The house in the right corner is where the new couple lives – they are basically our neighbours

Can you image getting married without a ceremony, without your family and friends, without presents, without really knowing your groom, and moving to a new place, with new people, and to live in a house full of people?

Well let’s go back in our story. In our village we have what’s called a ‘house man’. Young unmarried guys stay there. In our village there were two men staying in one house. Then we heard that one guy left for a different village for some days to see his family.

The other guy, Clemens, suddenly started cutting grass in our area on the weekend. Someone had spread the word that guys should come on Monday to cut the grass around our houses. The Kovol style is: bring your bush knife and swing it at the grass. Well, Clemens started already on Saturday morning with cutting the grass here. In the afternoon he was there again cutting the grass, all by himself. I felt bad for him. Was he told to do this? Is he bored? Suddenly I was wondering, who cooks for the guys in the ‘house man’? So I went to Clemens and asked him. I feel like we can ask awkward questions, because how else will we learn? We will make mistakes. The answer I got was, yes, the guys eat with their families who cook for them.

Clemens in the middle of the grass area cutting grass with his bush knife

Sunday morning as I looked outside, I saw someone cutting the grass. It was Clemens again. Later in the day several guys and women joined him in clearing our area.

Today Clemens came to our door. Their custom is to make some noise in front of a door to be noticed. Clemens brought a watermelon!!! We have never gotten a watermelon; they don’t really grow here. Also, Clemens has never come to our door or brought us anything. Not that we ask for it, but the custom here is to share their garden produce with us. The one thing Clemens asked was if he could get the seeds back to replant them.

Yesterday I noticed a new lady in the village. People come for visits from different places. Today as I saw her again, I got to talk to her alone. She is Clemens’s new wife! So I wanted to know all about their wedding. But there was nothing. Her brother has married Clemens’s sister. She was the exchange. About 3 or 4 weeks ago, Clemens had gone to her village. I am assuming that was the proposal. Last Wednesday (I can’t believe I just found out) Clemens brought her to his brother’s house. His brother and family were gone to their garden house. So they had one night alone together. That was the marriage. The next day, they both joined the family in the bush garden house. And as I mentioned, there was nothing: no celebration or presents or anything. Also they both speak different dialects. So, I am sure there are misunderstandings. When I asked her, she said she barely knows him or anyone else in this village. She volunteered that it is hard learning all the names; she forgets them easily. Oh how I empathise with her. I just wanted to hug her. But I am a stranger to her too.

R. the newly married woman

Another awkward question I asked once was to a young married woman who was showing a belly. “Are you pregnant?” I should really know better; in PNG this is always awkward, even if she is from a town area of PNG. In the bush people are normally not fat. And I thought, “Surely it’s obvious enough that she is pregnant. I just want to learn how you talk about it in the Kovol language.” Ouch! She said straight into my face “No” that she was not pregnant. There were several people around us. AWKWARD! “Well, ” I thought, “maybe she didn’t lose her baby fat yet. And it shouldn’t be too bad saying that she is fat, because here it is normally a compliment. So, I am good, right?” Well, her belly kept growing. So finally, I asked other women. And they confirmed that she was pregnant and that you don’t ask someone that question. Did I get my Kovol phrases about pregnancy? Yes, but from someone else…. (that was another awkward situation). I am learning…..

The pregnant woman in this picture is hiding it well

Two embarrassing mistakes, do I ask too much? But that’s how I learn…

Categories: EnglishHansen

1 Comment

English Editor · 25/06/2020 at 5:21 pm

I found this very interesting, Natalie. You have given us a good picture of how hard life is for a young bride in this situation.
I appreciate your taking the time to write this for us in spite of your being a busy young wife and mother yourself as well as a language and culture learner.

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