Plotinus in the Jungle

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A Conundrum Experienced Only in PNG


This past Sunday, we decided to go to a local outstation called Tolu (toll-lu) for a special thanksgiving mass. Our archbishop, Douglas Young, was going to be there in order to bless a statue of St. Therese of Lisieux. I drove us there (manual transmission on the left side of the road) with a seminarian named Leslie who is from a village near Tolu.

The outstation put on quite the celebration. The people were assembled at the entrance to the dirt road leading to the church. The parish priest, Fr. Marian of Poland, was leading them in the Rosary around the three foot statue. Suddenly the Archbishop appeared, blessed the statue, and then, in full vestments, led a ¼ mile procession to the church. About halfway there, we were met by eight women in traditional dancing outfits; they and a troupe of children dancers lead us into the church. Alas, we did not bring our borrowed camera.

The service was rather long and all in tok pisin. The church was packed with many people simply sitting around outside. The children danced again when the Gospel was brought up and the women danced during the offering. The offering itself was intense – people streamed into church carrying a bundle of sugar cane, or a single cabbage, or a duck wrapped in chicken wire, or a banana bunch, or a guinea pig in a little box and laid them in front of the altar. After the mass was over, there were speeches by community leaders, by the two priests concelebrating, and then by the archbishop. In PNG, there can be no gathering of any size without speeches—and everyone important or who contributed must be recognized. The archbishop recognized us at the beginning of mass and then we elevated to guests of honor. The local women gave us a string bag (bilum) during the speeches.

The duck and the guinea pig, as they were brought up during the offering

The duck and the guinea pig, as they were brought up during the offering

Both times that he spoke, Archbishop warned the people not to make an idol out of the statue. He said that the statue is only important insofar as it leads us to pray and to focus on spiritual realities and that St. Therese is only important insofar as honoring her leads us to Jesus.

Now of course, Annie did not sit still for an hour of speeches in tok pisin. I took her outside during the sermon and the speeches. I helped her climb an elevated, roofed wooden platform a number of times. She also would try to play with the children by randomly running toward one of them screaming. They thought that this was hilarious. However, most children in PNG simply want to watch Annie very closely from a safe distance (like six feet). It can be difficult to get them to actually physically interact with her. At one point I tried to coax children into ring-around-the-rosary, but when I would gesture to a child, normally that child and half a dozen children around him would turn and run behind the other children. Am I really that scary?

I also tried talking to a local matron through a seven-year old interpreter. However, the woman only spoke tok place which the boy could only translate into tok pisin, so the conversation did not get very far.

After mass, our elevated guest status was revealed. The people split the in kind offerings between us, the two priests, and the archbishop. So the back of the pick-up truck I brought ended up being partially filled with vegetables, bananas, and the guinea pig and the duck! Then we were escorted to the VIP luncheon (most of the people received ‘light refreshments’ by the church) and seated at a table with the archbishop and the two priests. The spread was lavish: chicken, pork, fish, cheese and egg, salad, cut fruit, and roasted vegetables. It is always a pleasure to talk to Archbishop Young – he was a scholar with a doctorate in Sociology before he was made bishop – so the meal was very enjoyable. The Archbishop asked Rebecca if she was going to do some anthropological research and then offered to give her copies of some of his research materials (thus we received a packet of photocopied articles yesterday (Tuesday)!) Though at one point Archbishop Young and I started talking about Augustine’s idea of free will and some local VIPs who had come to talk to the Archbishop quietly wandered away. (In other avian news, we also saw our first cassowary! It’s kind of like a rhea, with a blue face. There was a tame one wandering around the VIP luncheon).


The mass was at 10, but we did not return home to the seminary until around 4 pm. Then we were faced with our PNG conundrum. What do we do with the duck and the guinea pig? The archbishop suggested that we roast it. We talked to the local family that lives on campus and they suggested that we could talk to the rector about redredging a fish pond that was once on campus, or we could take it to a nearby institute for the deaf that has a little pond on their property. Then we talked to the Vice Rector. He said that the students could dig us a pond, but that the pond would have to be close to our house and would need a fence and a way to lock the duck up at night. He liked the idea of us getting another duck and of having a steady supply of eggs and meat. However, I was skeptical about putting that much effort into securing a free duck—I’ve had my hiking shoes and backpack stolen from my front step and backyard respectively, so I was doubtful that the duck could be secured. So we decided that we would have one of the kitchen women butcher the duck for us the next day, and we would keep the guinea pig for a pet for Anastasia. Anastasia was at first upset about losing the duck, but she seemed to understand that it would be better to eat the duck ourselves rather than for something else to steal it and eat it. She was also mollified by her new pet. Rebecca took longer to convince as she found the duck more interesting than the guinea pig.


When I told the Rector later about our decision, he thought that it was obvious that we should eat the animals. He proposed digging a pond – but only as a joke! He told me that we should eat the guinea pig too because it would take up too much of my time. He said, “You’ll ask yourself what should you do: play with Anastasia, go to the library, or visit with the guinea pig?” So we’re keeping the guinea pig provisionally and seeing how much work it is – if we get tired of it, it would be an appreciated and tasty gift to a PNG national.



By the way, we thought it was a little cruel to keep the duck wrapped in chicken wire, so we let splash about and sleep in the shower during the night.

We did not shampoo the duck

We did not shampoo the duck

Yesterday (Monday), I asked one of the kitchen workers to butcher the duck for me. She said that she would in the afternoon after she dealt with the priests’ lunch. Anastasia’s babysitter, Miriam, apparently heard we wanted the duck butchered and she seized the initiative. She and a worker woman named Soti butchered the duck while we were both at work. Soti wanted the feathers to make a string bag and Miriam wanted the internal organs, feet, and head for her own consumption. I don’t think that I’ve ever seen Miriam so cheerful. Annie did not seem to mind, but told us excitedly about helping to kill the duck. Perhaps she thinks that killing the duck means that her guinea pig is safe. (The carpenter said he will make a cage for the guinea pig if we buy him some wire.)

Miriam and Soti are gleeful

Miriam and Soti are gleeful

And so we had improvised Peking duck last night.


Rebecca used this recipe, but our duck was probably older, leaner, and more freshly killed than the recipe was planning for. Still, she marinated and roasted, made crepes and pseudo-hoisin sauce, sliced up cucumbers and green onions and despite some difficulties (in part involving our oven being marked in Celsius)….



…. it was good! If Rebecca makes more crepes, we can eat it again tonight!


  1. Lisa Deeley Smith says:

    Are those bird-of-paradise flowers garnishing the duck cage?


  2. Bethany says:

    Oh my, a live duck! At first I thought the offering was an already-killed duck but then I saw the picture…! That was nice of you to let it live in the shower for a while =)

    Their offerings make our wicker baskets of cash and change look quite tame!

    I checked the box below – notify me of new posts via email – because I keep forgetting to come to your blog! I’m sure I’ve missed out on many stories…I hope all the Zimmermans are well!


  3. […] previously discussed, Anastasia spends mornings with Miriam, a local woman. The province we live in is Jiwaka, after the […]



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