And so I find myself listening to the anchor dropping at the next stop on this amazing trip through Papua New Guinea. Yesterday we were in Doini Island, the day before in Alotau and today we are in the beautiful island of Kiriwina, in the Trobriand Island group in the Solomon Sea.
The Trobriand island group (named after Jean Françios Sylvestre Denis De Trobriand, a French explorer who visited the islands on the ship Espérance in 1793) is an archipelago of coral atolls and consists of four main islands of which Kiriwina is the biggest at 290.5km square. Most of the Trobriand’s 12,000 people live on Kiriwina. The first European to live in the Trobriands was a Methodist minister who settled in Kiriwina in 1894 and ten years later, Australia set up a governmental station nearby. In 1943 during WWII, the Allied troops landed on the islands as part of Operation Cartwheel, which was aimed at neutralising the Japanese base located in Rabaul.
Kiriwina is one of a kind, beginning with where the ship anchors. It’s said that from the bow of the ship, you could almost jump off and walk ashore – here’s why: There is a steep drop to 200m about 300m offshore. Basically, the reef ends and it just drops! The anchorage is on the very edge of the reef. Normally, when a ship is at anchor, it is positioned in such a way that there is enough room that it can swing 360 around the anchor chain. However in Kiriwina, the optimum point (to be honest, the only point) for anchorage is on the reef wall, and the stern thrusters are used all day to keep the ship in position.
So I took my tender ticket and headed ashore with everyone else. Being more comfortable with the people after the previous two ports I felt totally fine about sitting on the beach (with all the other Aussies off the ship) near the pier rather than wait on the ship for Rosario to finish. If you ever go to Kiriwina (we were on the northern tip in the village of Kiabola) make sure you set aside an hour or so to do this. Apart from just soaking up the atmosphere, you get talking to the locals, and their way of life is fascinating. Conversations start normally by the locals wanting to change the Australian Dollars that people from the ship have given them (note to future travellers – arrive with plenty of Kina, the currency of PNG. For the locals to change money, they need to take a boat to Alotau 190km away at a cost to them of 100 Kina (AU$50) each way).
The boys with their canoe.
I walked along the beach for a while and came across many little boys (all around 10-12 years old) with canoes. They kept asking to take me out to see the coral. This obviously was their job for the day. I kept telling them later, when my husband comes and continued on. The coral close to shore is in water about knee deep maximum at high tide, and at the low tide it pokes out of the water. I did find one really interesting soft purple coral about a metre from the water line.
The locals also just come along and sit beside you. One thing that I have really noticed here in PNG is that unlike other parts of the world (Once, in another country on a beach I had two little girls climbing all over me and going through my bag!) people give you plenty of personal space. If you are a smoker however, keep your cigarettes hidden – I think Marlboro are difficult to come by here as everyone wants one!
Toy, one of the villagers, plonked himself down beside me, introduced himself and and I introduced myself and we sat in silence for a bit. Then we started to talk – and it was interesting. Kiribola is a very traditional village and he told me his wife was the daughter of the chief. It’s hard to gauge the age of the people, but I am guessing that Toy was somewhere between 40-50. I didn’t ask as that would have been rude! I told him I was sitting there waiting for my husband who was at work on the ship. “Ok, I’ll wait with you” was the reply. Toy told me that when the ships are not there, they spend all day in their gardens, where they grow vegetables (I later found out through a bit of online research that yams and packages of banana leaves are actually the currency in the Trobriands) and they go fishing. He was really excited to tell me about one of the biggest purchases they had made – a stereo system! From the way he was talking about it, it was a HUGE deal. With the money from one ship that had come in (he didn’t tell me which one) a few of the villagers went to Alotau by boat (There is an air service, however it costs triple) and bought the stereo for 900 Kina. Later on when Rosario came and we ventured into the village, we saw the stereo, and heard it. It had it’s own special hut and many people gathered around it.
In this part of the world, it seems the most simple things to you and I are hard to come by. After talking to Toy for a while, he nervously asked if he could have my beach towel as they can’t get any towels there. I felt really bad as I couldn’t give it to him, but had I known before I came I would have brought some with me. Note to self for next time: One suitcase full of towels for the people of Kiriwina!
While I was talking to Toy, some other people came and sat down (I think at one stage there were about four of us) introduced themselves, listened for a bit and then got up and left. One person to come past had a black seagull with him. It was very tame and not only did it sit on my hand, but proceeded to preen its feathers!
Toy told me more about what they ate on a daily basis – normally vegetables from the garden and what ever fish they catch. On special occasions when they go to Alotau, they buy tinned tuna and rice. But that is only for special occasions. He’d been to Port Moresby once, but didn’t like it. Apparently, and I only found this out after we left, that in the Trobriand culture eating in front of people is taboo, with the exception of the ever present betel nut. This explains why Toy excused himself to go and have a drink.
Did I mention that it’s currently the wet season in PNG? We’d been very lucky with beautiful sunny days so far, but as I was talking to Toy I was watching the sky change. Just as Rosario arrived onshore, the heavy tropical rain began with great gusto. Somehow Toy found us again and when the rain eased he took us into town, and showed us the primary school and secondary school. The Aussie crowd was thinning out and the rain was back so we turned back around.
As the rain eased we walked from one end of the beach to the other. We didn’t have too much time left so taking one of the canoe trips out to the reef wasn’t an option. Maybe next time. Someone had told me on the ship days ago that in PNG the butterflies are pretty amazing – they were right! As we walked along the beach we came across some of them.
With the rain threatening again to pour down at any moment we made our way back to the pier and took a tender back to the ship. Kiriwina is a very interesting place. What’s usual and normal to you and I are prized possessions there. Take time to talk to the locals, and enjoy soaking up the culture that is the Trobriand Islands – you won’t be dissapointed.
Until next time somewhere wonderful,