Papua Niugini
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The rise and fall of Angra – and the realisation of his grief

Finger cutting ritual
In Melanesia, fingers may be ritualistically cut off to indicate grief

JIMMY AWAGL

MAI - Through the gorges of Kui Valley - the periphery of the land they call the ‘rain factory’ - strides a striking Angra.

Just ten years old, he lives with his parents, harmoniously attending to daily chores as they earn their livelihood in this remote location.

Angra plays marbles with his peers and hunts for birds in the nearby bush. It’s part of his daily routine, but it does not include attending the local primary school.

One time, for some reason, his dad attended a Grade 8 graduation at the school and heard several speeches from the guests, picking up a particular phrase from the guest of honour’s presentation.

“Value education as your life time asset, since a child attending school is a gold mine.”

The message touched his heart and, at home that evening, he sat beside the fire meditating upon it.

When Angra returned from hunting, his father called him to his side.

“Son, you are my asset. I will earn my future not from traditional practices but from education.”

“It sounds quite fascinating and worthy,” Angra replied cautiously.

“So, I will encourage you to get to school at age eleven,” his dad said, his eyes staring hard at Angra.

Handsome Angra assured his dad he would commence schooling as of the following year.

“I have to be responsible and I have a heart to be educated,” he told his dad.

The next February, Angra enrolled in Grade 3. He put his best effort into his studies and scored good marks in every subject. He turned out to be a top student and an obedient boy; a genuinely remarkable student.

True to his commitment to his father, he valued education as a way to transform his life. He studied hard and read a lot of books. Social time with his peers suffered. Weekends were bonus study time.

He finds time within no time to socialise with peers. And even over the weekends he does not waste time but finds time for continues study and reading unlike other students.

As a result Angra was dux of Grade 8 and secured a place in Grade 9 at Mai High School.

He continued along the same trend until, just before the final exams in Year 10, a couple of close friends introduced him to smoking and homebrew. Usually he rebutted peer pressure but this time he found the thought attractive.

Angra did not have the courage to refuse. For the first time he began smoking and drinking. He found the sweetness of the habits linger and they brought him closer to his peers – and they diverted him from his study.

As handsome as ever, Angra developed a close friendship with a girl in the same class. Their relationship grew deeper as Angra continued his smoking and drinking.

The assessments from tests and assignments began to weaken. By the end of term, it seemed his exam results would fall away dramatically. Angra was unworried. At the final day of the exams arrived, he and his lover agreed to marry if they were unsuccessful in Year 10.

After the exams, during the Christmas vacation, Angra’s cousin from the village returned for a field break from his job as a mining engineer at Porgera. He earned real money, and decided to put up his bride price.

To cut a long story down to size, Angra’s lover ended up marrying his cousin. She enjoys the wealthy life of an engineer’s wife despite only passing Grade 10.

Angra missed out on selection for Grade 11. He’d lost in love and he’d lost in school.

Having no hope to sustain his education, and with bitter regret, as custom dictated he chopped off one of his fingers to mark his great grief.

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