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  • Cited by 3
  • Print publication year: 1998
  • Online publication date: July 2010

7 - Just add water: remaking women through childbirth, Anganen, Southern Highlands, Papua New Guinea



The first Catholic mission health sisters of the Capuchin Order from Switzerland arrived at Det, in the Southern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea, in 1969 following the establishment of the mission in 1964. One of the women originally posted there was still present at the mission in 1988 and she recalled some of the events from that period of early interaction with the Anganen. In the establishment of the aid post, the sisters focused primarily on the health of birthing women and their children. With this goal in mind, the sisters encouraged women from nearby villages to give birth at the aid post, then built of corrugated iron with a dirt floor. The sister with whom I spoke related accounts of trekking into the hills surrounding Det and walking women who were late in their pregnancy to the aid post. Sometimes the women went into labour en route, leaving the sisters with no option but to light a fire and set up a makeshift camp in the bush until after the birth.

Through the birth records kept at the centre I discovered the second birth there was in 1970 by a woman living at Kamberi. This was the same area in which I lived in the late 1980s and, as it turned out, I knew both the woman who gave birth and her daughter. In that same year, the sisters assisted with a further fifty-five deliveries, both in the bush and at the aid post. This suggests a remarkable intervention rate by the sisters in birthing practices.