The Book of Human Emotions: From Ambiguphobia to Umpty - 154 Words from Around the World for How We Feel - Tiffany Watt Smith 2016


The doughnuts glisten. The smell of coffee—two sugars—curls under your nostrils. All you can think of is the crisp, salty snap of a pretzel, or the lemony tang of an ice cream. In the West, we are in the grip of an obesity crisis, and it is the lure of tempting foods that is most often blamed. But our emotions also lead us to overeat. Fat can be accumulated through a desire to defend oneself—against other people’s demands, against being treated frivolously or only as a sexual object. Food can be a way of bolstering ourselves against an oncoming stress, or showing some kindness to ourselves when we feel overlooked.

The Baining people of Papua New Guinea take for granted this close connection between physical hunger and the desire to be cared about properly. So much so that their word for hunger (anaingi or aisicki) means both a rumbling belly and the fear that you have been abandoned. In a society where food binds people together, creating friends out of strangers, to be left hungry is to also feel stranded and alone.

For the Baining, hearing birdsong is a poignant symbol for hunger, and is an enduring theme of their songs. It is only when the babble of human voices recedes, and the noises of the forest creep in, that hunger is felt at its most intense:

The ambiowa [a bird] cries for me

The ambiowa cries for me

She cries for me and hunger is killing me

My parents and all of them, they went to Malasait