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Reite plants: an ethnobotanical study in Tok Pisin and English

CollectionsANU Resources, Environment & Development Group (RE&D)
ANU Press (1965- Present)
Title: Reite plants: an ethnobotanical study in Tok Pisin and English
Author(s): Nombo, Porer
Leach, James
Keywords: Plants, Useful--Papua New Guinea--Madang Province
Traditional medicine--Papua New Guinea--Madang Province
Ethnobotany--Papua New Guinea--Madang Province
Nekgini (Papua New Guinean people)--Ethnobotany--Papua New Guinea--Madang Province
Reite (Papua New Guinea)--Social life and customs
Madang Province (Papua New Guinea)--Social life and customs
Publisher: Canberra, ACT: Australian National University, E Press
Canberra, ACT: Resources, Environment & Development (RE&D), The Australian National University
Citation: Nombo, P. & Leach, J. (2010). Reite plants: an ethnobotanical study in Tok Pisin and English. Asia-Pacific Environment Monograph 4. Canberra: Australian National University, E Press.
Series/Report no.: Asia-Pacific Environment Monographs (APEM): No. 4
This book is the product of an extended collaboration between Porer Nombo and James Leach which took place during 1995, 1999 and 2004. It contains information provided by Porer on the uses of certain plants from the hinterland of the Rai Coast in Papua New Guinea (PNG), particularly the area between the Seng and Yakai rivers in the Mot 1 District where speakers of the Nekgini language reside (Figure 1). Nekgini people and their ancestors gathered this knowledge and have used plants in the way we describe here. Porer explained that this knowledge has been handed down through the generations and is still used today. Porer chose the plants to be included in the book based on his thoughts about which plants are most significant for Nekgini ‘customary’ uses. ‘Customary’ in this context (as translated from the Tok Pisin ‘kastom’) indicates processes and procedures which are deemed to be both specifically local in origin and application, and which harness powers and forces to the end of achieving viable and valuable forms of social life and person, as understood by Nekgini speakers. Many of these uses may seem esoteric or magical to English readers. It will be as well for readers to keep in mind that Nekgini distinctions between humans and environment,and between the practical and the decorative, for example, are different to those which underpin western scientific investigation and the technologies which emerge from it. This issue is discussed at some length, albeit in relation to the narrower issue of intellectual property, in Appendices 1 and 2. Many plants which Nekgini speakers use for quotidian purposes such as house construction and basketry have been omitted. We decided that as the use of such plants and materials is widely known and practiced in contemporary PNG, they could be left out of this record. There are two reasons we decided to publish this book. Firstly, for many years, Porer and others in Reite have been concerned that new lifestyles based on business and the cash economy have resulted in a loss of interest in practices and knowledge from the past. Porer asked James to write a book which would preserve ancestral knowledge of plants for future generations. Secondly, the work demonstrates the deep and complex knowledge of just one language group in PNG in relation to plants. This knowledge is part of a wider whole known as ‘kastom’. Papua New Guineans can and should be proud of their kastom. We hope to strengthen the use of such knowledge, and show that such understandings and practices should be treasured and utilised. There is a rich diversity of customs and knowledge in PNG, and we intend with this publication to generate interest in that diversity by documenting the practices of a particular place in some detail. A clear antecedent and inspiration are the two books published by Ian Saem Majnepand Ralph Bulmer: Birds of my Kalam country/Mnmon Yad Kalam Yakt (1977) and Animals the Ancestors Hunted: An Account of the Wild Animals of the Kalam Area, Papua New Guinea (2007). The photos were taken and the text co-authored by James Leach. James has lived for more than two years in Reite village and has written anthropological texts about Nekgini speakers’ kinship, social organisation,ownership practices, arts and ritual. A full list of his writing on Reite to date is presented in the ‘Select bibliography of writings on Reite by James Leach’,at the end of the book. The chapter divisions emerged from Porer’s discovery of plants as we walked in the forest together, and his way of introducing the use of the particular plant by saying things such as: “this is for hunting birds” or “this is to make sickness cold”. James suggested the collation of information on material culture, gardening, and spirits and love magic, into single chapters. Although the text is presented in both Tok Pisin and English, there are places where direct, word for word, translation has been eschewed in favour of a more readable text in one or the other language.2 The Tok Pisin spelling and orthography is based on F. Mihailic’s 1971, Dictionary and Grammar of Melanesian Pidgin, to give a standardised form for the ritten language. The authors are aware that at times this preference makes for a slightly outdated rendition of the language. There are also places where current Rai Coast convention has deliberately been used in the text. As for the scientific identification of the plants, we have received excellent assistance from a number of experts who are gratefully acknowledged. It is important to make clear here that James is not trained in botany. As an anthropologist, ethnobotany has never been his primary interest, and botanical experts have had to work mainly from photographs when suggesting identifications. A full collection of botanical specimens has not been made as part of this study. Even what we have achieved in the way of identification has been very time-consuming and has had to suffice for the present purpose. James was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, United Kingdom (UK) during 1995 and 1999 and by King’s College Cambridge in 2004. He also gratefully acknowledges the support of the Leverhulme Trust through both a Special Research Fellowship in 1999, and The Philip Leverhulme Prize in 2004. Support also came from the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge during 1999 and 2000 when parts of the book were prepared. Thanks are also due to Alan MacFarlane for financial support, and to Marilyn Strathern. In addition, we received invaluable assistance from the following people. On the Rai Coast, Yamui and Sangumae Nombo, Katak Pulumamie, Pupiyana De’anae, Palota Konga, Takarok Yamui and Pinbin Sisau. In Port Moresby, Justin Tkachenko assisted with the initial identification of some plants. Wayne Takeuchi from the Forest Research Institute in Lae was generous with his time providing scientific identification for many of the plants. In the UK, Paul Sillitoe and Christin Kocher Schmid looked at some of the photographs; Stephen Hugh-Jones, Francoise Barbira-Freedman and Tim Bayliss-Smith advised James on what an economic botany of this kind might look like, and Tim Whitmore provided many scientific identifications. Robin Hide made many useful suggestions and encouraged the publication when it was likely to fall by the wayside. Bruce Godfrey in the University Printing Service at Cambridge has been very helpful, both with advice and time. Katharina Schneider and Katie Segal organised, designed, and edited the text at various stages. From the Resource Management in Asia- Pacific Program at The Australian National University, John Burton has assisted with Tok Pisin spelling and usage, and Mary Walta has edited the manuscript and organised its final production. Fleur Rodgers and Rikrikiang supported and encouraged us throughout the work. We would like to thank all these people very much.
ISBN: 9781921666001


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