IN THIS photograph I took around 1974, Rumak, from the Kumdi Engamai clan at Kwinka in the Mul-Baiyer area of Western Highlands Province, is carrying a gourd of drinking water.
Rumak is wearing typical traditional everyday dress for that time: bark belt, apron in front and tangit leaves behind. The only concession to modernity is the small key hanging on a chain around his neck, - he would have put a lock on the door of his bush house.
Oil for decorating bodies at celebrations would also be carried in gourds, but what is pictured is a water gourd. I was told that Rumak, a fine looking well built man with broad shoulders, took this gourd of water with him wherever he went.
In the early seventies in the Hagen area the ‘big-men’ would have their own supply of drinking water in a gourd. The mouth of the gourd would be sealed with a plug made from leaves or kunai.
In their own area they would bring the gourd with them, whether going to the gardens or to a meeting. This way, having filled the gourd from a reliable water source, they could ensure that the water they drank was clean. They also avoided the possibility of someone trying to poison them by offering a contaminated drink.
Also in the early seventies in the Jimi valley I frequently had to undertake long bush patrols to visit outlying mission stations. It was hard and thirsty work.
As we went through the bush the streams or springs with drinkable water were marked by specific leaves.
Streams of drinkable water coming out of the mountain by the roadside were often marked with pandanus leaves that people had used to channel the water into their mouth or a vessel.
The streams that were not safe to drink were often marked with a tambu sign, usually two crossed branches blocking access to the water.
One could often see women carrying water to their houses or gardens in lengths of bamboo. Within their own area the people knew where to find good drinking water.
The problem nowadays is probably more in the towns and squatter settlements where people become dependent on a piped supply of water and do not know where to get clean water if the piped supply fails.