[Mihalic] Tambu? huset?
rhide at coombs.anu.edu.au
Sat Aug 18 09:29:33 EST 2007
The current entry for tambu in the Revising the Mihalic Project includes:
"The extension to the relationship term of inlaw reflects the many
special observances that should, with varying degrees of strictness, be
obeyed between inlaws. "
The following piece (by Jack Metta?) from The National (17 Aug. 2007,
Weekender Section), sketches some of the ambiguities in the range of
possible extensions ...
Five letters of total confusion
Hearing the word tambu uttered in almost all circles of life, young
Johnny is wrecking his brain to make the connections
THE five-letter Pidgin word is often uttered in total innocence but for the
totally innocent bystander, it could be the start of a mind-boggling
experience undue stress on his limited brainpower to reason.
He would be wrecking his brains during the time the parties are engaged in
conversation and Lord only knows what goes through his mind as he tries to
put together the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle relating to tambu.
At the end of the day, he might be sitting in the car, mouth agape, seeing
through unseeing eyes and thoughts straying far away, totally baffled by
what he deems as something totally illogical or something quite
extraordinary. In other words, the situation totally escapes the conclusion
that he had drawn from the explanation proffered by his parents the first
time curiosity got the better of him and he popped the question: Dad,
whats tambu mean?
Jay, that legal eagle who flew by the house last weekend, brought the
subject up on the account of noticing the syndrome on his 11-year-old son,
after picking up Uncle Iari.
Now, Uncle Iari is a colourful man about town who makes no bones about his
interest in the members of the opposite sex, though he is happily married
with several children and grandchildren and is considered a leader of sorts
in his own right by his peers. Perhaps, his ego trips to some fantasy land
of his dreams may be attributed to the latter.
The trouble with this guy was that he openly boasted about his exploits and
as if to confirm his inflated ego, all and sundry were greeting him or
seeing him off with the five-letter word.
So this kid is sitting there consuming all this and trying to piece the
puzzle together with that far away look in his eyes.
You could almost read Johns mind going to work:
Mum calls Uncle Iari tambu, so that means Uncle Iari is either married to
mums sister or mum is married to Uncle Iaris brother, which would be dad,
right? That would explain the uncle thing. But mum never looked like
Uncle Iari anyway, and they are not from the same province either. So dad
cant be Uncle Iaris brother. So theres only one thing to draw from this.
Uncle Iari and dad are good friends and both must consider each other as
good and close as family. That is why they call themselves bros.
He could go with that and as if in answer, a smile lights up his innocent
face and radiates through his eyes. His inner sense of self-satisfaction at
solving a niggling puzzle was palpable.
It was there all along. You would understand the greetings on the face
value if you know the person and his family and deduce the connections
through the marriage bonds. With others, you would most likely jump to
conclusions that since they come from the same province, there would
obviously be marriage connections somewhere along the line; hence the use
of the five-letter word in greeting or parting would be part and parcel of
Then the Papuans come into the picture and throws the spanner into the works.
It happens at Brian Bells Family Store at Boroko when dad parks the car to
buy some smokes.
John senses a sudden urgency in the movement in front of him as Uncle Iari
hastens to roll down the dark glass of the car. Having done that, he
quickly pokes his bald head out to greet a couple of pretty Papuan lasses.
John notices a smile so broad that the edges of Uncle Iaris mouth would
have split his ears if they just happened to a fraction of a millimetre higher.
One of the lasses stops abruptly, casts a glance their his direction and
squeals tambu as instant recognition sets in.
The other girl turns and squeals in chorus and Uncle Iari was out of the
car in a flash and engaging the girls in conversation as if theyd been at
it for hours.
John notices that the girls behaviour had somewhat picked up a little bit
of flamboyancy since the squeals started and attributed that to the
mightier-than-thou presence of Uncle Iari.
Johns mind was agog. These girls were young enough to be Uncle Iaris
daughters and they were calling him tambu. That meant that Uncle Iari was
either married into their family or them into his. That would be the
logical first impression. Secondly, they could be Uncle Iaris sons
girlfriends, hence the reference to him as tambu. Thirdly, somewhere along
the line, there must have been some inter-marriages giving rise to the
adoption of the five-letter word. And last, but not the least, Uncle Iaris
must certainly be the man hes reputed to be the man of all seasons and
... women? And doesnt that explain the other greetings and sundry he was
getting from practically all quarters of the community?.
Johns simple mind could not cope with the inflow of information spurred on
by observation and hearing and he wondered what person in his right mind
would have gone and coined the expression in the first place.
Maybe it started innocently enough and straight to the point but as society
got a bit more sophisticated, that was when the rot set in.
Maybe its the lingo we talk; maybe its the way human beings need to
communicate in order to differentiate something or someone from another.
He knows the laws are specific and his parent have told him as such
having many wives is a no-no but it is still practised under the
traditional system today. That perhaps could explain why so many other
people have so many tambus. And friends have become bros or sisters and
their relatives are referred to as tambus by the opposing parties and life
goes on in extended circles.
He is now trying to grasp the social implications of the so-called expanded
family circle that is often referred to as wantok system and hes really,
really trying to come to terms with tambu because somehow the word has
swallowed uncles, aunties, bubus, brothers and sisters.
The enigma of the tambu link is made all the more complex by the greetings
and adieus accorded to Uncle Iari by practically all the ethnic groups that
make up the melting pot of life in the city.
Now, young Johnny is trying to live down his own conclusion that Uncle Iari
igat planti meri ...
And that perhaps should jolt our memory to recall the Wise Counsellors
words: Human wisdom comes from reason; godly wisdom comes from revelation
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