Sunday, February 15, 2015

Back to West Papua at last!

It was difficult to make this "Hungku turn-a-round" in the short time allowed by international flights but guide Yoris and my friend Annette at Asti made it work. It was important to speak at the Heritage Society in Jakarta and exciting to visit Asti in Bogor ( Asti is doing an amazing job rehabilitating and releasing animals belonging to endangered species.

Arriving in Manokuari, West Papua I found chief Moses surprisingly emotional. He was reduced to tears of joy and made my visit a wonderful reunion.

What did I expect? They wanted water and electricity and now they have both. It was meant to be a "good thing," but I was so surprised. Hungku is so much different. Gone is so much of the primitivism that I love. Tribal houses on poles still remain, but the village is re-designed and all new houses are on the ground with cement floors. They are in open spaces with little roads of dirt. Bright blue synthetic houses run from house to house. Houses have windows. The hoses are the water system. The windows are indications, and they are no longer afraid of tribal wars.

We drove to the largest of these new houses. Here we would spend the night after a long wild journey by four wheel drive. Yaris, Moses, and I had long enough arms to reach and hold onto the roll bars. Thomas sat in the back. The rest including Thomas' wife and several children held onto us and each other as we dodged trees, boulders, and gaping erosion holes. We missed by inches bright yellow bulldozers and road building equipment.

Our exhausted driver, a Muslim from the Celebes went right into the new house and set up a place to pray and do his ritual washing. Yoris began cutting vegetables and boiling rice for dinner. I looked around. The cement floored house has five rooms and a little porch with a chair (Imagine!) that faced Mt. Hungku (as on the map Moses had drawn several years ago). A large cloth banner hung on the exterior wall. A colored logo and printing in Indonesian.  It said:

District Government Arfak Mountains office politics and National unity protection of the public.
Dr Dominggus Mandacan Ullong

But, the good news was the logo had a colored picture and it was a picture of the mountain and the Bower Bird.

I was so happy and even happier as tribal friends came down the road the road carrying a real mattress for me. It was still covered in its plastic wrap. Everyone came to visit and show off their new wives and babies and darkness fell. Suddenly little tiny lights came on and people cheered. Electricity! We would have light for one half hour.

Their cheers cleared my confused mind for I suddenly realized they are happy on their land. They want to stay when they leave the mountains for it is hot and dirty and busy. They get headaches and are confused and malaria troubles them. The road helps them get their beautiful vegetables to market and they can stay home to enjoy the cool quiet environment.

Water and electricity appear to be a good moral boost for these beautiful people!

There would not be time to build my usual "Hotel Hungku" and visit the bowers and Moses understood. He took my two disposable cameras and four of his men to climb to the bowers at dawn.

One was his grandson, Bayan, whose mother had just died of malaria. Apparently, she refused medication which she believed caused cancer.

When the men returned in the late morning Moses was sad. "They are not ready yet and your old Hotel Hungku is covered in vines." Bayan had a big gash in his bare foot, but was stoic. I cleaned it and wrapped it and fell grateful he has been to the Bowers.

As we left  he displayed his affection as is customary by placing his hand on his heart. I retured the gesture and felt happy this teen age boy had been to the Bowers with his grandfather and knew the story. Some day he will be chief.

The developed photographs show there is still activity at the bowers but there is a disturbance.

I left forty revised copies of The Clever One in their language and English for the children. Twenty of these were paid for by Maureen Hogan of Marblehead.

Hopefully I can return and focus on the bird. The people will be okay, but will the bird adapt? Will there be a renaissance in Bower Bird History?