30. Reality and imagination

Paul Quinlivan’s Snapshots

It is because of the tendency for false allegations to supplant truth, that I am writing these Snapshots and, in a curious way, an incident on tonight’s SBS typifies what I mean. In the ‘book segment’ of Jim Lehrer’s News Hour they promoted a novel about a Catholic priest who is alleged to have ministered to the American Indians for over 40 years and who, only when she was dead, was discovered to be a woman. The author freely admits that there was no such priest and that it is all the product of her imagination, but I am sure that the book will make her very wealthy. I am not so sure that today’s American Indians will enjoy having their forebears portrayed as unobservant clods! In case anyone decides to make their fortune by writing a similar book about PNG, I will mention two experiences which I personally had. 
The first was in Chimbu in 1952. I was walking to Mingende when I had a call of nature. Taking all precautions to make sure that there was nobody about, I ducked behind a tree but, in the twinkling of an eye, I suddenly discovered that there were five women only a few feet away, looking at me, giggling. When I reached Mingende the bush telegraph had already reported the event so the priests there told me not to worry because it happened to everyone because OLI wanted to know whether white people were, anatomically, like others they knew. When they arrived, the priests said, the usual form of ‘first contact’, in quite different parts of the Territory, was a swift grabbing of the crotch to make sure that a ‘man’ was a man!

There was one exception to the crotch test and that, curiously enough, is the second incident I want to talk about. I was on circuit with Chief Justice Mann in the Papuan Islands and we called in at Iwa and Gawa, two very remote islands where no white woman had been before. Lady Mann was with us, dressed in boots, jeans and jacket. As we walked up a hill a group of women appeared and, surrounding Lady Mann, moved her to one side where, ever so gently, they started prodding her upper body in a most embarrassing way. Lady Mann took it in good part when the interpreter said that the women were explaining that their menfolk were sure that she was a woman but, since the Europeans said she was a Mann and since she was dressed like a man, they had been deputed to do what they were doing!


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