National Geographic : 1972 Jan
headband in which to stick my pipe and no tortoiseshell earrings or wooden plug dec orating my ears and nose. No wide bark strap topped by a leather belt held up my namba. I didn't even have a namba! My muddy boots did not compare with his blue sneakers topped by knee-length red and-white socks (left). He had donned this prized footwear, I learned later, especially to impress his visitors. Pigs Bring Honor to Namba Chief I resisted the urge to reach for a camera instead of his hand, but a few minutes later I broke my self-imposed rule of delaying picture-taking until I had spent a few days with my subject. In Ilabnambinpin's case, I couldn't wait. While Ilabnambinpin looked on like a benevolent grandfather, I read my light meter and set the aperture and focus. Though it's unlikely he had ever seen a camera before, he held a straight face, sensing that was the thing to do. Then, suddenly, he burst into laughter. "All same what em?" I asked a porter. "For what em old fella he laugh?" "He like em you too muss," he replied. Afterward, the old chief laughed often, and always I received the same explanation: He liked me very much. I never figured out why, since we exchanged few words. Ilab nambinpin knew little pidgin, and I didn't know his language. Ilabnambinpin won his prominence as a leader through the ownership and killing of male pigs on ceremonial occasions. These do mesticated pigs earned him higher and higher grades in the Nimangi, or graded society, that prevails among Small Nambas and other tribal groups in the New Hebrides. Though Ilabnambinpin cannot impose his will upon others, his high rank in the Nimangi gives added weight to his opinions and assures that he will be consulted on important matters. As in other parts of the world, it helps in the Small Namba region to have had a respected father. Ilabnambinpin's had been a famous warrior, reputedly immune through magic from bullets and poisoned arrows. He was in great demand as a leader of war parties, and his services were rewarded with tusker pigs that he bequeathed to his son. Recognizing his prominence, the British French Condominium Government gave I1 abnambinpin the title of "assessor." As such, he shares the bench with the magistrate in "His regal manner impressed me," recalls author Muller of his first meeting with Small Namba Chief Ilabnambinpin (left). To greet the visitor-apparently the first out sider ever to reach Lendombwey-the chief has donned his prized sneakers and knee socks, per haps purchased on the coast. He also wears pig tusk armlets and a namba, or penis wrapper, of banana leaf. Big Namba men wear a bulkier nam ba of woven pandanus leaves; hence the names of the two tribes. The strong friendship that developed between the chief and the author aided enormously in Mr. Muller's study of the Small Namba culture. Ilab nambinpin helped him win acceptance from reluctant villagers and allowed him to witness taboo events. Here (below) the chief teaches Mr. Muller how to braid a rope of forest vines. Such native skills held great interest for the self-taught anthropologist, who was drawn to Lendombwey and its unchanging way of life.