Chapter 8: A New Era Begins

Meliawi and his son prepared to sleep outside in a windshed that night. They were hoping to make their way further inland to Woginara at the morning’s first light. However, Yəhələgɨr and his wife had other ideas. They needed companions.

In those days village houses consisted of a single room with a fireplace in the middle and shelves made of pitpit or sago fronds at the side and by the fireplace, to hold food and household items. Inside the house Yəhələgɨr and his wife laid out all their wealth: wooden bowls, bilums, shell money, strung dogs’ teeth, pigs’ tusks, and turtle skins.

Yəhələgɨr and his wife informed Meliawi and his son that they would turn over their house to them for the night while he and his wife slept outside. After he was invited in Meliawi lit a fire and noticed the wealth spread out all around them. He left it alone. He advised his son to be very careful and not touch or kick a single item.

Meliawi and his son passed the night in the house while Yəhələgɨr and his wife slept outside. Meliawi was highly conscious of the trap that had been set for them. As soon as the first light rose, he and his son walked out of the house and sat quietly by the fire. They were ready to move on.

Yəhələgɨr and his wife entered the house and counted up their treasures. Every item was untouched and in its place. They were pleased. They saw that they could trust these strangers. They were alone on the mountain ridge and needed company, and Meliawi and his son would be good company.

When the sun rose, Meliawi and his son prepared to walk further inland, refreshed from their long walk by a night of sleep. But as they rose to go, Yəhələgɨr signaled to them no. He suggested, still speaking with his hands, that they spend the night with him again.

Meliawi agreed. But that night, Meliawi and his son countered their hosts’ hospitality by insisting on spending the night outside, allowing their hosts to sleep in their house. But before going outside to sleep, they lined the interior of the house with the wealth they had brought with them. They too wanted to test their new friends’ honesty. When Yəhələgɨr and his wife entered the house, they saw Meliawi’s wealth and knew exactly what was happening. They made sure to touch or kick nothing.

The next day they walked out of the house and Meliawi went in and checked on his wealth. Everything was in its place. Meliawi and his son were pleased with Yəhələgɨr and Swagien. Meliawi collected his things and packed them up in his parakanda, his straw basket.1

In this way, two strangers who spoke different languages established trust and friendship. Their experiences of tragedy, fear, and loneliness were transformed. In time Yəhələgɨr and Swagien had a daughter and she married Meliawi’s son. From this marriage, Wautogig village was born.

From the very beginning, Wautogig was founded on the language and customs of the Buki or Arapesh people, through Yəhələgɨr, and the Sausa or Boikin people through Meliawi. Wautogig still maintains a connection to both groups. In terms of church structures, Wautogig is a member of the Boikin parish. In terms of government structures, it belongs to the Dagua local level government, now combined into an administrative unit with But and Boikin.

Wautogig has a relatively short history. It was born out of a merger of people who came together after independent historical events. To this day, the people of Wautogig tend to move together as a group. They are guided by a basic sense of goodwill toward others, trusting everyone is a friend until they prove otherwise. They are competitive, yet also know how to cooperate. They have no permanent political enemies.


1 The term parakanda is Boikin. The Arapesh term is kəburipiɲ laba.

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