a book about the stone age in new guinea
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Peter Matthiessen was the cofounder of the Paris Review and is the author of numerous works of nonfiction, including In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, Indian Country, and The Snow Leopard, winner of the National Book Award.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Peter Matthiessen (1927–2014) is the only writer who has ever won the National Book Award in both fiction and nonfiction. His travels as a naturalist and explorer have resulted in more than a dozen books on natural history and the environment, including The Snow Leopard, his first NBA winner. Matthiessen’s equally important career in fiction has produced a collection of stories and nine novels, among them At Play in the Fields of the Lord (an NBA finalist) and the Everglades trilogy (Killing Mister Watson, Lost Man’s River, and Bone by Bone), which, rewritten and distilled, were published in one volume in 2008 under the title Shadow Country, winner of the NBA in fiction. Shadow Country was also the 2010 recipient of the William Dean Howells Medal, given by the American Academy of Arts and Letters for the most distinguished American novel published during the previous five years. Matthiessen was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His final novel, In Paradise, was published just after his death in 2014.
A chronicle of two seasons
in Stone Age New Guinea
PENGUIN NATURE CLASSICS
Nature is our widest home. It includes the oceans that provide our rain, the trees that give us air to breathe, the ancestral habitats we shared with countless kinds of animals that now exist only by our sufferance or under our heel.
Until quite recently, indeed (as such things go), the whole world was a wilderness in which mankind lived as cannily as deer, overmastering with spears or snares even their woodsmanship and that of other creatures, finding a path wherever wildlife could go. Nature was the central theater of life for everybody’s ancestors, not a hideaway where people went to rest and recharge after a hard stint in an urban or suburban arena. Many of us still do hike, swim, fish, birdwatch, sleep on the ground or paddle a boat on vacation, and will loll like a lizard in the sun any other chance we have. We can’t help grinning for at least a moment at the sight of surf, or sunlight on a river meadow, as if remembering in our mind’s eye paleolithic pleasures in a home before memories officially began.
It is a thoughtless grin because nature predates “thought.” Aristotle was a naturalist, and nearer to our own time, Darwin made of the close observation of bits of nature a lever to examine life in many ways on a large scale. Yet nature writing, despite its basis in science, usually rings with rhapsody as well—a belief that nature is an expression of God.
In this series we are presenting some nature writers of the past century or so, though leaving out great novelists like Turgenev, Melville, Conrad, and Faulkner, who were masters of natural description, and poets, beginning with Homer (who was perhaps the first nature writer, once his words had been transcribed). Nature writing now combines rhapsody with science and connects science with rhapsody, and for that reason it is a very special and a nourishing genre.
The peaks of the Snow Mountains, on bright mornings, part the dense clouds and soar into the skies of Oceania. Beneath the clouds, like a world submerged, lie the dark rocks which form the great island of New Guinea; climbing abruptly from the Dampier Strait in the East Indies, the range extends eastward fifteen hundred miles until, at land’s end in Papua, it sinks once more beneath the ocean.
The Snow Mountains are the summit of western New Guinea. On a high flank in the central highlands lies a sudden valley: here the Baliem River, which had vanished underground some twenty miles upstream, bursts from the mountain wall onto a great green plain. The plain itself, ten miles across, is a mile above the sea. Fifty miles southeast of the valley’s head, the river drops into a gorge and passes from the mountains, to subside at last in the vast marshes of sun and mud and sago palms stretching southward to the Arafura Sea.
The Baliem Valley was discovered from the air in 1938, but no white man came to live there until 1954, when a government post was established on abandoned lands of the Wukahupi tribes. Dutch patrols have now explored much of the valley, which supports more than forty thousand people, and the last large blank on the most recent maps is a region of perhaps thirty square miles under the northeast wall.
This remote corner is controlled by those tribes of the Ndani or Dani-speaking peoples known as the Kurelu; the Dani language, with small tribal variations, is spoken throughout the valley and beyond, yet it is but one of many distinct languages in the central highlands. (The origins of these languages, like the origins of the people themselves, are virtually unknown. One may suppose that the mountain Papuans came out from Asia long before the Polynesians—though in the wake of the Australian aborigines—and that they were forced into the mountains by peoples who came after, but the near absence of archaelogical evidence makes any attempt at chronology unintelligent.) The region is bordered in the south by the Aike River and in the west, toward the Baliem, by the lands of the enemy Wittaia. In the north and east it ends abruptly at the mountain wall. The wall rises in a series of steep ridges to an outer rim which varies, around the valley, from ten to twelve thousand feet in elevation; the upper wall is rarely seen. All day, all year, the clouds balance on the rim, as if about to tumble in. They are dark and still and all but permanent, protecting the great valley from infecting winds.
The Kurelu are named for the tribal kain or leader: their country, that is, is “Kurelu’s Land.” The tribe is divided into four main groups: the Loro-Mabell to the northward, the Kosi-Alua from the western grasslands, the Haiman-Halluk, between the Kosi-Alua and the mountains, and the Wilihiman-Walalua, in the south. The Wilihiman-Walalua is the people’s contraction of four clan names (Wilil:Haiman-Walilo:Alua) and represents, politically, a union of allied villages. Several such unions, linked by clan or more or less well disposed toward one another, may form a loose confederacy and are led by the most powerful kain—in this case, Kurelu, kain of the Loro-Mabell. Their boundaries are fluid and informal, dependent on the predominance of clan, though the clans are spread throughout the villages. The clan Alua, for example, is well represented not only in the Wilihiman-Walalua but in the Kosi-Alua. The latter groups share a common frontier with the enemy and may be called the southern Kurelu.
Because the southern Kurelu were entirely untouched by civilization, their culture was chosen for study by the Harvard-Peabody Expedition of 1961. The expedition, sponsored in part by the government of the Netherlands, entered the Baliem at the end of March and remained until September, with the cooperation and assistance of the Dutch officials, particularly Dr. Victor de Bruyn of the Office of Native Affairs. Its purpose was to live among the people as unobtrusively as possible and to film and record their wars, rituals, and daily life with a minimum of interference, in order that a true picture of a Stone Age culture—one of the few in which both war and agriculture are important—might be preserved.
This book is a chronicle of two seasons in the Stone Age. The few details and episodes not actually witnessed by the author were supplied and confirmed by other members of the party—Robert Gardner, cameraman and leader of the expedition whose film, Dead Birds, concerns the Kurelu; Karl G. Heider, anthropologist; Jan Broekhuyse, anthropologist; Michael Rockefeller, photographer and sound technician. The expedition was joined by photographer Eliot Elisofon for the month of May; by botanist Chris Versteegh for two weeks in June; and by medical student Samuel Putnam in July and August; it was assisted immeasurably by the talents and good company of its Dani interpreter, Abututi, with his wife, Wamoko, and of its cook, Yusip.
All of these have made important contributions to this book, but I am particularly indebted to Jan Broekhuyse, whose, year of prior experience with other Baliem tribes proved invaluable in the gathering and assessment of information, and to Karl Heider, who remained with the Kurelu after the departure of the expedition and has since supplied extensive data and corrections. Heider, Broekhuyse, and Gardner have been kind enough to inspect the manuscript for errors and distortions, and within the limits of our present understanding of the culture an honest portrait of the Kurelu has been attempted.
This is the story of the great warrior Weaklekek and of the swineherd Tukum, of U-mue and his family, and of their enemies and friends. The events described were observed to have happened to these tribesmen, called by these names, in the spring and summer of 1961—though occasionally, minor actions of one person have been attributed to another, to avoid a confusing multiplicity of characters. The glossary in the back of the book will serve as a key to the dramatis personae as well as to pronunciation.
Reference to the tribe’s exposure to the expedition has been omitted, not only because the first reactions of a wild people to the white man, affecting and sad and funny though they are, have been well documented, but because the Kurelu offered a unique chance, perhaps the last, to describe a lost culture in the terrible beauty of its pure estate. The armed patrols and missionaries invaded their land on the heels of the expedition, and by the time this account of them is published, the proud and warlike Kurelu will be no more than another backward people, crouched in the long shadow of the white man.
Photographic Section I:
Under the Mountain Wall
One morning in April, in the year when the old history of the Kurelu came to an end, a man named Weaklekek started down the mountain from the hill village of Lokoparek. He did not go by the straight path, which descends through a tangle of pandanus and bamboo onto the open hillsides, but instead went west, through the forest beneath the cliff. The cliff was a sheer face of yellow limestone black-smeared with green algae, and the tree line of its crest wavered in mist. With the sun rising behind it, the mist appeared illumined from within.
The rains of April had been heavy, and the path was a glutinous mire pocked by the hooves of pigs; he walked it swiftly, his bare feet feeling cleverly for the root or rock that would give them purchase, and at the stream he ran across the log. The path climbed steeply to a grove of tropical chestnuts, tall, with small leaves of green-bronze, and there he paused a moment to peer out through the forest shades. Though he could not see it, the sun had mounted from behind the cliff. Below, the valley floor and its far wall steamed in an early light, but the forest would stay dank and somber until the cloud above his head had burned away.
Weaklekek moved on to a point where the wood ended in a clearing between great boulders; the wood edge leapt with plants of light and shade, the most striking of which was a great rhododendron, its white blossoms broader than his hand. In the shadows and clefts of the boulders, wood ferns in wild variety uncurled from among the liverworts and lichens, the mosses and silver fungi. The ferns were the triumphant plant of the high forest, with species numbering in the hundreds, but Weaklekek was oblivious of the ferns, of all the details of his world which could not immediately be put to use. The ferns, like the mist hung on the cliffs, the squall of parrots echoing on the walls, the sun, the distant river, were part of him as he was part of them: they were inside him, behind the shadows of his brown eyes, and not before him. He would see a certain fern when he needed it for dressing pig, and another from which pith was taken to roll thread, but the rest withdrew into the landscape.
The experience of his eye was not his own. It was thousands of years old, immutable, passed along as certainly and inevitably as his dark skin, the cast of his quick face. These characters were more variable than experience, for experience was static in the valley; it was older than time itself, for time was a thing of but two generations, dated by moons and ending with the day in which he found himself. Before the father of Weaklekek’s father was the ancestor of the people: his name was Nopu, and he came from the high mountains with a wife and a great bundle of living things. Nopu’s children were the founders of the clans, with names like Haiman, Alua, Kosi, Wilil, and they had opened the life bundle against Nopu’s will, releasing the mosquitoes and the snakes upon all the people, the akuni, who came after.
Nopu was the common ancestor, but perhaps he was also that first Papuan who, one hour in the long infinity of days, from the forest of the mountain passes, saw the green valley of the Baliem River far below him in the sunny haze. How many years, or centuries of years, this man had wandered out of Africa and Asia may never be known, for he traveled lightly, and he left no trail.
Before the coming of Nopu, in the millenniums of silence, the greatest of the valley’s creatures was a bird, the cassowary. Birds of paradise, red, emerald, golden, and night-blue, fluttered, huffed, and screeched among the fern and orchid gardens of the higher limbs. Hawks and swiftlets coursed the torpid airs, and the common sandpiper of Africa and Eurasia flew south like a messenger from another earth to teeter on the margins of its streams. In stands of great evergreen araucaria, in oak-chestnut forest and river jungle, a primitive fauna of small marsupials, with a few bats and rodents, prospered in habitats long since pre-empted, elsewhere on the earth, by the cats and weasels, dogs, bears, hoofed animals, and apes: the marsupials, stranded on these mountain outposts of the Australian continental shelf by the wax and wane of ice-age seas, became carnivores and insectivores and, in the wallabies and kangaroos, strange herbivores of the high grasslands.
Then that first man—perhaps Nopu, perhaps another—reached the coast, and eventually the inner mountains; he occupied the valley, with his women and children, his bow, bamboo knife, and stone adze. Like the mountain wallaby, the cuscus, and the phalanger, he had cut himself off from a world which rolled on without him. The food in the valley forests was plentiful, and he had brought with him—or there came soon after—the sweet potato, dog, and pig. The jungle and mountain, the wall of clouds, the centuries, secured him from the navigators and explorers who touched the coasts and went away again; he remained in his stone culture. In the last corners of the valley, he remains there still, under the mountain wall. His name is not Nopu, for he is the son of Nopu’s son, but he is the same man.
So now he...
"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.
Book Description Penguin Books. PAPERBACK. Book Condition: New. 0140095489 New Condition. Bookseller Inventory # NEW6.3021530
Book Description Penguin Books, 1987. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0140095489
Book Description Penguin Books 1987-01-06, 1987. Paperback. Book Condition: New. 0140095489 We guarantee all of our items - customer service and satisfaction are our top priorities. Please allow 4 - 14 business days for Standard shipping, within the US. Bookseller Inventory # TM-0140095489