Anagusa – paradise with a mystery  

Weekender

By MEGAN FIU RA’VU
YOU have seen photos or videos of exotic spots, breathtaking mountain views or Eden-like beaches in some faraway destination in some unknown place in the world.
Those are the kind of places that make you wish you can spend a week or two just soaking in the atmosphere and relax, hundreds or thousands of miles away from your crowded, noisy, stress-filled city life.
Well, if you think again, and if provided the right photos and videos of some spots in our country, you will realise that we do have such exotic spots just an hour or so away by air or sea.
There is such a spot I came to know some time back – a place that etches itself into your memory and will not be washed away by the waves of time.

 An island in the sun
I have no doubt that the white sandy beaches of Anagusa Island in Milne Bay will always take your breath away the moment you arrive.
The sweet innocent smiles on their faces will certainly send a warm welcome greeting to the visitors and will literally melt the hearts of new arrivals – including you, if you happen to go there.
Anagusa can be reached from Alotau, the capital of Milne Bay by boat. It will take up to four hours to get there by speedboat.
It is situated about 40km south of Normanby Island, one of the bigger islands in the province which is northeast of the provincial capital.
The population of Anagusa Island is currently at 150, and the main language spoken is Bwanabwana, however English and Tok Pisin are widely spoken as well amongst the young people.

The hardworking locals
The very first time I arrived on Anagusa Island on Nov 12 last year, I could not stop admiring the white sandy beaches that reflected the rays of the sun, sandbanks were just everywhere and everything on that island just looked so ravishing.
Although it is just a small island, the locals have everything one could wish for – fish, shellfish, fruits like mango and guava, sugarcane, vegetables from the gardens and fresh coconut juice are the main sources of food on Anagusa.
The heat of the sun may give you sunburns but the locals still manage to work in the gardens despite the heat because that is their only way of survival.
Although there is a problem with the availability of fresh water, they still manage to build water pumps to extract water underground.
Something I observed in the lives of people of Anagusa in the one week I stayed there was team work.
If someone wanted their work to be done, everyone in the village would come together to help in one way or another.
They help each other in different ways – gardening, fishing, diving, hunting, or even building a house.
And when you think about feasts and celebrations, those are very important occasions on the island and team work is again vital to make them happen.

Trade on the island
People of Anagusa continue many traditional practices that have enabled them to survive for thousands of years. Trading with other islanders is one vital event on Anagusa.
The traditional barter system takes place with locals from other islands who sail one or two days earlier to Anagusa. Anagusa people trade pigs, woven baskets and mwali in exchange for bagi, sailing canoes and clay pots with the Panaeati people from Misima Island. Most places in Milne Bay have done away with such trade, however, small islands like Anagusa still engage in it with the nearby islands.

The cave with skeletons
The Cave of Anagusa Island which was discovered in 2000 has always been there when the island was first settled by the ancestors of the people of Anagusa.
When I visited the island I really wanted to see the cave, so some of the villagers had to take me there. But firstly we had to get permission from an elder in the village.
The distance from the village to the cave is just a couple of kilometres away, however you have to climb a mountain to get there.
Before entering the cave, a villager chanted a few incomprehensible rites, asking permission from the spirits to let us in.
There is a belief that if people entered without uttering those chants, the spirits would visit at night to meddle with them and cause them to have weird dreams.
The locals also believe that the owner of the cave is a very huge snake that guards it and makes sure no outsiders were allowed inside.
However, three of us, plus three villagers who accompanied us, went inside the cave on that particular day.
 
Entering the cave
On entering, I realised that the cave was so dark that you could barely see unless you have a torch or other light.
I was so fascinated to see something like this which was quite surreal, to say the least.
Inside the cave, little birds flew around the roof and limestone walls with glimmering light that reflected back whatever rays fell on them. The stalagmites were so sharp and shiny. There were even remains of human skeletons, bones and skulls scattered on the floor.
We walked for almost 10 to 15 metres before we came across a pool in the cave. It was crystal clear and was a mixture of saltwater and fresh water.
It was actually shallow because we could see the bottom, which was filled with pebbles. After another five metres we came across another pool which was deeper than the first one. It was so blue that you couldn’t see what was beneath the surface.
I recalled then what a villager said to me: “This passage leads all the way to Ware Island.”
I was surprised to hear that because Ware is approximately 30km away to the south, and a 30-minute ride on a dinghy from Anagusa.
The villager also said that years ago some white men tried to dive from that pool to Ware but could not do it because it was very far and they ran out of air on the way and had to turn back.
We kept on going though until we came to a junction – where there were two roads.
The villager told us to turn back because he felt that something was not right and that something might happen to us because we weren’t from there.
So, we had to go back to the village. I was upset because I wanted to see more of what was in there.
I was really fascinated with the looks of the cave but we had to turn back due to the villager’s words of caution.

The stay was enjoyable
My one-week stay there was so interesting and fun-filled.
I followed the children everywhere just to see what they did.
I wished I could help them learn English so that communication would be easier for them, but I guess they were content with what they had.
When I was about to depart, I felt this attraction to the island that made me regret leaving. However, to remain was not an option for me – I was there because of other people in my life, my guardians and they were calling the shots.
The villagers brought a lot of food and clay pots for us to take away as souvenirs from that beautiful destination.
The hardest part was saying goodbye. Everyone was crying and I said we would certainly visit another time.
As the sun set over the western horizon and as the last glimpse of Anagusa disappeared from view, I asked myself, “When will I visit such a beautiful island again?”

  • Megan Fiu Ra’vu is a journalism student at Divine Word University.

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