National Geographic : 1972 Jan
National Geographic, January 1972 accused, Bialo, stood leaning on a cane, his expression sad and worried (page 66). Bialo aroused my sympathy. An elderly, gentle-looking man, he seemed an easy target, since he already had the reputation of a sorcerer and had been convicted of several poisonings. Once he had been sentenced by fellow villagers to two years in the govern ment jail at Lamap on the coast. The girl's father, sitting on a fence and pointing an accusing finger at Bialo, began the testimony by blaming him for the girl's death. I could not understand the words, but his eyes were so expressive and his manner so sincere that I was ready to believe almost anything he said. He kept everyone enthralled -including, apparently, even old Bialo, who managed only an ineffectual gesture of pro test from time to time. Metak explained to me that the father was testifying he had seen Bialo throw leaves that hit the girl on the chest. She immediately became ill, and died a week later. Bialo vigorously denied the charge, but nearly everyone seemed convinced of his guilt. Realizing this, Bialo suddenly staggered and fell, probably from tension, and crawled through the dirt for 20 feet before collapsing. Confrontation Ends With a Handshake Through all the excitement, while accusa tions flew and Bialo sprawled on the ground, Ilabnambinpin sat impassively next to a fire. Pulling on his pipe in deep thought, he sent out an occasional streak of yellowed saliva between his teeth. Now, finally, he stirred. Everyone fell silent. Approaching first the accuser, then the accused, he sat next to each for a moment, asked brief questions, and heard their replies with a detached air. When he took his place again by the fire, I sensed that the verdict had been decided. Upon the chief's recommendation, the men found Bialo guilty, and fined him one tusker pig and about $10 worth of Australian curren cy. Bialo approached me with an anguished plea for the money. Feeling sorry for him, I lent him the sum. He gave this to the girl's father with some coconut fronds that symbol ized the pig he would have to furnish. Old Bialo then started away, shouting that he never again would set foot in Yabga tass. Ilabnambinpin abruptly called him back and made him shake hands with the father. Bialo barely touched his accuser's fingertips, then hobbled away. Death and Funeral a Year Apart Another death occurred while I was away from Lendombwey. This time sorcery was not suspected. The deceased was Tabwibal embank, Metak's elderly relative whom I had seen in the hut during the storm. I remem bered gratefully that he had saved us from being doused, or possibly worse, with his advice to strengthen the hut's roof. For a year, the old man's leaf-covered body lay undisturbed on a funerary platform just off the ceremonial ground of the village. Then a funeral took place, coinciding with my re turn after an absence of several months. Some aspects of the ceremony, I was told, had not been performed since World War II-"time man America allgetta he come long fight," as the people date the war-and were revived in my honor. To prepare for the ceremony, Tabwibalem bank's skull was detached from the skeleton and put on a bamboo framework. Then it was covered with a paste of reddish clay and vegetable fibers and shaped to resemble the dead man's features (page 70). A stylized body was formed under the skull. Patterns of lines and circles painted on the body symbolized the man's rank in the Nimangi society. Several smaller marionette-like figures were fashioned from the same materials. After ten nights of dancing, the rhamba ramb, or funerary effigy, was carried in a pro cession around slit gongs on the ceremonial ground (page 71). The women, forbidden to stand on the grounds, wept and wailed a short distance away. The next day I joined other spectators at Hair of cobwebs and flesh of clay encase the skull of a Small Namba hero. During his lifetime Kaiapamban, father of Chief Ilabnambinpin, won renown as a leader in battle; his enemies could not kill him, and other warriors stayed near him to share his immunity. A year after his death and before the final rites, tribesmen detached his skull and molded over it a likeness of the man. Such ritual images remain with the families of the dead, the objects of remembrance and affection. The skull of the mighty Kaiapamban is also thought to retain beneficial powers for the village.