National Geographic : 2012 Feb
At this time men and women lived in sepa- rate caves, John continues. In the evening, the men would go up to a special cave to sing. But one night a certain man pretended he was sick and stayed behind. When he could hear the men singing, he snuck down to the women's cave and had sex with a woman. When the men returned, they sensed some- thing was wrong. One man suddenly felt jeal- ousy, another felt hatred, another felt anger, and another felt sadness. is is when man learned of all bad things. is is also when sorcery began. , back in Ulapunguna, John is sitting on his haunches, hands over the re, head down. ere are no owers or ferns in his curly black hair. He is deeply agitated. Joshua says the spirits of Kopao came to John in the night. e skulls spoke to him. e black sockets had red eyes like some nocturnal bush creature. The skulls said they had seen John bring a white man into the sacred place. ey had heard John tell the secret story to the white man, and they were angry. is was a story for the Meakambut, not for the white man. John is worried that the spirits might pun- ish him by killing Lidia. He has a bad feeling. He wants to leave immediately, run out of the mountains to the river and paddle downstream to wherever she is. I am to blame for his fears and feel as if I have betrayed these people. Belief in sorcery and witchcra is common throughout Papua New Guinea. Amnesty Inter- national cites media reports stating that 50 peo- ple accused of sorcery were murdered in 2008; some were burned alive. British author Edward Marriott describes in his 1996 book, e Lost Tribe, how he was blamed when a woman and four children were killed by a lightning strike, and he was forced to ee for his life. If Lidia dies, it is likely that I will be blamed. We explain to John that paddling downstream will take several days and that our motor dugout is expected back upstream tomorrow, when we can take him to the clinic in Amboin. Satis ed with the plan, John surprises us by admitting that his people ran out of food yesterday, so to- day they must make sago. When I suggest we go hunting instead, he shakes his head. We follow Mark and his wife, Jelin, to the sago camp. Making sago is an arduous operation. Mark hacks out pulp from the heart of a felled palm tree; the pulp is transferred to a trough lled with water, and Jelin squeezes it against a coconut-husk lter, pressing out an orangish white paste. e group works for six hours, glis- tening with sweat, slowly fatiguing. By late af- ternoon they've collected 40 pounds of gummy sago---not bad for an a ernoon's work---and we head back to Ulapunguna as the rain begins. That night it's fire-fried sago pancakes for dinner. Sago is a carbohydrate with essentially no protein, fat, vitamins, or minerals. Although John had made it clear they were proud to be hunters and that they shot a pig every week, we haven't seen any meat. John, Joshua, and I sit by the fire, chewing the bland, gummy pancakes, talking late into the night. John begins to let down his guard. He admits that his group hasn't eaten meat or killed a pig for over three months. He is deeply wor- ried for his people. He says that there used to be several hundred Meakambut. Now they lose two babies for every one that lives. He says that there are no pigs le in the mountains, no cassowaries in the jungle, no sh in the streams. When the camp re dies out, John whispers something he wants me to pass on to the government of Papua New Guinea. It is a message. the Embarakal group begin decorating themselves for the journey e next morning John is agitated. e skulls had seen him tell the secret story to the white man. ey are angry.