The Kovol people are always trying to think up fun things for us to do and this week it was hunting. It was one of these scenarios: “Hey, do you think you’d like to come hunting some time?”
“Yeah, that’d be good.”
“OK we’ll be here next week. We’ll hike to the bush, stay the night and hunt things!”.
People were very excited, but I wasn’t too fond of the idea of leaving my dry, warm house and running around the jungle all night! I know I should do it though; it’s my job – suck it up and get out there.
So we did. Monday morning we hiked over to a village 2 hours away from us packed for a night out. I still wasn’t too happy at the prospect, but then they gave us bows and arrows. I politely tried to refuse, but they insisted – and hiking off with it in my hand I realised this feels awesome! Carrying around a bow and arrow feels good. I want to shoot it!
We arrived at the shelter they’d made for our night there, not too shabby. Dry and padded with lots of leaves.
The first challenge was the fact that this was a village that speaks the other Kovol dialect (Matat, we’re learning Imengis). I’ve just started branching out from the stuff I’ve memorized and I’ve started joining things together to say new things. The dialect completely threw me though. I’d try to say something only to have the part of the sentence I was pretty sure was OK corrected.
It was very frustrating to get knocked back down a few levels language wise and I had to give up trying to learn new things. They wanted to reteach me old things in their dialect. Sorry I’m not up for that! I settled into observing which is my go-to strategy for the other dialect. Notice things, take pictures, take recordings and ask about them back in our dialect to get the language side of things.
I nock an arrow (well hold it against the bamboo, there’s no notch) and stand ready… but the ladies come up to us and no sign of any animals. Now we reset. The guys hike down and around (not through the area where the ladies will come) and set up again.
It’s real jungle here too. My feet are wet and my legs are scratched, stung by nettles, mosquitoes and leeches – you get the idea. It’s not easy hiking!
We were after rats, bandicoots or kangaroos. There was a huge group of us; usually hunting isn’t this big – but everything that involves us turns into a party. The guys would go ahead with their bows and spread themselves out in a horseshoe type arrangement – at least I guess that’s what was going on. I could only see the guys 6m to each side of me. Then the ladies start advancing towards us shouting “Singol, ju!” (meat, go!) in an attempt to scare the animals towards us.
In all, we set up 10 times. I see a bandicoot once, but don’t have a shot and as darkness threatens to come we head back to the shelter.
Wow, meat is hard work!
I’m delighted to hear that we’ll be doing it in the night too 🙁 After we have some Kovol soup and relax for a bit the rain comes and the night hunting is called off; unfortunately, we’ll have to sleep instead 🙂 It’s a pretty cold night though and most people (myself included) toss and turn and keep the fires lit.
The Kovol guys are determined that we catch something. It seems it would be a real shame and disappointment if we don’t catch anything. We try to tell them that we’re fine, it was about learning language for us, not about catching anything (subtext – let me go home and get dry and warm), but they decided we need to hunt in the morning too.
In the morning they tell us “Well actually it’s big mountain, so you guys stay here and we’ll go hunting with our dogs” and so we do. We spend the next 4 hours not up to much in the shelter, our minds far too tired to even attempt to learn language!
Around lunchtime, the guys come triumphantly back. They shot a kangaroo, and now, of course, we need to eat it together. What follows is a lesson in Kovol butchery. Nothing is wasted. Intestines are washed and cooked, the head is cooked and eaten – everything, even the bones seem to be eaten by people! It shouldn’t surprise me, the kids eat spiders and I saw a guy cook a small rat on the fire for 5 minutes and then eat its head! The dog that chased the kangaroo to the hunters gets nothing.
I keep doing the math in my head and I wonder how on earth people manage here. Everything seems to take more calories than they get out of doing it! I know that gardening rather than hunting provides the bulk of the food here, but gardening isn’t easy either. I have no idea how it all adds up, but somehow it must.