Monday, November 13, 2006

The Canoe Festival

There are a few big events in Milne Bay each year – the Yam Festival on the Trobriand Islands, Independence Day (country wide), the Kula Cup (a soccer event – Milne Bayans are mad on soccer), and, of course, the Canoe Festival. This year was only the third year of the festival, but you would never have guessed from the familiarity with which it is discussed.

The basic idea is that each year, people from all over Milne Bay (and some other provinces as well, such as the Western Province) bring themselves, their families and their canoes together for a festival. Sure, there is a bit more to it than that. Stalls are set up everywhere selling food (yum, lamb flaps!) and handcrafts. Many different cultures dress in traditional dress, dance and exchange food (not always traditional food – it is rather funny to see someone in a grass skirt carrying a box of tinned fish on their shoulders).

In terms of the events, some sail on their sailaos, basically a canoe with sails, from the outer islands and have distance races. These are pretty amazing water crafts, as when they want any significant change in direction they simply swing the whole sail and boom around with the boat stationary in order to head in the other direction. Rather like a push-pull Manly ferry. It’s a pretty amazing operation, and looks quite difficult. (In this long shot you can see various craft at various stages in the process)

But we were particularly impressed with the war canoes and thier races. The canoes themselves are beautifully painted and show a real cultural pride.

The races involve groups of 18 or 22 (depending on the event) men in traditional dress paddling their hearts out and looking fairly intimidating. They blow the conch shell a lot, bang their paddles (which are very pointy and double as spears) on the boat at every stroke and occasionally sing. As I said. War canoes. Being war-like. We’ve heard that in the past there have been some punch ups after the races, but (much to my relief) not this year.

Unfortunately the weather was wet and drizzly, but the festival was still awesome, and everyone seemed to have a good time. Cam and I figured we probably wouldn’t get to the Western Province any time soon, so it was great to be able to see such a demonstration of their crafts and culture. Cam ended up making friends with these guys as well. It was from them that we bought some paddles (featured in one of the pictures from our last entry hanging on our wall), and a kundu drum, which is the frequent accompaniment to anything happening in our house at the moment.

We also used the festival as a kind of a stage. As you may have read at some point before, I (Jane) am in the midst of training a drama group. And we held our first performance at the Canoe Festival. Of course, it was an Invisible Theatre piece, so no-one actually knew it was happening except the group members. But some good conversations were started, and it was a good experience for the members of the group. And the whole idea of this type of theatre is to make people think about their society without knowing that they are being manipulated (in the positive sense of the word) to do so.

The other event worthy of some small attention was the Crazy Raft competition. Evonne and Rebecca were part of the team that won this event, due to the fact that there was only one entry. The team, named the Desperate Housewives (all women), were accompanied by ‘the Plumber’ who was blowing the conch shell, and dancing Trobriand style in his arse-grass. What a sight (left off the blog to protect the innocent)!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Almost Like Being a Socialite

There’s been lots going on in the small town of Alotau, and so something needs to be written about it (while Cam gets his thoughts together on part two of his work trip)! Us volunteers have almost been living the life of socialites, going to 2 social functions in one week!

Last Wednesday there was an unofficial opening to the Milne Bay Canoe Festival (soon to be written about) held at Jane’s workplace. We were hob-nobbing with (or serving drinks to) the main business owners in town, and there were Trobriand dancers performing for the occasion as well. Since there was dancing, Jane couldn’t help herself, and cheered on by the Trobriand girls she works with she tried her hands, feet and hips at the traditional dances. Thankfully her skirt wasn’t quite as short as the traditional Trobriand grass skirts.

We all had a great night (thanks Vero for the great food)!

The second event of the week was the Madhatters party at the Cameron Club. This was raising funds for the transport of books in the Milne Bay Province, so we could honestly say that we were helping by being there : ) As the name suggests, we had to wear hats to the party, and so the house got creative. Scott with his beer train-drivers hat,

Rebecca with her traditional cassowary feather head piece, Cam with his toilet bowl (inspired by the saying “Go shit in your hat”),

Evonne with her flower and bee hat, and Jane…well, she didn’t have a hat, but tried her hand at being a blonde for the night (thanks Stan for the wig!).

Another good night where we had a dance, met some interesting people, and had a general good time – and all for a good cause!

Friday, November 03, 2006

A serious trip...

OK, sorry about the delay but as some of you folks may know Cam's new job requires him to work with many of the diving and tourism operators around PNG. Recently this bought one of his bosses from San Francisco to the wilds of PNG in order to show Cam the ropes of the training he had to deliver and to suffer the agony of a slipped disc in true developing world style.

So after a brief introduction in Alotau, Cam and Rick were off to West New Britain to conduct some training: sure there may have been a little bit of a cancelled flight, an overnight in Moresby with a 4am start, a very scary landing and a very nervous wait for our connecting flight in pretty much the only non-diving coastal city (Lae) in the country and a group of highlands Huli wigmen (pictured) but we got there in the end...with about 2 hours to spare before the training. The location was Mahonia Na Dari a local ngo based near Walindi Plantation Dive Resort, just as Walindi does great diving Mahonia does some seriously great marine conservation education.

As a testament to the professionalism of our two protagonists (and despite all of these prior setbacks) the training went very well. Over two nights people were schooled and tooled with the basics of: coral reef ecology, the economics of coastal and diving tourism, sustainability and marketing and they also got into some serious practical work on threats to the local reef environment (and solutions to counter these threats) as well as some practical tips on minimizing the impacts of diving on the reef environment. I think in particular people throughly enjoyed having some practice delivering environmental dive briefs (even those who haven't been in the water for a long time).

Now this training and workshop seemed to go down well with the shore-based dive team from Walinidi pictured...

However something that Cam managed to see with these guys while out on the water between the two nights of training made him a little less popular with some of his old acquaintances on the live aboard "FeBrina"...

Yeah that's right although it is admittedly a crappy picture, Cam's second Whale-shark sighting for the year made some folks who spend a lot of their time in the water up there and who have never seen one just an incy-wincy bit jealous... but what can you do? I guess they'll just have to be content with these little couple who they apparently see quite regularly.

Unfortunately for Rick whilst Cam was out spotting spotties, Rick's lower lumbar region was going into spasms. Given that the next leg of the trip (Kavieng) is a small provincial town which neither of us had visited before, an executive decision was made that perhaps taking a serious back injury to a unknown, unvisited and lets face it quite remote location was not the best idea. Following some hurried, pained and productive medium term planning (as well as another 4 am airport run!) Rick and Cam went their separate ways one towards physiotherapy and the other into the wild blue unknown.

So having passed Rabaul and its associated erupting volcano Mt. Tavurvur, (yeah look really that's all your gunna get about the volcano). Cam made it into Kavieng bumping into surfers / divers from of all places Maroubra and Bronte on his flight, it really is a small and freaky little world.

A warm welcome to a beautiful place was given by a number of the folkies based in Kavieng, they were as disappointed as Cam was nervous that Rick couldn't make it, but once he assured them that he was much more handsome then Rick anyway they seemed to be somewhat mollified (sorry Rick just checking if your reading all of this).

After a lovely sunset and an introductory dinner at the beautiful Nusa Island, meeting staff and management of a few of the tourism operations in town, Cam was abed and nervous about what the next day would hold.

As is turned out it was to hold a deep dive on WWII aircraft wreck... and with decompression schedules to worry about Cam didn't really have a chance to "bugger up" the workshop by worrying about it too much.

But before we pass the wreck by that easily Cam has to go into this one a in a little more detail: as many of the family and folks may know Cam was a serious plane and military history buff during childhood, making all of the plastic models etc. This dive was the first chance he has had to see a plane wreck underwater, though again the photos aren't great (deep, little light, strong current and generally I need a nicer camera...) it was pretty exciting to see the Mitsubishi "Pete" float-biplane on its back in 38m of the bluest water I've ever seen. It was one of many sunk / wrecked when the Americans attacked the Japanese forces (~22,000 strong) who had been garrisoned in Kavieng. There are heaps of interesting stories about this place (both about the war and local legends) and there are also plenty of wrecks and reefs to dive in beautiful clear blue water. Is it necessary to say that Cam enjoyed himself?

As to the workshop it went (and this may be a slightly biased opinion) very well.

The same content with another active and interesting group of people was brought about some really positive learning for all, even the teacher. What was disturbing however was learning about the problems associated with unsustainable fishing practices in New Ireland Province. Many of these problems unfortunately stem from fisheries "development" projects with big aid money behind them being diverted from their planned course by factors which were not apparent to the consultants who flew in set them up and then flew out... leaving a trail of destruction... but anyway Cam played (and is playing) his part to try to get things happening in a sustainable manner. Still a little unsure about how we are going to get around the turtle's in commercial quantities that had been caught and were being loaded into a Police Vehicle...

After some more meetings including one with this cute little lady...

Cam was on his way out of Kavieng and heading back towards port moresby... but this post is already long enough and we'll have to save Port Moresby, and its wreck and reef dives for a little later... In the mean time Cam's big thanks to Rick, the crew in Kimbe and the crew in Kavieng you are all awsome.