Death of another PNG independence great
Another PNG book publisher emerges

The pickled onion jar


FICTION - Koko’s grandmother held the strange object up to the light.

“It’s as though water has been turned into stone and this thing has been made from it,” she said, placing it back into Koko’s outstretched hands.

“You say the white man gave it to you?”

Koko nodded.

“Didn’t your father tell you not to go near those people?”

The little girl shrugged.

“I went to their camp with the other kids but they’ve gone now. They left the valley early this morning.”

“Why did he give it to you, a mere girl, it might be something dangerous. Have you thought about that?”

Koko smiled.

“There was something inside it which he was taking out and eating.

“When he finished he held it out to us. I was the nearest one to him and took it.”

Koko judged that her grandmother was sufficiently complicit in her story about taking the object and would not tell her father. The other children had sworn not to tell anyone either.

She placed the object gently on the ground by her grandmother’s fire and reached into her bilum.

“I have this too,” she said holding up a red disk-like object.

Her grandmother took it and examined it before giving it back to her with a puzzled look.

“It’s a cover,” Koko grinned and showed her how it could be turned and fitted tightly over the opening in the object.

The old woman was fascinated and tried it herself. It took her a couple of attempts to work out how to secure it so it wouldn’t come loose.

Pleased with her grandmother’s reaction Koko said, “I’ve got something else.”

She reached into her bilum again and took out a piece of banana leaf that she had folded over to make a sleeve similar to the ones people used to store their precious Bird of Paradise plumes.

Her grandmother leaned closer as she opened it.

“The inside of the object smelled funny so I took it to the river to wash it. This was on the side but it came loose when it got wet.”

She picked up the delicate, wispy thing and placed it carefully in the palm of her hand for her grandmother to see.

The old woman stared at it trying to work out what it was. Then her eyes slowly adjusted and she realised what she was looking at.

“It’s a picture of some sort, what is that white thing in the middle?”

“That’s what the white man was eating.”

“What is it? It looks like a seed out of a breadfruit.”

“I don’t know,” Koko admitted. “I just know it smelled strange.”

She replaced the picture in its sleeve and put it and the red disk back into her bilum.

“Would you like a drink of water, Grandma?” she asked.

The old woman gave her a curious look and cautiously nodded. Koko went to the bamboo water container leaning against the low wall of her grandmother’s house and brought it back.

She took out the fibrous plug and carefully poured water into the object.

After replacing the plug she leaned the container back against the wall and picked up the object. She held it out for her grandmother to take.

The old woman looked at it hesitantly and Koko smiled and brought the object to her lips and took a sip before offering it to her grandmother again.

“I can see right through it,” the old woman said taking a careful sip and swilling it around with her tongue before swallowing it. She gave Koko a quick smile and drank the rest of the water.

“Would you like to keep it?” Koko asked.

The old lady nodded shyly.

“If the white man comes back I might be able to get some other things,” Koko said. “He has many good things.

“I saw one of his men cooking something in a big shiny thing filled with water that he put directly into the flames of the fire without it catching alight.”

The old woman’s eyes opened wide and she shook her head slowly in disbelief. Then she looked at her granddaughter.

“I think I would like another drink of water,” she said.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Koko's bubu could have refused to accept the glass jar.

What would PNG be like now if she had done that?

Michael Dom


A time when the seemingly simplest of things were recognised for what they are; amazing products of human ingenuity, invention and art.

"Water turned to stone", that's saying something.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)