An entry in the Crocodile Prize
PNG Government Award for Short Stories
MOST marriages among young people in Papua New Guinea today are circumstantial rather than by plan or out of love or. I saw this happen to my girlfriend Alice when she was only 14.
Alice, from Nipa District in the Southern Highlands Province, was five when she went with her elder sister Martha who got married to a Simbu man. She’s been living in Simbu ever since.
Around the same time, 10-year old Brian, also a Nipa but from a different clan, followed his sister Belinda who got married to a health worker in Kundiawa.
It was Martha who arranged for Belinda to marry the health worker.
Martha was a second wife and so was Belinda. Their husbands each had a first wife with grown-up children and polygamy-related problems. Quarrels over money and shortages of food and other necessities were frequent in their family.
Most times Alice and Brian would go hungry, which affected Alice’s education. It was on and off depending on food. When there was food, she would go to school. If there was no food, she would stay back helping other people who would give her food by way of payment.
Brian on the other hand, being a male, would steal from other people. Whenever he was caught, they would belt the shit out of him.
This went on until Belinda broke up with her husband and they went their separate ways.
Seeing that, Brian sought shelter from Martha and he became part of her family.
By this time Brian was 16 and had become a professional hawker and shoe mender which helped accommodate his appetite for home brew and marijuana. But he was able to provide for himself and the household too.
Alice was 11 and continued to attend school. Brian supported her with lunch money whenever Martha and her husband could not afford it. He would buy secondhand clothes for her when he saw nice ones.
When I learnt they were from Southern Highlands, I got friendly with them because my mother is from that province. I treat everyone from SHP as my uncles, aunties and cousins.
Alice became my best friend. We would go around playing and helping Martha with the household chores.
Despite his habits, when I came to know the family I found that Brian was a kind young man. Almost every day he would bring food for the house. If he made enough money he would give some to Martha, her husband, Alice and even me. This went on for almost three years.
One morning after getting dressed, Alice asked Martha for lunch money.
“Stop wasting your time going to school. Go and marry the man who impregnated you. I don’t want you in my house. Go!” Martha stormed at Alice.
There was nothing Alice could do. She told me later that all kinds of thoughts bombarded her including committing suicide and were it not for Brian, Alice might have done it.
The news about Alice being pregnant spread quickly and reached the ears of Brian while he was mending shoes in town. He packed his tools, bought some food and went home. Alice was at home alone, crying her heart out.
Brian comforted her and promised to father the child.
“As soon as the baby is born, we will erect a small shelter for ourselves. In the meantime, we will have to stay with Martha.
“It’s natural for them to be angry but after some time they will not mind. So you don’t need to worry. I will work extra hard so we can have enough money to meet our daily needs,” Brian comforted and assured Alice.
Alice took heed of Brian’s advice and didn’t bother about all the fire thrown at her by Martha and her husband. After a week or so, there was no more fire.
Brian felt embarrassed and moved to the kitchen shed, improvising himself a bed.
In the night when everybody was fast asleep, Alice would quietly go to see Brian.
Days moved into months and, before they knew it, Alice went into labour and was rushed to hospital where she gave birth to a baby girl.
True to his promise, Brian erected a small house. Although tiny, it had enough space for the three of them and their cargo and they moved in after hosting a small feast to celebrate their new baby and to thank Martha and her husband for supporting them those past years.
Martha and her husband felt very sorry for the new family and, after shedding tears, blessed them and declared them husband and wife.
Brian gave some money to Alice and she sold betel nut and cigarettes while Brian carried on with hawking and shoe mending. They had enough money for their daily needs.
Truly Alice and Brian didn’t have any plan to get married but circumstances caused them to end up as husband and wife.
And their story is very common in modern PNG society.