Word of the Month club: awumbuk


There is an emptiness after visitors depart.  The walls echo. The space which felt so cramped while they were here now seems weirdly large. And though there is often relief, we can also be left with a muffled feeling – as if a fog has descended and everything seems rather pointless.

The indigenous Baining people who live in the mountains of Papua New Guinea are so familiar with this experience that they name it “awumbuk”. They believe that departing visitors shed a load of heaviness when they leave, so as to travel lightly. This oppressive mist hovers for three days, creating a feeling of distraction and inertia and interfering with the family’s ability to tend to their home and crops. So when once their guests have left, the Baining fill a bowl with water and leave it overnight to absorb the festering air. The next day, the family rises very early and ceremonially flings the water into the trees, whereupon normal life resumes.

Tiffany Watt Smith: The Book Of Human Emotions – an encyclopedia of feeling from anger to wanderlust  (Profile Books 2015) p 31.


I took a great liking to Tiffany Watt Smith. She’s smart, funny, and wears her considerable learning very lightly. It’s such an enjoyable book to browse, and would make  an ideal present for a wordy friend.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/83738663@N00/3605648646


15 thoughts on “Word of the Month club: awumbuk

        1. I can’t see why not. It’s not just fun, she really has an impressive breadth of reading behind it, and her introduction I thought was an excellent piece of writing, so that should qualify as a non-fiction project,

  1. One of those marvelous words that I didn’t even know I needed until meeting it! So right. Something tells me that the Brits and we Americans are going to learn further what this sense means when the dust of our current kerfuffles settles and the clouds of isolationism and xenophobia part to reveal the bleak landscape of our self-imposed solitude. Brings to mind another very useful, if imprecise word: YIKES.

    1. I think you’d like Tiffany Watts Smith’s book, Kathryn. Yes, there seems to be a massive dummy-spit going on in our marvellous democracies. As Aus generally trails the US in insane ideas it won’t be long till we have our very own Trump.

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