|Before the Columbia team arrived in the
Simbai Valley, the local
people already had some inkling about the importance of “the
book that all of them were familiar with was the census record kept
by the Patrol Officer - the kiap -
in Simbai. Whenever he did the
census rounds, this book was brought along and new entries - births,
marriages and deaths - were duly entered.
|When we got to Gunts, people saw daily
the process of writing - in
the little fieldnote books that we carried around to record on-going
activities, and on sheets of paper to record our mapping efforts.
An example of our mbuk kongong: A contourmap of Fungai territory
|Kids liked to sit by us as we watched people’s work and
The children did not want to be left out of the action and would
eagerly fill pages of our notebooks with careful markings.
My field notebook # 3 open to the page of May 2, 1963
|Our efforts were referred to as mbuk
kongong - work with a
book. By using the term kongong, the activities
of writing and
drawing were equated with all the more obvious types of physical work
necessary to Maring life. We were not just sitting around, but were
pursuing our own kind of work. This, we had explained, was to
write and make pictures that we could later share with people in our
far-off home so they could learn about the skills the Maring brought to
|Allison: “I no longer
remember exactly how it was that the
children started painting with the little watercolor set I had brought
along thinking to spend 'spare time' sketching. I hardly ever got
around to painting, but was happy to set people up with empty jars of
water and show them how to keep the brushes clean. We handed out
our typing paper and scratch paper, and tried to minimize what we
considered 'scribbling' in our own notebooks. The field notes of
June 7, 1963, indicate that it was a rainy day and Gomb and Kum,
Minme’s daughters, together with Kunda and Tukume, were inside
house drawing. The next day, Gomb and Kum featured in the 'painting'
photographs I took."
038-12: On June 8, 1963 Wia and Gomb settle down to paint on the ground
beside the Jablonkos' house.
|As it was a sunny day, people did not
come into the house, but gathered
at the northwest corner where Kum could reach through the window and
paint on the surface at the end of the desk.
038-13: Kum has set her water jar and paintbox on our desk just inside the window.
|We helped Gomb organize her paper on
top of our bed roll at the other
end of the house. The jar of water was placed safely on the
pitpit surface of our bed/table. She could easily reach in
through one of the windows.
038-15: Gomb uses our bedroll as a surface to lay out her painting.
|When we saw the interest people took in
drawing and painting, we
bought additional sets of school paints and brushes from the trade
store in Madang, and handed them out whenever someone would come by and
ask to paint. Mostly it was the adolescents, but there were
occasional men and women who tried their hand. Over the course of
the year, we amassed a wonderful collection. These were some of
our favorite drawings.
|The Rappaports had had a similar
experience in Dikai. The walls
of their living room were decorated with the results. After their
departure, one of the
Tsembaga men who had worked for them, Akis, went on to study art
in Port Moresby. Using the name Timothy Akis, he was one of the
first internationally recognized artists from Papua New Guinea. Sadly,
he died in 1984, before his career could fully flourish.
|The full collection of drawings and
paintings made in Gunts during our
visit are archived together with the photographs and other materials. A small selection is available here:
Completed on July 30, 2011
1999-2011 Allison Jablonko.
All Rights Reserved.