Fences and Stiles

There were many kinds of boundaries in the Maring world - both visible and invisible. The major visible boundaries were the fences. They  divided the public spaces, i.e. those that were open to passing people and pigs, from the restricted spaces of gardens and residential yards.

029-13, 029-14, 029-15: A visiting woman and child crossing into the hamlet of Tenegump.

The invisible boundaries, such as women’s areas and men’s areas, were marked by appropriate behavior. There was no visible marker on the ground. Children learned from experience, and, for a number of years some of these boundaries were quite flexible.

On September 6, 1963, we were surprised to see all three of the little girls - Koram, Rungwa and Arum -  with their fathers in Gunts Yard.

147-28: Gul and Pfun were peeling the bark off lengths
of sugar cane so their daughters could chew the more tender pith
and, as the Maring put it, "drink" the sugar.

Gul and Pfun stayed in the upper half of the yard, in the “men’s area.” Nui sat at the border between the men’s and women’s areas.

148-25: Nui's daughter, Rungwa, plays with his hornbill beak necklace.

Gul was minding not only his daughter, but also the three muruk chicks that he had found in the forest and was carefully raising. A gunny sack was a convenient container for carrying them, as they were not old enough to walk long distances by themselves. Before he set off for home with Koram, he had to round the chicks up.

148-29: In front of the haus kuk, Gul and Koram look around for the third chick.

149-06: They find if up by the corner of the men's house.

149-12: Now Gul and Koram are set to leave for Tenegump.

Koram, though able to walk part of the way, was still not able to negotiate the high fence where the women crossed into and out of Gunts Yard.  So her father came around to help her.

149-14: Gul lifts Koram over the women’s fence.

Two months later, on November 15, 1963, Gandim actually left Koram asleep in Gunts Yard while she herself went off alone to work in a garden.  When Koram woke up and found her mother was gone, she was none too pleased.

176-22: Koram has woken up alone and sets off to find her mother.

Koram made her way to the middle of the yard. Her older brother, Goli, was playing with the boys in the men’s area.

176-35: Koram goes looking for comfort, but the boys are no help.

178-36: Dimbonk ignores Koram and Pi teases her.

179-14: Finally she runs off  to play with the Vaydas’ cat.

Two days later Gandim again left Koram in Gunts Yard.  This time Koram was not asleep and Gandim encouraged her as she said good-bye.

180-34: Koram takes a last quick suckle at the fence before her mother goes off to garden.

181-05: Koram sets off on the Kiap Road stay in Gunts Yard.

181-12: This time, one of the older boys, Mbera, gives her some moral support.

181-15: But she eventually has to make her own way up into the yard.

181-19: … where women are chatting.

181-23: …and Apogi is delousing Rika while Kerepe is twisting new twine to make a bilum.

Koram stayed near the other women while waiting for her mother.
The return was a joyful moment.

185-07: Koram, in her other's arms again, shares her joy with her playmate, Arum.

So, over a period of 2 1/2 months, we saw how Koram was developing a sense of women’s spaces and also practicing the physical ability to cross the visible, physical boundaries.

A few days later in Tenegump, we passed by their house and saw that Koram had indeed learned to maneuver the fence around their yard all by herself.

189-18: Koram comes running toward her mother’s yard ….

189-19, 189-20, 189-21: ... and starts up the fence dividing the path from the yard.

189-22, 189-23, 189-24: Carefully, log by log, she climbs, ...

189-25, 189-26, 189-27: ... up to the top and over ...

189-28:  …. and heads right toward the door of her mother’s house.

Composed in August, 2011


    Copyright © 1999-2011 Allison Jablonko. All Rights Reserved.