Saturday, 13 October 2007

From "The Myth of Mars and Venus"

By Deborah Cameron.

A kros -- the word which means 'angry' in Tok Pisin [...] -- is a monologue in which one person complains about another's behaviour, generally in highly abusive terms, and often at considerable length (forty-five minutes is not unusual). It is delivered from inside the speaker's own house, but is intended to be heard by the entire village. The rule is that the target may not answer back, and nor may anyone ese on their behalf. If the kros turns from a monologue into an argument, there is a good chance it will degenerate into a physical fight. Gapuners prefer to let the speaker go on until she feels she has said all she needs to say. Her grievance, now a matter of public record, can if necessary be addressed later through more diplomatic channels.

I have used the pronouns she and her in this description because the kros, almost without exception, is a women's genre. (Widowers may occasionally have a kros; other men who feel the need generally get their wives to do it for them.) In one kros recorded by the anthropologist Don Kulick, the speaker, Sake, turns on her husband, Allan, after an altercation which begins when Sake falls through a hole in the rotten floor of her house (a house which Allan built, and is in theory responsible for maintaining). In the ensuing conflict Allan hits Sake with a piece of sugar cane, while she threatens to slice him up with a machete and then burn the house to the ground. When Allan leaves the house, Sake begins a tirade of abuse. The following [...] extract gives the flavour of it [...]

You're a fucking rubbish man. You hear? Your fucking prick is full of maggots. You're a big fucking semen prick. Stone balls! [...] Fucking black prick! Fucking grandfather prick! You've built me a good house that I just fall down in, you get up and hit me on the arm with a piece of sugar cane! You fucking mother's cunt!

[...] when western women behave in this way, they are usually considered to be adopting 'masculine' traits. In Gapun, by contrast, women whose language is direct, aggressive, abusive, and obscene are not thought to be acting like men, They are thought to be doing what comes naturally to women. [...] Men pride themselves on their ability to express themselves indirectly, controlling their emotions and concealing their real opinions to avoid provoking conflict. Women on the other hand are uncooperative and belligerent. As Kruni, one of the older men in the village, told Don Kulick: "They don't suppress their hed [wilfulness] one little bit. No way. Talk kros, bad talk, that's the way of the women, their habit. They don't have any save [judgement]."

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