Monday, October 31, 2011

Karai Komana marriage settlement -- color, noise, extravagance, fun and family links

By Geoffrey Heard

“We are people who like to have fun!” Laeko Bala, Lavui’s mother, rasped on Sunday morning, as we settled side by side into the back of the Toyota for the trip down the mountains and back to Port Moresby.

She was hoarse from a day of prancing and dancing, hooting, hollering, chanting, and singing in recognition, thanks and praise for contributions from the many branches of the family who gave to the marriage settlement for her eldest son, Kurona -- Lavui’s big brother. (She was deputized for the role by her aunt, the woman clan leader, whose voice had faded too much to lead the celebrations.) Then there was the subsequent night of feasting, singing, dancing, talking, general fun, and exhausted sleep. How she kept it up, I don’t know. I’d fallen over before 9pm -- and I was just a spectator!

Laeko was speaking the truth though. Her clan had stretched its resources to the limit to put up a good show for Kurona and Nigona, his wife, presenting her extended family with K30,044 (about $13,000), six pigs (about K6500 in total), one cow (K1500), a wall of locally grown produce -- including yams, sweet potato, bananas, pitpit, pandanus, and betel nut, 60 10kg bags of rice, 230 traditional hand woven string bags, and to top it off, a carton of two minute noodles! This was an expression of the high regard in which Nigona is held in her marriage clan and of thanks to her birth clan for giving her up.

But while the underlying intention was serious, it was also all about having fun. As we drove down the mountain, members of my host family were talking about the fun they had had and eagerly looking forward to more getting together with more fun, feasting, singing, dancing and general roistering, at another marriage settlement in December when the Bala family and its clan would be on the receiving end instead of being the givers.

They were expecting a pretty bounteous haul -- virtually a refilling of their coffers -- but the actual total and the amount each clan member would receive weren’t in the forefront of their minds in the financial sense. The first interest in the size of what was to come seemed to be how the other clan would “score” in a sporting sense. The record cash component for a karai Komana Dava is a bit over K31,000 -- but that was when virtually the whole village was contributing to settle for a woman from outside the area. Would the giving clan in December be able to match the Bala family’s total? Or would they outscore them? Would they come up with some cunning ploy, like driving several live cows up the mountain and dramatically slaughtering them on the spot (the Bala family delivered their cow ready-slaughtered but the pigs were all alive)?

Anything was possible and it would all add to the fun.

Still, refilling the coffers was not something to be taken lightly because of escalating marriage settlements in Karai Komana and many other communities in Papua New Guinea where people now live in a mixed economy. Those who live in the village mostly live by subsistence farming with a little cash income from trading excess produce. A few go for money, focusing on cash crops. One man has a betel nut (areca palm) plantation -- betel, buai, is a high value crop and can return a good profit despite the remoteness of the village. But today a large number of people live and work away from the village, living in a cash economy, as nearly all Lavui’s family does and, in fact, most people from Karai Komana do.

Expected to contribute big time to the Dava but lacking the income elasticity of their country cousins, the townies can find themselves on financial trouble if they don't get substantial a pay back from the system quickly.

So yes, they are in it for the family fun but perforce they must keep a close eye on the figures. ###

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This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2011.

The opinions and comments in this article are his own.

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