The Yupno valley lies in the North Eastern part of Papua New Guinea and like so many places here it is wild, rugged and the people are only just being touched by western influence. Scientists and anthropologists have been very keen to embark on travels to the village of Gua to study their culture and most importantly their relationship and understanding of time. Time is something that we think of in seconds, minutes, hours, the past behind us and the future before us.
The Yupno people are challenging what we know about space and time as their concept of it is far removed from the linear thought of how we conceive the hours of our lives that tick on by. The Yupno Valley falls at the feet of the Finisterre Mountain range, and the villagers build off this local topography to describe spatial relationships and embrace such contrasts as upriver, downriver, landward and seaward. They also navigate using the slopes that surround their village. Uphill and towards the direction of the River’s source represents the future and they will point to that direction no matter where they are standing in relation to it. Downhill and towards the direction of the mouth of the River represents the past and again, it does not matter where they are standing, they will always point or turn their body to that direction to describe the past. In the west, we use our own bodies to portray past and future. A metaphorical line runs through our bodies, and the future is always in front of us and the past behind us. This is not so for the people who live in Gua. Their metaphorical timeline is kinked as it runs from the uphill slope to the downward slope and the gaping river mouth. The path between the slopes and the different ends of the river is anything but straight. The Yupno’s ancestors arrived by sea and climbed the 2,500m high mountain valley, so it is thought because of this the lowlands represent the past and that time, or the future, flows uphill.