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The mirrorless society

Joe herman top
Joe Herman - a childhood of secure simplicity and positive affirmation of what we were


SEATTLE, USA - The modern mirror had not yet arrived in Enga.

Indeed, it never occurred to us that such things even existed.

We relied on each other to remove unwanted specks and smudges from our face.

There was little personal imagery we felt ill needed addressing.

We would help each other with face decoration of mud or ashes or other decorative material when it was required.

The first time I ever saw my face was in the side-view mirror of a Catholic priest’s motor vehicle.

I found it incredible and intriguing.

We would gather around the priest’s vehicle to get a glimpse of our faces when we came to church each Sunday.

We relied on our relatives to help remove dirt and other rough spots on our faces or bodies.

They would always compliment my desirable features - my nose, eyes, hair and body frame.

Regardless of perceived flaws, like all boys I was referred to as a laima, cassowary, which held the highest rank in the Enga hierarchy of birds.

The images of ourselves and the feeling of our inner strength were rooted in the community’s positive affirmation of its members.

It was planted firmly in spiritual understanding and in the authenticity we felt in our hearts.

Contrast this with today’s complex world, where self-image management has become an exhausting chore with a multitude of different persona, diverse workplaces, swarms of advertising, the cacophony of media, even church groups are part of it, and I’ll throw in selfies too.

We have created our own modern jungle to navigate.

I reflect on my childhood of secure simplicity and positive affirmation of what we were.

And now, it seems, the more we seek that inner self, the more elusive it has become.

Many mirrors; maybe not the insight.


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Garrett Roche

There was a Hagen story about a man, named Kund Kupa, who acquired a nice new mirror shortly after the arrival of the outsiders.

He craftily built a small box out of bamboo with a banana leaf flap at the front of the box. He then put the mirror at the back of the box in such a way that if one looked into the box one could clearly see one’s own reflection.

He was friendly with a young woman and he met the young woman’s father and got him to look into the bamboo box.

The man was surprised to see his own reflection clearly in the box.

Then Kund Kupa closed the box with the banana leaf and told the man he had captured the man’s spirit. He would only let the spirit out if the man agreed to send his daughter in marriage to Kund Kupa.

There may be different versions of this story, naming different people, but it illustrates the fact that the mirror was indeed something very new at that time.

Prior to that people could only see a faint image of themselves reflected in a pool of water, as Joe writes.

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