Back to Earth

The Baining tribe of Papua New Guinea seldom gossip. Or tell stories. Their conversations are limited to talks about sourcing and eating food. Their playtime is limited to their infancy. Sex is frowned upon. The only cultural activities they indulge in are intricate, complex dances, though the fact that they often perform them for paying tourists means that the dances themselves have crossed the line into work. The Baining live by the phrase “We are human because we work,” and spend their time turning natural things into man-made products.

What makes the tribe unique, though, is that it has remained largely unknown because modern anthropologists found it hard to be interested in the Baining. In the 1920s, British anthropologist Gregory Bateson spent 14 months among them before he left in frustration, calling them "unstudiable". Forty years later, Jeremy Pool spent a year living amongst the Baining before claiming that he had nothing interesting to say about them. And so they remained undiscussed until Jane Fajans studied them long enough to write a book about them. When she did, Fajans called theirs "the dullest culture on earth".


Image: Baining fire dance via