In the swamps (Sepik, Papua NG, 2015)

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During the weeks stayed with the people from West Sepik, I joined them a few times to the swamps, to catch fish.

Armed with baskets made of bush-ropes, cane spears, fishing nets, machetes, and smoking logs – to chase away mosquitoes, dry the tobacco and light the cigarettes, we hopped in canoes and paddled along Sepik. When the canoes were pulled aside, we followed a maze of one-foot-wide paths through young forest and marshlands, to a pond of murky water, in the forest. There, they were smashing poisonous roots, after which they squeezed them in the lake’s water and collected the fish afterwards. One to two hours were enough for a good catch, which would last a family for a few days.

As there are plenty of flooded forests on their lands, the indigenous don’t go often to the same location. Each swamp has its time, depending on rain and the Sepik waters. And above everything, there are spirits and sorcerers who visit the swamps. One day, a boy died, drowned in a pond nearby the village. “I gat spirit, long kilim em”. Nobody could go back to that water for weeks. And there are some swamps, home to powerful monsters, where people should never go.

Trying to ignore the mosquitoes and my feet, which were sinking at every step in a muddy soup, with bush ropes and thorns, struggling to keep my camera dry and wiping the sweat from my eyes, distracted me from admiring the landscape. I could just hear the forest’s environment, surrounding the noisy party. Yodellers, calls, water splashes and laughter were accompanying the moving crowd. In good mood and filled with energy, the Sepik people were storming the swamp. When they were gone, the sounds of cicadas and birds settled again around the swamp. (I noticed this, as I was always left behind, moving slowly on that terrible terrain.)

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