In Oceania: a Paul Theroux Sample

THE egg fields were sort of a men's club - women were not allowed to dig or even set foot in the place.

The diggers joshed each other and gassed with me, while Ataban sat plumply in the shade of a tree, accepting his tribute of five eggs from each man - he collected between twenty and a hundred eggs a day in his cloth bag. When he had three hundred or so - a week's accumulation - he sent his son to Honiara to sell them at the market.

"Everyone wants them," Ataban said.

One day I said, "Do you have the same number of megapode birds as years ago?"

"No. We have less."

It was predictable enough. "So why don't you give the eggs a chance to hatch? That way you'd end up with more birds and more eggs."

"The young people would never accept it, although that was done in olden times, when the bird was worshipped with sacrifices."

On the way back to the village I said, "What month do you harvest the yams?"

"Usually in June."

"You have plenty of food that month. Why not forbid the digging of eggs then? Set June aside for hatching. A few weeks later you'd have megapodes hatching all over the place, and you'd have more eggs."

"That is a very wise observation," Ataban said.

It was hard to tell whether he was satirizing me.

"I will put that idea to the council," he said. "We will make it a bylaw."

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