Now and then the Sohi people will hold a celebration. Everyone will decorate their bodies with the brightest colours that they can muster, using body paints made from earth pigments. Flowers are added, and plumage from brightly-coloured birds completes the decoration – the more the better.
Three days of merriment will follow, to celebrate a marriage or a successful harvest or perhaps just the passing of the seasons.
It’s a different story when someone dies. If it is an adult, there will be sadness all round, but only a widow will go into mourning. She will coat her body with blue-grey clay for many months, and when she removes the clay she is ready to once again be courted. If it is a child who has died, all the mothers will mourn together for a week, singing a haunting, wailing, mournful song for many hours each day.
Most of the rest of the time, the village is a happy place. The children play games with sticks and stones: throwing the stones, piling them up, pushing them around a path with sticks, jumping over them, and so on. The boys will mess about with small bows and arrows, and will chase animals. They may even occasionally catch a small bird or a lizard. The girls will make little bags by knotting scraps of bark twine, offcasts from the twine with which the women have made their shoulder-slung bags. The children also play in the stream near the village, or by the fire.
The stream flows into a larger river, which (due to the heavy rainfall) can quickly swell to a ten-metre-wide swirling torrent. Above this river the Sohi have built a bridge.
The basic design is that of a suspension bridge. The trunks of two trees form a tower at each end, from which plaited lianas (tough but flexible vines) form the catenary. A lattice of bamboo forms the walkway, with gaps filled in by woven lianas.
The bridge is strong and robust, but the materials from which it is made have a limited life and it will need to be repaired frequently, and the bridge re-built every fourteen years or so.
Beyond the bridge is the forest – the jungle – and the Sohi do not like to stay there after dark. Particularly, they will not sleep overnight on the path, for fear of falling trees. After dark is the time for the women to be in the family house, and for the men to be in the longhouse, telling stories around the fire, and being ready just in case tonight is the night chosen by those from a nearby valley to attack.
That’s the end of this group of articles about what it’s like to live in the stone age. In the next post, I will tell who the Sohi people are, and where this information comes from.