Miss­ing Bunga

The Compass - - OPINION -

I of­ten won­der why I still miss Bunga so many years af­ter mak­ing his ac­quain­tance.

Baby Boomers (47-66 years old) should have a clear mem­ory of him. How­ever, Gen Xers (28-46) and Mil­len­ni­als (12-27) not so much. There­fore, class is called to or­der.

Ge­og­ra­phy was one of the eight sub­jects I took in Grade 4 dur­ing the 1966-67 school year, the oth­ers be­ing arith­metic, English, lit­er­a­ture, spell­ing, read­ing, writ­ing and art. My ge­og­ra­phy text­book is in­deli­bly im­printed on my mem­ory. “Vis­its in Other Lands” was writ­ten by Wal­lace Wal­ter At­wood and He­len Goss Thomas. The dis­tinc­tive green cover de­picts a parade of chil­dren from var­i­ous eth­nic and cul­tural backgrounds spilling down across the sur­face of a styl­ized globe.

I can re­mem­ber as though it were yes­ter­day the very first para­graph in the book: “Bunga is a boy who is older than you would think from his size. He was 10 his last birthday, but he is only about as tall as you were at seven or eight. The rea­son he is so small is that he is a Negrito boy, and all the Negri­tos are small. If Bunga mea­sures five feet when he grows up, he will be taller than most of the Negrito men.”

The 219-page book also has chap­ters on Net­sook and Klaya in the far north, Su­van of the Steppe, Simba of the Congo, Pe­dro of the An­des, Ab­dul and Zakia in Egypt, Roshik and Moti in In­dia, Su­mai and Lota in China, and Erik and Inger in Nor­way, but none of these in­di­vid­u­als arouse such keen in­ter­est in me and ob­vi­ously oth­ers than Bunga the jun­gle boy. As some­one notes on the in­ter­net: “(Bunga) was the only char­ac­ter from school that ev­ery­one re­mem­bered.”

We even knew what Bunga looked like, be­cause Mar­jorie Quennell’s il­lus­tra­tion of him adorns the cen­tre of the first page.

The authors write about his for­est home: “The far-away land where Bunga lives is never cold. It is never even cool enough for Bunga to need any clothes. The weather is hot the year round, and there is a great deal of rain. Al­most ev­ery af­ter­noon a heavy shower soaks the ground and leaves the air feel­ing steamy. Of­ten there is thun­der and light­en­ing dur­ing the show­ers. At all times of year the weather in Bunga’s land is what we call ‘muggy,’ — warm and very damp.”

Ap­par­ently I am not alone in my pre­oc­cu­pa­tion —ob­ses­sion? — with Bunga. Wit­ness, for ex­am­ple, the many ref­er­ences to him on the In­ter­net.

Bet­ter still, a New­found­land poet, Carl Leggo, mem­o­r­al­ized Bunga, al­beit with a twist: “In grade four ge­og­ra­phy / I learned about Bunga / the Malaysian Pygmy / who ate yams, / but I never learned / what Bunga learned / about Carl the New­found­lan­der / who ate the tongues / of cod dipped / in milk, rolled / in flour, grilled, / light brown, crisp.”

The late Ray­mond Troke writes in Present, Miss! Mem­o­ries of School Days in Cupids, “It was a cu­ri­ous thing about Bunga. No mat­ter how good his eye­sight was when we were first handed the book, within a few days we de­cided he needed glasses.”

An­other New­found­lan­der, Tony Collins of Gan­der, writes about Bunga in a re­cent edition of The Tele­gram.

“For rea­sons not en­tirely un­der­stood,” he says, “this un­pre­sump­tu­ous vol­ume has left a deep and last­ing im­pres­sion on the pre­pubescent psy­ches of count­less school chil­dren.”

He mourns “those in­no­cent days of yes­ter­year.” Run­ning across the book while de­clut­ter­ing his base­ment, he “was over­come with a sense of nos­tal­gia.” The cover it­self “was enough to evoke a cas­cade of bit­ter­sweet mem­o­ries.”

Collins speaks for many Baby Boomers when he asks, but fails to an­swer, “how to ex­plain this pe­cu­liar hold that Bunga has had over us for so long?”

One of my re­grets is that my per­sonal copy of “Vis­its in Other Lands” dis­ap­peared over the years. I am un­able to contact the authors. Co-au­thor Wal­lace Wal­ter At­wood, an Amer­i­can ge­og­ra­pher and ge­ol­o­gist, was born in 1872 and died in 1949. And for sure He­len Goss Thomas is no longer with us.

I re­cently asked the pro­pri­etor of a sec­ond­hand book­store to keep his eyes open for it. His re­sponse was telling: “I could sell a hun­dred copies of that book if only I could get my hands on ‘ em!”

Bur­ton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His col­umn ap­pears in The Com­pass ev­ery week. He can be reached at bur­tonj@nfld.net

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