Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Waninyanapu Hunting-gu-na, Guya-lih (we went hunting for fish)

Barramundi bigeswan!This is the kind of fish we were after- we ate this one the other day!

Yesterday Wamut lent me the car and I took my niece and some babies and family fishing. It was so good to drive out of Ngukurr- but was a bit concerned about the wet everywhere ( we had 69mm rain the night before, which cyclone Monica kindly sent our way)- actually I even asked my niece if it wasn't too wet to go fishing- I wish I could write the way she says 'no' at times like that, like 'naoo! (are you mad!)', 'we have a car don't we, we can sit in the car' (?!), as we were leaving she told Greg if he saw wamut ( yet another wamut) walking back, he would know we were stuck some where, which made me think I am not going to listen to her advice about the road! I think when Old Ladies are travelling with a 'married man' (an older mature man, no longer a teenager) they take more risks- anyway the road was terrible and driving anywhere with anyone (especially when it is wet) means trusting their knowledge of the roads...
And my son, this other Wamut directed me very astutely when I hesitated to drive through huuge puddles (rivers across the road really).. 'should I put it in four wheel drive' ? and he would say 'no mami, hadwan graun dijan iya- yu kip gon- yu kan wari bla dis rod' (this is hard ground here , don't worry) and after i had driven through, he would say , ' you could feel that hard ground?' and I would smile (bigwan) and say yes!

So we stopped at a spring and sat by the river bank ( the air was all misty and wet) and I sighed with relief to be listening to the birds and the water and smelling the eucalyptus... After we collected enough live bait we drove across, 'shotkat' back to a part of the Roper... When finally we could see the river in the distance wamut told me to leave the car, but my Old nis ( she is an old woman) didn't like the idea of walking and told me to keep going, I stopped- and as we started to walk and sank knee deep into the mud 'blacksoil country' I silently thanked wamut for telling me when to stop... But it was a long walk, the other quickly outstripped me and nis (carrying buckets of water with bait fish and lines) and I think we got a bit lost, because when we reached the river bank, my nis giggled and pointed out to me that we had walked the long way round!

Sitting down to fish a bit away from the others ( who gave me the best fishing place, even though everyone know I am the least likely to catch anything!), I started imagining all the crocodiles in the river ( which is huge and brown) when one came out right in front of me! About a meter from the bank his whole head snout and most of his body and one yellow eye looking right at me! I jumped up and he dove under and I thought Oh No! He's going to run up the bank and eat me! About two seconds later I registered that it had been a freshwater crocodile, not a man-eating saltie... but I was still scared enough to pull in my line and go and sit with the others. My nis was sorry we didn't have a spear or we could kill it, because, she said the old (very Old Man, my dedi) who lives in her kemp would cook it and eat it.

Hours past and we caught only one catfish- the small boy who was with us started to get hungry, everyone told him to stop crying or he would scare all the fish away, but everyone started hunting around for a lighter to cook the catfish for him- but no luck. I was hungry and tired of sitting trying to be patient.. After another hour or so it suddenly dawned on me that maybe everyone was waiting to for me to leave, and I suggested in a small voice, maybe it was time to go, and within about thirty seconds everyone was packed up and walking back! Now I have been fishing many many times before even with this same group of people and often felt like I was too impatient, or got hungry too quickly and when I asked to leave the old ladies might explain that the fish will bite when the sun is lower in sky, or just sit silently and keep fishing. So I was shocked to realise everyone had been waiting for me to say when to to leave. And as we trudged back through the mud, I asked my nis why no-one asked me to go- 'wal yu have to decide, isn' it!' 'you brought us here'!

The more I think about this, every which way, I try and understand why for that situation, I was 'the boss' where as in most other situations I have been in, I have merely been a player with someone else determining the game. It could be because before we left I explained what my research project was and asked permission to record the conversation as we drove along in the car, but then again we have done that before too- all trips are meant to be about 'language' actually there is so much going on all the time and I always realise after the fact that I have been very slow in realising something. Usually something that I would think is very subtle and everyone else would think is glaringly obvious. Like today when I went to work at the bottom camp and everyone told me again and again that there was no power ( the power often goes off) and I said well we will keep working anyway right? I have batteries (actually I thought lovely, no fans humming, no TV in the background, nice clear recording). It was only later as we sat down and wamut got up and walked away to the shop (to buy a powercard) I realised this was a kind of 'display of need' and I hadn't caught on fast enough to offer to buy a powercard ( I thought the power in the whole community was off)- but you know, I should have, because it really is unusual for everyone to stand up and tell me something like that over and over again.

Like when we were fishing, one of the men was saying pointedly and loudly to the little boy- you are hungry hey?' and I was thinking that is unusual, obviously the boy is hungry it make it any easier telling him.. and of course in hindsight I realise this was meant for me ! This was a cue for me to suggest that we leave... He also tried speaking Kriol, loudly and carefully ( also very unusual) directing it at me and Nis and in hindsight I think he was trying to get out of the way whatever it was I wanted to get done there!

I think there is (as in any social group) different 'rules' at different times and places. For example if I was at the shop, any number of people might ask me for money, or a lift, or to buy this or that- but being in someone's own camp (house), or out bush there are clearly other things governing the interaction. A friend makes a distinction in her research of Ngukurr between three kinds of 'place' or maybe even 'law' (meaning like rules, regulations), one is traditional, one is governed by the Church ( Ngukurr was an Anglican Mission) and the other is the government/council. ... Maybe it is possible that each of these three institutions have different rules of etiquette and interaction, which might explain some of the inconsistencies of feeling like 'everyone tells you what to do', blatant humbug, and then feeling like 'how come no-one told me what to do?!' subtle autonomy..

It also makes me think of the incredible and un-whitefella like amount of autonomy people are given in a traditional sense, to decide what they want to do and how to do it, and when without having to explicitly explain the plan and motivations to everyone all the time. Very early on living in Ngukurr I learnt to do (in someways) whatever someone told me- even if I didn't understand at the time, because almost always a week or so later it would dawn on me. I am sorry to go on but I have to illustrate with an example- I was picking up language centre mob in the truck to drive to Katherine ( last year sometime) and these two girls (teenagers) got in and would not get out. Nor did they greet me or explain why they were there, or who they were. I was exhausted and angry and told them there was no room... but they didn't get out and everyone else that came to the car said they wouldn't come because there was no room ( rather than telling the two girls to get out). One of the language centre workers yelled at them, told them they must stay... anyway after considerable humbug we left, with the two girls in tow. Sometime 200km's later one of them quietly explained ( as though she were talking to herself) how glad she was to be able to leave and not be forced into marriage- it turned out I had bailed out two young brides of an arranged marriage ( which at least. if not good or bad is meaningful!)...

It is tiring though not knowing what is going on until well after it has happened!


Anonymous Laraba said...

Thanks for your detailed impressions (if that's a possible expression) of your Ngukurr experience!
And I remember situations that I can only begin to understand now...
Keep on blogging and keep us posted on your progress!
The crocodile would have scared my pants off! Well done!

11:37 pm  
Blogger bulanjdjan said...

A main jija! You write so beautifully about being human. What a funny stand-off: "no, you decide when to leave", "No YOU decide when to leave"... Can't say I've ever tapped into understanding when and where and how the power shifts.

9:53 am  

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