Blood is Their Argument

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Chapter 14

Blood is their Argument

Saturday, November 25th

It had taken six weeks for Um’we to speak to the spiritual practitioners of the Dani. He had traveled throughout the Grand Valley, speaking to them and getting their permission to talk the sacred talk with Maria. Now he was ready. Johnnie summoned her to the ceremonial Men’s House, the only place where they could speak of the Mogat.

Johnnie and Maria entered the Men’s House, where they saw Um’we sitting in the sacred place opposite the door. Between them and Um’we was a fire, with trails of smoke drifting upward through the smoke hole in the ceiling. Um’we motioned to them with his hand to enter. They sat across the fire from him, eyes to the ground, cross-legged in positions of deference. Um’we looked at them and began the ritual talk, which always began with a recitation of the old ways.

“Long ago, in the Dream Time, the Mogats, the departed ones, spoke to the Dani people. They said that we should honor and worship them, and hold feasts for them. Always remember the Mogats, they would say. In return for our devotion, the Mogats would provide for us. They would make sure that our gardens were full and our pigs fat. There would be cane, sweet and healthy, to be traded to other tribes. They would protect us by telling us who are enemies are and from what direction they were approaching.” Um’we paused, grimaced slightly and shifted positions.

Maria and Johnnie held their postures.

“Before the coming of the tuans, the White Ones,” Um’we continued, “we had our clans, our pigs and our gardens. We had our homes and our Men’s House. We had our ceremonies and alliances. We had our wars and our system of justice. When an enemy killed one of our clan, blood became our argument. Dani law and clan honor demanded compensation. There could be no peace without it. We had to know what clan was responsible, then we either demanded merchandise, compensation in pigs, cane or shells, or we demanded that the guilty man be turned over to our clan. If not that man, then a man of equal status to the one of ours killed. Without compensation, vengeance and war would follow.”

Maria raised her head with interest as she targeted her brown eyes on Um’we. Still her posture remained fixed.

“When the tuans came, they outlawed Dani customs. They stopped our rules of compensation. But killing did not stop. When a killing took place, the police took control. They took the killer into custody. If the killer was not apprehended, compensation did not happen, more killing happened.” Um’we looked directly at Maria.

“Daughter, these gang fellas that you speak of, are they the clans fighting?” he asked.

“No, Father,” Maria replied. She thought for a moment, searching for a way to put things in terms that Um’we could understand. “Before the killings began, the clans had reached peace. The war cycle had just ended. Feasts and gifts had been given, exchanges had taken place and alliances had been reborn. The Big Men were pleased, and they were providing for their clans.”

Um’we nodded, thought for a moment, then rubbed his left hand over his mouth, and let it set on his chin.

“Who has been killed? What clans have lost blood?” Um’we asked.

“Both clans have lost blood,” Maria replied.

Um’we’s eyes gave a twinkle. “Then there is a third clan involved,” he suggested. “A third clan is doing the killings.”

“Why?” Maria asked. She had an idea of why, that vengeance was the motive, but like any well-trained ethnographer she wanted Um’we to arrive at his own conclusion without leading him.

“Because blood is their argument,” Um’we replied. “This clan has lost blood. Your police have not found the killer, so this clan has not received compensation. Therefore, it is seeking vengeance.”

All of a sudden Maria was hit by the intellectual equivalent of a Mack truck.

“Of course. Father you are right!” Maria exclaimed. “I now know how to find the clan,” she added. Until then the idea of vengeance and compensation had been for the most part theoretical and vague. But now, hearing Um’we voice it back to her allowed her to connect theory with situation. She could now apply it.

“Find the clan and you will find the killer, my Daughter,” Um’we said. “But you must be careful, for clan business can be dangerous, and I am already worried for you.”

“I will be careful, Father, thank you, and thank the spiritual ones too. I will give you some cane and shell strings to take to them,” Maria said as she got up to leave.

Um’we looked across the fire. “Johnnie, stay for a minute,” he requested.

Johnnie nodded.

Um’we waited for Maria to leave, then turned to Johnnie.

“Johnnie, Maria is in danger.”

Johnnie nodded in agreement. “We must protect her. We must go to the spiritual ones. They will talk to the Mogats and make preparations.

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