Manki mastas of Madang: Chips MacKellar

Malcolm (Chips) MacKellar
1953-1955 CPO Daru and Lake Murray (Western District)
1955-1956 P.O. Mount Hagen (Western Highlands District)
1957 ASOPA Long Course
1958-1964 PO at Madang and Bogia: ADC at Saidor (Madang District)
1964-1968 ADC Esa’ala, Samarai and Trobriand Islands (Milne Bay District)
1969-1970 Queensland University – B.A. (Anthropology)
1971-1972 ADC Kaiapit and Menyamya (Morobe District)
1972-1974 Enga District, District Court Magistrate, Wabag
1974-1980 District Court Magistrate, Ela Beach Court House, Port Moresby

Chips describes his halcyon days in the bachelor quarters in Madang and how the busy social whirl left little time for contact with house servants. These are stories of the consequent communication breakdown.  They were originally in two parts, the first part published in the Una Voce of June 1996, with the second in the September 1996 issue.

In my halcyon single days in the early 1960s I lived together with two other single Kiaps in bachelor quarters in Madang. Since we all had to go off separately on patrol from time to time, each of us had his own domestic servant, known then by their Pidgin calling as manki mastas. When in Madang they shared the somewhat less luxurious servants quarters at the rear of our house.

When not patrolling through the jungled hinterland, we led a carefree social life in Madang, passing our off duty hours alternately in the Madang Club, the Madang Hotel, or the Madang Golf Club, sometimes at all three premises during the course of the same day. Due to our preoccupation with this hectic social swirl, the management of our quarters was left to the tender mercies of our manki mastas. We gave them money to buy food and other household necessities for us, and so long as we always had clean ironed clothes to wear, and something to eat whenever we returned home, there was little social contact between them and us. Although the manki mastas were good bush cooks, their culinary skills lacked imagination when in Madang, and of course they received little inspiration from us.

When on town duty we would come home briefly to the house every day for lunch, and although we never expected cordon bleu presentations from our uninspired cooks, we did start to get sick of sausages every lunch time. We admonished the cooks to vary the menu, but all we ever got was devon sausage instead, and we soon got sick of that too. One day, we suggested steak, but the cooks ruined it, and they seemed to have no idea of cooking or buying anything else for lunch, other than sausages.

One day, we held a council of despair in the District Office. The heated menu discussion attracted the attention of District Officer Doug Parrish, whose office adjoined ours. Just for a change, Doug suggested, why not serve the sausages cold, with salad? This brilliant idea was immediately accepted by us, but implementing it, was quite another matter.

Next morning, before we went off to the office, I gave the cooks their instructions. “Serve the sausages cold,” I said. They looked at me in disbelief. “Do you mean raw?” they asked. “Not raw,” I said, “Cooked, but cold.” “Kiaps always eat their sausages hot” I was told. Obviously I was not getting through to them. “OK,” I said, “Listen carefully. Cook the sausages, put them in the fridge, and when we come home for lunch, take them out of the fridge and serve them.”

This instruction for serving cold sausages, was as clear as a bell, or so I thought. All morning we looked forward to a luncheon of cold sausages. But as we walked in the door for lunch, we were greeted by the smell and sound of hot sausages sizzling on the stove. There then followed a flurry of activity in the kitchen as the cooks strove to comply with today’s instructions. Quick as a flash, they whipped the sausages off the stove, put them in the fridge momentarily, then served them from the fridge, piping hot….

Down the road from us was the single girls’ quarters, and of course we spent a lot of our time there. As eligible girls were in short supply in Madang in those days, these girls lived a social life which was even far more hectic than our own. As a result, their social contact with their house servants was even less frequent than ours, and the misunderstandings were, as a result, correspondingly far more frequent.

One night there was a big presentation at the Madang Golf Club, Doug Parrish presiding. In addition to the trophies presented by the golf club, there were prizes donated by a local planter. These prizes consisted of live ducks, the pride and joy of the planter’s poultry run. One of the girls won a duck. It went “Quack quack” when she brought it back to our table, and then promptly deposited a liquid message on her dress. “Take it back to the house and change your dress” one of the other girls suggested. I took both girl and duck to the girls’ quarters.

“House Cook!” the girl shrieked, when she entered the building. She then left me holding the duck while she went inside and changed. When she emerged wearing a clean dress, a bleary eyed domestic entered from the kitchen. “Take this duck,” the girl said to him quickly, “pluck it, clean it, and put it in the refrigerator.” And we returned to the Golf Club.

Some hours later, when the Golf Club party was winding down, I took the girl back to her home again, and went inside with her for a night cap. As she opened the fridge to fetch me a beer, she let out a shriek of anguish. There in the fridge staring at her in misery was the very clean, very naked, very cold plucked duck, very much alive. She had forgotten to tell the cook to kill it….

One of the other girls living there (the single girls’ quarters) bought a brand new Volkswagen from Modilon Motors. That first day she bought it, she was so excited she drove it all around Madang several times, before taking it home. In those days there were no sealed roads in Madang, and by the time she brought the car home, it was already covered in a thick powder of koranus dust, inside and out.

“Clean the car!” she commanded the domestic, and opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate. The puzzled domestic who had never before cleaned a car, shuffled outside to obey her bidding, and then proceeded to scratch the new paint surface of the car by wiping the thick dust off with a dry rag. “Not like that!”, the girl cried in horror, “Use the hose!” And she opened another bottle. The domestic sprayed the car with a few desultory squirts of the hose, thereby converting the film of dust into streaks of mud.

“Oh my God!” the girl shrieked again when she saw the mud streaks. “Clean it properly! Hose it all over! Understand? All over until there is no dust left!” She came back inside and we opened another bottle. After some time when we had not seen the domestic again, I suggested she better check on the car. Moments later we all rushed outside in answer to her hysterical sobs.

There before us in the front yard was the brand new car, spotless on the outside where the cook boy had hosed it clean. But inside it he was just finishing off hosing down the dash board. He had already hosed the upholstery, the ceiling and the carpets, and water was pouring out the doors and onto the lawn….

One day there was a crisis at Bogia. With the other Bogia kiaps on leave, or temporarily assigned elsewhere, there was only one kiap on the station. In the normal course of events one was enough to hold the fort, but on this occasion, there had been a murder at Josephstaal. A council of war was called in the Madang District Office, to sort out the problem. “The Bogia kiap can investigate the murder,” Doug Parrish suggested, “and we’ll send Chips to Bogia to hold the fort until the Bogia kiap returns.”

Next day I flew to Bogia, together with my cook boy, and moved into the kiap’s house. In the few moments before he departed on patrol to Josephstaal, the kiap gave me quick instructions on what to do in his absence. He mentioned that he had filled the kerosene refrigerator and thought it contained sufficient fuel until his return. But if I remembered, he said, top up the fuel tank after a few days.

A few days later I received a message from the kiap that he was returning, to Bogia, mission accomplished. I told my cook boy to put more beer in the fridge, and then I remembered the kerosene fuel. “Put some kerosene in the fridge, too,” I said. “Kerosene?” the cook asked, looking astonished. “It’s a kerosene fridge,” I said, “put some in.”

Of course our fridge in Madang was electric, and the cook had never seen a kerosene fridge before. It did not occur to me to enlighten him, as I thought all cooks knew about these things.

When the Bogia kiap returned to his house, hot, sweating and thirsty, I passed him a cold beer from his fridge. “No. I’ll have some water first,” he said, and took from the fridge a tall, frosty, bottle from which he gulped greedily.

Suddenly be let out a shriek of agony and rushed for the toilet where he vomited vigorously. Alarmed, I reached for the cold bottle, and tasted it tentatively. It contained icy cold kerosene. The cook had done as I had commanded. He had put kerosene in the fridge….

In all these instances I am reminded of Caroline Jones’ definition of a communication breakdown: It is the difference between what is meant and what is said; and what is heard and what is understood. There was no point in blaming the cooks, since the onus of getting the message across was, of course, our own. We had no one to blame but ourselves.


1 Response

  1. Tony says:

    Another couple of stories on Manki Mastas culinary skills: After a long night at the Madang Club we reposed home for a game of cards and asked the cook to prepare some crumbed sausages which was met with a quizzical look. We explained to prepare the sausages the same as crumbed fish which he had cooked before. Out came the crumbed sausages which resembled dry biscuits. Had crumbed the sausage skin having cleaned the sausage alar fish removing the guts of the sausage and crumbed the rest!!!.

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