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Jane Fajans is a professor of Anthropology at Cornell University. She is blogging on location from the island of Papua New Guinea, near the Mariana Trench in the South Pacific, where she is conducting fieldwork with the Baining people. Her from-the-field updates will be key insights into this culture. Jane was invited to join the James Cameron expedition during their time in Papua New Guinea.
I arrived in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea, on Thursday evening, March 1, 2012. At the moment I’m staying in a lovely beachside resort for a few days.
Across the bay from my hotel I can see several volcanoes. Two of these volcanoes are active and letting off steam, but they are not presently erupting. The last major eruption in 1994-96 destroyed much of the town of Rabaul. During that eruption a whole new mountain emerged.
Photo by Jane Fajans.
Yesterday morning (Thursday) I went to the Kokopo Market, the biggest
market in this region. Lots of people bring produce to this market and
sell it to earn cash. Others, many of whom have jobs but not food
gardens, come to buy these goods. There are separate pavilions for
different types of foods: vegetables, fruits, starchy staples such as
potatoes, sweet potatoes, taro (a tuber that is widely eaten here), and
pitpit (another starchy food that is unknown outside of this region).
Another pavilion has only betel nut (the fruit of the areca palm). Betel nut is chewed, but not swallowed, in tandem with the fruit of a variety of pepper plant, which is dipped into a powdered lime substance made from old limestone coral. When mixed together, this combination of ingredients turns bright red in the mouth, even though none of the individual ingredients themselves is red. It gives a short burst of energy, sort of the equivalent of a cup of coffee. People chew it and spit it out as we do with chewing gum.
Photo by Jane Fajans.
Yet another pavilion sells cooked foods including smoked fish from the nearby ocean, banana leaf bundles of cassava mixed with banana, and cassava mixed with fish. They also sell fresh coconuts filled with cooling, thirst-quenching coconut water. Coconut water has recently become a popular drink in the U.S.A. I prefer drinking it from a coconut rather than from a cardboard box, but often that is not an option. Either way, it is delicious.
Right now mangos are in season, so the market is full of juicy mangos, oranges, sweet bananas, and also starchy bananas (sometimes called plantains), which are cooked as part of a meal. There are also lots of peanuts and a local nut called galip nut.
I went to the market to find some Baining people and tell them that I was back in town, hoping that I could arrange to drive back up to the Baining Mountains with them in a few days time. I found a truck of Baining farmers with a big load of peanuts. They come with the truck to the market from Malasait village every day. I arranged to meet them again the next week and go home with them. Their village is still many hours walk from where I want to go, but that is the way I have always gotten up there. I’m glad to know that I have made a start on my travels.
That’s all for now.