Daily Rambling - April 22, 2009

April 22, 2009 - Every village we have approached, people call out, “Hello, Jim!”  He has friends all along the Sepik and as a result, we have meet hundreds of people and heard about their lives, families and livelihoods.  

We have collected almost 150 artifacts – some old, but most fairly new carvings.  Pictures of the artists and their stories have been recorded.  And our experiences confirm the authenticity of their art and how it is truly apart of their lives.

Our most successful shopping spree was in Tanbunum Village, the home village of Captain Peter and the village where Jim built a guest lodge in the late 1980s.  Hosts Henry and Linus gave the entire crew an orientation about life in the village and their customs.  Then we shopped with thousands of artifacts being presented.

The following day we rose early and departed in a tender for the headwaters of the Blackwater River.  It is at the foot of the mountains that turn into the highlands and the agricultural tribes.  

Leaving the Sepik River we joined the Karawari River and then turned off on the Korosameri River.  Each narrowing in width and amount or water – but still huge expanses of wetlands and swamps.  In fact, grass carp have been introduced to eat the massive spread of grasses that flourish during the dry season and become flooded during the rainy time of year.  We are at the tail end of the rainy season and the rivers are at their peak.

Approaching Mameri Village we realized we had lost our way.  We stopped to recruit a young man to guide us onto the Blackwater River and on to Kanungara Village and Mission.  

Amazingly, and completely by chance, Kanungara was celebrating the initiation of six young men and four young women into adulthood.  They had been isolated from all contact within the village, except the elders, for six months.  Living in the Spirit House they have been educated in the customs and traditions of the village.

The night before the entire village stayed up all night dancing, feasting and celebrating.  Then at dawn, the young people permitted elders to use razor blades and cut patterns in their skin on both their front and back.  These patterns are then rubbed in mud and oil.  Taking two weeks to heal, and with agonizing pain, the initiators lay on banana leaves, turning over every thirty minutes to allow the cuts to heal and the scars to leave artistic patterns on their skin.  We have posted graphic pictures in our photo section.

This region of PNG is rarely visited by outsiders, and few westerners have been allowed to view this practice.  We acquired several artifacts as a thank you for letting us experience this unique occasion.

We then traveled to Govemas Village.  Upon arriving we heard flutes playing.  Again to our amazement, a local celebration was underway as the village had just completed a renovation of the Spirit House.  Completely coincidental, the last visitors to Govemas were two years ago when Jim stopped by, this formal dance in full costume and with flutes and song in high pitch was underway.  We were invited to watch.  Following we asked about the huge drums in the Spirit House and they agreed to give us a drum performance as well.  Hypnotic, both performances suggested meditation or a trance like feeling.

Our final stop was Minidimbit Village where we acquired additional artifacts and the tail and arm of a crocodile that was killed that morning.  Chef Dean is still working on how to prepare it.

Heading back down river we revisited Angoram to finalize arrangements for the preparation and shipping of the rosewood tree. Major was again generous with his police car as we drove with a fully loaded automatic rifle by his side.  We are all set with the tree.

We have just traveled through the mouth of the Sepik River and are back on the ocean, en-route to Madang.  The Sepik experience is beyond communication.  The people, lifestyles, cultures, history and the enormity of the river and natural resources ...what an adventure.

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