Archive for November, 2011

Secret Baining memoir revealed

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

There appears to be a “Baining problem” in anthropology: the problem of explaining the culture of the Baining people of Papua New Guinea. Gregory Bateson reportedly found the Baining baffling, and when my brother Jeremy Pool later studied them he decided to dump anthropology and become a computer scientist instead. In her 1997 book, Jane Fajans says “Both Pool and Bateson felt stymied in their attempts to penetrate beneath the surface of Baining life, or even to find much in the way of interesting surface to penetrate.”

Jeremy returned 39 years later for a one-day visit and wrote a memoir about this encounter, including a remarkably detailed flash-back on pp. 11–16 describing an incident during his original fieldwork. He actually makes the Baining seem pretty congenial, if you ask me. I always felt deviant as a child, being work-oriented amidst a population of players, and that alienation (“What do they pack the green bay in?”) continues unabated; apparently I would have been right at home among the Baining, where the main virtue of childhood is productivity. I also can’t maneuver well in groups of dead-air-averse people, who insist on taking overlapping conversational turns. But the Baining don’t mind letting several silent minutes elapse while they sit talking together. Finally, I have never understood the belief that one owes attention and love to others merely because of their consanguinity, and the Baining seem to agree with me on that.

Jeremy’s memoir has been available on the web since he wrote it in 2008, but recently without any link to it, thus shielded from discovery. It’s hidden no more. Soon you may find it by querying search engines for “spit-roasted flying fox”, but for now just grab it from the paragraph above.