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24 January 2016

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Peter, lovely tribute to the other woman in your life.

In 2011, when she died, I paid a similar tribute to my mum-in-law who was an important person of my life in PNG post-kiap. Lavongai being matrilineal I hadn't realised how important the ladies were.

Perhaps because as a Local Govt. Adviser when I attended village meetings at the start of the seventies if a lady wanted to walk past the meeting to get home with a huge bundle of firewood on her head over a heavy bilum of kaukau she was not allowed to walk across mine or other men's eye space even if she was 40 or 60 metres distant.

She either did a quick diversion around some huts or would painfully kneel and move across the open space.

In those early days female relatives would never think of walking up the few wooden steps onto the verandah where I was sitting so that dad-in-law would sit by me on a mat laid out on the limbung while his wife joined in the conversation through the slatted flooring.

Yet one day I heard from my wife that her mum and two aunties had really ripped into senior uncle for not respecting them when he gave a friend from another clan a mature sago palm to harvest without first asking his sisters.

As you say these old ladies too were founts of clan knowledge and even now after the turn of another century manage to maintain some of the customs and retell legends of their ancestors' days.

Having had 5 children in PNG one of many advice I never forget is you should never carry a baby looking over your shoulder. He or she must look to the front. Why? Because a masalai could evil eye or take over the spirit of the little child.

Oh tambu-mama you are still missed!

Thank you. I can relate two more anecdotes which say more about Mana than anything.

When I was a nine mile a few months ago, Mana nestled up to me, reached into her bra and brought out a gold watch. It was the very same one we had given to her in 2007.

She said "Peter, the rascols stole all my goods, but I kept this hidden, so they couldn't find it." It just needed a new battery, which she couldn't afford.

Then she gave me a bar of soap. "This is my gift to Rose. I'm sorry I can't give her anything more."

I cried with her.

Thanks for sharing this great reflection, Peter.

On the other side of the coin it's strange what people like Mana do to you. Somehow they put a lot of things in perspective, a kind of bringing down to earth. Empathy is a great leveller.

I suppose we've all got eccentric or lame duck relatives and friends and most of us go out of our way to avoid them. You don't really know what you are missing when you do that.

I was in South Australia recently and stayed with someone who I would describe as my best friend - we go back a long way. He was introducing me around and took to describing me as eccentric. For some reason I felt chuffed by that description.

Well said, Pete. You are privileged to enjoy a relationship amid divergent cultures that calls for mature considerations not often demanded of others.

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