Clubs and welcomes: Adrian Geyle

(Published in Una Voce, September 1998, page 18)

Adrian Geyle was CPO for two years at Lake Murray, Kiunga, Gaima and Daru, Western District; PO OIC Green River, Sepik District; PO H/Q, Madang District. (1951-1955). Field and liaison work on two 7-month field expeditions to the Upper Sepik. Oil search operations. Gravity meter work. Supervising labour (1956 – 1957). Field work with Australian Petroleum Company, Gulf District. Oil search operations (1958). Recruitment Officer in Dept of Public Service Commissioner, Konedobu; Regional Taxation Officer, Lae. Assisting New Guineans grapple with the introduction of personal and business taxation into their lives, with the approach of independence (1966-1970).

Skull-splintering clubs were furthermost from my mind as I climbed off the grooved, slanting, tree ‘ladder’ through an entrance in the wall, just big enough to admit one at a time. It was out of curiosity that I asked to be shown the house’s interior, and my hosts were eager to please. In retrospect, a single blow from a club in the darkness could easily have been mine as I bent forward, groping to find my feet.

My hosts were several men of the Iuri tribe who lived in hamlets scattered throughout the Border Mountains, an area under the jurisdiction of the Green River Patrol Post back in 1953. Contact between the Iuris and the native police at Green River had been of dubious worth, until this opportunity to visit the wild tribesmen ‘at home’. My presence made a difference, broadening the parameters somewhat from virtually ‘paramilitary’ ones to tenuous peaceful overtures, for peace’s sake. Whilst the sub-district had been without a patrol officer, the attempted murder of a young woman (thought to be a dangerous witch) had soured relationships between Iuris and police and resulted in a punitive patrol. The police burned houses and gardens and became somewhat ‘on the nose’ in Iuri country! The offenders, allegedly, were six young men who were at large in the hills around.

One policeman came with me into the dark interior of the house while three others remained outside, alert and more concerned for my personal safety than I was. There were some narrow shafts of light penetrating the gloom, and gradually our eyes became adjusted. String bags, bows and arrows, firewood and a fire hearth of clay set against the limbom* walls allowed us space enough to move about in the large single room. In one corner was a structure of sticks with a couple of string bags hanging from a vertical length of bamboo. The bamboo, about 2-3cm in diameter, stood on a circular water-worn stone the size of a club, secured in place on a ‘hearth’ of clay. The device was a drill, designed to make a hole through the stone for the fitting of a handle. The bamboo shaft was heavily weighted by rocks in the string bags. The hollow structure of bamboo had no point as such, but the hard bamboo provided a cutting edge by grinding into the stone, with the dust produced by the grinding action itself. The rotary action was supplied by gently rotating the bags of stones hooked to the upright bamboo shaft-drill. The dust from this action built up as the hole deepened and its partial removal left enough of it to wear away the sides of the bamboo, diminishing its diameter. The result was a bevelling of the hole through the stone to provide the perfect fitting for a handle – as secure as handles we use in picks and mattocks, circa 1998! Among the Iuris, clubs used in hand-to-hand combat were never an item of armoury on display as were bows and arrows. They were probably produced as coups de grâce late in a fight so as to be only momentarily visible to hapless victims.

For me it was an unexpected bonus to see one under production, on the factory floor; lucky too that I didn’t become another hapless victim and receive one in the back of the neck.

* Limbom – wood from a hardwood palm


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