John Tyman's
Cultures in Context Series
The People of New Guinea
Torembi and the Sepik
A Study of Village Life in New Guinea
A List of Video Extracts
with descriptions and links to videos
This is the title sequence for a series of 41 videos
illustrative of daily life in a village in Papua New Guinea.
They form part of a series of units on "Cultures in Context" published on the Web 
for use in schools and universities worldwide. 
For high resolution images and further documentation go back to

Notes on Video Extracts    (With length in minutes and seconds)

01 Aerial views of Sepik floodplain (1.08)  The Sepik rates as one of the great rivers of the humid tropics – not in length but in the volume of water it discharges into the sea. Its floodplain is frequently inundated. The slightly higher, better drained,  sections are obvious from the air, as they are covered by savannah grasses; while the rest is either swamp, swamp forest, or rainforest. 
02 Sheltering indoors from heavy rain (0.29)  It rains most often in the late afternoon, and houses are designed to provide shelter from these downpours. The stumps are cut from a variety of trees, but almost everything else comes from the sago palm. Everything is tied together still, using cane.  
03 Communal sago collection – Felling (3.08) on a larger scale than normal (since this is usually done by two women) --  as a community project and fund-raiser. Before the sago palm tree can be dropped, the women clear a space where they will work later. They walk barefoot, though the spines that protect the fronds are long and sharp! The young woman who felled the tree with an axe did so in 9 minutes. Later the team tidied up along the trunk in readiness for the removal of the bark. The songs they sang (throughout the day), seemingly, enhanced team spirit and, later, supported a common rhythm.    
04 Communal sago collection – Scraping (4.00)  The women first removed the bark of the tree in sections, to expose the fibrous core of the trunk. The planks they produce in this way are used to provide a platform on which they can sit later, just above the level of water in the swamp. Some women had their scrapers ready but others chose to tie fresh strikers to their handles. (The woman whose face was covered in white clay was in mourning: and the man’s voice was that of a friend who tried to stage-manage the exercise for my benefit.) They scraped, off and on, for half the day, though it was both hot and humid. The blunt ends of the strikers were used to break up the interior of the trunk, and machetes were used to reduce this fibrous material to smaller fragments. This mixture of woody fibres and sago powder was then carried to the river (about 100 metres away) for washing.
05 Communal sago collection – Washing (9.09) with the sound of women scraping sago in the background. This was a special event with a large team, but the different tasks involved are shared even when women work just in pairs. Two washing platforms and silt traps were built beside the river, in easy reach of water, from pieces of bamboo and different parts of sago palm trees. The troughs are made from the bases of old palm fronds, the three collecting basins which comprise the silt trap are made from the sheaths that support new growth, and the strainer made from the sacking-like material that lines the sheath. Water is forced through the strainer carrying the suspended sago with it, flowing from one level to the next, slowing down as it does so, depositing its load in one or other of the basins, and draining away at the lower end.  Periodically the women empty the contents of the upper trays into the largest one at the bottom, rebuilding the silt trap each time.   
06 Checking fish traps at weir (1.51)  The traps are made from a single piece of bamboo , split and opened up to form a funnel. The catch, sadly, is often miniscule.  
07 Pet cuscus (0.45)  The cuscus, a type of possum, is hunted not only for food but also for its orange fur – which has been used traditionally for the ceremonial headbands of men who had killed an enemy. 
08 Pet piglet (0.16) which, like most pets here, will be eaten eventually.
09 Digging yams in village garden (1.53)  The tubers are planted in mounds for better drainage and ease of harvesting,  and their vines are linked to trees or posts. These ones were not quite ready.  
10 Community labour for new school room  (1.33)  Labour on community buildings and “roads” is counted in lieu of taxes.  
11 11 Neighbours help raise the frame (1.43)  The timbers (some of them recycled from earlier buildings) are tied together with strips of cane. 
12 12 Making “Pan” flutes (2.09), from sections of bamboo tied together with strips of cane. 
13 13 Making tools – Sago scrapers and digging stick (2.16)  Using an adze and a machete, Damien Mungun carves the handles for a pair of  sago scrapers; while Lucas Mapat works on a digging stick (giving special attention to the end of the handle, which he shaped like the head of a spear). They then cut replaceable bamboo strikers for the scrapers. Since the latter (always two)  will also function as a matched pair of musical instruments (one “male”, the other “female”), their precise length is important. The strikers are then tied to the handles using strips of cane, and checked to ensure that they sound right.  
14 14 Making tools – Spear (0.34).  Joseph Ganga shapes the spear handle from limbum palm using an adze and a knife, and adds a point made of bamboo (which can be hardened in a fire). 
15 15 Basket weaving at Kosimbi  (0.21)  A recently discovered means of production whereby raffia purchased in Wewak can be used to generate income. These men were working close to the Spirit House during a bride price ceremony – which explains the drumming.  
16 Making string from plant fibres (1.04)  In this way women make the string which is needed for billums and various items of clothing. Ropes can be made in this way also, by combining many different pieces of string. 
17 Processing fibres for “grass” skirts -1st stage  (2.27).   These are not made from grass but from juvenile fronds cut from sago palms. These are first torn apart into strips, and tied into bundles, before being soaked in the river. 
18 Processing fibres for “grass” skirts - 2nd stage (2.41)   A knife is then used to split the end of each leaf segment, and the softer, more pliable material, is separated from the coarser backing. It is scrunched up, and also rolled across the thigh, to soften it further, and then hung up to dry. The work is often shared. 
19 Primary school lesson - Talking drills (3.12)  English is their second language, may be their third (after their tribal language Sawos, and Pidgin). This lesson focussed on the language of the market, on the purchase of rice, flour, and salt, and the use of kina and toea. The teacher was Rebekkah Tapi. 
20 Primary school lesson – Vocabulary (1.54)  Again the focus then was on English – on spelling, pronunciation, and the meaning of words; with an emphasis on words beginning with “pl”.  
21 Children playing soccer after school (0.20) on the airstrip , with a ball that is clearly  in need of greater air pressure.   
22 Volleyball game on Sunday (1.29)  A game in which both young men and young women can participate, whereas soccer was exclusively  male. (Sound of river in background.) 
23 Children cross bridge on way to school (0.21)  The bridge in Torembi 3 floats after heavy rain. At other times it is wedged between the river’s banks. 
24 Women cross bridge heading for Korogo  (1.51)   During a fifteen-minute period early in the morning there was a continuous stream of  women crossing the bridge on their way to market – carrying sago and garden produce to be swapped for fish.
25 Women walking on way to Korogo (0.29) carrying sago and vegetables to exchange for fish products at the market.  
26 Canoes arrive at Korogo (1.19)  bringing fish to trade. They had to fight their way through weeds: and those who were late had trouble “parking”. (Quality of sound reduced by wind) 
27 Korogo market in full swing (1.23)  where the women from Torembi swapped their sago and garden produce for fish and allied products provided by women from the Sepik.  
28 Canoes depart from Korogo (1.43) at the end of the market, returning to fishing villages on the Sepik. 
29 Sunday market at the Mission   (1.56)  after church. Cash was used here to purchase local produce (by those who did not have enough of their own) – fruit and vegetables, betel nut, sago grubs, and a few chickens.
30 Plane leaves from Mission airstrip  (1.44)  Originally the pilots who landed here were all Roman Catholic priests, but after a few crashes (and problems with insurance) the service was taken over by the inter-denominational Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF). Their cargo is mixed – people, their luggage, garden produce,  even chickens and small pigs. 
31 Church garamut announces service. (0.56) This drum has the head of a crocodile at one end and a crucifix at the other. It is used instead of, or in addition to, bells to summon people to worship. 
32 Celebration of Mass at the Mission   (5.44) Follows Roman Catholic tradition – receiving Holy Communion in one kind only, and using the “reserved sacrament” when, as here, the service is taken by the resident deacon, instead of the priest. 
33 Invitation to Bride Price ceremony. (0.14) The drum was sounded repeatedly throughout the day. (Filmed under low light conditions inside the Spirit House.)
34 Harangue over Bride Price   (0.53)  During which those who had contributed the amount of money they had promised expressed their outrage at those who had not. Written records are maintained today, of who pays what: previously this would have been committed to memory. 
35 Sick parade at the Clinic  (2.11)  Babies are weighed and their health checked. Wounds are sewn up and ulcers treated with antiseptics. Injections are given as required, pills prescribed, and records are kept of the  treatment given. 
36 Community Arts Festival – Songs   (6.31)  The festival lasted for several hours. The school’s  “bells” were sounded early in the day, and the children from other villages arrived in batches, with their teachers. A teacher from Torembi then read out the order of the performances. They began with a bracket of religious pieces and followed these with a series of nutrition songs – about “kaikai” (food).
37 Community Arts Festival – Games and Dances (8.25)   The games (supposedly) were traditional, but the first looked like a blend of skittles and rounders (using soft drink cans and a tennis ball): and this was followed by a game of jacks (or knuckle bones) using seeds and another tennis ball, and by a game of “Peggy Touch”-- a form of tag. These introduced a series of dances and action songs – including “’I’m a pilot/policeman/fisherman” and a host of other possible vocations -- including teachers and demons! There is no letter “f ”in Pidgin: “p” is used instead – hence “pisherman”. The song accompanying the pangal dance (using not bamboo but the stems of sago palm leaves) used both Pidgin and Motu. Then “Johnny went a fishing”, and several more dances with words. 

38a & 38b  Community Arts Festival – Skits (11.34)  A series of four short plays. First the story of two women who go fishing, but one is snared by the River God and drowns, and her body is carried home by mourners. The next tells of a boy with a physical handicap who wanted to play with the others but was not allowed to, so he asks God “Why?”. The third skit is a traditional story of a boy who wanted to know what his father was hiding under his “arse grass”, and what these private parts were for. Lastly, a moralistic drama about the need for faith that will stand firm in the face of Satan’s attacks, just as a house that is not built from upright posts will fall when the Devil pushes against it.   
39 Sing sing after Arts Festival (4.03)  The final item on the day of the festival was a sing sing in which all performers participated – students, teachers and any parents and friends who had come dressed for the occasion. The clothing worn was a mixture of traditional and modern. The man in the pink skirt was the principal of the school in Torembi, and he was playing a kundu drum that he had borrowed – from me!   
40 40 Rehearsal for Soccer Club sing sing (2.45)  Their aim was to raise money for uniforms. They had skirts made for the masks of the ancestral spirits, and donned their bilas (decorations) in secret in a screened off area on the edge of the forest. Unfortunately, though,  since few of them had been formally initiated into tribal law and custom, neither the flute players nor the dancers who joined them were accomplished performers, and they needed repeated instruction from older men – notably Damien Mungun (in the white trousers).    
41 Drama about witches and ancestral spirits (4.16)  People here long lived in fear of ancestral spirits, and their appearance was always a cause for concern, till they’d returned to the Spirit House. Their presence was of particular concern to women, and boys under 16, who were forbidden to look at them on pain of death. This particular drama was acted out at Service Camp near Torembi, and was based (so I was told) on a “true story”. It so happened that a boy from Namagua (close-by) caught a glimpse of two spirits as they were entering their Spirit House. Not realizing the seriousness of the situation he continued on his way to the garden, to do some weeding. Here he was hunted down by two male witches who speared him to death. Using magic they brought him back to life for a while, but he passed away in the afternoon. His family remained in mourning for two weeks and buried his body. (Women here cover their bodies in white clay when in mourning.) A public meeting was then called, attended by everyone in the village, to determine how he had died. They debated the matter heatedly for hours. There was a sing sing, as usual, and the witches eventually agreed to compensate the grieving father with a payment of shell money.  
John Tyman's
Cultures in Context Series
People of the Arctic
A Study of Village Life in New Guinea
Text, photos and recordings by John Tyman
Intended for Educational Use Only.
Copyright Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford University, 2010.
Contact Dr. John Tyman for more information regarding licensing.