Notebooks from New Guinea: Field Notes of a Tropical Biologist


Lucky seventeen

Would you care for an extra wife?

The weevils of Baiteta

The history of one research publication

Birds that throw up all they can eat...

Deep in the steamy, malarial rainforests of new Guinea, a Czech biologist runs a field station, conducting internationally renowned research. In this remarkable book, he brings together his ...

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Notebooks from New Guinea: Reflections on life, nature, and science from the depths of the rainforest

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Lucky seventeen

Would you care for an extra wife?

The weevils of Baiteta

The history of one research publication

Birds that throw up all they can eat...

Deep in the steamy, malarial rainforests of new Guinea, a Czech biologist runs a field station, conducting internationally renowned research. In this remarkable book, he brings together his notes and reflections of the jungle, its peoples, and the encounters of two quite different worldviews, and ponders on the nature of science and scientific activity. The result is a delightful, amusing, humane, wise, and thought-provoking picture of a rapidly disappearing world far removed from our own. And yet, as Vojtech Novotny shows, it is a world not so very different in some ways from the tribes of Europe after all.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Czech ecologist Novotny (Arthropods of Tropical Forests) recounts his decade living in New Guinea, "a most diverse and extraordinary land," home to six million people and 1,043 different languages. Focusing on the people and their way of living, little escapes Novotny's attention; he examines the base-13 number system, myths about dwarfs, the price of brides (£5,000), and other idiosyncrasies; their extended-family, communal living structure meant that New Guinea tourists in Australia were astounded to see homeless people sleeping on the streets. Occasional shockers can be in questionable taste-i.e., a flip description of cannibalism, practiced in many of New Guinea's cultures until 50 years ago: "one might argue... against ideologies that view neighbors as canned meat on two legs, but eating the deceased was actually a highly civilized custom." Fortunately, his excesses are balanced by genuine sympathy for people making the journey into a radically foreign, modern world, which in many ways (as Novotny illustrates) is equally improbable. 28 b&w illustrations.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From the Publisher

"In contemplating a single word to use in describing this work, this reviewer had come up with "amazing," only to discover on the book's back cover that eminent biologist E. O. Wilson had used the same adjective. Highly recommended."--Choice

"When not busy with his researches (and these are recounted with a winningly light touch), Novotny has found time to explore this unique culture. The results are spectacular: an exercise in witty and whimsical amateur anthropology that puts the professionals to shame."--Geographical

"What is striking about Notebooks is how there is a perfect balance between the academic and the literary. This is a very intriguing book with thoughtful and intelligent analysis and conclusions, and yet one does not feel as though they are reading a stuffy academic publication. Czech author Vojtech Novotny (translated by David Short) has provided a very interesting tale of travels, broadening horizons and insight unto the human condition." -- Sacramento Book Review

"Novotny's enthusiam for a country where he has worked for many years, his humor, and his ability to convey the fascination of scientific research make this book a perfect answer to anyone who thinks that everything has been catalogued and scanned, an unorthodox travel book that restores our faith in the weirdness of the world."--Benjamin Moser, Harper's Magazine

"Focusing on the people and their way of living, little escapes Novotny's attention; he examines the base-13 number system, myths about dwarfs, the price of brides (£5,000), and other idiosyncrasies..."--Publishers Weekly

"[Novotny's] wry remarks on the ease of his 'commute' to an outlying laboratory (featuring blocked bridges, a bandit attack, several flat tires, and attempts at climbing muddy hills) and tips for the field biologist (expect malaria; whatever happens, don't panic) will intrigue both armchair travelers and lovers of popular science."--Booklist

"I hugely enjoyed reading Notebooks from New Guinea, partly because I have visited PNG and experienced firsthand some of the issues discussed, but also for its exploration of many cultural issues that visiting scientists often overlook. Anyone planning to visit PNG should definitely read this book, and not just research biologists. It will also generate a deep respect for the scientists who manage to carry out top-quality groundbreaking research in this most challenging environment." -- Alan J.A. Stewart, Trends in Ecology and Evolution

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199561650
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 6/15/2009
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Vojtech Novotny is Head of the Department of Ecology and Conservation Biology at the Biology Center of the Czech Academy of Sciences. David Short is Senior Teaching Fellow in Czech and Slovak at University College London.

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Table of Contents

A Note on the English Translation xi

By Way of Introduction 3

How I got to Papua New Guinea 5

... and what came next 7

Malaria Intermezzo 8

Island of a Thousand Tongues and a Wild, Wild Landscape 11

Don't go talking to the neighbours! 13

The rise of folklore 22

Buy the Book of Books, we have no other 25

Lucky seventeen 28

The age of darkness 30

The character of a New Guinea town 32

In the Adventist aviators we trust! 34

Malaria Intermezzo: Mabura Hill, 1997 37

The sight of a fleeting landscape 38

The dwarf and the whale 40

Blood may be thicker, but... 42

Giving and getting between enemies 43

Views on women 45

Would you care for an extra wife? 48

Our house is our castle 50

Malaria Intermezzo: Honolulu, 1998 52

On the origins of disease 54

Pig a la papuenne 57

New Year's Eve among the natives 59

The sad finale of a funeral feast 62

Thou shalt not eat thy neighbour 64

Living with an epidemic 68

The spirits of Karkar Island 70

Old and New Customs of a Tribal Society 73

What the forest people think 75

The loss of the Titanic 83

The art of chronometry 85

Ye shall not succour your neighbour 87

Malaria intermezzo: New Britain, 1999 89

Null modo sine ulla 89

They chewed and were of good cheer together... 91

Grass therapy 92

Fly-drive? 95

The dearest beer in the land 97

Dying in pairs 98

Money to burn 100

Malaria Intermezzo: Madang, 2000 102

Onwards and upwards, ye men of greed! 104

Malaria medicine 106

If there's no magician to hand, you can always try the doctor 109

Where there is no doctor 112

Ships that do not come a-sailing by 114

The Antichrist of the end of the millennium116

We've got a meme, aren't we the lucky ones! 121

Malaria Intermezzo: Ceske Budejovice, 2001 123

The Coming of Black Jesus 125

The plane test 127

The day a helicopter flies in 130

Forest games 132

Where monkeys defecate on people's heads 134

The problems of a rich nature conservationist 136

Well begun... 138

Malaria Intermezzo: Madang 2001 142

The arrow phenomenon 143

Frontier or frontier 145

On the fringe 147

Those pastures green beyond the ocean wave and others yet within the deepest grave 148

A matter of life and death 150

That sense of fear 152

A Melanesian Little Otik and other film reviews 155

The hippo and the cathedral 158

How to Do Science in Papua New Guinea 161

The history of one research publication 163

Scientists, missionaries, gold-diggers 174

And it was such a beautiful hypothesis 177

Malaria Intermezzo: Wanang, 2002 179

How we didn't say thank you to the spirits of the forest 180

Analysis of a lucky charm 183

The weevils of Baiteta 184

Boredom in the jungle 187

Two kinds of science 189

Football in a jungle clearing 192

Malaria Intermezzo: Galisagan, 2006 196

Great secrets of scientific research 198

Research teams arrive to the sound of pipes 200

The Grand Matrix 201

The case of Hagahai blood 205

Do you mind working 70 hours a week? 207

One day a bulldozer will come this way 209

Top man 212

Malaria Intermezzo: Wanang and Ceske Budejovice, 2008 214

Adventures in the garden 215

The cargo cult and the Czech cult of scholarship 218

Yakt kwn wagn tap nby wokpay knn: Birds that throw up all that they eat 220

The groping botanist 224

Progress in native terminology 226

Watch out, coconuts overhead! 229

Being the boss of a biological research station 231

A guide to the tropical forest: thirteen tips for the field biologist 235

In Conclusion: Travel Report 241

About the author, the translator, the illustrator 248

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    Absolutely Fascinating and Adventure Oriented, Scientific-Ethical Ecology Questions Raised

    "Notebooks from New Guinea" by V. Novotny is a fascinating modern account of a respected Czech tropical biologist counting insect herbivores in the depths of the jungles of New Guinea. The first 180 pages highlights the areas and adventures of his work, and his views of New Guinea's history and modern challenges, and the later pages are more into his scientific research and the ethics of it as well as the all-around experience of his research, and research team composed of mainly indigenous New Guinea people (indigenous that want to live in the New Guinea cities, as Novotny wrote). The major scientific-ethical questions raised regard the collection of specimen (insects), as biologists go into pristine jungle areas and spray trees with pyrethoid (insecticides) to cause the insects to drop dead for collection/species counting instead of temporarily knocking them out, bringing them to a lab, photoigraphing them, and then releasing them back into the wild. According to Novotny, "They mist the tops of trees with insecticide and catch falling insects on plastic sheeting anchored by a network of cables to the undergrowth. By night they use lights to lure weevils into automatic traps hanging in the treetops and undergrowth. All over the forest they have set hundreds of sticky traps in the form of temptingly yellow plastic regularly coated with adhesive...The magnitude of the ask was quite something...needed twenty miles of cabling..." (page 186). And, Novotny writes, "In the 1970s the debate was reignited by a new method of insect collection in which forest trees are misted with rapid-action pyrethoid insecticide. The dead insects then rain down from the barely accessible canopy onto the heads of biologists waiting in the understorey...The method's trailblazer, the American biologist Terry Erwin, had an incredible 682 species of herbivore beetles land on him from twenty trees of a single species in Panama..." (page 204). This damage of the pristine environment by biology collectors with insecticides in spite of Rachel Carson's warning in "Silent Spring." Yet, it is because the biologists that study in this area have not found a better way to do an insect count in remote jungle areas. The biologists also have to deal with biting insects and similar when working, making it not a comfortable environment and not necessarily conducive to overly caring behavior. The extent that this may be descretation of indigenous territory but circumvented though the use of some indigenous that want out of the jungle is quite bizarre. The whole issue is difficult and complex as how one successfully can complete a study without compromising the environment, and if suspicious practices are used, can seriously important species be overlooked or put on an endangered species list or worse... The fact remains that this is probably a serious breach of environmental-ethics. Without mentioning it at all in this "Notebook from New Guinea," the concern this book raises in some way is that the reciprocal is not existing. New Guinea biologists and many other tropical biologists cannot go to the forest-jungles of Europe to study the many insects and similar as the European leaderships wiped out most of the indigenous forests-jungles many hundreds of years ago. The illustrations in the book are nice. The only photo is on the cover, and it would have been nice if included would have been more photos--such of the research centers

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