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Lost in transitions

BakaBAKA BINA

“Dada, ah, where did I come from?”

“Why do you want to know? What type of question is that?”

“The teacher asked me to write an answer to the question - where did I come from.”

“You tell the stupid teacher that you came from your mother’s stomach to be the sweet baby you are.”

“Dada that is not what the teacher said.

“One child in the classroom says he is Tolai, the other says she is from Roro and like that.

“I said I was from Gerehu and the class laughed at my answer.”

The father nearly dropped his lime bottle and took a quick look at his daughter.

He looked pensively towards where his wife would be. She was raised in Gerehu.

“Ewa, where are you from?”

The wife came to the door with her pot. She was trying to get evening meal ready.

“Why do you ask that stupid question to me?” she asked.

“Darling, you know I was raised at Gerehu. My father, he was born fatherless at Hohola to his Iggiri mother.

“He grew up around the Elcom compound with a Tolai electrician family and when he was old enough, he kidnapped my mother from Boroko market who came in with her Bush Rigo parents to make market,” she said.

“The two love birds fled to Tete Settlement at Gerehu where I was born and grew up with the Apos. That is where you tricked me into marrying you.

“I can tell you that my father is not Tolai nor is he Iggiri as he looks more like a Kerema.  My Bush Rigo mother does not want us to know our grandparents.  So I have mix-mix Iggiri and Bush Rigo blood but the other,” she sighed. “So I guess I am from Gerehu.

“That I have told you many times and for the children’s sake you need to tell us where you come from.  You also need to be from someplace.”

“Sah lah wah!” The father looked at the peeled betel nut in his hands.  It was losing its colour.  He swallowed the bile deep in his throat.

He looked at his daughter who sat eagerly waiting for an answer.  She was not going to be laughed at again in class.

The mother stood still in the doorway.

Agitated, he looked upwards.  Tears crept into his eyes.

“Shoot, daughter, I just don’t know.  I was found wondering in the Boroko drains by a young Buang woman who adopted and cared for me. Including putting me in school.

“When I was in grade three, she married a highlander, an Apo, who took care of us. I know only ten Buang words, most of them swear words.  I also know other swear words that are said around the drains that can make your hair go blue.

“My highlander step-father was killed by enemies from his village before I could learn of his place. My mother remarried her own ples mahn who mistreated all of us.

“I could have killed him so before I did that I moved back to the drains of Boroko.  It was by luck that I found the clean work at Boroko Motors. It allowed me to move out of the drains.”

“Then one Sunday afternoon, I saw this angelo looking at me washing cars at the sales yard.  She was interested in the cars, not me.

“I tricked her into thinking that I owned the cars in the yard and she fell for me.  The rest is history.

“That does not mean that I am Buang.  I am just from Boroko.”

The daughter looked into her father’s face with teared up eyes.

A knot formed in his heart and the mother banged her pot as she turned back to the kitchen, her own tears falling in quiet streams.

What were his children going to say, he mused.

Hi, I am Buang and my father is from Boroko and my mother is from Gerehu.  That answer, even outside the classroom, is going to cause a lot of laughs.

He called his daughter over, hugged her tight and pulled the iphone from her pocket.  He placed in on the ground and, picking up his own phone, called his Kaintiba friend.

“Bara, is the old man still there? If he is, can he come over for a couple of nights?”

“Sure, anything wrong.”

“No, I want him to tell some tumbuna stories to the children; they are watching too much Rambo and Angry Birds on the phone.”

He let his own tears fall and wiped them off his face while the daughter looked on.

“Darling, I cannot tell you even one tumbuna story that will say I come from that place.  When Bubu Kaintiba comes he will tell you stories that you can tell the class. 

“I will hold you iphone so you can listen to his stories and not watch movies until he goes back.

“Tell them in your class that you are Kaintiba.”

___________

Derived from a joke doing the rounds in the police cells that young people do not know where they come from, nor their parents’ language nor their parents’ culture. These responses are inciting custodial violence against children and impose a need for parents to be mindful of their obligations to keep in touch with their tok ples, culture and singsing traditions.

An adapted and shortened flash fiction from Baka Bina’s next anthology, ‘Veno Vena’.

Comments

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Garry Roche

‘Lost in Transitions’ is indeed a great yarn. Very funny and at the same time so true to life. Thank you Baka.
There was a time when personal names and family names could help in indicating where a person came from. That has changed. While personally I do like to find out where people are from, at the same time I think it is important that respect is shown to all individuals no matter where they come from or what their background is. Perhaps people do indeed experience prejudice based on place of origin and thus a certain reluctance to disclose background.

Paulus Ripa

Great story. Back in the late 70’s when I attended UPNG almost all of us were of single province parentage.

In medical school we would have each year list of students with their province of origin in the next column. We had the foreign students listed with their country of origin.

There was the odd one with parents from different provinces but their grandparents were in no doubt about their province of origin and they would usually put Dad's as their province of origin.

That was OK until the next generation of medical students came through there was Michael whose mother was Simbu and Dad from WHP.

He was already having an identity crisis with being a “Simbu” when with Simbus and a Western Highlander when with western highlanders and trying to be in both groups’ good books.

I was curious to see which province would be his preferred choice in the official list.

There was the list with PNG students listing their province of origin but when it came to Mike’s name next to it his province of origin was listed as “PNG”.

It has now been done away with as the complex parentage that you come across nowadays makes it impossible for the poor student to decide which province he or she comes.

arthur williams

Great little yarn Baka.
’Where are you from?’ is an innate curiosity sometimes fear of strangers.
I made a blunder when working in an International Phone-call shop obtained after 99 failed job applications. It was a quiet evening when in came a dark skinned customer. He wanted some cheap phone cards and as we talked I politely asked him where he came from. he replied,‘Birmingham!’ It then hit home to me after 30 years away that the UK was well into 2nd generations of ‘different’ looking people. It was reinforced on TV in my early months back in Wales when my dad George and I were watching a comedy show. One of the stars was a very black George Williams. There was definitely a slight intake of breath by my aged Dad.

Strangely though the nearer to your birthplace the more specific is your answer to the question. Here in Cardiff I would answer, ‘Whitchurch’. In Aberystwyth I would say, ‘Cardiff’ or even ‘South Wales’ In London I would reply, ‘Wales’. So in PNG the easiest answer was to say ‘England’ as saying ‘Wales’ would normally be followed with, “Where?” If I had said United Kingdom that would not be a clear answer for the average villager. Of course my being from England often raised another next question, ‘Have you met the Queen?’ I could say ‘No but have spoken with her Greek husband,’ but that would prolong the questioning.

In Cardiff my wife would answer, ‘PNG’ and explain that was north of Australia not in Africa or the Caribbean. While in Moresby she said, ‘Kavieng’ or perhaps ‘New Ireland’ When back in her province she was proud to proclaim, ‘Lavongai’ but on that island would say ‘I’m from South’ At the Lavongai Health centre it would be, ‘Meterankang’ but in that village would say ‘Runkiau’ - our tiny spot in the jungle.

When I first married I started a new joint address book. In the front I casually wrote our first marital home. After almost 60 years I still have it as a memento but if you looked in the cover you would see I entered any change of address. To date there are 29 different ones. The lesson must be: ‘Home is where the heart is!’

Lindsay F Bond

Possession of more valued information, scant regard for accuracy and less for the person pitted by paucity of capacity to banter back. These pepper the interactions of more than the young.
Interesting, Baka, that the adults are as little able, revisiting their own childhood senses of disappointment. Nicely told too, Baka.
In Oro Province last year, I was hearing of growing awareness to articulate history of groups of clans such as their arrival in the areas they have been occupying longer than since the 1880s.
Thesis by John Waiko has an explanation of oral transmission and retention of information. Key to worth, is that the valued information was to be known and told by all in the clan. That information thus survives demise of any one person.
But to return to the personal, my own mother was adopted at birth, with no further information available to her children. That is until I was able to access government archive about fifteen years ago. My mother's biological father is still unidentified. Perhaps intrusiveness of information technology and wider application of DNA in healthcare will provide links on personal chains of 'relativity'.
Then of Baka's mention of imprisonment, I am now acquainted with the plight of a nine year old in Scotland being imprisoned six months on the Medway (Thames River, UK) and seven years at Point Puer, Tasmania. His descendants are beneficiaries of his transportation to this region of the Globe and citizenship in Australia, which is the prize for withstanding any derision of origin during childhood.
I am hopeful of seeing more from Baka and indeed, from many PNG writers who are exploring connectedness via their written words..

daniel kumbon

I have mixed bubus from other parts of Enga, the highlands and New Guinea Islands and Central regions most growing up in Wabag. At least they know their bubu is from Kandep and learning to speak three languages - Enga and pidgin at home and English in the classroom. But they miss out on a lot of the cultural stuff - singsings, how to butcher a pig, how to compose a local song or to sing it, how to take part in the tee (trade) and how to put on traditional bilas or paint their faces etc... All because, I live in town and so are their parents.

My father had made a decision which seems very wise even though two of my brothers had a right to education. He had selected two of us, his sons to go to school and told the other two to stay at home to take charge of our family lands and property.

Baka, you have painted this situation very beautifully. look forwards to reading your next anthology Veno Nena

daniel kumbon

I have mixed bubus from other parts of Enga, the highlands and New Guinea Islands and Central regions most growing up in Wabag. At least they know their bubu is from Kandep and learning to speak three languages - Enga and pidgin at home and English in the classroom. But they miss out on a lot of the cultural stuff - singsings, how to butcher a pig, how to compose a local song or to sing it, how to take part in the tee (trade) and how to put on traditional bilas or paint their faces etc... All because, I live in town and so are their parents.

My father had made a decision which seems very wise even though two of my brothers had a right to education. He had selected two of us, his sons to go to school and told the other two to stay at home to take charge of our family lands and property.

Baka, you have painted this situation very beautifully. look forwards to reading your next anthology Veno Nena

Paul Oates

Very good 'tok piksa'. If we forget our heritage, we forget who we are. As Phil says, Australia is a multi cultural country yet people still should remember their cultural origins that blended together to make us what we are.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Really enjoyed that one Baka.

It's a conundrum common to lots of Australians because we are a migrant country, just like Mosbi is a migrant country.

The little girl comes, of course, from Papua New Guinea but I guess that wouldn't go down well in the classroom.

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