Tovesei Trobriand Tyrant
Remember that big funeral we were supposed to go to? Well, the feast and the distribution of valuables would take place today and we weren't going to miss it even though at this point it seemed likely we were cursed and prime targets for being poisoned by one of the anonymous festival dishes.
We'd just moved to John Kaisepwelova's house, the cheif of the Kwainama clan, and been exposed to the ways of an enlightened chief blending his western education with traditional Trobriand values. He was trained by his Uncle in the arts of Kula magic and Love magic but his approach to these forms was a poetic onefilled with mystical interpretations. He spoke of magic as poetry, spells as poems and the creators of them as poets.
John says we shouldn't miss this feast as it's one of the biggest in a long while and people would be coming from all over the island to pay their respects to the Paramount chief. So we arrive early, armed with betelnut, and ask for permission from the chief to film the proceedings. The chief gives us his blessing along with a single symbolic betelnut and we feel like we've won the lottery. But just as we head over to investigate the strange mournful wailings we hear coming from across the village, we're intercepted by Tovesei. Tall and skinny and speaking great english, he informs us he is the Tourism officer for the island and leads us to a rest house far away from the eyes and ears of the chief. We think he's going to give us some helpful hints as to how to conduct ourselves during the feast but as soon as we sit down, the tone changes.
Tovesei informs us that Trobriand 'organic law' requires that he be informed of our purpose on the island. He was not aware of our presence and has the right to confiscate our equipment and ask us to leave the premises and the island immediately. The Japanese film crew that came recently, he told us, had done the 'right thing' and forked over 1500K($300). "Is Malinowski really your great grandfather? I want written proof!" We had to simultaneously hold each other back(Kelly pinched me before I could pounce and I intercepted her upercut as it sailed toward his face) from physically assaulting Tovesei. We knew we had all the necessary documents and that WE'D SHOW HIM!
To complicate things, we found out that the deceased was in fact Tovesei's own sister and thus we must feign sensitivity to this punk. So we gathered up our equipment, making sure not to leave anything that might be confiscated, and head to the hotel to get our documents. Back at John's place, he tells us that this sort of behavior is not out of character for Tovesei. In fact, he had used the 1500K from the Japanese to get himself and a bunch of friends wastedwhen it was meant to cover the costs of a large scale festival for the Japanese to film. Over the next few days, we heard enough stories about Tovesei to confirm he is a grade A bastard. The discouraging news was that he is a likely contender for successor to chief Pulayasi and those who confirmed Tovesei's underhanded ways, continue to consider him a likely prospect. We almost went on a smar campaign of our own but we had other fish to fry.
When we returned and layed down the paperwork, Tovesei could do nothing and all of a sudden he became our best friend. Everytime we turned the camera on, he appeared and he features quite prominently in the footage of the feast as he was the main organiser for the exchanging of valuables.
This was quite an experience and neither of us has ever seen anything like it. While the Woman organised and distributed hundreds of banana leave bundles to those people who helped the deceased during her illness, the men distributed valuables in the form of clay pots, stone money, shell valuables and cash. It was quite difficult to keep track of everything but the scene was a visual parade and great fun to shoot. The final event consisted of all the men gathering around a group of clay pots, one for each clan and, one by one, distributing coins and bills to go to representatives of each clan.
This was certainly the largest gathering/event we observed on the island and quite a scene it was. That evening, upon looking in Michael Young's book of photographs, we came across a number of photographs which contain pictures of a Tovesei who was around during Mal's time and he is the spitting image of his namesake, the modern day Tovesei, Trobriand tyrant.