National Geographic : 1972 Jan
in their pandanus skirts and great flowing wigs woven with strips of pandanus leaves. The unusual headdress serves a purpose. Tradi tion forbids women from being seen by their hus band's brothers, so if a girl happens to be out walk ing along a trail when one of her brothers-in-law wanders by, she squats beside the path and covers her face with the wig. For days Bong reigned as the center of interest at Amok, until he was upstaged one morning by the arrival by helicopter of a white man and woman my cameraman and his wife. A week before Jacques and Charlene were to fly from Santo, I prepared the Big Nambas for the event. Planes flying high overhead are almost a daily occurrence at Amok, but one landing on their ceremonial ground is another matter. We cleared the area and stacked wood for a signal fire to be lit when the craft came into view. I had secured the chief's permission for the land ing, but everyone seemed apprehensive. "Kal, you tink helicopter savvy kill im dead you me?" a Namba man asked anxiously one day. He, like the News of a pig-killing echoes through the jungle as a Big Namba pounds a wooden slit gong. Until a few decades ago such a sound might have an nounced the slaying of a human. In the late 1940's the Anglo-French Con dominium extended its rule over the area, and tribal warfare and canni balism ceased. Wielding a leafy wand, a female witch doctor treats a sick child in a Small Namba village (left). Concerned parents look on. Malaria and untreat ed infections account for a high mor tality rate among Namba infants. Clad in low-slung skirts, Big Nam ba women plant yams in a village gar den. "The yams have a bland taste," says the author, "like overcooked po tatoes." He usually doused them with ketchup or soy sauce to provide some flavor. Namba men clear the land, but women do most of the gardening as well as the cooking.