In previous blogs I’ve talked about ideals in tribal culture such as lying, stealing and the fact that these ideals are shared by all cultures around the world. What might be different from culture to culture is how an infraction to an ideal is addressed and indemnified. For instance, not stealing is an ideal that is violated universally. Depending on where you live may depend on how you are indemnified when you are violated by the stealing of personal property. Traditionally in tribal culture there was no rule of law when it came to indemnifying victims of theft. The individual had to take care of the issue with the help of close relatives if needed. If you weren’t of strong character, you just suffered the loss. If you were strong of character and body, you went and paid retribution for violations – usually resulting in a fight or beating of the perpetrator.
When the Aussies settle our area in the 1960’s they had a plan to introduce a rule of law that would benefit the community. Initially this rule of law was implemented by fear because the Aussie’s wanted to get the intertribal fighting and cannibalism stopped. They patrolled with guns and the people learned quickly what those could do. But eventually the rule of law would be implemented by appointed local men in each area called Luluai or Kukurai, who would help maintain a degree of peace and civility in each community. If a person had an issue it was run through the Luluai who would then hold a community court to come to a resolution. It wasn’t a perfect system, but it did help.
We had planted some pineapple alongside our house in the tribe and after a couple of years waiting patiently, we finally had one ripening on the stock. We made sure to wait until the pineapple turned yellow before twisting it off the plant as that’s when they are the sweetest. One Saturday I decided to harvest the fruit much to the excitement of the kids as it was our first that we had actually grown! I went outside gitty like a little child at Christmas with a plan to pick it then chill it in the fridge before eating it as a family. It was too good to be true! Nothing is better than ice cold, fresh pineapple!
I went around to the side of the house and to my horror the pineapple was gone! Had I made a mistake? Was it somewhere else? No, of course not. Someone had to have stolen our precious fruit. I zipped back into the house and made the announcement that our long-awaited pineapple was taken at the hands of thieves!
We had heard stories from the past where people had tried fencing, big black dogs and security to protect their personal property in the tribe, but we didn’t want that kind of relationship with the people. We want them to be our security. We wanted to live on the palm of their hand as they say when they look after someone.
That particular Saturday was village “court”, so I decided to attend as I usually tried to do. The opportunity was great for learning language and culture anyway. But this time I knew that I would need to say something publicly about the missing pineapple. While we never wanted to be in a position of lording it over the people, we also didn’t want to be in a position of being run over because we wouldn’t stand up for ourselves either. I was therefore prepared with my “story” and let the village leader know that I had an item that needed to be discussed.
When my turn came up to speak, I laid out a great story about how we planted our pineapples and waited and waited for them to ripen. I emphasized we didn’t want to eat them green because they had no flavor. No, we let it turn yellow so that we could enjoy the richest flavor and sweetness. They all knew what I meant. So many times, they people would eat their fruit before it was ripe for worries that someone might take it. Anyway, I concluded that someone must have taken the pineapple and we wanted to be compensated accordingly.
The gathered crowd was abuzz with discussion as to who might have taken the prized fruit. “Gather all the village boys in a line and ask if one of them took it!” someone barked out. So all the boys in attendance were lined up and asked directly if they stole the pineapple. Each one answered “no” of course. The village leader turned to me with the look of “not sure what to do now.”
As they were grilling each of the boys, my oldest son came over to me and whispered, “Dad, Isaac told me that he took the pineapple early this morning.”
“Well, then you’re gonna have to testify, son.” I replied.
“Dad, no!” He retorted back with a look of fear. “I don’t want to be a tattletale!”
“But you’re not. We need to stand up for ourselves or this will only be the beginning of what will be stolen from us. You need to testify.” I said reassuring him. He begrudgingly agreed, so I ask for another word and said that my son had something to say.
My son stood slowly looking at the ground being sure not make eye contact with anyone. “Isaac told me that he took the pineapple early this morning.”
Isaac had been in the line of boys questioned but had given a confident response saying he didn’t take the pineapple just moments before. “Is this true?” asked the leader.
The boy looked at the ground knowing he’d been caught and with the nod of his head affirmed that he was the guilty party. “Red (my tribal name), what shall we do with him?” asked the now fuming leader.
“Please don’t harm the boy.” I said immediately. “He can simply pay me cash for the value of the fruit”. Of course, the boy didn’t have any money, but his mother and uncle were quick to pay for his transgression.
We learned a couple of valuable cultural things through the whole incident. First off is that when anyone ever did anything wrong in the tribe, they always told someone without fail. There were no secrets in the village and for some strange reason a perpetrator just couldn’t keep a wrongdoing to themselves. Secondly, as bad as I felt singling out Isaac, it was important to do as we culturally built respect through the whole ordeal by standing up for ourselves and subsequently never had issues with stealing again.
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