Mi straik ia!

© Geoffrey Heard 2014

Where "straik" = strike as in going on strike, stopping work.

As a failed linguist -- I began studies at the University of Papua new Guinea in 1975 but dropped linguistics when I switched to Latrobe Uni in Australia because all they offered there was warmed over Spanish as the language of investigation while I had been accustomed to the excitement of doing PhD level original research in the beginners' classes at UPNG -- I still like to keep an eye on language stuff happening around me, particularly in Tok Pisin (Pidgin English, but it is no longer a Pidgin, it has graduated to being a creole).

"Straik" is a recent addition to Tok Pisin used in all sorts of ways to explain individual or group action.

I should explain before I go further that here in Kokopo, in East New Britain, just four degrees south of the equator, nearly everyone speaks English more or less, but Tok Pisin is still the preferred language for much social interaction even among Tolai people (the 300,000 strong group living in this district) who have their own rich language.

I saw a businessman father dashing about with his school age kids obviously doing the full parenting thing. "Where is Jane, is she all right?" I asked a mutual friend, for I knew she normally did this driving. "Em straik na go bek long ples ia!" (= "She has gone on strike and gone back to her village") he explained with a chuckle (the "ia" is like a verbalized exclamation mark, by the way). It seems the father had partied somewhat longer and louder than was acceptable to Jane so she just packed up (i.e. put her "senis" = a change of clothes, in her bilum or shoulder bag) and went home to her village leaving the husband to work out his penance for a few days looking after the household in town.

No argument or discussion -- he awoke with a hangover to find himself wifeless and his children motherless and instantly knew exactly what was going on. It is quite common for a wife here to "straik".

As for the notion of packing up and going off, it is different here from, say, Australia where such a move would involve suitcases, lots of fuss, and the guarantee of a warm and comfortable bed at the other end of the journey. People here might live in a rich, well appointed house with all mod cons but they mostly grew up in villages, sleeping on a mat on the floor, cooking over a fire, and having just one or two changes of clothes so they had to do laundry every second day. They think nothing of swapping their current comforts of home for such a life in the village at the drop of a hat. Just stuff a spare laplap or skirt, a blouse, and undies, into a bilum (shoulder bag, traditionally a string bag) and off they go.

Of course, living in the tropics helps. A change of clothes for me, for example, is a polo shirt, a pair of shorts, underpants, and a laplap (2 meters of cotton cloth) for sleeping. I will take a small towel too -- I am a devoted fan of The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy -- but that is it, any day of the year. Shoes and socks? I wear sandals or thongs (flipflops, called slipa in Tok Pisin) all the time, everywhere.

And striking wives who don't have a local village to go to will go and camp on a friend's floor or whatever -- spare bed not needed. It is amazing how many people can fit into a small house when the material possessions of each person are so few!

But back to going on strike.

In the supermarket (no, it doesn't actually look like something you in the west would call a supermarket) the other day, a child chucked a tantrum. "Em straik long jus," laughed the mother. So another meaning for "straik" -- a child putting on a display of temper because he was denied a juice drink.

Labor strikes as in the workers stopping work, are very unusual here in an economy where pay and conditions are generally awful and lots of people do not have jobs. They are not unknown although they often mean that the workers walk out never to return.

Recently, there was a very successful student strike at the University of Technology in Lae. The students refused to attend classes because a popular Vice-Chancellor had been replaced. The V-C had done lots of good work in improving the University courses and facilities and the students appreciated it. They suspected dirty work at the cross roads when the V-C's contract was terminated.

Amazingly, they held solidarity and won. Their favored V-C was reinstated.

I've written enough. Mi straik ia! ###

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