Daily Ramblings - December 13th through December 18th

Saturday, December 13th - Papua New Guinea

We settled on Papua New Guinea for our family Christmas holiday – 2 full weeks in the world’s most heterogeneous country.  With a population of 6 million and over 850 indigenous languages, there is an average of only 7,000 people per language.  97 percent of the land is dedicated to the traditional societies and 85 percent of the people still live subsistence agriculture based lives in rural villages.

Captain Cook named New Britain and New Ireland as they reminded him of his homeland – which seems a large stretch of imagination after being here.  The jungle is dense and tales of undiscovered traditional societies still existing in the Highlands are believable.

In 1884 Germany claimed Papua as a colony.  Following WWI Australia took over administration.  The Japanese occupied parts of PNG during WWII, making it a major battle front just north east of Australia.  As a result there are wonderful ship and airplane dive sites.   Papua New Guinea consolidated territories and became an independent nation in 1975.  Rich in natural resources: oil, copper and gold account for 72 percent of PNG exports.

Over half of the population is illiterate and 40 percent of the people who have migrated to the cities are unemployed…and with this has come an HIV/AIDs epidemic.

We began our Peace Adventure in Madang, a brilliant village on the north coast of the main island.  Our guide, Busy Bee, shared stories of his country, people and history.  Visiting villages we met wonderfully friendly people; watching kids frolicking in the sea, the harvesting of mangos and other foods and we were treated to native dancing.  Of course, the mandatory visit to the local open market resulted in the collection of local handicrafts.  We also found an art collection store filled with wood carvings and traditional masks – mostly from the Sepik River area.  Thankfully this bounty is being shipped home for us.

The rainy season has begun and by mid-day it is unbearably HOT. Like 95 F degrees with 95 percent humidity.

On December 16th we flew to Rabaul on the northwest tip of New Britain.  The traditional city is buried in feet of ash from the world’s longest erupting volcano…ash spews in the air 24 hours a day and you can hear the volcano rumble!  After relocating the boat several times we found an anchor upwind and out of the ash’s reach.

There is a deep trench between New Britain and New Ireland focusing the ocean currents and with them – lots of fish.  First Tater landed a nice Marlin.  The next day RA and Whitney invited a Marlin to the little Tender Tot with hookless trolling lures and Whitney presented her fly.  Two hours later Whitney landed a Marlin on her fly rod!!!!

Tom enjoyed a dive on a sunken WWII ship.  Everyone else found the coral and reef fish amazing during a snorkel.

Tom, Ren and Bucky attended a burial ceremony in a village just an hour from Rabaul.  Watching over 2,000 people acknowledge the death of a regional chief, shell money was distributed with dancing and much fanfare.

Many of the villages still use shell money as their currency.  While the countries currency, the Kina, is required in the commercial markets, the shell money is used for dowries and traditional ceremonies.  

Most of the people (including the kids) we have encountered chew a mild stimulant – beetle nut.  It is a concoction of a nut, another plant they call mustard, and limestone powder.  It turns their mouths a brilliant red and their teeth a tarnished black/brown.  We have found it uninviting.

Our last evening in Rabaul, a village closer to the highlands invited us for a “fire dance”.  It turned into a lengthy affair – both for the drive that was longer than promised, and the easy going nature of the villagers.  The chanting of the singers and the pounding of the drums gave a steady beat for the dancers in full costume as they jumped in and out of the fire.

Early on December 19th we headed west for a new anchorage along the north coast of New Britain…