By (Theresa) Tess Gizoria
Dad and I very rarely sit and chat about little nothings. But on the occasions when I patiently listen to him retelling stories from his childhood, I more often than naught, am transported back in time to a place I can’t picture, with traditional practices and social norms I cannot reconcile with my present reality.
On one of those rare occasions, I learnt about the practise of ‘ketar natis’.
Growing up, dad would tell me how most problems were made right through ‘ketar natis’, a practise similar to, but a little unlike the ‘pay-back killings’ of societies in the highlands of PNG. An eye-for-aneye sort of practise.
The figurative description of the term ketar natis would be equivalent to the pain of a splinter embedded under a fingernail.
Even if the splinter were removed the sore would prove rather painful and could take forever to heal, often leading to the loss of a nail and the stunted growth of the new one.
Dad explained that his elders used the term to teach him about the pain one would have to endure when he or she had done wrong.
I remember how dad would make the lolly thief watch as the other siblings enjoyed more sweets, or a similar punishment for our misdemeanours.
He would say, “…Tess, if you knowingly take your brother’s sweets without asking permission, your reasonable retribution is to go without whilst he enjoys more. After that, you can say sorry. That way you learn to ask, share and avoid greed.”
It wasn’t until years later that I learnt the full extent of ketar natis.
He recounted the story of two innocent boys whose lives were cut short because of a grandfather’s wrong doing.
One of the boys was not selected to go on to Mainohana’s De La Salle High School in the Central Province, whilst another from his village was.
The boy who had been selected to go to Mainohana had an older brother who was already enrolled in grade 9.
The unfortunate boy’s grandfather was angry that two children from the same family could stumble upon such luck whilst his only grandson missed out.
It wasn’t fair he thought to himself. The two boys didn’t have a father to guide them. Their mother had to raise pigs and make gardens just to support the boys when they returned home for the term holidays.
The brothers didn’t seem to concentrate in school anyway, and would even miss a few days at the beginning of every term to do chores such as mending the thatched roof of their mother’s house or fencing of their gardens to keep the wild pigs out.
His grandson would always be in class and not worry about running out of food, because he would walk there to give the boy additional supplies on the pupils’ mandatory weekends in school.
The brothers on the other hand, would have to escape Friday from afternoon classes to run home, because their food rations would have run out before the fortnight was up.
The anger grew into bitter resentment and became too much to bare that he settled on an evil plan to kill the younger of the two brothers.
On the afternoon of the last day of holidays for the brothers, the old man’s grandson planned to go along with the brothers to the river to fish.
This aptly suited the old man’s plans. He took his bow, arrows, and machete, gave his daughter (the boy’s mother) a suitable excuse, and headed in the direction of the hunting grounds in the hills.
After he was well out of the villagers’ sight and under concealment of the forest canopy, he took a detour for the river.
As he approached he heard his grandson calling down to the boys at the river’s edge. Guessing that the younger of the brothers would be down there as well, he made his way toward higher ground to find a vantage point to take aim.
He lined up the boy with the tip of his arrow and prepared to let loose.
Just as the arrow whirred past his ears and snap out of the crook of the bow string the boy darted out of sight and a fourth boy loomed up into the flight path.
He never anticipated the company of a fourth boy in the fishing party.
Realising his mistake too late, he took to the jungle to make his escape. But he had been spotted.
The name of the fallen boy’s murderer was passed on like wild fire onto the villagers and the fallen boy’s relatives.
As the shocked fishing party returned to the village with the lifeless body of their fallen friend, the victim’s father had no qualms about striking the old men’s unsuspecting grandson on the back of his head with a fatal blow of his machete.
The old man soon returned to the village as ketar natis had taken its course and no more killings would ensue. Both families would now have to live with the pain of losing an innocent child.
Ketar natis demanded that the pain the old man caused the victim’s family could not be fixed until he, the perpetrator, felt it too.
Then and only then could he kill pigs and apologise. But the loss of his beloved grandson, and the rejection by his kin would always be a reminder…
That is my father and his younger brother’s story.
Both continued through high school, graduated from colleges, but never returned home.
The first time I can recall dad visiting his village again was when he returned with his teenage cousin who later became my brother through customary adoption. He had already met and married mum by then. I was about 6 years old.
The resentment the brothers’ accomplishments attracted from those of our society and language group ensured that their children (my cousins, siblings and I) and grandchildren have never visited the village.