Lessons on kinship from the Gogodala of Papua New Guinea
On my second day in Papua New Guinea, Nalisa Ibowa sat me down on the floor and wrapped her arms around my shoulders. She looked into my eyes and studied my face for several minutes. Then she nodded and gave me the name Waliyato, bird of eagle or soaring eagle. That is the Gogodala name of my daughter, she explained, and now it is yours.
This was my welcome into the Gogodala tribe of Balimo. I was in the care of Nalisa, and four other grandmothers of the Gogodala tribe, from March 8 – 20 while visiting Papua New Guinea as part of an FIU research expedition with Religious Studies Professor Tudor Parfitt and four students. The women fed us, shared the stories of their people and blessed our travels with their prayers.
The lessons of such a life-changing journey are slowly being revealed as I begin to write about the people I met and the extraordinary experiences I had. Look for more stories and videos in the weeks to come.
Gogodala people identify themselves by tribe, clan, family. There are no strangers in the tribe; each person is connected to the next. Family is defined not merely by blood, but by history and spiritual kinship. The names each person carries – one Christian and one tribal – offer clues about who you are within the tribe. My Christian name comes from ancient Hebrew; Deborah was a judge and warrior. As I navigated this new terrain, I was usually Deborah when I met the men of the tribe.
With the women, though, something different happened. Gogodala mothers and grandmothers I’d never met began approaching me and by way of introduction would announce with certainty, “You are Waliyato.”