Alan was going to
research a doctoral thesis on human ecology: people and their use of land.
In the quietude of the untouched wilderness, among men and women of Nature,
he felt, he would experience the primitive at last. He would become like
an Indian, perhaps, and learn the wisdom of an ancient people.
During the days when
Gwe planned to leave for Myana, Alan Hull learned the following: (1)
He’d passed the oral exam for his doctorate, which nine months earlier
he’d failed, and (2) the fellowship from the U.S. Public Health Service
and grant from the National Science Foundation to go to New Guinea were
activated. Practically weeping with relief, he began arranging to leave.
It was in September
of the 27th year of his life that Alan Hull arrived at last, early in the
morning, in Kiriwinoo, New Guinea. He booked into Kiriwinoo Hotel.
This city on the
northern coast of New Guinea sits at the mouth of the River which is entry
to the interior: to the faraway Mountain Ok region, where Gwe lived. That
River, the mighty Sepik, winds its way through hundreds of miles of forest
and is home to the most spectacular, variegated art of the Territory. But
this was not to be the subject of his study, as much as he loved to draw.
He felt art was not included in his scientific objectives: to study the
relation of people and land.
And now, Alan was
about to have his first breakfast in New Guinea. In the dining room, walking
languidly in the heat, waiters in red laplaps1
served the guests.
A waiter approached
Alan to ask a question. “What did he say?” Alan asked the blond official
in short pants and long socks sitting at the next table.
“He asked, What do
“Don’t they speak
The man looked at
him in surprise. “No.”
With electric fans
suspended from the ceiling, slowly revolving, the guests eating breakfast,
and black waiters in red silently moving from table to table, it seemed
to Alan a scene from an old movie of French West Africa: black servitude
and white supremacy.
Meanwhile, the Australian
business people ate heartily as if nothing was wrong.
The waiter left,
hurt that Alan didn’t order.
The waiter came back,
thinking better of his decision. Alan asked the blond man, “Can he get
a pad and pencil from the hotel desk, and I’ll write my order on it?”
The man said, “No.
The cook can’t read.”
“Can anybody read?”
Alan reflected on
the quiet acceptance of vast social difference between the white businesspeople
and government workers, and the dark New Guinean staff.
Here, thought Alan
looking at the men serving food, are the rightful owners of New Guinea:
the first inhabitants of this large island—an island girdled with dark
ocean and three thousand miles of circumference—and these men are serving
in red laplaps.