You are on page 1of 46

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters




The smallest level of technical system to be described corresponds to the level of a single operation, aimed at the modification of the state of a material or of an object, in order to obtain a specific intended result. However, as seen in Chapter 4, defining when and where an operational sequence starts and stops follows the same rule as defining the limits of the entire technical system itself: it relies principally on the arbitrariness of the ethnographer, who will decide, according to the available time, to identify a given sequence of actions as an actual operational sequence.

Before describing how the choice of the operational sequences presented in the Appendices was made, a brief summary of the notion of operational sequences will be made, along with some methodological information.

5.1. Operational sequence as a methodological tool

The notion of operational sequences was first developed by the French prehistorian Andr Leroi-Gourhan (1964). Influenced by his study of prehistorical tools, Leroi-Gourhan offered the possibility to analyse artefacts in terms of the results of physical actions on material. The chane opratoire, translated by Lemonnier as operational sequence (Lemonnier 1992), was the decomposition of a given action into a series of step-by-step processes, or more precisely: a series of operations which brings a raw material from a natural state to a manufactured state (Cresswell 1976: 6, in Lemonnier 1992: 26). This definition was simplified by Lemonnier (1992: 26) as the series of operations involved in any transformation of matter (including our own body) by human beings. Describing the mechanical logic in the process of production, an operational sequence is a chain of actions leading to a specific result, in our case the artefact itself.

Following Lemonniers recommendations (1992: 25-31), I have defined some basic parameters to be used for the description of operational sequences.

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


Space: place and specific location of the operation, with, when possible, the local name (toponymy). A GPS has been used to locate precisely gardens or positions where materials were collected, whenever possible (several attempts to take precise positions in the rainforest, such as when on a trip to gather the stem of a specific type of fern used as material for armbands, were unsuccessful, as the vegetal cover prevented the connection to be made with the satellites). Time: This includes the date, hour or the general period of the day, included with the estimated duration of the process. This allows a cumulation and an estimation of the time spent for an entire process or sub-process. Actors: the name, clan, age and gender of the actor were taken, when authorised (when the action is not considered secret or when revealing the identity of the individual does not constitute a danger; therefore activities performed by the Kajatudu, either witnessed or described must remain nameless, as he would be considered an easy target for sorcerers). Tools: Here it includes mainly the basic definition of material mediators of action, i.e. the objects used to act upon other materials. The notion of mediator of action described in the previous chapter was not at this time part of my methodological tool box, even though I was aware of the importance of non-material aspects. Materials: the original matter which is transformed during the sequence. When available, both vernacular and botanical names of species are used. The sequence itself: the decomposition of an operation into a series of actions on material, recorded as precisely as possible, regarding the conditions of the work. The sequences were noted with a pencil in the notebooks, along with sketches, and later on (in the evening or during the following days) re-written, using a black ink pen. They were sometimes complemented by memories, or re-decomposed into several operations. When possible, they were also re-organised into sub processes (see Appendix 01) in an attempt to identify logics. To describe the type of actions, I resorted to the system established by Leroi-Gourhan (1971: 58-59), recently re-translated by de Beaune (2004: 140). It corresponds to a classification of the type of percussions used in combination with one or more objects on a given material.

The result summarises the state of the object at the end of the sequence. It can be a finished product or an intermediary state reached by the material before another operational sequence.

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


Some notes and thoughts were also added ideas, comments, or specification of an action, or answers to questions.

This methodology proved itself adequate enough to be used with several types of operations, from planting to harvesting, from house-building to string bag-making, and even some elements of rituals. It allowed me to record postures, gestures of individuals, and to evaluate certain sets of relationships between actors and material, to detect routines and variations, and to identify definitive steps in the processes. Where possible some pictures were also taken.

5.2. Making a selection of operational sequences

First, we will make an explanation of the way in which the boundaries of a given Operational Sequence were selected. In fact, several elements can be placed at the origin of choice. The actor himself, who can make a significant pause in a process to rest, after attaining a given result, stable enough to wait for the duration of the pause (for example, sago jelly: one cannot stop once the boiled water has been poured over the sago powder one must stir the result to obtain the jelly). Or, in the case of the division of the work, a specific state of the material is attained, and to pursue the sequence, another tool (or mediator of action) or environment or another entire series of different operations will be needed (for example, once the inner heart of the sago palm has been pounded, it must be transported to another spot nearby for the powder to be washed and the starch gathered). Or another set of different operations must intervene in the middle of the process before resuming (for example, the production of gunygi, the liquid substance used for the Maabutap: once all the paste, made of crushed vines, contained in the bag has been washed and filtered, more fresh paste must be made or added).

As mentioned in the previous chapter, several of the operational sequences documented and inventoried in the notebooks could have been divided into several others, and similarly, others could have been assembled into a single sequence.

The following sequences have been chosen mostly because of their value as illustrations of processes relevant to the present topic the Long Yam production. However, one must bear in mind while reading the following chapters that the same could have been done with most of the parts. This also means that each action could have been analysed from the angle of its elements, tools, determinisms, variables and interactions.

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


We will therefore examine five sets of operational sequences. In order to place them in the entire sequence we will draw a quick picture of the situation and period of each one, which will facilitate their positioning within the other scales. Then, while the detailed sequences are presented in the appendices, we will comment on them in the text.

5.3. Planting a waapi

The planting of the D. alata in Nyamikum can start as early as June, but is mostly done between July and September. Considering the Long Yam as a proper artefact, the original idea of the project was to document as much as possible the operational sequences at the origin of such an artefact. Planting the waapi was then obviously one of the fundamental moments in the entire process which had to be recorded. As such, elements of the techniques used have already been described, notably by Lea (1966). This documentation was essentially made to see how the gardener would interact with the raw material, notably the soil, what were the types of tool used, in which context, and so on.

As one will see in the following chapter, the actual planting belongs to a wider series of stages. However, for the purpose of focusing on operational sequences, we will just concentrate on the actual actions associated with the planting of the tuber sett.

While in the field, I have decomposed these actions into 13 operational sequences. In the present thesis, I have regrouped them into 8 sections for clarity of description. Selecting the position of the kutapm

As noted by many authors (see notably Coursey 1967: 72), yams are often planted in softened soil to allow the full development of the tuber. This determines the type of operations which modify the texture of the soils and prepare a proper berth for the future tuber.

In general terms, the first step is the selection of the position of the future mound, the kutapm, in the garden. As previously mentioned, two interlinked criteria might intervene: the slope and the type of soil. The soil must be a maakwal kpma (small soil), and the slope sufficient to allow the digging of the future tunnel to check the tuber. Therefore, it was explained that Long Yam mounds, or waapi kutapm, were mostly situated in the middle part of the garden, not too

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


close to the top of the slope, nor at its bottom, and if possible away from any place that could be submitted to running water in case of heavy rain. Jalba, in August 2003, while he was showing me the place of this new waapi yaawi, explained that the repartition of the crops in a Long Yam garden often followed the same principles (fig. 5.01): The middle part of the garden, where the slope is the steepest, is usually reserved for kutapm. The bottom part of the garden generally contains more tawul (strong lumps and mudstone), so waapi cannot grow long. However, being a saturated soil, it is a suitable place for taros and banana trees.

If possible, the kutapm will be placed close to the remains of a partially cut and burnt tree, which will allow the gardener to use the tree as one of the posts for the future vertical part of the jaab, the taawu.

Jalba indicated that the actual selection is made by the gardener in a progressive process while he is clearing his garden, or while he is resting. As the features of the terrain become apparent, he is able to evaluate the future position of his kutapm, as well as the quality of the soil. If he is helped, the two workers will discuss the different possibilities.

The number and nature of waapi planted also affects the position of the different kutapm. On average, the gardeners I worked with planted between 5 and 8 Maabutap. Other waapi, those in the nursery (see Chapter 3) which are planted only for reproduction, can be located between the main kutapm (or in the ka yaawi), and might receive only a jaab, the horizontal part of the trellis, without the taawu, its vertical complement (fig. 3.02).

The kutapm I will describe was built by Sakias, my elder brother, first son of Kitnyora. He selected a spot 6.7 metres down the slope from the standing remains of a Gumarag tree which would be used for the taawu trellis. Digging the waagu

Two Maabutap had to be planted in this session. It was described to me later as more like a trial to see if the land was suitable, rather than to attempt to grow an especially long Maabutap. In fact, it was mainly meant to reproduce the tubers for the next season. Robin and Kaspk, our

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


mpun (SH), were planting another waapi a bit further away. Sakias was helped by Sayk, Kaspks son, a 10 year old boy, and by me (when not taking notes).

The operation in itself can be summarised by the excavation of a 0.5m diameter hole, or waagu, of a depth that depends mainly on the length of the tuber that the gardener wants to attain, up to 1.5m or so deep, according to Sakias. Deeper holes, up to 2 metres could be made, if one wants to obtain a particularly long waapi, and if the nature of both the soil and the slope allows it.

This excavation is not to actually plant the sett but to prepare a vertical berth of softer and cleaner soil in which the new tuber will grow. As such, this operation is in itself independent from the botanical requirements of the plant, while it plays with the natural geotropism of the sett as it grows. Should there be no waagu, the tuber would still grow, but without presenting any other size and shape than the one conditioned by the resistance and accidents of the soil. Therefore, the following operations act as if playing both with the botanical properties of the D. alata and the mechanical characteristics of the soil, while modifying the latter in order to create conditions for an increased expression of the former.

The tools used are roughly the same as for most garden work: a digging-stick, a bush-knife, hands and a shovel.

Nowadays, a modern shovel, a short type with a specific handle, bought from one of the equipment stores in Maprik or Wewak is part of the planting tool kit, be it for waapi or ka (fig. 5.02). Sakias explained that before people were using the agrp, the half-coconut, or the hands, in the same fashion as I saw it used to dig the hole meant to receive the posts of the kurabu (fig. 5.03). The shovel is used first to delineate the circumference of the hole (waagu), and to dig its first 50cm down. It can intervene in two ways. The first is well known in Europe: the handle is held with the right hand, in supination, and the left one holding the shaft; the inside of the blade is turned away from the body and the right foot can be used to increase the weight of the blade. The second way is less common. It can be practiced sitting or standing and shows an inverted position of the blade: the right hand holds the handle in pronation, the inside of the blade turned towards the body of the agent, and the left hand holds the shaft of the shovel, close to the blade, with the thumb upwards. This latter position is similar to the one that is usually seen when using a short paddle in a canoe. This type of action actually pulls the dug

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


out earth towards the body of the agent, and when practiced standing allows throwing the soil between the legs. It is most notably seen when preparing the hole of a ka (fig. 5.04). When the individual is sitting, it produces a pile of soil in front of him. Both ways can be combined. As the waagu deepens, the shovel blade is used to vertically cut the sides of the hole in order to obtain neat edges.

The second tool used is the digging-stick, called gsaa. However, gardeners do not use the regular, often decorated, long gsaa (fig. 4.03) already studied by McGuigan (1993) for the Wosera. They use a small, temporary one, of the same type as the one made for harvest of ka (see below). In contrast to the big gsaa used to plant ka, it is not a permanent tool, even if, smaller, and used on several occasions, it could have been easier for each planter to have elaborated a permanent one, easy to carry around. A temporary gsaa can be left in the garden and re-used on a following session, or remade (see Chapter 1, section 1.2.1.), while the formal digging stick is always carried back home. The type of actions on materials with the gsaa will be found in every operation involving the digging stick (see below): a thrusting oblique percussion to plant the point in the ground, followed by a leverage movement to uplift or loosen the soil. It is used mostly as an iron bar (that also can be used) when the hole, waagu, gets deeper.

The bush-knife plays a limited part in the following operations. It will intervene in the cutting or resharpening of the temporary gsaa. It also intervenes to cut other materials, such as the cane or the series of wood-sticks and bamboos used in the construction of the tkt, the wooden structure which holds the lower part of the kutapm, towards the bottom part of the garden. It can also intervene in the cutting out of underground roots, remains of the clearing or extensions of the trees that have been left standing.

The hands play a main part in the work. Apart from the use of the different tools, they frequently intervene directly on the soil itself: digging out the earth, removing impurities, breaking lumps (held between two hands and twisted), displacing (pushing or pulling, using the forearms), pressing (palm, fingers, forearm). It remains the main tool used to transform the soil, whereas the gsaa and the shovel intervene more to prepare and displace the material.

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


The main raw material modified in these operational sequences is the soil itself. If certain types of impurities such as pieces of roots cut out with the bush knife can be used later on to construct the tkt, they appear here as peripheral.

Digging the waagu hole actually delimits the berth, but also allows taking out the soil and its modification by removing impurities, stones, hard lumps and sandstones (tawul), pieces of wood and remains of roots, before replacing it once the entire hole is refilled up. Digging also allows the gardener to evaluate the quality of the soil and in particular to notice any water infiltrations which could later damage the tuber.

The final shape of a waagu is cylindrical with its end narrowing. It is often referred to as the road (jaabu) taken by the tuber, especially when describing its growth (fig. 5.05). Placing the tawurm swaa

The only tool used here is the bush knife. Once the waagu is dug out, Sakias went into the neighbouring bush and using his bush-knife cut a swaa cane (Saccharum spontaneum, the wild pitpit) of more than 2 metres long. Its end was sharpened with a single stroke of the bush knife before it was carried back to the working site. Then Sakias, holding the swaa between his two hands, firmly planted the cane in the bottom of the waagu, in order to have it standing in the hole while the waagu was refilled up.

This cane actually plays three successive roles: Firstly, it is placed in the waagu before it is filled, its end reaching the bottom of the hole, so that a small empty column in the soil is created in the entire length of the waagu, when the swaa is later taken out. Secondly, it serves as a reference mark that will be used to evaluate the possible length of the tuber for later operation, notably the digging of the tunnel that will allow for checking the waapi. Thirdly, it will be used, after the harvest, when the Maabutap is taken out and measured. The tawurm swaa can then be carried around and shown to other gardeners. Filling up the waagu

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


This operation actually transforms the site in two ways: first, it fills the hole and, second, it prepares the emplacement of the kutapm mound: it makes it flat and creates the ditch that surrounds its base.

As with the digging out, hands play the main part, as they take the soil dug out and place it in the hole. One of the important actions was to press the soil in place gently but firmly, or yat ksak, an operation similar to the one performed on ka kutapm after planting the D. esculenta sett. When the shovel intervenes, it is mainly to work on the surface soil, to scrap out the first centimetres before actually digging the surrounding slope to create a flattened area and provide material for the kutapm. The shovel is used either with thrusting percussions, parallel to the surface of the soil; with resting percussion oblique, sometimes with the feet, or, with a vertical thrusting one, with the inverted position of the blade.

The final result is a small mound from which the tawurm swaa protrudes, with a flattened outline of the future emplacement of the kutapm. The waagu is filled up with prepared soil. In March 2004, while walking with Ganbakiya, it was explained that waapi tubers, notably Maabutap, were like a car: if the driver (i.e. the gardener) was good, the car would arrive at its destination (be long); if the car bumped into an obstacle (i.e. a hard lump or a stone) it would stop (i.e. be short) or break (i.e. be forked). Therefore, this operation is made with care, as it is the moment when every handful of soil to be replaced is briefly examined and cleaned or transformed if needed.

Before actually filling the waagu, Sakias started to clean the area surrounding the position of the future kutapm. Here again, hands are used to remove all vegetal remains, such as roots, rootlets, or splinters of logs coming from the previous operations. These are thrown away in order to prepare a semi circular area encompassing the waagu and extending itself towards the front of the future kutapm (fig. 5.06).

Sakias decided to put the sub-soil (yaal kepma) in the waagu first, because of the amount of impurities that it may contain, a statement that was confirmed by other waapi planters I talked to. The top-soil is considered to be improper to use to fill the hole. It is scraped away with the shovel and the second layer is dug out in order to flatten the area that will receive the kutapm. This soil is actually used to finish the filling up of the waagu.

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


In contrast to what Lea documented for Yenigo and Stapikum, Sakias did not combine the topsoil with the sub-soil in the same way (Lea 1964: 114 and figure 13). Whether the growth of the yam is affected by this technical choice is still to be investigated, notably in terms of the mechanical differences between the top soils of the different areas. The fact that the sub-soil still constitutes the core of the material that the tuber will grow through in both cases invites the question whether the decision to put top-soil on the periphery of the waagu is made in order to save some sub-soil for the kutapm. In the cases witnessed in Nyamikum, I saw that the first 4 to 5cm of the upper top soil was systematically removed and discarded, whereas the levels underneath were used to finish the waagu and to cover the kutapm.

The final result is a small mound, similar to the one resulting from the planting of a ka, called a tawurm. Preparing the tkt

The tkt is a composite structure placed on the lower part of the kutapm, on the slope, and corresponds to the back of the entire plant (see Chapter 3, section It is also an extended variation of the one built for ka, when the latter are planted in sloppy gardens (fig. 5.07). It plays an essential part as the place from which later operations on the tuber will be performed, such as the removal of the old sett or the adjunction of substances. It serves as support of the kutapm which lies against it.

The term tkt is also used to describe the sculpted lintel that separates the lower panel of the kurabu from the baay where the paintings are (fig. 5.08). When I asked Elders from Kumim if one was the origin of the other, they answered that it was only their names, without any metaphor. The question of whether the tkt originally corresponds to an architectonic part of a building as it does not in the case of the kurabu or if it corresponds to a position in a structure, still remains to be answered. What can be observed at this stage is that the tkt is here positioned at the back of the structure, whereas the tkt on a kurabu is placed at the front.

The tkt is composed of two parts (fig. 3.02):

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


The taawu corresponds to the vertical bamboos that form the post. They are usually made out of the thick kaama bamboo (Bambusa sp.), the ends of which are sharpened and placed in the ground after a pre-hole has been made. The wuli constitutes the wall itself. Regardless of whether it is constructed out of bits of wood, roots, sticks or baay (lengths of sago-spathe), the wuli both maintains the kutapm and is itself maintained against the taawu by the weight of the kutapm.

The term taawu is also found in the posts of the kurabu and of the frontal part of the waapi trellis. It seems to indicate a pure architectonical part. I have not found any equivalent for the wuli yet.

The structure of the tkt also varies. I saw two main types of tkt during my stay, and both were composed differently. Fig. 5.09 shows that the two different solutions are in correlation with the type of kutapm, and perhaps the type of garden too. Depending on the organisation of the garden, a single long tkt can be made for two or even three kutapm. I saw two different types of tkt depending on the slope, the areas or the material available (fig. 5.10 5.14).

The first operation to make a tkt is to plant the kaama bamboos which will act as small taawu posts to hold the wuli in place (fig. 5.14). The taawu are planted one after the other, progressively from the centre to the sides, with the central ones higher than the side ones, to follow the conical shape of the kutapm. When the taawu is made for several kutapm, the level is slightly more regular, even if it still presents a final aspect of a wavy fence that follows the succession of the side by side kutapm.

The length of the tkt depends on the size of the kutapm or on the number of kutapm it maintains. In certain cases, as it was in one of my friends waapi yaawi, it can form a sort of entire terrace that transversally crosses almost the entire garden (fig. 5.13).

The distance between the taawu must be regular. Sakias explained to me that it would not be nice and that in addition it would weaken the tkt, which might then crumble in the event of heavy rain. Each bamboo was planted and cut in place progressively, and its distance from the other evaluated by eye. Hence, one of the taawu had to be corrected in order to obtain a regular curbed shaped.

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


The tkt Sakias designed was a nice curved one, with a wuli made of bits and pieces of stick, wood leftover from the cleaning.

I have decomposed the sequence into two in order to isolate the basic sequence that is used to dig or to make a hole in the ground. The technique to plant a kaama follows the sequence seen for each operation implying the planting of a small post, a stake, a cane, a gsaa, here with a pre-hole made with the small gsaa. Once the pre-hole is made, the entire length of the kaama bamboo was planted with a thrusting perpendicular percussion, held by two hands, in the hole, then moved from side to side to enlarge the hole, and replanted firmly (Cf. Appendix 01: 1.1.). The sides of the hole are then pressed. The length of the taawu is estimated and the extra length of the kaama cut out with a single or two opposite oblique thrusting percussions. The extra length will be re-sharpened if necessary and replanted in the next taawu pre-hole. Building up the tkt and the kutapm

Kutapm and tkt are built up simultaneously. This operation constitutes the main work in terms of time. It is usually done by the gardener himself, but he can be helped by one of his friends, as long as the individual is in a state of proper Yakt. In our case, Sayk, Kaspks son (our sisters son, baadi) was assisting us. A comparison of the operational sequences for the mound that Sakias was building for the Maabutap given to me, with the one documented for another waapi, presents the general logic of the process: once the top-soil has been removed of its 4 to 5 first centimetres, the upper part of the future kutapm is dug out and the material cleaned of its impurities and used to build up the conical mound. As the kutapm grows in size, the taawu are planted and the wuli installed and blocked with the soil.

As for the previous operations, the hands play the most important part, the shovel and the small gsaa intervening only to dig the ground on the upper part of the future kutapm and to create a semi-circular ditch, the kaabi. The type of action is the same as for the previous operational sequences. Towards the end, the flat of the feet are also used to flatten the lower part of the conical kutapm, using gentle thrusting percussions.

The kutapm is a conical-shaped mound, built over the waagu, of up to 1.3 or 1.5 metres. An enlarged version of the one that is built for ka tubers when they are planted, it increases the

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


height of softened soil that the growing tuber will go through. It is surrounded, on the upper part or the front of the structure, by a flattened area forming the kaabi ditch (fig. 5.06).

As the kutapm is built up, more soil is removed from the upper part of the slope, progressively designing a kaabi, the ditch where, Sakias explained to me the water would run in the event of heavy rain. The digging out was made progressively, once the top-soil has been removed, and handfuls of earth were cleaned and placed regularly on the kutapm, starting on the top and regularly descending and levelling the conical shape. Again, hard lumps were broken with the muny movement, that is the lump held in both hands above the place where the soil was to be added, and twisted, in a movement similar to the wringing of a soaked cloth, which breaks the lump.

Regularly, the sides of the kutapm were slightly pressed with the flat of the hand, in a gentle thrusting percussion (yat ksak), in order to obtain a regular shape. As the kutapm grew in size, Sakias sometimes used the flat of his feet to press the lower part of the kutapm (see also fig. 4.02). The pressing was intended to reinforce the cohesion of the kutapm, but Sakias explained that it was important not to make the soil too compact as it would impinge on the growth of the tuber. The main goal was to make the outside of the kutapm more compact and smooth so that the rain would run on it without the risk of it affecting its shape.

Sakias movements and positions during the operation varied, alternatively sitting on one side of the kutapm, then progressively moving around, standing when digging the ground from the slope or when adding material to the wuli of the tkt. The length of the entire sequence was more than an hour and half, and Sakias summarised it as one of the major operations that would affect the success of the tuber growth.

The result was a mound of 1.4 metres in height, comprised of finely broken and slightly compacted earth, a regular conical shape with smooth sides with the tawurm swaa protruding. The total distance from the the top of kutapm to bottom of waagu was then of 2.25m. Taking the tawurm swaa out

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


The cane placed before the filling up of the waagu hole now has to be removed. It will leave a small empty shaft the entire length of the kutapm down to the bottom of the waagu. This will eventually collapse, but will leave a shaft of softer soil through which the tuber will grow.

Sakias climbed carefully on the kutapm. He placed his body almost vertical to the entrance of the cane in the mound, one leg on each side of the cane. Then, holding the tawurm swaa between his two hands, he gently pulled it out. As the cane was removed, Sakias kept an eye on the level where it entered the kutapm. Once taken out, he marked this level with his bush knife (using it as a knife with a resting oblique percussion) to get a reference mark for the depth of the shaft. The tawurm swaa was then measured, using the planters body as reference, to get an idea of the potential size of the future tuber.

Later on, the tawurm swaa will be brought back to the house, and placed in the kadiga. In fact, this cane occupies a specific role in the entire process of the waapi. First used to create the shaft of loosened soil in the kutapm and the waagu, it will then serve as a reference used to evaluate the possible length of the tuber. This will be notably necessary later when digging the tunnel in order to check the development of the waapi, and if necessary to add some substances and to deepen the waagu. Once the waapi is harvested, the cane will be remeasured and compared, then marked to the actual length reached by the tuber, and will serve as a model for other canes which will be carried around and shown to other gardeners, even from other villages. Planting the waapi sett

I have divided this operation into two sequences: the one that prepares the berth of the tuber and places it in position, and the one which leads to covering the sett with soil (although they can be considered as part of the same process).

The actual planting of the sett was a comparatively short operation. During the previous operations the Maabutap sett had been kept in a baay, placed in the shade, with a banana leaf covering its body.

Only the hands intervened here and Sakias worked from the back downhill side of the tkt. The digging of the small elongated berth was made with the tips of the fingers: they entered the

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


kutapm at the level of the hole left by the tawurm swaa and literally split the earth open on each side. The position and direction of the berth were evaluated in accordance with the size of the tuber and the position of the sprouting vine. The forearm was used to press the soil on the top of the sett, using its elongated shape to flatten the area regularly. Pressing (yat ksak) is always performed gently, using mostly resting percussions.

An interesting apparatus is the positioning of the different sticks keeping the tuber in position, before covering the tuber (fig. 5.15). Those sticks are taken from the remains of the burning, and will be removed a couple of weeks later. The second apparatus intervening is the jgra. This 2 metre long branch, presenting a forked end, also selected from the remains of the burning process was placed to act as a support to the protruding vine of the sett (fig. 5.16). It is interesting to note that although it is acting as a stake, it is also a way to avoid the weight of the growing paat displacing the tuber sett or breaking itself.

As this Maabutap was mine, I was requested to place the sett in its berth myself, guided by Sakias. As Robin and Bill Kaspk, who were working on another Maabutap, came closer, there was a feeling of solemnity that could have come either from the fact that I, Galwara, was planting a Maabutap, or that the operation itself was a critical moment, upon which the success of the operation was highly dependent. When I asked the question later, they answered that it was just because it was an important moment both for me and for the sett, as placing it in position was one of the main operations, requiring care and attention, and that as the Maabutap had been given to me, I was to perform it. It occurred to me that the actual placing was not that important technically, nor did it require specific skills apart from the care as opposed to the building of the kutapm or even the covering of the sett itself.

5.4. Planting ka in the new garden kul yaawi

In Nyamikum, the season of planting the new garden is spread over almost two months, from November to January. Arriving at Nyamikum in November 2002, the period seemed to be at its peak, with a garden planted almost every day up until mid January, when the rainy season has already started.

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


During the fieldwork, 12 sessions have been documented between the 14th of November 2002 and the 4th of January 2003, plus one session recorded during the first trip in January 2002 (fig. 5.17). The session presented here was held on the 14th of November 2002 in Kwasige, in the new garden next to our residence, cleared by Robin.

Appendix 01 details the different operational sequences, with an emphasis on the use of the gsaa. I have reported in this chapter the entire session, as each operational sequence is interconnected with the others, notably due to the division of tasks. The work party is composed of 28 people, mostly men with a couple of women and children. The rest, about 15 people, is composed of the women preparing the food in the kitchen, helped by some girls.

As opposed to the planting of the Maabutap, the number and variety of people involved in the process is said to be related to the importance of the mixing of Jwaai so that the gardener will be able to harvest tubers of different size.

5.4.1. Planting the ka

On the day, people started to gather in Kwasige, our residence, from 8 AM onwards. Most of them brought some food in order to support Robin to provide the food and the betel nut for the work party. While the women gathered in the kitchen, under the shelter made by Robin for this occasion (see Chapter 6), men sat near the fires on the side that opened towards the road and talked while chewing maasa and smoking. Younger men had carried their gsaa, some of them deciding to start working.

With no hurry, as people gathered, the planting started.

The work party was organised in three main groups: Younger men, digging the holes with the gsaa. They formed the first wave, evaluating and deciding where the holes for the tubers were to be dug. Another group, mostly composed of children and young teenagers, finished the preparation of the bed for the ka using shovels. This group was not present in every occurrence I saw, and sometimes the planters themselves had their shovels with them, finishing the preparation before planting the sett. Another role of this youngster group was also to prepare tkt in the area of the garden where the slope was too steep.

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


The rest of the party were composed of older men, elders, children and some women, planting the tubers that the Robin and his helpers had placed for them as the holes were dug by the first wave (fig. 5.18)

Then Robin, as the owner of the garden, acted as the bapadu, the head-man, along with his elder brother Sakias, bringing the baay (the sago-thatch container, fig. 5.19 and 5.20) with the ka, and distributing tubers in each hole. Digging the hole

Digging the hole is an operation made essentially with the gsaa. This digging stick is made out of the outside part of the yaaman palm (Caryota sp.) trunk (fig. 4.03).

As partially described in the previous chapter, the gsaa is a tool of 2.3 to 2.5m long, of a slightly curvilinear section, of about 10cm wide and 4cm thick. The inner part of the yaaman trunk is composed of two types of materials: a soft, whitish pith, surrounded by a dark black dense wood, of exceptional strength and weight. It is this latter part which is used for not only digging sticks gsaa, but also bows, arrows, spears such as the yeigwa, used during public talks, and emblem of the Maabutap.

All gsaa present the same general structure: the working part, the blade, occupies most of the length (up to 1.7 from the point), which has a general lanceolate shape, getting slightly larger at the end, before ending with a point (nbi). Its main weight is then situated at the lower third of the blade, adding to the strength of its user when planting it firmly in the soil (see Appendix 01: 1.1). The upper end, the first third, forms the handle, and receives some carvings and engravings, which in Nyamikum are not painted (see McGuigan 1993 for painted examples from the Wosera area). Each man is said to have one gsaa, used only for the planting of ka, but if one comes without one, he can borrow or use the extra ones offered by the gardener.

The other tool used for this operation is the bush-knife, used to cut out the roots which can be partially unearthed by the digging process.

The general layout of the garden was determined by the diggers, progressing with the gsaa in a shifted line. It implied an evaluation of other diggers progression, and also features of the

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


garden, the presence of a tree to be used as support for the stake. Therefore, it places the diggers position in the entire sequence of operations as of importance in the later organisation of the work. The spacing and position of the different ka mounds will also depend on the space left for secondary crops, as well as for staking. In case of a sloppy garden, a small tkt is also prepared, before the actual digging of the hole, as it will prevent the dug out soil from falling down the slope.

The sequence used by diggers with the gsaa is probably the most interesting part of the operation as it presents specific body techniques and characteristics relying on the interaction between matter (a clay-rich soil with impurities such as roots, sandstones and mudstones), a tool (the digging stick, implying specific forces and postures for its use as leverage) and an intended result: a hole in the ground to receive an external element, be it a sett, the end of a post, a cane or even a replanted tree. The use, the dimension and the shape of the gsaa imply a specific position adopted by all the diggers (fig. 5.21 & 5.22).

The major elements of this sequence have been recorded on several occasions, each time presenting the same characteristics:

The actor, using his two hands, thrusts the stick (or the pole to be planted) inside the ground (vaa). The actor moves the end of the stick back and forth in order to loosen the soil and the point of the stick from the ground (bl). A specific movement is then made to dig the point of the gsaa deeper in the soil. Called taaba mnyaa, the gsaa is moved back and forth, its point staying inside the hole made by the first stroke. The point never really gets out of the soil, and sometimes references to sexual jokes are made, playing on the similarity with the penis moving back and forth inside the vagina.

These gestures are repeated until the moment the soil is loosened enough to prepare for the next operations. These two basic movements can also be seen when using either a digging stick, or an iron bar, or directly using the apparatus to be planted, such as the stakes for the vines of Short Yams: To prepare a bed to plant or replant a crop (for example, D. esculenta tubers, taro, greens);

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


To dig out the soil (for example, hole for planting big tubers, to install poles for a building); To plant a stick (for example, fence, installation for sago, or the transport of leaves).

In the case of planting ka, the digger will also use the curved terminal end of the gsaa to actually lift off the soil in the final movement and place it on the side of the hole (fig. 5.23). This heap of soil is usually then constituted of lumps of earth, notably when digging in clayrich (nmakpma). Theses lumps, called gsaa yaal, or underground soil, can then be used later by the planters to build up the small kutapm for the ka sett.

Sometimes, two diggers will work together. The work is then done parallel to the slope, each agent facing the other with the future hole between them. One is working with the gsaa on the right, the other on the left. The basic actions are performed (vaa, bl and taaba mnya) before performing a last one called saptu: the two agents lift up the end of their gsaa, the soil is then removed from the hole and falls on the lower side of the kutapm. This action is to get the hole ready with most of the soil already positioned in its correct place, with gsaa yaal (lumps from underneath) ready to be used. Preparing the sett

As mentioned before, the garden owner, acting as the bapadu during the planting, evaluates the number of baay to be planted on his garden. Each baay is filled up with an average amount of sixty tubers (counted on six samples). On average, up to six baay (evaluated on ten samples) are planted in each garden, which makes up to 360 setts.

The bapadus role is to evaluate the number of tubers and also to lay out the type of tubers according to their position in the garden. He and his helpers neither dig nor plant the ka, but constantly move back and forth from the baay, where the setts are kept, to the holes just created by the diggers. They move ahead of the planters and place tubers in the appropriate holes, according to the nature of the soil, the feature of the terrain or the presence of trees as support for future stakes.

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


At the end of the session the bapadu is the one who prepares the distribution of areca-nuts and of food. Planting the sett

The planters role is to design a proper kutapm and to evaluate and place the sett selected by the bapadu in order to ensure its best growth. Thus, the planter modifies the hole dug by the previous group: Firstly, to design a proper tawurm which will receive the tuber. Secondly, to modify the soil dug out in order to cover the sett with clean and finely grained soil (kutapm).

All the operations are made sitting by the hole and, with the exception of the use of a shovel to clear out the soil from the hole if not properly made by the diggers, the planter will primarily use his hands to move the lumps and the soil and to break them between his finger and palms. The planter will also use the big gsaa yaal lumps freed by the diggers. When the slope is average, without needing a proper tkt, these lumps are placed on the lower side of the future kutapm to reinforce it before covering the sett and building up the mound. There is then a balance between having already broken lumps and keeping some of these big lumps to build a strongly structured kutapm.

The positioning of the ka sett also receives attention. The tuber lies on the upper side of the tawurm with its sprout rising. It is usually pressed gently with the hands to make it stick to the clay-rich soil, before recovering it, in order to avoid movements during the covering. This latter operation, breaking the lumps, is done gently, and by making the kutapm as regular as possible. My own attempts where often corrected because the final result was not harmonious. The small mounds must have a smooth appearance, as the hands press the sides gently at the final stage.

Another technique is used for tubers whose geotropism is inverted (Malaka group). The hole is completely emptied of its soil and the tuber is laid on the bottom, its sprout directed upwards (fig. 5.24). A first layer of soil is put on the top of it, using the same technique as for a regular tuber (removing impurities and breaking the lumps). Then a stick called either sku (splinter)

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


or mgi (as the sprout itself) is planted at the estimated level of the proper sprout. Then the hole is entirely recovered (srm) by layers of prepared soil. General organisation and time

Each individual works between 15 to 30 minutes in a row before taking a short break in the shade, which has been prepared out of a few sago or coconut leaves installed on two or three quickly erected posts. There, a small fire is generally lit to allow the drying and lighting up of cigarettes, along with some areca nut brought by the bapadu.

There are also plastic containers of water, although it is said that drinking while working will make the worker sweat more, which is not considered good. Actually, the body must stay dry and fit, a comment made to me when I was drinking heavily while working in the sun. Likewise, a person whose body is fit i.e. in a proper Yakt stays dry (ypwi).

There is a rotation of work, and there is never more than a fourth of the entire party resting at one time. One evaluates how the work is progressing before allowing oneself to take a rest. The three groups work harmoniously and no specific boundaries are set between them. When tired, a digger can start to plant some tubers, while another takes his place. Elders can either participate in the planting or simply sit in the shade, directing from afar and discussing among themselves.

During the work, jokes and challenges are often flying, accusing pleasantly the other groups or members of being slow or of avoiding work, or of working too slowly. Robin explained to me that this is an important part of the work, as it is said to heat the belly (TP: atim bel) of the workers and make them work more quickly. He also explained that these jokes were also a way to have fun with friends while working. Some sexual jokes regarding the use of the gsaa are not infrequent. These jokes are mostly done by adults and seniors, while teenagers and kids are rather quiet, following their elders advice and directions.

Takwudg explained that while most of the women are cooking food either by the bare, if there is one, or at home, some of them can also plant the ka sett if they want to, and if they have the good blood (i.e. Jwaai), or if there are not enough men.

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


Each hole requires up to six minutes of cumulative work from the moment it is dug to the moment the ka is planted and covered. A garden to be planted with 6 baay, that is 360 setts, represents roughly a maximum of 36 hours of work. The planting time estimated for the 12 gardens is between 3 and 4 hours, including breaks for food, and it involves an average number of 30 people. Each person actually performs his/her operations during a total time of 72 minutes over the 3 to 4 hours of work. This estimation does not take into account the movements between the different stations of work. The system of reciprocity implies that an individual during this period will participate in a planting up to three times a week during the entire period of three months, with a high peak between mid November and December.

This amount of time is intimately associated with the importance of social relationships enacted during the actual process. As a whole, the planting session is a rather merry one, and implies the mixing of different ages and statuses and even gender. In addition to the short rest periods during the session, once the garden is planted, the party gather for a feast of food and the distribution of areca-nuts and tobacco, with social interactions sometimes including public discourses and/or card games.

The tools associated with the entire operation are the basic ones used to deal with the soil: the formal gsaa and the shovel, but also the bush knife intervenes to cut out the roots remaining from the trees, and finally the hands play a major role here as the direct media with which the sett is placed and planted. One must also add the baay which acts as a container for the setts.

The main operations are: transporting the tubers, digging, placing and covering the sett, distributing the nygws-maasa, building the shelter for the shade and making the fire.

5.5. Staking the vines on the waapi jaab

This operational sequence is but a fragment of the series which has to be performed by the gardener who wants to obtain a long Maabutap. It will be placed within a wider context in the following chapter.

The staking starts a couple of weeks after the waapi is planted (August to September). The horizontal part of the trellis, the jaab (the bed, fig. 3.02) starts to be built progressively as the

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


vines grow. It finishes in December to January, when the vines reach the top of the vertical part of the trellis (the taawu).

This operation is a delicate one and is one of the most important tasks to be performed in the waapi yaawi, and illustrates the attention given to the Maabutap during the first part of their growth while the vines are developing. The waapi vines need to be tended every day as they are growing up on the jaab, and have to be untwined from their canes, then re-twined when the cane is moved up on the trellis (see Appendix 03).

Each vine, after division on several strands, is first wound up around the kutkw swaa cane (a wild pitpit, Saccharum spontaneum) as soon as it reaches the beginning of the jaab. As it grows, the vine is untwined from its support, the support moved forward (according to the general orientation of the entire structure) towards the end where later the taawu will be built. The entire length is laid with caution on the jaab, making sure that there is no entanglement with the other vines from the same plant. As the vine divides itself into several stems, a new kutkw swaa is installed and the newly formed vine twined and wound up around it. Around the end of the growth period of the plant, more than a hundred stems can be formed, said to aliment the tuber in air, sun and water (see Chapter 3).

Each of the kut, according to Takwudg, is racing against the other to be the first to reach the taawu and then to climb to its summit. The faster the plant grows the better and stronger the tuber will be according to the gardeners.

Manipulating the kut (the extremity of the vine) must be made with great care, as it is the most fragile part of the entire plant. It is also the focus of the gardeners attention as it is the growing point of the vegetal. According to Takwudg, spells-songs mangup are sung while blowing gently on the terminal end of the vine, explaining that the Jwaai of the gardener was the fundamental element that gave the power to the song and the blowing which helps the vine to grow long and thick.

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


5.6. Harvesting in the second year Short Yam garden (waara yaawi)
Towards the end of my first stay, in April 2002, I went with Robin to the Algg garden, which was on its transition between its second year phase (waara yaawi) and its third and final year one (ysaa yaawi). The general description of the session has been made in Chapter 1 (see section 1.2.1.), and is also documented in Appendix 04. Instead of using the proper methodology of Operational Sequences that I described at the beginning of this chapter, I have resorted to a wider picture of the types of action and their interlacing nature.

This type of work is usually said to be done from February to May, from the moment the crops start to mature, and lasts in a semi-continuous way. In contrast to the harvest of the ka of the new garden (kul yaawi), this harvest does not seem to require the mobilisation of a work party, but is done on a regular basis, while the replanting of other crops follow.

As mentioned in Chapter 1, the entire process resembles a sort of fluid movement, following the flow of the displacements between harvesting some tubers and replanting others. In contrast to the planting or the harvesting of ka in new gardens, the work party is reduced and Robin explained that the gardener usually worked with his wife or could be helped by one of his relatives or friends from the same residence.

The tools used are the bush knife and the short temporary gsaa, here made out of a young mnveny cut out on the spot a few days before. The actions are the usual ones found in relation to the ground: Basic digging sequence with the gsaa (see Appendix 01: 1.1.). Prod, pull or push the soil with the hands to get tubers out, or to uproot and replant shoots. Tear away the dried yam vines, and uproot the stakes.

The bush knife intervenes with precautions either to cut out old setts or resistant roots, or again to cut some shoots to be replanted (such as small branches of saakna, TP.: abika, Abelmoschus manihot (L.) Med.), or to weed portions of the garden or of the path.

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


The sequence interlaces two main operations, listed as follows: Harvest tubers. Select and replant another crop (taros, aibika, banana trees, etc.).

The entire process is based on an economy and logic of gestures: a hole left vacant by the harvest of ka is replanted with another crop, such as aibika, taro or even a banana tree. Robin progressed by evaluating which mound was ready to be harvested, and right after that which nearest crop could be uprooted to be replanted in the vacant hole.

In forty minutes, six mounds had been harvested, each of which were replanted with another crop. Each crop is associated with a technique to plant it, each of which has its own name (fig. 3.09).

The entire session is bound by two other sets of operations that one can find associated with every work session in the garden. Beginning: o Light up a fire (associated with or without chewing betel nut, smoking and discussion if there is more than one worker). Robin explained to me that the proper behaviour when one gets into ones own garden is never to start the work directly, or make a lot of noise. Instead, the individual is said to go into his baar and take his time. Robin said that this is supposed to be done in order to avoid scaring the ka in the ground. Later on, when I gathered information about the bakwaam, the invisible earthworms, I had the confirmation that these beings did not like noisy and brutal people, apart from proper occasions such as the planting in the new garden, when a joyful atmosphere is encouraged. Thus, as the bakwam were said to also watch over all subterranean crops, including the ka in their garden, a calm and respectful behaviour was said to be appropriate. This was consistent with many of Robins comments about the Abelam way of life and rules of calm and control. Actually, if one starts to work too quickly, one does not have the proper time to think about what it is to be done. This was also reflected in the way in which Robin and also other friends commented on discussions between individuals (including our own discussions): one never starts directly and blankly, but one takes ones time to

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


think, and possibly take another road to come to his point (i.e. another topic before starting the proper discussion). o Do a bit of cleaning, looking at the general state of the garden. End: o Clean the paths and the sides of the garden, notably when the garden shares a boundary with someone elses land. o Gather the remains of the harvested crops (dried up vines, old stakes), and place them at the foot of a remaining tree and leave to burn.

Robin explained to me that such work is usually done on a daily basis, following the maturation of the crops. The harvest of the ka of the second year garden (the ka were designed as waraka, as coming from the waara yaawi) is done more progressively than the one of the ka of the new garden (the kulka, as coming from the kul yaawi). The work in all the old gardens was done progressively in this manner.

Robin was usually working in his garden in the late afternoon, after 3 PM, as he was teaching at the elementary school every weekday morning. He was usually coming back around this time and sometimes stopped at Kwasige to change and put down his bag before going to his garden, or went directly to one of his gardens, and worked until dusk. He sometimes enjoyed sleeping or resting in his baar, the garden house, one of the few places where one could be quiet. He could then work at his own rhythm, maintaining a fire, and cooking some of the food just harvested.

5.7. Decorating the Waapi

The decoration of the Maabutap is a long process, usually starting a week before presentation (see Appendix 05, 06, 06bis), and is done progressively, aside from any work that might be done in the garden, such as the harvest of the ka in old gardens along with the replanting, or the selection of the new garden spots. Some of the operations, such as the tying up of the roots or the tying up of the transporting log (kwabmi), can be done several weeks before.

The operational sequences described in the Appendix 06 are actually a compilation of different operations witnessed during the fieldwork. I decided to gather them together, in spite of the risk of giving a false picture of consistency, in order to give a general picture of the global process.

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


One can find the actual dates of performances on the locations and names of the individuals (field: Place and Actor(s)).

Decorating the D. alata tubers is a process which can be broken down into different stages. Cleaning the tuber and removing all of its hair (the rootlets). Suspending the tuber from its log using the double looped knots. Adding the structure that will receive the different elements. Adding the decorative elements (masks, feathers, etc.).

Most of these operations are done by the gardener himself, but he can receive help from the individual who gave him a waapi tuber to grow for him (see Chapter 6) or by more experienced friends. Men of the same area (or ridge) have a tendency to collaborate and make a rotation between the different places where the waapi are kept and help each other to decorate the tubers which will be presented in the same ame. Hence, Wulmapmu, Kumim, and Balukwil formed units of work in terms of decoration, even though Wulmapmu and Kumim were more closely associated due to the proximity. However, Wulmapmu and Kumim men showed a tendency to decorate their waapi away from each other, even though the Waapi Saaki was held in one or the other ame.

Beside these types of cooperation, it was nevertheless not uncommon to see a man from another village coming to help a relative, generally from his agnatic side. The same was also valid within the village itself.

Secrecy of work is not as strong as it used to be, explained Ganbakiya and Nmalk while decorating the tubers in 2002. Before, they said, decoration was made far from the eyes of women, and of men from other ame, unless specific invitations were made.

5.7.1. Cleaning the tuber: guyaku takn

Depending on the time between the harvest and the ceremony, the tuber must be cleaned, and its sprouts removed. The operation (see Appendix 06, OS 383a and b) is made with great care as it requires the removal from its suspension log and a phase of transport over a bed made out of banana leaves.

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


Then, the same operation as described after the harvest is done: using a small knife, the man will remove all the rootlets from the tuber. Instead of the kaany bamboo, men can also use a saucepan and a half-coconut shell (the agrp) to get some water and pour it over the tuber.

The tying of the roots system to the remains of the vine is called paat saaki, the lining of the vine/line. It ensures that the roots are properly attached to the main vine, and aligns them on the general axis of the tuber. If the tying has been made before (at the harvest) it can be undone and remade with new white kbl string.

5.7.2. Suspending the waapi

The kwabmi is the name of the log (3 to 5 metres in length) used to suspend, transport and present the tuber (fig. 5.25). Its full dimensions, length and diameter are evaluated according to the waapi it will support, in order to present a visual equilibrium.

The raw material must be a young tree or a branch from a specific species: Bawumi (Macararanga quadriglandulosa Mallotus sp.), Mangul (Commersonia bartramii (L.) Merr.), Wayrmany (Kleinhovia hospita L.), Sabite or Wiyaaku. These are chosen because of a combination of strength, durability, straightness of the trunk or branches and for a comparative narrowness. Another criterion is the whiteness of the wood once the bark is removed. The colour is supposed to be strikingly white to contrast with the tuber and the decoration. It can also receive some coloured straps.

This operation requires attention and implies the suspension of the tuber with specific ties called gik (knots) which can also receive decorative elements. There are at least two different ways of finishing them, and they can later receive another element called the nyawurk (the butterfly, fig. 5.26). The gik 8-shaped loops (fig. 5.27) are considered part of the design and are apparently common to all the villages I went to. The bridge (fig. 5.28) version was seen from Balukwil to Kalabu.

5.7.3. Prepare decorative components

Elements used to decorate waapi usually came from two sources: Elements that had to be gathered from the bush, and prepared;

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


Ready-made elements either stored from previous years or borrowed from friends or relatives, or again bought or exchanged with people from other villages met in town or during ceremonies.

Depending on the species (D. alata or D. esculenta) and on the cultivars, these elements are either present or combined in different ways. Outline of a typology of waapi decorations

An inventory of the waapi decorations seen during the different Waapi Saaki and drawn up from discussion with my friends allowed me to distinguish four types of decorations for waapi, plus one type for the jaabi (fig. 5.29, 5.30a 5.30b & 5.31).

The four types defined by the composition of the different elements are by no means closed ones. Not all the elements are present on each tuber, nor is each decoration group a closed set of elements.

The yam decorators I worked with (Ganbakiya, Nmalk, Gayinigi, Kulaag, Nawaak and Alan, Gawurm) had a clear idea of a proper decoration, as demonstrated in June 2002, when Ganbakiya and Nmalk decided to redecorate a waapi which was not proper (the red fruits on the side were not ornamented with the white chicken feathers). The names given here are for convenience only entitled A, B, C and D. It seems that according to some comments made by Nyamikum people, either from Kumim, Wulmapmu or Balukwil, that regional variation exists both in the names of the elements and in the styles. Some elements on notion of style and designs

Style is defined as paat or way of doing, line. Designs applied to elements are called nyaap, i.e. marks, motifs. Both are very clear in the discussion with the decorators and they affirm following closely a proper way or stype.

These two notions were also used when commenting on pictures of paintings or carvings, even the black and white photocopies of publications from Koch (1968), Hauser-Schublin (1984), Korn (1987) and Hber-Greub (1988).

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


Interestingly, painters, carvers and decorators often make a distinction between an object and its decoration. Hence they could apply the term to the list of motifs reproduced by Sheila Korn (1987) or to the full representations of paintings of kurabu, indicating specific motifs, as nyaap from a specific village (often Kimbangwa, Kalabu or Apangai). I did not have enough material to make a complete inventory of the different places and analysis made by the artists, but it seemed that recognition worked at least on two levels: the specific design (nyaap) and/or the whole style (paat). Temporary elements

Gathering and acquiring these elements are often processes that follow the same principle as the one used for gathering elements for magic. Without talking about secrecy per se, there seemed to be a sense of discretion when going into the bush to get the right leaves, fruits or plants. It was difficult for me to actually go with one friend to see how far he would go to get the plants, as I was not going with them, but I had the opportunity to have several walks with Ganbakiya or Takwudg in the bush, for different purposes, and they showed me the plants that they were using for decoration. Takwudg talking about Ganbakiya, his elder brother, described him going before dawn, alone, whispering some mangup and blowing his buwi in order to collect the specific elements that would be used to decorate his Maabutap tubers.

In a discussion with both, I was finally told that one should be very discreet when going to collect these elements so that others would not know where one had found such colourful and beautiful materials that made the Maabutap beautiful.

Discretion appeared to me to be more important than secrecy here, as they both told me that when going to get the materials especially flowers and leaves one should be as silent as possible, and not tell anyone where he was going and what he was going to do. It appeared also that the location of proper material was not a secret per se, but a place or specimen spotted sometimes months before during either a hunt or a trip to a garden or to a wash. It became more and more likely that all the walking and wandering around on ones land during the year allowed for checking on specimens and places where they could be found.

They also mentioned that, of course, when stumbling upon a nice Mimaw tree or a place where Kwalg leaves could be found, or even where some rattan was growing, one should always

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


clean a bit with his bush knife, sometimes hide the path and find a way to remember where the specific plant was. This was especially mentioned when concentrating on the fact that there were fewer and fewer patches of old secondary forest. It implied that a landowner had to stroll over his own land, notably fallow ones to get to know the species available, not only for decoration but for other raw materials too.

Being in a Yakt state while collecting these elements was described as necessary, in order to avoid affecting the materials and to preserve their colours or their potency. Takwudg and Ganbakiya again insisted on the necessity of avoiding sex as the main element, but it was the only restriction mentioned.

Preparing these elements can be a long process. Fig. 5.32 lists the different raw materials, and some processes of transformation have been listed in the Appendix 06, but here is a shorter list of the main categories of raw materials: Rope and string from bark of trees and bamboos. Needles from petioles. Leaves from plants and shrubs. Sticks from branches of trees. Flowers. Fruits. Feathers of roosters, hens and birds of paradise. Permanent elements

Elements already made are usually elaborated ornaments such as karawut, nowt, dumakna, dumja, smutk, the kaaya shell, the Manuwi, and nyawurk. These can be heirlooms, or acquired from other places. They can also be borrowed from a friend or a relative, notably if living in another village where the ceremony is either past or not performed yet. Hence, during Nyamikum Waapi Saaki of 2003, Wiyapwi, a renowned craftsman from Jaame brought a nowt for a Maabutap to be decorated by Ganbakiya. Sometimes a precious ywaa shell-ring can also be used to decorate the sides of the Maabutap.

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters

194 The karawut Literally Pig-teeth-net/bilum, these pendants (fig. 5.33) are elements that were not made in Nyamikum during my stay. While the raw material yvt (Gnetum gnemon) was easily found, only two men were understood to know how to make these. The first one, Tabanyawur, is one of the famous carvers of Nyamikum, student of Kitnyora, in his sixties. The second one, Vitus Kwajike is a man in his forties, still active, whose sculptures have been selected to be placed in Maprik at the government building and at the junction of the road going to Dreikikir and Kalabu. One of the reasons given for the rarity of these was the scarcity of pig-teeth (balkara), due to the eradication of wild and domestic pigs made during the 1990s.

These pendants are used both as ornaments for men, either carried on the backs (fig. 5.33) or in the mouth by the dancers at the final stage of their initiations (as shown now for special ceremonies such as the support given to a candidate for the election: fig. 5.32). Tabanyawur described these ornaments as resembling men, but no one gave any other interpretation on the humanoid form these pendants have. Its their design (nyaap) said Kitnyora, Tabanyawur or Vitus. The nowt This is a head-ornament which is again worn both by men and waapi (fig. 5.30, 5.34 & 5.35). However, Tabanyawur the carver and Ganbakiya insisted on the fact that its name varies depending upon whether it is worn by men, in which case it is called a wakn, or worn by a waapi, when it is called a nowt.

They are placed around the head of the tuber, resting on a frame made out of sticks (fig. 5.35). These, along with the bapa (head) masks and the mayktak basketry yam masks, use the ngwaa vine (Lygodium sp.) as raw material. The process to make these ornaments is known by Tabanyawur and Vitus Kwajike, the latter being the only one today who can still make it for Kumim, Wulmapmu and Balukwil. It is said that as there are fewer and fewer secondary forests close to the village46, the only place to find ngwaa rope is in the jraa, north of Balukwil.

I only had a description of the process of making these head ornaments by Vitus Kwajike. Notes on this process are not reproduced in this thesis, but describe a complex technique, and was considered by Vitus as timeconsuming, whether preparing the rope, or the making itself.


Chapter 5 Touching the Matters

195 The yam masks: dumakna and dumja Dumakna and Dumja (lit. man-head man-comb) are both wooden masks (fig. 5.30 & 5.36).

Dumakna reproduces the face of a man (fig. 5.37). A high horizontal brow serves as a base for a perpendicular nose, the end of which forms an arrow. The eyes and the cheekbones are carved inside the curve of the wood. The mouth forms a groove, semi-circular, smiling. The painting follows the same structure as the one for a mans face on the dress called glpaal (The Black Hornbill). The top of the head and the line of the jaw present an excrescence in the form of a crescent, which is said to be the hair of the man and its beard.

Dumja presents some avian features (fig. 5.38). A long nose-beak extends from the brow on the same plane. The cheek and the neck are carved inside the wood, and the eyes are indicated by incision in flat semi-circles, oriented downwards.

According to Nmalk, for Kumim, and Nawaak, for Balukwil, with whom I worked the most, decisions on whether a Maabutap must wear one or the other depends only on the general shape of the tuber, in order to equilibrate the masses. Should the waapi be more narrow than thick, a dumja mask will be used. If the Maabutap is fat and long, it will wear a dumakna. However, the dumakna masks are predominant in most of the Maabutap presented. (fig. 5.38).

Both masks are made out of the Nyaagla, Kaab (TP: abok), or Yaawu trees, which are easily found in the middle-aged fallow (between 5 to 10 years).

Carving these masks is one of the crafts which is still regularly practised. Notes on basketry mask: mayktak Both dumjaa and dumakna wooden masks are more common now than the basketry masks called mayktak by Nyamikum carvers (fig. 5.59). Most of the people said that they have sold

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


them to western collectors, and the few who still have some sounded like they were ready to sell them. According to Tabanyawur, along with other craftsmen, basketry masks were not commonly used to decorate Maabutap, but were usually used for jaabi (i.e. D. esculenta cultivars; see Chapter 6) presented during the specific Saaki Laakt ceremony (Short Yam harvest ceremony).

They could, however, be used with waapi, depending again on the general size and shape of the tuber. Should the tuber be comparatively small and narrow, a mayktak (also called slgu, according to Gayinigi) would be used instead of a dumakna or a dumja, notably if the basketry mask itself is of a large dimension.

Discussions with both Tabanyawur and Kwajike showed that the process of making these basketry masks was a long and complicated one. Not only was the raw material, the ngwaa rope, harder to find (the same material is used for the nowt/waakn head-ornament) due to the scarcity of patches of old secondary forest, but few people had either the knowledge or the time to make them. The cassowary feather diadem: smutk The smutk is a specific head ornament (fig. 5.40) made out of cassowary feathers tied together by a rope of yvt (Gnetum gnemon), although Koch (1968: 68) mentions the use of Maam tree, i.e. sbiany rope (Althoffia pleiostigma (F. Muell.) Warbg.) and Nyamny, also used for bilum. These are used both for men (tied as a diadem) and for waapi (just behind the wooden mask). Apart from Tabanyawur, no one in Nyamikum knows how to make these ornaments according to my friends, but it is said that a renowned craftsman from Jaame, Wiyaapwi still knows the technique. The kaaya shell These ornaments are usually made out of baler shell (Cymbium sp.; fig. 5.41), but some men do not hesitate to use a simple piece of strong white paper from a carton box. Originally these shells were said to be acquired from the Bukni people (i.e. Mountain and Coastal Arapesh), and are said to have been exclusively worn by Big Men (see Koch 1968: figure 154-156, p. 74, and fig. 5.42) before their use became less restricted. In Nyamikum no one knows how to make them.

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters

197 The Bird of Paradise ornament: Manuwi These are complex artefacts (fig. 5.43) made out of the skin and feathers of a Bird of Paradise (Paradisea decora; Ab.: Manuwi). They can be part of either mens (fig. 5.34) or waapis decoration.

I did not see the technique used to make these but Vitus Kwajike described it to me during the preparation of the Waapi Saaki of Balukwil on the 13th of July 2003. Men go into the jraa, on the road to Kelewi, where they have located trees used by Birds of Paradise (see Beehler, Pratt and Zimmerman 1986: 231-232). They shoot a female (in fact a male one) using a catapult. Once killed, the Manuwi is brought back to the residence where its belly is opened and its internal organs removed. The skin is then peeled, with the feathers still attached to it, and left to dry in the sun for a period extending between a day and a week. A gawuk yaal (pith of a sago petiole) is then placed inside the skin to keep it straight and the skin is glued over it with the sap of the Maam tree (Althoffia pleiostigma (F. Muell.)Warbg.). A straight stick, sharpened on both sides, is then passed through the beak of the bird, and stuck into the gawuk yaal inside. The Manuwi ornament will then be planted onto the pitk, the transversal gawuk yaal placed underneath the head of the tuber. These ornaments are said to last up to five years if the owner looks after them and keeps them dry (for instance over a fire hearth). The diamond-shaped ornament: nyawurk Nyawurk literally means butterfly. The term initially defines a diamond-shaped motif, found on different media, either waapi decoration, or even architectural designs, made out of sbiany rope (fig. 5.44).

Regarding waapi decoration, it covers both an ornament used for waapi such as Bagwiwapi (decoration type D) and a small decorative element made out of string placed on the knots (gik) that suspend the waapi from its transportation log (fig. 5.26).

The former is an aerial structure (fig 5.45) made out of a frame of gawuk yaal (the inside pith of the sago petiole) combined with sblk sticks joined together. The actual motif is placed at the crossing of the sblk sticks, either with kbl string or commercial coloured nylon thread

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


bought in town, also used for bilum. The latter, the small decorative element is simply made out of kbl string, wrapped around two small sticks crossed together (fig 5.46).

A specific species of butterfly, nyawurk, is said to be helping the growth of the waapi vines, as mentioned by Takwudg and confirmed by Ganbakiya. However, when asked if there is a correlation between the butterfly and the motifs, the answer is usually: its only a design (TP. em mak blong em tasol). The shell rings: ywaa Robin explained that the shell rings are the most precious artefacts. The raw material, clam shells (Tridacna gigas), were acquired from the Coastal Arapesh, and then processed into a series of rings by local craftsmen. According to Robin, Kitnyora and most of my interlocutors, some villages were renowned for making these, including Nyamikum, where, nowadays no one knows how to make them anymore. Rumours say that Yaml and Ulupu villages are the only ones left that have the knowledge to make the rings. The operation was described as follows: a bamboo, attached vertically on a structure over the shell is turned to saw the ring off the entire shell, using stone powder as an active material. Once carved out of the shell, the rings were then sharpened on a stone normally used to sharpen knives, axes and stone adze blades. The price to have a ring made if one provides the raw material was usually a pig or nowadays kina cashmoney, depending on the size of the ring.

The value of the shell depends on a series of criteria which include size, shininess, whiteness, smoothness and a general harmony in the shape. The rings can be decorated with a series of notches (called raaj) that have been defined to me as their mark (nyaap). The size is evaluated by placing the ring in the upturned palm of the hand. The diameter is then checked by looking at the length of forearm the ring reached. The width of the ring itself is also a criterion: it must be in harmony with the general shape, and is called thickness. The thickest ones are said to come from Yangoru.

The shells can be hung around the neck of the tuber or tied to the side, using the kabw stick as support (fig. 5.47 & 5.48). They are usually placed just before the ceremony and removed immediately afterwards, in case of theft, even during the night following the presentation.48

Nowadays, during the night following the presentation and during the dancing, people use petrol lamps and put

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters

199 Notes on ywaa rings The ywaa rings seem to constitute one of the most precious valuables among the Abelam, and each lineage is said to hold a certain number of these shell rings.

The number of rings held by a lineage is always kept secret. They are exhibited only on specific occasions, such as the opening of a new kurabu: each clan will line its shell rings in order to show its strength and its wealth to the other lineage. However, as they also receive support from allies, and as the nature and value of this support is kept secret, no one can ever know how many rings a lineage really holds.

The rings also play a part in challenges between rivals. The following case illustrates one of the roles these rings can have.49 At the beginning of the 1990s, the lineages of two clans got into a bitter dispute over the fight between two of their youngsters. During a public meeting, members of clan A showed up dancing in line, each one holding a ywaa, an attitude which is supposed to be restricted to enemies between villages, in order to show their power. The Elder of clan B reacted by ordering his sons to hang their bilum on their heads and backs as females do and to dance like women. This dance was meant to remind the challenging clan A that members of clan B were their mothers, that is that the Gwaal of clan B had nourished them i.e. given them land by adopting them. The challenge made by the opposite clan was considered very offensive by the entire Nyamikum village and as a result of this offence, people from the offensive clan A started to die. This display of power by the offensive clan through the exhibition of their rings was seen as a challenge to the basic fear that they could be the targets of clans, estimating that their behaviour was too boastful. In their attempt to intimidate clan B, they took the risk of displaying their power, which in turn turned against themselves and attracted attacks by sorcery, as a reward for their non-respectful behaviour. Whether the attacks came from specific individuals or the deaths in clan A were a direct consequence of such an offensive behaviour remains unclear. But the display of the rings by Clan A was presented as a particularly important move by clan B.

lights on the side of every put where the waapi have been placed in order to prevent people (said to be mainly youngsters) stealing some of the ornaments, notably the rings, if they are not removed right after the presentation. 49 My interlocutor actually asked me not to mention the name of the parts involved.

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


Rather than being only symbols, ywaa rings act on two levels at the same time: as a conveyor of power, and as a mark (TP. mak, Ab.: nyaap), or materialised evidences of certain types of relationship.

As conveyors of power they are given to the Kajatudu who place them beside the hidden stone. It is through such contact that the yam grower will receive mystical support to obtain a long Maabutap (see Chapter 3).

One of the aspects of conveyors of power was described to me as associated with initiation ceremonies. A group of Big Men explained, in July 2003, that ywaa rings were displayed inside the kurabu, at the feet of the Mayra, the figure also called Gwaaldu or Puti (see Smidt and McGuigan 1994) in combination with the two types of cassowary bone daggers, aako or ynaa (fig. 5.49), planted in their middle, along with other composites materials. The whole was said to form what was called a wuti inaa.

These wuti inaa were said to be associated with specific activities and with specific clans. An initiate from this specific clan, estimated as strong and proficient enough, would be shown the particular wuti inaa associated to a specific activity, and would be asked to pick a particular element of the small composition (i.e. the cassowary bone dagger) and take it back, outside of the kurabu. By doing so, he was supposed to become responsible for the specific activity his clan was associated with, for the entire village. The type of speciality associated with these inaa seemed to have covered a wide range of activities, from cultivating specific crops or cultivars (including Maabutap) to magic, notably killing, as well as war or kurabu building.

Apparently this type of specialisation, notably concerning growing food, was running in parallel to the Maatu (the secret stone), but as initiations have not been held for a long period, it is difficult to determine the relationship between these two institutions. Kus, the magic, offensive one, was however the specialty of a certain clan, as was the building of the kurabu and the magic associated with. In fact, as previously mentioned, the clan associated with sorcery confirmed to have turned away from this type of practice to the profit of Church activities.

Whether this corresponds to a real specialisation, be it purely technical or magical, remains to be investigated. It nevertheless illustrates that the level of interdependency of the different km

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


of a village also relied on the necessity to acquire the support of another clan, in addition to the power received from the Maatu, if one really wanted to succeed in a given enterprise such as growing Maabutap, or erecting a ceremonial house. Similarly, the list of activities associated with these wuti inaa remains incomplete if not unknown.

In this type of context, rings seemed to have actually worked as conveyors of the power coming from the Mayra, and, when associated with specific elements (i.e., the cassowary bone dagger or specific leaves) be the marker of such a mystical power.

As markers, these rings also were the material evidence for a series of relationships established between either individuals or between groups. They were used to seal a gift of land, but also intervened in the complex exchanges between lineages, either during a marriage (see Appendix 07 and fig. 5.50) or during a funeral. As such, when exhibited during public meetings as evidence of an ancient agreement or alliance, they were the centre of attention of the public and their origin and particular history could be intensely discussed and commented upon (fig. 5.51). Thus, in May 2003, when a meeting with Kimbangwa was prepared in order to find a solution to the conflict over a land claimed by both villages, an Elder from a third village came to Nyamikum and exhibited the ring which had been given by Nyamikum some generations ago, in compensation for taking over the same piece of land (said to originally belong to this third village).50

Nyamikum people, notably with Robin, also commented on the fact that there were fewer and fewer of these rings, as new ones were seldom made, and as a lot of people in the Maprik area were selling them to the waitman for prices of up to K800 (approx. 160). Hence it was not surprising to see cash-money interestingly called ywaa in Abules partially replacing the rings in the acquisition of pigs and in bridewealth.

5.7.4. Decorate the Tubers: waapi kuso

The process of actually installing the various elements on the tubers can take several days and starts as early as one week before the actual day of presentation (see Appendix 05).

As the dispute was still ongoing and deals with the sensitive topic of land ownership and conflicts that could lead to real confrontations, the actual names of the individuals and places will remain anonymous to respect the will of the people involved.


Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


There is no real secrecy over the decoration, but the tendency is to hide the Maabutap to save the impact of their full revelation. Hence, men will bring their waapi to the kadiga close to their residence, or as in the case of Balukwil in July 2003, they will place them in the small reunion houses a smaller version of the put, open on both sides and make a wall made out of sagopalm leaves to hide them from passers-by. Men are often not working alone, but generally in groups of 2 to 4 or even 5, sometimes helped by a younger man who intends to learn the process. Discussion and pauses for smoking and chewing betel-nut are regular (fig. 5.52), including the moment when the meal will be brought either by a wife, or a younger man. Discussions about the general preparation of the ceremony or about rumours concerning other peoples Maabutap are made. The work is done until the evening comes, when it is too dark. Nmalk and Ganbakiya, sometimes helped by Gayinigi and Laavi, worked in 2002 and 2003 at Nmalks residence (fig. 5.53) at Yatnlavi hamlet.

The preparation of the elements is not a secret process and can be carried out in public, even during meetings or during the day in any open spaces, in view of everybody, including women or children or even strangers. Their installation on the waapi will, however, be done as discreetly as possible. While working at Nmalks place, we were only slightly hidden from the path by a small hill.

Appendix 05 describes the sequences in a general order, although the order of certain operations can be inverted. There are no specific rules about the order and I was told that no specific Yakt was necessary to decorate Maabutap apart from the avoidance of sex. Ganbakiya and Takwudg mentioned to me the use of mangup or silent song while collecting the elements (see above) but no such practice was ever made or mentioned to me during the process.

The variety of elements and techniques, either to prepare or assemble them, is generally wide, and includes the use of fire, air and sun to cook and dry certain materials in order to use them. Again one can notice the importance of strings and ropes, here associated with the whiteness of their colour.

5.7.5. Outline of a technical analysis

The decoration of a waapi gathers several technologies (or groups of techniques):

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


feather work meshwork and basketry painting carving rope- and string-making: two types namely: the sbiany rope (made out of the Maa tree: Althoffia pleiostigma (F. Muell.) Warbg.). Same techniques as for splitting bark. The same material can be used for houses; the kbl string (made out of a small green bamboo). This technique implies the use of the fire to take out the inert part of the bamboo wall.

The processes used also show a wide range of techniques: tying wrapping sowing sticking gluing cutting splitting sharpening scraping removing bark

Most of the Tools used are the same ones present in most of the everyday techniques: hands; kitchen knife; bush knife; needles; made out of the frame of an umbrella. Decorators mention the use of the bones of the wing of a local flying fox. Alternatively, for bigger sewing thread, one can use a simple stick to push the string/rope through the hole. brushes: commercial ones.

Raw materials also present an important variety (fig. 5.32). Interestingly, the use of modern materials, such as Chinese noodles or biscuit wrappings, must be consistent with the same type

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


of artefact. There is no mixing of materials. It is unknown when or how the use of these types of materials became adopted into the technical system, but at this stage I have not heard any comment about the preference for one or the other. One would, however, suspect that the comparatively small amount of modern materials (even if easily obtained, especially when compared to materials found only in the jraa) shows a tendency to resort to customary ones. When asked, my interlocutors both the ones using modern materials and the ones using the customary ones just considered that both were the same.

Several individuals cooperate in order to obtain the best possible result. While such cooperation usually follows the conditions set by proximity (residences, hamlets) and kinship (mostly agnatic ties and including kin from other villages), friendship also plays an important role. Proficiency is acknowledged in terms of painting, mask making or in the making of elements such as nyawurk. However, no individual was properly considered as a specialist of a specific technique. Everyone was said to be able to make all the decorative elements, even though certain individuals were recognised as better than others. Such situations, for instance in the making of wooden yam masks, implied the cooperation of different craftsmen who could make these items. Similarly, this is connected to the mastering of different techniques. Certain individual such as Kaspk are more proficient in the rather complex process of making kbl strings (see Appendix 05: OS.388-392), which implies a good mastery of the effects of fire on the bamboo.

This also connects to the nature of the processes necessary to obtain the finished product. Every process of rope or string making is generally time consuming and requires the mastering of the fibrous quality of the different types of material, along with the way to modify the original vegetal species in order to obtain the proper rope (or string) the interesting use here of fire to modify the original physical properties of the original bamboo. If certain processes were more complex and longer than others (such as the making of Manuwi ornaments), it generally implied that only a few individuals were likely to master them, making them specialists of a sort in the eyes of the community. Such individuals would perform their skills mostly during the period previous to the ceremonies and sometimes make items for those who would ask them, or those with whom they were closer.

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


As a series of techniques, rope-making touches several domains extending from waapi decoration to house building, including the making of ornaments and masks, as well as netting and knotting for bilum, pigs or birds nets. Such particularities of ropes, lines and strings has already attracted some attention from a symbolic point of view (Hauser-Schublin 1996), and is confirmed by the interesting amount of metaphors using the terms line (paat) and rope (baagwi). From a technical angle, rope and string making is placed at an essential position, as it intervenes in almost all aspects of both domestic and ceremonial life. There is an entire subject of investigation which remains to be done about the diversity of raw materials and of the processes necessary to obtain the ropes or the strings. Such study would certainly be an example of what type of relations one can make between technical systems and aspects of social life. For instance, from the point of view of the Nyamikum people, it seems that the environmental aspects (the recess of fallow old enough to contain the necessary vegetal species) associated with the availability of raw material relies considerably on the fact that rope has become a main problem for anyone who wants to undertake the making of certain items, such as the basketry masks and ornaments, armbands or even to build a kurabu. Going on a trip in March 2003 to one of the few patches of bikbus (big bush) in order to get some kaasa rope for the building of kurabu with Nmalk and Ganbakiya, the former made a comment about the fact that he had spotted the rattan some years ago and had told one of his sons not to cut the patch, as he knew that kaasa rope was available. Both then commented on the fact that younger people were too interested in city life. They were forgetting the names and the uses of the different vegetal species and were not paying attention enough to save areas for bikbus. Eventually this would lead to the disappearance in the Nyamikum area of certain useful species, among them would be the plants for ropes.

What has been attempted in this chapter is a glimpse into the detailed scale of action, the operational sequences in order to outline the already complex level of interlaced relationships with both material and non-material domains.

One of the fundamental aspects of this level is the way in which these sequences are organised both internally and in relation to each other. Two examples are particularly relevant in this matter.

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


Firstly, the planting of ka in the new Short Yam garden. The communal aspect of the entire operation a group of operational sequences divided among several individuals can be explained from an etic point of view by the necessity to gather an important workforce in order to perform a process otherwise too long for a single domestic unit whose size remains yet to be defined. Similarly, the communal aspect of this work is interlaced with the web of obligations and reciprocity in terms of support within the residence (the hamlet), the kinship system (the lineage and/or the km) and other types of relationships, notably personal affinities. Also coming into play is the fact that one needs to mix different types of Jwaai in order to obtain different sizes of tuber when the crops are harvested. In pure terms of yield the goal here is not to achieve the highest result and Robin was very insistent on the fact that no one wants to be better than the other, an attitude which would attract jealousy, resentment and eventually murderous attempts by means of sorcery.

In addition, the level of social interaction, rather high compared to the amount of work done, placed the emphasis on the fact that the session of work is also a social event, as one will see confirmed in the following chapter.

The division of labour here also intervenes for efficacy purposes. But, beyond the necessity of having ones yams planted in the most materially efficient way, what is essential is that everything must be done properly, and must go smoothly, although swiftly and in a good atmosphere. Good food, jokes, betel nut, tobacco and social interactions must be there, or people will feel reluctant to help someone who is not organising his planting in a proper way.

The division of the operations between individuals performing the digging, distributing the tuber and the planting itself, rather than reflecting a division between people proficient in one or the other domain, materialises, to a certain extent, the type of relationships existing within the community (and such a division is reflected in other communal work such as the building and the covering of a house, including the kurabu): younger fit men will do the work, competing almost jokingly between each other, under the eyes of the elders who will evaluate, direct and comment during the course of the work, and participate. Children will also play their part, helping or performing the same action as the adult on a smaller scale if necessary. The bapadu himself, a title which is also used for works such as the building of a kurabu, does not

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


intervene here as the boss of the work party, but as the one responsible for the good course of the work, by gathering the necessary ingredients for such an event (food, tobacco, betel nut), even though the actual goods are also brought by members of the work party (when I was going to help plant a garden, Robin always gave me a couple of tubers to give to the women responsible for the cooking, to support the family who was organising the planting). His purely material role per se is limited, but will nevertheless have an impact on the latter stage of his work: the types of tubers and their position in the garden, while it is to the digger to decide upon the density of the ka mounds in the entire garden.

Such communal work contrasts fundamentally with the planting of the waapi itself, a work which is done by a much smaller group of individuals in this case I have seen up to three men. There is no proper division of work and the complex and long process of building the kutapm is the work of one or two persons working together. The main operations deal with the earth and imply the transformation of the mechanical and physical quality of the soil. Here it is a more personal relationship established with the process, and it justifies the precautions that one must take in order to do so. Digging the soil, notably the waagu, implies a connection with the underground where spirits dwell, notably the bakwaam, who will feel and evaluate ones Yakt and behaviour, and if not pleased, the tuber will not be able to grow well. As the cleaning and breaking up of the soil itself is also fundamental in order to remove any bits which might interfere with the growth of the tuber, one sees that the material aspects of the process confirm and are interlaced with the non-material ones.

The second example relates to another type of interdependency. The decoration of the waapi for the Long Yam ceremony illustrates a huge variety of operations, materials and processes. There is no proper division of labour and the work party will work in a completely informal way, even though some operations require a certain level of proficiency and mastery. The main criterion is appropriateness of the whole, as well as a good evaluation of the intended result. Certain details can be improvised and adapted according to availability of raw material. The entire series of operational sequences reflects a lower level of material interdependency compared to the other sequences described. The decoration process involves the aggregate of different elements, not all connected: there is no proper order in the sequences apart from a few logical steps, such as the need to suspend the tuber from the log before decorating it, or the nowt ornament must be placed over the head of tuber after the tying up of the roots to the remains of the vines. Such

Chapter 5 Touching the Matters


low material interdependency between the sequences allows the process to be made by several people at the same time, without any specific order. However, the nature and diversity of the material involved call for a wide range of domains, from the garden to the jraa, from the waitman to customary birds, pigs, rings, paints, flowers, vines and wood. The finished artefact presents itself as a synthesis of these domains and of the processes which bring them together.

Keeping in mind the series of factors outlined in Chapter 3, along with the interaction of the different technological components defined by Lemonnier (1992, Chapter 4), one can already perceive the interactions of multi-dimensional elements.

All the operational sequences described here are but only fragments taken out of longer processes with which they are connected from several angles, be it materials (same material intervening, be it raw materials or artefacts), technical (similar techniques used for different operation), or non-material (rules of behaviours, Yakt, influence of the Jwaai, relationships between clans, hamlets), and so on.

In the following chapter we will move away from the level of the operational sequence to look at the more general picture of the entire series of operational sequences forming that we arbitrarily refer to as steps.

* *