On this day

Chapter 38

Good Monday Morning to this week 38 of 2023.

On September 18, 1970, the aviation world witnessed a groundbreaking moment. The Boeing 747, a pioneering wide-body airliner, embarked on its maiden commercial voyage as Pan Am Flight 001. It soared through the skies, connecting the bustling streets of New York City to the iconic runways of London Heathrow.

Meanwhile, in a distant and remote corner of the world, an entirely different kind of drama was unfolding. A perilous situation was underway, fraught with difficulty and uncertainty. Yet, from this challenging circumstance emerged a child that came at the cost of 25 Kina at the district hospital of Goroka PNG —a modest sum for the commencement of an intriguing and unpredictable journey!

more to that soon;

Goroka is situated in the central highlands of Papua New Guinea, approximately 1600 meters above sea level. It is surrounded by picturesque mountain ranges and forests.
With a population of 19,000 people, surrounded by the Asaro tribe, also known as the Holosa, those who wear a traditional costume centered around masks made of mud. They live nearby in the villages of Goroka.

As the narrative goes, the Asaro were defeated by an enemy tribe and forced to flee into the Asaro River where they met a man who gave them eyes to kill. They waited until dusk before attempting to escape, yet the one who was given the eyes was captured. The enemy saw him rise from the muddy banks covered in mud and thought he was a spirit. Most tribes in Papua New Guinea are very afraid of spirits. Therefore, the enemy fled in fear, and the Asaro escaped. They then went into the village to see what had happened, not knowing the enemy tribesmen were still there. The enemy were so terrified they ran back to their village and held a special ceremony to ward off the spirits. The mudmen could not cover their faces because legends say that the people of Papua New Guinea thought that the mud from the Asaro river was poisonous. So instead of covering their faces with this alleged poison, they made masks from pebbles that they heated and water from the waterfall.

Another theory highlighted by Georgi Bonev states that: “Several generations ago Asaro had been hunted by a stronger enemy tribe. They were about to lose the war. At that moment, an old man from their village had a dream in which he saw terrifying gray spirit. Next morning, he woke up with the idea to make a mask out of mud that resembles the image from his vision. Once noticed, enemies fled scared and Asaro were saved. Ever since Asaro Mudmen mastered how effectively to use the power of human imagination and the fear of unknown in order to stay alive.”

Or another narrative;
“One of the Asaro got married and everyone wore their traditional costumes. But one man had no costume, so he took an old bilum (a string bag), cut two holes for his eyes, dipped it mud and also covered his skin with mud, and that was his costume. But when he arrived at the wedding, all the others thought he was a ghost and so instead of celebrating, they fled,” said Berry. Due to the reaction of the guests at the wedding, the man realized that he could use his costume to win a protracted tribal war with a neighboring tribe. He asked his brother and his friends to disguise themselves with masks and mud. “So they covered themselves in mud and attacked the tribe, and that is how they won. The enemy thought ghosts were coming and they ran away without firing a single arrow,” Berry said. With their frightening masks, the Mudmen believe that if they can cause fear, then they do not have to go to war. And that is how they wore the masks to avoid battle.

Back then in the 70’s, tribal dances were not put on for the tourists but were an genuine expression of their culture. Markets existed to exchange fresh produce between villages, language barriers were only just breaking down, thanks to use of pidgeon English. Stone axes were treasured for having been used in actual combat, and birds of paradise hunted for their exotic plumes to be turned into headdresses for tribal gatherings including the Goroka show, the biggest one of all. At least the helmets of the Asaro mudmen were more conservation-friendly!

In that setting my Mum embarked on a new chapter of her life. Having bid farewell to the picturesque landscapes of Switzerland at a tender age of 20, she found herself in a foreign land, pregnant with her first son. Just a year prior, she had welcomed a first daughter into the world. Now, here she was, alongside my Dad, in the halls of the district hospital, facing the challenge of a prolonged and arduous labor.

The scent of the distinctive orange bethadine, an antiseptic that had filled the air during those hours, lingered in my memory – well sort of! (smile) – for sure I wasn’t surprise to recognise it again 2003 when I returned to revisit that hospital.

After what felt like an ages it all culminated in the arrival of a new life, me. In that unassuming district hospital in Goroka, amidst the rugged landscape of the highlands, my journey began, a testament to the strength and resilience of a young mother and father finding their place in a new world, now with two children to take care of. Shortly after, we returned to the Lamari valley, to villages called Tokena and Obura about 130km from Goroka where we were to stay for the next three years. A area now known for small farms and wonderful Coffee!

As the curtain falls on this wild chapter to my humble beginnings, my story barrels on with no end in sight! The opening act was a showstopper, complete with Asaso Mudmen, long and slow car rides, tribal fighting, many dangers but also much time out in the beautiful surrounding of the eastern highlands And the following years? Well, let’s just say they were a series of plot twists … that for another chapter!

Now, picture this: my parents, the original superheroes of my saga, have embarked on their ultimate adventure, soaring heavenward. They left behind a legacy of many stories and anecdotes, childhood stories, many of which I have long forgotten.

And then there are those tales that defy explanation, like the mystery of where the Asaro mudmen got their masks. What was the secret mudman really? Was it really about finding peace, by causing fear, to avoid going to war and that all just with a mud musk? We might never find out!

But enough about me! What about you? What’s your story? What adventures are brewing in your cauldron?

As you step into this new week, may it be filled with moments that add color and depth to your story. And if fortune favors you, perhaps our paths will cross today, and you’ll see me “unmasked,” sharing coffee, and cake, celebrating the beauty of this day and the tales it holds!


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