Clarrie James volunteered for the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit and operated as a patrol officer during World War II.
I suspect that the slaying of a villager by Karai had its sequel in sorcery involving my three ‘cook’ boys. In Australia with the Aborigines it’s ‘pointing the bone’. In New Guinea with the natives it’s ‘pourri pourri’.
The New Guinean view of death is different from that of the European. With our scientific knowledge we are generally able to diagnose the cause of death. We cannot defy its inevitability but mostly we accept it. Not so the stone-age New Guinean. He does not accept the inevitability of death – to him the cause is imagined, not real. The result is he seeks revenge – ‘payback’ – for a wrong which he believes has been perpetrated against his kin and resulted in a death.
Enmities have their origins in minor problems, and like the lowly acorn which grows into a mighty tree, the little problems become ‘big troubles’ if they remain unresolved. With the primitive, there is cause and effect – the difference being that he conceives a fanciful idea of the cause and brings about an effect.
My first experience of ‘pourri pourri’ came quite unexpectedly one bright sunny morning. As I proceeded to the outside toilet – the haus pekpek – I passed Bonkora, Ghia, and Anuhti, none of whom were locals, sitting in the sun against the rear kitchen wall, laughing and joking.
A short time later, as I returned, I noticed a dramatic change in their demeanour. Gone were their laughing faces. They sat in silence, glum, crestfallen. I could not help but notice the difference. I asked, “What’s the matter with you fellows?”
“’Pourri pourri’ has been made against us,” Bonkora replied and opened his hand to disclose a small parcel made from a tanket leaf. He unrolled it to reveal three or four blackthorns. Ghia and Anuhti produced similar packages. These three were as good as dead.
“But who gave you this?”
“A man from the village of the warrior whom Karai killed,” said Bonkora.
“Where is this man now?”
“He has gone.”
I realised that the sorcerer could not have gone far because it happened such a brief time before. I sounded the alarm and the police went in pursuit. A little later they returned with a villager in custody. By this time, too, a number of interested onlookers had gathered.
“Is this the man?’ I asked.
With that I drew my revolver and pointed it at the ‘poison-maker’.
“Don’t! Don’t shoot him,” they exclaimed, but little did they know I was putting on a big act.
“If you kill him, we will die,” Bonkora added.
“What is the remedy?” I asked.
“This man who made the ‘pourri pourri’ must take this poison and put it in running water before we are free.”
The little channel running past the house was but a few steps away. The parcels were given back to the sorcerer and when we moved to the running water, he placed them one by one into it. The effect on the victims was immediate. The death sentence had been lifted and the trio relaxed and became as normal. Then I released a very scared sorcerer.
Karai was ‘my’ policeman and as I was of another kind and untouchable by ‘pourri pourri’, the ‘payback’ had been made against my servants instead.
Now I too, knew naked fear at night. Unconsciously, it had built up within me from the time the Garfukus had begun to challenge my authority, saying that it was Japan’s time and they would help them. Probably, their stalking of my people and the threat of Japanese patrols had accelerated the conditioning process.
I slept alone on the plateau with a primed hand-grenade and a loaded revolver under my pillow and my rifle beside the bed, with a round in the breech. During most nights, I would flash into wakefulness at the slightest sound. My ears would strain to capture even the softest of noises, while my memory reached desperately into my brain to identify it and associate it with its cause. I would lie there completely motionless, not wishing to create a competing sound, sweating profusely. My heart thump, thumped, until finally my ears rang with the intensity of listening and I no longer possessed the capacity to hear what was happening in the external world.
Before me would pass a vision of a native throwing a lighted stick on the grass-thatched roof of my house, followed by a Japanese hunting me down. In the end, I would find that it had been a rat responsible for disturbing me with its noise and leaving me mentally and physically drained. Night after night I lived through that dreaded experience, with no one else to share it.