Introduction / History
Deep in the sago swamps of the Sandaun Province in northwest Papua New Guinea, the Momu Baibai people live in three small villages. They are isolated from the outside world by a two day hike over mountains, across log bridges and through swampland from the nearest government station at Amanab. In spite of their isolation, however, this small group has been strongly influenced by some aspects of Western culture. Most of the people dress in Western-style clothing and use many Western tools and implements in place of their traditional counterparts, like metal dishes in place of wooden or clay ones and manufactured axes in place of stone axes. Though the people no longer know how to make these and other traditional items, they continue to make their homes from bush materials, to carve some traditional drums and flutes, to weave baskets from palm fronds and to make string bags from tree bark.
Fear of sorcery permeates the lives of these people. Though they claim to have discontinued the practice themselves, deaths are attributed to magic, shooting stars are thought to be an evil spirit coming to earth, and crocodiles are thought to be the instrument of death, or in some cases, the embodiment of the sanguman or sorcerer himself. A local pastor asked one of the surveyors, "Is the resurrection for everyone or just for whiteskins?" Church services where the Scriptures are read and praise songs sung in Tok Pisin also do little to reach the women and children who speak only a few words of this trade language. The hunger for God's Word, however, is evident. In each village, churches made from simple bush materials are packed with the people of Momu Baibai who repeatedly told the survey team, "We need God's Word in our language so that we can understand it."
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