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53. To get engaged

Svenska  sveriges-flagga.png


I will give some background facts to the following story. In 1985 David was 16 years old. As stated in Chapter 45, "An additional home," the family Goransson was in the end of 1985 spending three months in Sweden. They spent the whole of 1986 in Australia. In 1987, the family returned to Papua New Guinea, but David, remained in Australia for studies.

Sven speaks: In September 1985, we were preparing to go to Sweden. After the last Sunday morning service, we were invited home to one of the pastors for lunch. This pastor and his family had been our neighbors for a long time, and their children had been playing with our children as they were all growing up together. Now when our son, David, and their oldest daughter were in their teens, they were very good friends and both were very active in the church.

When we came to the pastor's place, we discovered that they had killed a whole pig and cooked it. We were even more surprised when we realized that we were the only ones who were invited to the lunch. Normally you would have invited many people, but not this time. I thought no more about this and we all ate with a good appetite until we were completely satisfied.

After the meal, the pastor handed me a hind leg from the pig. Again, I was surprised because the day after we were going to Sweden and thus would not have a chance to eat this big piece of meat before our departure. But since it would have been an insult not to accept the gift I thanked him so much and accepted the hind leg. In spite of the fact that I after having spent many years in Papua New Guinea, had a good understanding of the Papua New Guinean culture, and knew well the process which we just had experienced, I did not understand what the pastor just had done. I thought he just wanted to bless me with a piece of meat.

In Papuan culture and tradition, what it is described above would be an engagement ritual, but that this was the motive for the pastor’s action, I was totally unaware of. When he handed me the hind leg, it meant in fact that he suggested that his daughter and David should get married. When I took the hind leg and thanked him, it meant that I accepted his proposal. From that moment his daughter was engaged to David, but neither David, nor Marianne and I understood this. Had we been observing this process between two Papuan families, I would have immediately understood what it was about, but now it was our own family which was involved, and therefore I did not make the connection. However, for the pastor´s family, it was clear that his daughter and David were engaged, but of this we were completely ignorant.

In order to avoid misunderstanding, I would just like to say that Marianne and I certainly would not mind a marriage between the pastor´s daughter and David. At this time Marianne and I intended to live the rest of our lives in Papua New Guinea and regarded ourselves as Papuans at heart, even if we were white-skinned. Or as Papuans said about me: "Sven may be white-skinned, but his soul is black."

The next day, the pastor and his family came to the airport to say goodbye, and for us it was nothing special about that. There were many other Papuan friends who were there to say goodbye to us. When we returned to Papua New Guinea in 1987, we were a little surprised that the pastor´s daughter repeatedly came to our home to help Marianne with chores. It was common for young women who had been engaged to show that she would make a good wife. But we still did not understand the reason for her visits; we simply thought she was being nice to us.

At Christmas 1987, David came to visit us. When we were going to the airport to pick him up, the pastor´s daughter asked if she could come with us. We were a little surprised that she wanted to come with us alone to meet David but thought it was because they had been friends throughout their childhood. We should have realized the simple fact that in Papua New Guinea, no young girl would do this without being engaged or married to the man we were going to pick up. But we were somehow blind. During the Christmas and New Year holidays, the pastor´s daughter spent a lot of time with us. She did everything to show David that she was good at cooking and running a home, but neither David nor we realized the reason for it.

This pattern repeated itself a few times when David came to visit us. Eventually, when David was a little older, he stopped coming to Papua New Guinea during the Christmas holidays. The years went by and it was now already 1992. The pastor´s daughter had become a young, beautiful woman of 23 and a popular youth leader in the church of Mount Hagen. According to tradition, in Papua New Guinea, she should have been married several years ago. One day a delegation of pastors came to see me at home. They asked me to call David in Australia and ask him if he wanted to marry the pastor´s daughter. I kept a straight face and did as they asked me. When I asked David if he wanted to marry the pastor´s daughter, he laughed and said that he did not. Not an evil laugh, but a surprised laugh. When I hung up, I told the pastors that David said no. They stared at me with great surprise and left me then without saying anything.

After a few days they came back and asked me again to call David and ask him if he wanted to marry the pastor´s daughter. I tried to avoid having to call David again by saying that I had neither pigs nor money to pay the bride price. They then explained that I did not need to worry about that, because they would collect both pigs and money. So I had no choice but to call David again and ask him if he wanted to marry the pastor´s daughter. The answer was the same as last time. When I told the pastors about the answer, they left me with a question mark written on their faces. I still did not understand what was going on.

A few weeks later we were told that the pastor's daughter got engaged to a pastor from the Apostolic Church in Mount Hagen. They were married a little later and now they have several grown-up children. They now live in Port Moresby, where they are pastoring an Apostolic Church. Last time I saw them was in 2009, when they arrived at the airport in Port Moresby to meet me when I was on my way to Mount Hagen.

It actually took several years before I realized what had happened. Once when I was talking about how arranged marriages work in Papua New Guinea, it suddenly hit me that this was exactly what we had experienced. We had almost married off David to the pastor´s daughter, without understanding what we had done.


David, the furthest to the left

The pastor and his family thought that their daughter was engaged to David for seven years and that they would eventually get married. When the time just went by and nothing happened, the pastors thought that now was the time for a wedding. Part of the process is to first ask the man in front of witnesses if he wants to marry the woman and then the woman is asked. If one of them says no, the engagement is broken and they are free to marry someone else. What is remarkable in this context was that they asked the question to David twice, but they were so surprised by the response the first time that they wanted to ask the question again, just to be on the safe side. When David said no, the pastor's daughter was free to marry the Apostolic pastor.

Imagine, I thought that I was well acquainted with the Papuan culture, and I completely missed this "personal family drama" for so many years. But I am glad that both the pastor´s daughter and David are happily married today, although not with each other.

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