Sister Exchange

One morning Minme, Gomb, and Mbi, Minme’s oldest child, came by our window. Mbi was married to a young man from Fogaikump, the Kono hamlet more than an hour’s walk away to the north. Mbi had been visiting her family for several days and had come by our house to say good-bye before going back to her husband’s family.

030-36: Mbi wearing the red laplap we had given to her

We sensed something was wrong when Minme gave Gomb a resounding slap on the face, but we didn’t know what was up until an hour later when Bossboy Kwipn of Fogaikump arrived. He went straight to the upper part of the yard, announcing that he had heard that the people of Gunts did not want his daughter, Kant’, to remain in Gunts. He intended to take her back home with him.

023-01: Bossboy Kwipn presents his case to Luluai Pfun.

Kant’ was the wife of Minme's son, Gonda.  Kant' and Mbi had been exchanged in accordance with the preferred Maring marriage pattern: sister exchange.  Two young women marry each other’s brother. Mbi was very happily married and enjoyed frequent visits home to her family in Gunts. Kant’, however, was not content as Gonda's. Word had gotten back to her father that she wanted to come home.

A sister-exchange marriage is meant to solidify ties between two families and two lineages. If one of the couples breaks the link, the other must do so, too. Kwipn was speaking on his daughter’s behalf, but there was more at stake than her personal happiness, and the opinions of the many people involved would have to be heard.

Mar sang out in the direction of the Dega gardens where Pfun was working. About an hour later Pfun arrived together with Tultul Banka of the neighboring Korama clan. Sitting down at the upper edge of Gunts Yard, they listened to Kwipn make his case.

                  023-06: Luluai Pfun responds to Kwipn                                      023-14: Bossboy Kwipn, Mukongwai and Aikapo

As representative of the Australian government, Luluai Pfun was central to this gathering for talk that the Maring designated with the Tok Pisin word kot’, i.e. court. Tultul Banka from nearby Gembiama also happened to be present, but he soon declared the matter was none of his business.  Bossboy Kwipn used his fine long spear to advantage as he talked.


                 023-13: Tultul Banka and Luluai Pfun listen to Kwipn’s oratory.                            024-02: Bossboy Kwipn listens to the Fungai men.

Down at the bottom of Gunts yard some women had gathered and were listening to the talk and chatting among themselves.

024-00: Kua, Kant’, Ke and Urum on the women’s side of Gunts yard.

Allison:  "The talk died down, and I asked our interpreter, Worenai, what was going on.  He replied that the kot’ could only proceed when Kant’s father-in-law, Numbi, would arrive."

Shortly after noon, we heard the unmistakable voice of Minme, Numbi’s wife. She was in the grove behind Gunts yard, out of sight of everyone, but shouting so that all could hear.

024-16: Minme delivers an impassioned speech.
024-26, 024-28: After five minutes Minme comes right into the yard,  keeping our house and the haus kuk between her
and the men at the top of the yard.

Standing at the edge of the steep bank, Minme faced up hill, and continued to talk, still shielded by the haus kuk from the direct view of the men further up the hillside.

024-34:  The women listen to Minme's fiery talk, knowing that the men above can hear it perfectly well.

The kids in front of the haus kuk were the only people aside from Marek and me who could actually see both groups of people.

024-32:  Marek stands across from the haus kuk tape-recording the discussion.

Numbi arrived an hour later, sitting down with the men inside the men’s house without every speaking out loudly enough for us to hear or record. Kwipn spoke to him from outside the house, while Pfun continued working busily on weaving his rattan belt. The “public speaker” of the family had been Minme, and she had had her say for the moment. The family was not at all in favor of Kant’ returning to Fogaikump.

025-05:  Minme and At’ema grin as the mood of the event becomes relaxed.

The high energy of the event was winding down. Many of the women had wandered away.

Kwipn came down from the top of the yard and stood midway between the men’s and the women’s groups.  He asked his daughter if she would return home with him.  Kant’ answered, Na wo!” (I won’t come.) Urum kept repeating, “Yang ire!” (Exactly!)


025-11: Kwipn and Mukongwai listen to Kant's response.

025-10:  Kant', sitting with Pewai, Gomb and Urum, refuses to go back to Fogaikump with him.

025-14: Kwipn turns to go. Worenai, the interpreter, stands with the boys in front of the haus kuk.
Above, by the haus man, Pfun continues weaving a new belt.

025-23: Kant’ stays behind with her young sister-in-law, Gomb

Bossboy Gul came out of the haus man just as Kwipn fetched his spear from where he had placed it in the ground at the beginning of the discussion.

025-28: Kwipn turns to leave Gunts and return to Fogaikump.


Kant’ and the remaining women left the yard via the women’s stile, Gomb in the lead carrying some freshly harvested komba.

025-33: Gomb, Kant' and the remaining women leave Gunts yard.

Completed on July 7, 2011


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