Whilst making a collection in a family compound today, D got chatting to some of the women and soon the whole group was doubled over in laughter. Feeling a little left out I asked him to translate the joke for me.
"These people come from the South Bank, so they are Jarankas." He explained. "I am Nionka and I was telling them that their old people look like baboons."
I was momentarily stunned, seeing as this wasn't really the sort of thing I was hoping a diplomatic fieldworker would be saying to a family helping with my study. But everyone seemed quite happy, so on the way home I pressed him for further information.
D explained that many years ago, the Nionka man and the Jaranka man were brothers living in a village on the north bank who decided to set out to seek their fortunes. The Nionka man went first and was able to find a lot of food on his way so did well. The Jaranka man came after him, but he wasn't so good at finding food and in any case the Nionka man had already taken most of it so he quickly became very hungry. One night the Jaranka man came across the place where the Nionka man had crossed the river and set up camp. He found his brother getting ready to eat, surrounded by good food and clean water. The brothers greeted each other and the Jaranka man asked for something to eat, complaining of how hungry he was.
"Of course you can share my food" said the Nionka man "but first please go into the bush and fetch this thing (some sort of seasoning?) so that we can enjoy our food together."
The Jaranka man (who seems to have been a bit of a proto-bumster) pleaded that he didn't know how to find whatever it was, couldn't his brother see how hungry it was and didn't that show he was no good at finding food? The Nionka man agreed to go looking for it instead, and while he was gone the Jaranka man ate all the food and drank all the water.
When the Nionka man came back he was furious and hurled insults at his brother. The Jaranka man tried to calm him down, saying that he had been starving and if he had not eaten he would have died and never seen his brother again, but the Nionka man would not accept this so they ended up fighting. The Nionka man was tired and hungry after hunting in the bush for that time's equivalent of Maggi cubes, so he lost the fight to his well fed brother and went home to his village in disgust.
Many years went past and the Jaranka man prospered in his new land, marrying and having lots of children. But he started to feel bad about the way he had treated his brother, so he made the long journey back to the village where he had grown up to find that his brother had also prospered: he was now headman of the village, with many wives of his own. At first the Nionka man was angry with his brother and insulted him, which made him angry in turn and he insulted the brother that he had come to apologise to. But eventually they remembered that they were children of the same mother and that if they hurt each other they also hurt themselves. In this way the brothers were reconciled, and the Jaranka man returned to his new village on the south bank, which became Jarra. All the people from that area now call themselves Jarankas. The area where the Nionka man stayed became known as Nioni, and all the people from that area as Nionkas.
"So now" explained D "when a Nionka meets a Jaranka we must always insult each other, but it is a joke. The Nionka and the Jaranka are brothers. If a Nionka is hungry the Jaranka must give him food, if a Jaranka travels abroad the Nionka must pray for him. A Nionka cannot steal from a Jaranka or a Jaranka from a Nionka because it would be like stealing from yourself." Wouldn't it be great if all regional and national rivalries operated on the same basis?