Friday, June 29, 2012

Magic and Memory

When I was a child I lived in a place that had magic. 

A classmate of my sister’s, she would have been seven at the time, told everyone how his grandmother got taken by a crocodile - a puk puk - and how the men in his family hunted it down and cut it open so they could bury her remains.

Andrew from Jaquinot Bay babysat Kath and me. He worked in the bank with my father, but his mother was the chief’s daughter, which made her a princess. We listened wide-eyed to Andrew’s stories.

Spirit animals, sacred places and taboo. We picked up local customs and mythology in a way that adults never can: with absolute certainty. Children don’t begin sentences with: “My people believe…” Children don’t draw boundaries on belief systems. I believed the things that my friends believed, because I was five.

The volcanoes in the bay in Rabaul were called Mother and the Sisters. They breathed smoke into the sky. So did Mount Bagana on Bougainville. You couldn't tell where the smoke met the clouds. 

You could sing bad spirits away.

The ragged mountains made up the spine of a puk puk curling around the bay.

The rumbling earth...a guria

A boy down the street had dyed red hair like one of the Toli. The Toli are head-hunters.

Bats and a graveyard. War memorials and frangipani blossoms. Pigs and spears. Shell money and bride price. The road stained red with betelnut. Once, a turtle lying on a jetty while the men hacked its fins away. Blood staining the jetty and running between the boards into the water. 

The rusting shells of tanks and planes being overtaken by the jungle. 

A world that smelled of salt water and rain.  

It still feels magical and terrible now. 

What did your world look like when you were a child? 


  1. Such vivid memories, such a unique land and people.

    You know you're going to have to write a novel about this, don't you?

    1. I think I do...although I've already read the definitive book set in Bougainville: Mister Pip by LLoyd Jones. It's a great book, even though I've only read it once because it was so sad.

      The town I lived in no longer exists. It's a very weird thing to look back at your school photos and wonder what happened to your friends during the war.

    2. There's your opening paragraph right there.

  2. Oh, I so know what you mean. Of course, your world sounds very exotic compared to mine in Colorado. But when I was a kid my family backpacked a lot in the mountains. My sister liked to tell us stories about the "watchers in the woods," which were supposed to be Native American spirits or something. Freaked me out, because I totally believed they were out there in the trees watching us at night.

    1. Colorado is hugely exotic! Anything with snow is exotic to me. And hello: Watchers in the Woods? That's seriously creepy stuff there.

      I love how childhood is so small-drawn, but so intensely vivid.

  3. This was mesmerizing. I agree with Maine character that you wiill end up writing more than thisost about it. My own childhood world was exotic In a different way. My. Other was a stage struck opera si her with a gypsy soul, which led to some interesting stories for sure.

    1. I think I definitely have a New Guinea story somewhere in me. All the images are there, I just need the plot!

      Your mother sounds absolutely fascinating!



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