you just asked an obvious question and they noticed.

It is not a crime and it is not against the law to state the obvious. Whether you receive a good response or a bop on the head instead for asking the obvious, take a risk, make new friends and ask as many obvious questions as you can and you just might learn some new information and become knowledgeable about things you never gave a second thought about. It’s worth it to simply state the obvious; you never know where it can lead.


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