Austin Hagwood ’15 | January 26, 2021
One night on a floodplain in Papua New Guinea, with twilight rains thudding against a thatched roof and turning a nearby river the color of earth, I join Benson Wairom and a group of elders from Kwima village as they encircle a fire to sharpen their spears. Meat from the boar they have hunted simmers in an iron pot. Outside, raindrops drumming the forest canopy mingle with the rattling clicks of beetles and the wild clamor of cicadas. Bats rustle in palm fronds overhead. Tongues of flame flicker in the treehouse and reveal the boar’s head smoldering in embers.
Listening to the river rise into a torrent, a man named Kapso begins telling stories of how the water carried his ancestors back from hunts and raids. Armed with bows and embarking on a quest for social prestige, they returned in triumph to sing and dance until sunrise. Kapso passes me a plate of wild banana, chalky and white, to eat with the roasted boar. Then he winds grass stems through a hole in his nose.
“This hole was once the custom for all men in our village,” he says. “The grass isn’t as good as a bone. But it works.”
“Tomorrow we will go into the forest,” Wairom adds.
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