Mono Kakata

Being the other



A great deal of Western thought and writing has to do with “the other,” but overwhelmingly that “other” is a non-Western, often “tribal” person.

In my story collection A Red Woman Was Crying, it’s the anthropologist who’s the other. Rather than being in his head as he encounters unfamiliar people and an unfamiliar culture — seeing the other through his eyes — I wrote the stories through the eyes of a people called the Nagovisi. They, as narrators, tell the reader how it was when a young American anthropologist came and asked to live among them and learn their language and their ways.

The Nagovisi live in West-Central Bougainville island, politically part of Papua New Guinea, but geographically and culturally part of the Solomon Islands. I first came to them in 1968, lived among them in 1969-70, and then again in 1971-73, and made a brief visit in 2001, after Bougainville’s bloody secessionist war wound down.

In this blog I’ll talk about how I wrote those stories, but also what it felt like to realize that I was someone else’s other — how I handled that and how they did.

What’s “Mono Kakata?” In the Nagovisi language it literally means “body white,” and is used to refer to white people generally. Over time, although many Nagovisi used my first name, Mono Kakata (sometimes just “Kakata”) became my name. Being named “White Man” never troubled me in the way that being called masta, in the Melanesian trade language tok pisin, did.

The header image is a composite — 1973 and 2013. It shouldn’t be hard to figure out which is which. But sometimes I have trouble figuring out which skin of mine I’m inhabiting: the 29 year old or the 71 year old. When I write about Nagovisi, these days, it’s usually the old me trying to inhabit not only the young me but the young (and old) Nagovisi I lived with.

And yes, that’s the same theodolite, and the same tripod. The theodolite is only four years younger than I am. In Nagovisi I used it to study land use. In 2004 and again in 2012 I used it to observe the transit of Venus.



  1. Bill Vlach May 13, 2015 - 5:25 AM Reply

    Hi Don-

    Great meeting you at Moe’s in Berkeley!
    Loved the book trade we did. It really helped in my presentation at SWAA!

    Hope all everybody well and thanks again!


  2. Linda Collison December 3, 2016 - 9:55 AM Reply

    I discovered A Red Woman Was Crying at Hilo’s Basically Books store. I’m reading it now, thoroughly engrossed in the stories themselves as well as your process — how you slipped inside different lives to become the various narrators. I love how the linked stories are about the Nagovisi, yet also about the man who wrote them. Your stories are told through an anthropologist’s eyes and ears and a writer’s heart. Masterful.

    • Don Mitchell December 3, 2016 - 10:22 AM Reply

      Thank you, Linda. I’m very pleased to know that you understood what I was trying to do in the book.

  3. GLORIA HARRISON March 17, 2017 - 9:22 AM Reply

    It’s really wonderful to read your words again, Don. Thanks for the link.

  4. janice bisset (cat) March 23, 2019 - 5:04 AM Reply

    I am grateful to find this blog. I want to find out more about these people because my ego is a hard one to conquer. Just when I think I really care about the other, I realize it is still me I care most about. So I figure If I set out blatantly to learn more about this group of people so that I can make a recording of the story My White Man as a gift to you (surprise!) then maybe, accidentally, I will end up being authentically open to the other after all.

    • Don Mitchell March 23, 2019 - 4:30 PM Reply

      If you go to and click on “Nagovisi” you’ll be taken to some references. Also, if you go to “About Don” and then go to “Don’s CV” you can find more references.

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