National Geographic : 1962 May
Australian New Guinea hiding her from me, and I gave up the attempt. To me, this was the saddest thing about kuru, this shame the Fore feel about a dis ease that strikes them alone among all of mankind's millions. OFF NEW GUINEA's eastern tip, be tween the Coral and Solomon Seas, lies a double handful of the South Pacific's love liest isles. Yet visitors are all but unknown here, hotels are nonexistent, and even the ad venturous yachtsmen who regularly pop up in out-of-the-way corners of Polynesia seem to have overlooked these Melanesian islands. Of them all, I chose to visit Kiriwina, larg est of the Trobriands - probably because I had so vivid a picture of it from reading, as a boy, Bronis law Malinowski's Argonauts of the Western Pacific. Malinowski had gone there at the time of World War I to study the trading voy ages of these remarkable people. Now, after 40 years and another war, I wanted to see how much they had changed. Practically speaking, they haven't. True, I heard a group of teen-agers one evening stroll ing a coral path at dusk, strum ming "Pistol Packin' Mama" on their guitars. But this, and the scrub-choked roads and airstrips that still lace the island's heart, were the only wartime legacies I was conscious of. Otherwise Kiriwina remains a never-never land of arching coco nut palms and delightful South Spirit of adventure rides with Chimbu tribesmen who fly for the first time to copra planta tions on New Ireland. Wearing red laplaps given by the recruit er, the contract laborers leave highland villages for two-year terms of work. At home these young men wear pig grease and feathers, but one of their leaders sits on the Legislative Council at Port Moresby (page 636). Seas villages peopled by some of the finest looking natives in the Pacific (pages 630-33). The islanders still carve wondrously intricate prow and stern boards for their huge outrig ger canoes, and they still make the daring voyages that link their home with other coral isles across many miles of open sea. Even today the islanders have little or no knowledge of the world beyond their own shimmering waters. "Pardon me, taubada [elder]," a G-string clad schoolboy asked me one day in Kava tari, one of Kiriwina's hundred or so settle ments. "What is the name of your village?" He pronounced his English slowly and with great care.