CHARLOTTESVILLE - I got to know Bernard Narokobi while doing research for my dissertation in linguistics in his home village of Wautogik in the late 1990s.
While the old people there taught me about the language, Bernard taught me that I was participating in a knowledge exchange.
Just as his son Vergil had gone to study at Cambridge University, I had come to study at the University of Melanesia.
Once we recognise that different cultures everywhere have their own special ways of organising family life, governing their communities, communicating and so on, there’s the possibility for people from each place to learn from one another.
But before we can engage in that kind of equal exchange, we first have to accept that there is a Melanesian Way worthy of attention and exploration, just as there are Australian or English ways for Papua New Guineans to learn from.
As an American, I could not be more appreciative of my exposure to the Melanesian Way.
It has made me more open to helping when I can, and asking without shame when I’m the one who needs something.
It has taught me what it means to know and love your lands, how important it is to mourn properly for your dead, and how morally dangerous an extended imbalance of wealth can be.
It has revealed to me the enormous effort hidden behind any planned gathering.
It has taught me about levels of hospitality that were unimaginable to me before.
I am ever grateful to Bernard Narokobi and the people of his village for their gift of exposure to the Melanesian Way.
It is something I will never stop trying to repay.
Lise Dobrin is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, USA