Leaving the field, the first time:
In the weeks before I left the field, I had troubled dreams about trying, but not being able, to return home. Always, my new friends accompanied me, facing many obstacles together. The day I left Yandera, I cried, believing I might never return. The "going finish" party I hosted a few days earlier heightened this feeling as my closest friends and "family" had spent the long night singing dirges of how much they were going to miss me, the times we had had, how sad they were I was going away. When I was back home in America, experiencing return culture shock, I had powerful urges to drop everything I was doing and get in the car and ride to Talair and fly up to Yandera for a visit. Of course, I couldn't do this! The Talair hangar is in Madang, in Papua New Guinea and I was half a world away!
Fieldwork never really ends:
As the above emotional experiences suggest, the anthropologist can become quite attached to the participants and location of their first long-term fieldwork. For months after my return, it seemed I carried two, only partially overlapping worlds in my head. As time went by, however, the two resolved into one, as I sent and received letters from Yandera and I settled back into my family life and work in America. During this time, I retyped my fieldnotes and began the first of many outlines for my dissertation. I also continued to make notes on the fieldwork as distance brought new perspectives and my own curious behaviors produced new insights on both Gende culture and the anthropological experience. One such insight was that however much the stresses of change and inequality had fractured their society and pitted them against one another, most Gende strived mightily to maintain their society and togetherness through gambling and other means, traditional and non-traditional. Thus, while there was much that was harsh in Gende society in the early 1980s, there was also much that was noble. Thinking back, I should never have named my dissertation, The Losing Game (Zimmer 1986). Although the title captures the severity of economic and social changes for the Gende, it does not hint at their winning style and strategies for turning losses into wins.
Return to the field:
Although I wrote about the more proactive side of Gende life in the dissertation
and in subsequent publications (see Zimmer 1986 and 1987a), it took a while before
I personally stopped seeing them as more "victims" than "winners" or "activists"
(see Zimmer 1987b). Further field visits helped correct this view (see Zimmer
1990a and 1990b, and Zimmer-Tamakoshi 1993a and 1993b), although some might criticize
me for romanticizing the Gende in the opposite direction (see, for example, one
of my more recent titles, Zimmer-Tamakoshi 1997a). My first revisit to Yandera
was in 1986, the year I took up a teaching position at the University of Papua
New Guinea in Port Moresby. That visit, while only three weeks long, was almost
as fruitful and satisfying as my first year in the field. Many people were as
happy as I was that I had come back, and our relationships became more informal
and trusting. Two unexpected events that resulted in a wealth of new data and
directions for future research were the tragic death of one of Ruge's children
(as a result of diabetic shock) and the collapse of Betty Ruge's business ventures.
Amokai's death brought hundreds of mourners from other villagers to Yandera on
the day of her funeral (the first I had ever witnessed), and during the meal after
the burial, there was time to "catch up" with the lives and activities
of old friends and acquaintances. The failure of former migrant and Air Niugini
stewardess, Betty Ruge (Elizabeth's eldest daughter) to make a go of her first
business ventures (coffee-buying, tradestore, and movie house) in Yandera village,
proved to be an opportunity for me to look more deeply into questions of what
kinds of development are acceptable to the Gende and how do they promote or sabotage
developments that may or may not be useful for them? Much of my subsequent research
on the Gende has focused on these questions, including research on Betty's more
successful business activities (see Zimmer-Tamakoshi 1997c, 1996a, 1996b, and
1998). From 1986 through 1989, I made many visits to Yandera and other Gende settlements,
including urban settlements and Kobum Spice Company near Bundi. In 1994 and 2000,
I worked with Betty and Elizabeth at Betty's home near Kainantu (Eastern Highlands
Province) and at the location of her new enterprises on the slopes of Mt Wilhelm
(at the southwestern corner of Gende territory). In 1995, I did a consultancy
at Kurumbukare, a mining prospect area located in the sparsely populated foothills
to the north of the Gende's main village area. I revisited Kurumukare in 2000.
This new development has electrified the Gende community in a frenzy of land claims
and will pose major consequences and opportunities for them (see 1997b, 1997d,
and 2000). I expect to return to Papua New Guinea again and again to record such
events and outcomes, and to continue being a part of the Gende's lives and experiences.
The Committed Anthropologist:
Seventeen years later....
Copyright © 1996 by Laura Tamakoshi and Brian Cross