Sunday 19th February
We arrived at the beautiful tropical island of Kiriwina a smallish dot in the Solomon Sea. The islands in the Solomon Seas, Bismark Sea and Coral Sea, including Bougainville Island, Solomon Islands, New Britain are all part of Papua New Guinea. (PNG)
The Trobriand Islands are a 450-square-kilometre archipelago of coral atolls off the east coast of New Guinea. They are part of the nation of Papua New Guinea and are in Milne Bay Province. Most of the population of 12,000 indigenous inhabitants live on the main island of Kiriwina, which is also the location of the government station, Losuia. Other major islands in the group are Kaileuna, Vakuta, and Kitava. The group is considered to be an important tropical rainforest ecoregion in need of conservation.
Kiriwina is 43 kilometres long, and varies in width from 1 to 16 kilometres. In the 1980s, there were around sixty villages on the island, some of the other islands were restricted to a population of hundreds. Other than some elevation on Kiriwina, the islands are flat coral atolls and remain hot and humid throughout the year, with frequent rainfall.
I can certainly agree with that as we felt hot and sweaty all day. The islanders seem to be cleaner than their mainland counterparts and do not seem to have the same strong body aroma.
PACIFIC ARIA did not anchor out of respect for the coral reefs which surround these islands. Instead ARIA used its bow and stern thrusters to stay in one place while passengers were ferried ashore in 4 of the ships tenders/lifeboats.
Kiriwina Island is described as the world’s most intact island culture. The only outsiders who live here are three Australian school teachers. There is no electricity, running water, sewerage or any kind of machinery. There is no need for roads.
It seemed that every able bodied person on the island was either in a welcoming dance and cultural demonstration or were lined up selling their carvings, weavings and other craft.
At seven or eight years of age, Trobriand children begin to play erotic games with each other and imitate adult seductive attitudes. About four or five years later, they begin to pursue sexual partners. They change partners often. Women are just as assertive and dominant as men in pursuing or refusing a lover. This is not only allowed, but encouraged.
This probably explains the population explosion and profusion of children, Remember there are no Social Security benefits and a girl who gets pregnant…well that’s Ok the family and or village will look after her. As the diet is mainly vegetables with little protein what’s an extra mouth or 100 every year going to cost?
One man advertised a cache of real human bones and skulls, members of his family who were killed by a Japanese air raid bombing in 1942. Certainly there were a few bones and about 10 skulls in a niche in the ancient coral wall nearly overgrown by jungle. The story is the family took shelter in a cave which was bombed by the Japanese. Most of the family were killed. One skull even had what he called a bullet hole in the skull. The hole was big enough to be from perhaps a 60mm machine gun. There were no complete skeletons. I wondered to myself why the bodies were not interred as normally would be the case and why the skulls were all in a niche by themselves and why the only other bones which appeared to be from arms or legs of children were laid out in a pattern like a piano keyboard. There were no rib bones or pelvic bones. The man explained that a tidal wave in 1994 (probably from the Raboul, Turvurvur volcanic eruption) washed lots of sand into the cave almost filling it and the bomb crater. These were the only bones which were salvaged. The locals are great entrepreneurs knowing that by charging only 2 Kina to see the bones they then charge an additional 10 Kina for photos
This is the first place on our visit where we have noticed women carrying loads on their heads. Often it is just one small item and they walk as if nothing is being carried at all. They carry the load with poise and grace.
After running the gauntlet of men, women and children sitting in minimal shade selling whatever they have to sell we opted to find a sheltering tree over the beach.
On the beach were literally a hundred “lakatoys” (Outrigger canoes) of a different design to those we have seen everywhere else. The support arms leading to the ama are only very short and the small gap usually has some kind of deck or webbing to carry a person or the days catch.These craft are manoeuvred by boys asking 5 Kina for a short ride over the reef.
This was our first real opportunity to snorkel in the pristine waters with a fringing coral reef. No matter where we swam and snorkelled the boys in lakatoys followed us offering a ride. They did this to the point of annoyance and still continued asking. The snorkelling was quite good especially over the deep water drop off on the edge of the reef.
Compared to the locals on the PNG mainland the islanders seem almost to be a different race. They are a little more shy, have a lot less facilities and the children seem happy. They sing in organised groups either for the local school or for a church or even a missionary group. They are still a little in your face saying hello and wanting to sell you something or take you on their lakatoys or a guided walk to the village, caves or relics. In some respects is seems pitiless all these people sitting on the ground offering their wares for sale. Some objects are made by real craftspeople especially some of the carvings while other carvings are basic and certainly do not have the same effort but they ask the same price. The same goes for the basket and mat weaving by the women. Some are really well finished works of art while other similar products are pretty basic. The women also ask the same price for an inferior product.
A local man explained that on the island, lime powder is not readily available. They take sea shells and some ancient coral and burn it for 24 hours. Once cooled it is ground to a powder and used when chewing Betel nut.
Some men sidled up to me offering guided tours, lakatoy rides, a small carving they kept in their pocket, they ask you to send mail or parcels to the mainland. One man even came up to me asking if I had drugs. Some men, women and children would bring Australian money asking us to change it into Kina.
Naturally we helped the local economy by buying a hand carved Kwilla timber fruit bowl with inlaid mother of pearl. We walked up and down the line at least three times trying to find something which suited our needs and agreed with our budget.
So far this is the cleanest location we have visited on our PNG cruise. I found a couple of beer cans on the shore but no signs of any other rubbish.I can only imagine the beer was from a local source as the local brand is not sold onboard ARIA and bringing food and beverages ashore is forbidden by PNG Customs.
We saw some women who went home and cooked up a huge pot of something and brought it back to their family group for lunch. The market of local people maintained its place as each took turns to eat and use a bathroom. The “bathroom” was ingenious. A pit was dug where the jungle met the beach and logs placed over it. Four corner posts were placed and smaller saplings placed between posts. A woven mat of coconut fronds was woven through the saplings. Another woven mat was placed as a roof. One side, facing the jungle was left open. Men or women could use the facility although women had to squat on the logs. I have been to far worse roadside toilets in outback Australia. There seemed to be little or no smell. Toilet paper simply did not exist.
ARIA had provided big coolers of clean chilled filtered water and as we were leaving they were down to the last of four coolers. They also provided chilled face washers before going aboard the tender. Those face washers were popular.
The ship conducts a head count on all persons leaving the ship and as they arrive on the island by tender. Each person must show their ID tag as they leave the ship. Returning to the ship the process is reversed. That way everybody is accounted for. We had no lost passengers on any of our excursions.
The ship was ready to depart the island at 5pm. The locals assembled on the beach under the shade of trees and palms. They sang and waved us on our way.
One of the entertainers on board, the lovely talented singer, Ka Weyova, was born on this island to a local mother and an Australian school teacher father.
She walked around the boat and always attracted head snapping looks from both men and women. She moved away from the island several years ago and now calls Cairns her home. https://www.facebook.com/Weyova
Toodle oo Kiriwina Island.
With a trip of only 30 Klms to Kitava Island, our next destination, we will do a slow and circular trip overnight to arrive around 7am in the morning.