I asked Michael Moran for some advice about this trip. His answer was worth repeating here.
I was hoping I could ask you for some advice. I am increasingly aware that the Carteret Islanders have become (justifiably) uncomfortable with the number of journalists turning up to look at their problems and going away without these visits making any noticeable difference to the lives of the Islanders themselves. I also think some of those journalists may have behaved quite badly – I hear stories about reporters borrowing money for expenses that was never repaid. Given this, is there any way you could recommend introducing myself at arrival – whether by taking food or medical goods with me, sitting down with the elders and asking them about what has happened in the past etc. You obviously understand this area very well and any advice would be appreciated.
ps. Just about to start your book. Looking forward to it tremendously.
A difficult one this. Most of these (compared to us) desperately poor folk have valid reasons for resentment with the view from their end of the telescope. They believe all those who come to ‘study’ them and their situation somehow make money out of it. I mention this a few times in my book. They believe you personally will make money out of having their photographs in a book or on TV. Not true at all usually but they do not believe it. Put yourself in their shoes if you can – empathise in your imagination. The whole motivation of anthropology and its ‘colonial’ concept of ‘The Other’ is in question now. Is anthropology and its assumptions of superiority still possible at all in our politically correct society? I have always wondered what a Melanesian anthropologist would make of the Henley Royal Regatta. Interesting if you reverse things.
The best thing is to try and get on some ‘human’ level of contact with the islanders that appears to have nothing to do with money. Genuine, and I mean genuine concern works wonders. They can tell like all of us humans!
There were a number of small ideas I had after my return from PNG which you may like to take up. I have no idea how Carteret Islanders will react as the cultural diversity in PNG is enormous. Also I was there six years ago and things may have changed for the worse with so much media exposure. What you say sounds predictable and dreadful. However this is all grist to your mill remember – even the negative impact of ‘global concern’ for the climate is a new idea for me. I thought concern was always positive in outcome! They love entertainment even of a simple kind. Do you play the guitar?
- I think you should take a Polaroid camera and plenty of film. Visitors never actually give them the pictures they take. Broken promises of sending them on later. They are tired of the exploitation I am sure, They love to see themselves in pictures and the children scream with delight. In this way you could also demonstrate the ‘magic’ of the slowly appearing image which interests even my jaded palate! Children will adore it. Then you give them the picture not take it away in a digital box.
- This one will seem odd. Go to a magic shop and buy some simple illusion tricks – magic boxes, disappearing balls – that sort of thing. Nothing too complicated for you to learn! Perhaps even simple card tricks. The islanders and children I met love this sort of thing and you will keep them amused for ages. Nothing intellectual is the key.
- I found that in these remote islands where there are no shops there was a terrible shortage of things like biro pens, coloured pencils, rubbers, rulers and blank exercise books. They have to go to school but have no hard currency to buy necessary materials, I am not sure of the Carterets in this regard but a shop as I knew it was like an apple on the moon where I went! I devote one whole chapter to the opening of one on a remote island called Tsoi.
- The clothes they have are usually Western and worn out. I once saw three kids sharing one enormous T shirt with three little heads popping out of the neck! Some cheap printed T shirts to give away with some clever design would be really popular I think.
If I think of anything else I will drop you a note. Enjoy the book – it should help a little in your approach to these wonderfully joyful people (well, usually they are joyful….)
Best as ever