A Potted History of Madang sees Madang from the people’s point of view and studies the myths and oral traditions handed down through the generations and the changes that occurred during the German Colony, the Australian Administration, the Pacific War and the time of Independence and beyond. It is a book of hope for the future and explanations of the changes in the culture that have occurred since the time of first contact. In many years of close contact, Mary Mennis came to know and respect the village people who shared their oral traditions, skills of pot making and canoe building. It is hoped that this book will record some of the past times for the present and future people of Madang.

The Austronesian Speakers in Madang Province had extensive trading networks, both on land and sea; the main item of trade being the earthenware pots. These were carried to villages along the coast on large trading canoes the size of which astounded Mikloucho Maclay, the first foreign settler in the area. In 1978, Mary helped the last of the canoe builders to build another full-size trading canoe after forty years and this is well documented. References are also made to the origins of the Madang people; evidence of tsunami in the past; the origin of a cargo cult; different styles of pottery throughout the Province; and traditional trading canoes and trading systems

This is an ethnographical study of the Bel people living in the Madang area and changes over time brought about by external influences. The first eight chapters are, in the main, directed to the early oral history and the recording of myths and legends, which are fascinating. Interwoven in this study is the significance of the traditional making and trading of pottery. The author also draws on the contributions of early observers of the people, for example, Maclay, Finsch, Dempwolff, Biró and later, Hannemann, Mager and Aufinger. The effects of the Missions, the German, Australian, Japanese administrations and later, Independence influences underpin, but do not dominate, the essential thrust of this book. The author was in a unique position, and indeed privileged, over a number of years to gain the trust of the people she wanted to research and get to know. The empathy and respect she gave and received is clearly evident throughout.

A time-line encapsulates major periods in history and the main players. There is also an extensive bibliography as well as exceptional photos and drawings throughout. The Bel people in particular will be able to refer to this book as a detailed resource and to remember and learn about their stories and practices now dimmed in memory. The building and sailing of the trading canoes, the ‘lalong’ and the ‘palangut’ are a specific example of those cultural practices. (Review by Pat Johnson in Una Voce, December 2006 ).

Published in 2006 with 326 pages in soft cover and.with copious illustrations, maps, tables and references. This book will be of interest to ethnographers, historians, students and those interested in pottery and trading canoes.

Purchase price $AUD75. Postage within Australia $AUD10.