[Update: the giant hunter has his own blog! In Polish and English. There is a sad beauty to it, I think. Oddly enough, given the vast differences in our research subject matter, and beliefs about the world, I can still relate, just a little bit, to his travails: field research is rarely easy. No matter what you’re studying and no matter how much you think it matters.]
We met our first ever giant hunter in a port town on the island of Malaita. He was a great big man with a tidy beard and short brown hair. He wore clean black t-shirts and a National Geographic hat. He strode about purposefully. We got to talking with him in the dimly lit general store, surrounded by jars of Chinese peanut butter and Indonesian soft drink.
“Hey mate, how’s it going?”
“I am good. How are you?” He spoke deep, purposeful words with a German accent.
“Good. Good. What brings you to Malaita?”
“Giants. I am studying Giants.”
“Oh. You’re an anthropologist. I’m studying political science. Have you collected many legends of giants? I didn’t know giant stories were part of the culture here.”
“No. I am not collecting legends. I am here to study giants.”
“G-giants. Um, ah, have you seen any yet?”
“No. I am going into the mountains to find them this week.”
“Oh. Um, what are you going to do when you find them?”
“I don’t know. Maybe take some photos.”
The next day we headed off to the Langa Langa lagoon in search of answers to electoral questions.
Three weeks later, laden down with data, we clattered back, riding a wheezing old bus. The giant hunting German was there again too. Still walking around with great big strides. Still looking tidy, but also unravelling just a bit, on the way to becoming dishevelled. When he walked by, the guys at the general store joked in a way that suggested they’d situated him as weird. Feeling awkward, I avoided him.
The last we saw of him was on the ship back to Guadalcanal. As we came into berth he descended the stairs from the first class compartment, ignored us, heaved his great big pack, covered with an XXL rain shield, onto his great big shoulders and strode off into the sweaty streets of Honiara.
As he walked away I felt sorry. Great big forlorn strides. I imagined the sorts of sad stories that might send a mildly delusional German man to Western Melanesia in search of creatures that don’t exist. I wondered what would become of him.
And then, for the briefest of moments, I entertained the thought…maybe this wasn’t a tale of delusions at all. Or of a lonely, slightly-odd guy striding in search of apparitions around a lost little tropical island.
Maybe the joke will end up on me and the guys in the store after all. Maybe that pack was filled with film.
Let me know if the National Geographic starts publishing pictures of the ‘Giant Men of Malaita’ any time soon.