Explorer hails PNG hospitality


British explorer Benedict Allen who went missing in the Highlands has pledged to portray Papua New Guinea’s positive image to the world.
Allen said he came to PNG to visit a tribe called Yaifoi at the border of East Sepik and Enga which he had heard of 30 years ago.
“PNG is not a dangerous place,” he said.
“Its people are friendly, and I came because I wanted to learn about the people, study their culture and their way of life.”
Allen visited a village called Niaura along the Sepik River in 1984 and had undergone an initiation ceremony with the rest of the local boys which he said was one of his key experiences in the country.
He said that experience brought him back two years later and he went to a remote,  abandoned mission station called Bosorio and heard about the people called the Yaifoi up in the mountains.
“A local, Michael Kosai, guided me out of his village, Niaura, over the Central ranges and that was the first time an outsider like me had climbed up the mountains from the Sepik into Enga, that was in 1987.”
Yaifoi is a tribe in Ewa village in the Lagaip-Porgera electorate in Enga that is located right at the border of East Sepik.
“I came back last year with BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner because he wanted to see the Bird of Paradise so I took him back to Niaura and after 30 years, people still remembered me,” Allen said.
“They came out with two canoes full of people dancing and celebrating to welcome me and Frank.”
Allen said during his journey with Gardner last year, he heard that the Yaifo people were still living up in the mountains.
So on Oct 26, he returned to the country and went to East Sepik where he followed the same trail he had walked 30 years ago and went up to visit the Yaifo tribe.
“My general philosophy as an adventurer, writer or explorer is a funny term but essentially, I’m someone who just goes off and investigates different cultures,” Allen said. “I want to write and explore about the world, to find out about people and their culture.
“There’s a big history of this thing, colonial-type explorations of planting flags and conquering.
“That’s not what I do. People think I might want to do that because there is a long history of my country doing those sorts of things.
“But for me, it’s about disappearing into places and learning.
“I’m a specialist going to inaccessible or remote places and listening to the local people. But it’s sometimes misportrayed and I am pleased to set the record straight.
“This is the country I love and I care about and I can’t help seeing PNG being misportrayed. It is not a country of head-hunters, it’s not a country of danger everywhere.
“I have travelled so much in my life and I have never been in a country that is so friendly and so welcoming.
“I never had the problem with people attacking me or anything like that. Stories of people being primitive and cannibals – these are the sorts of rubbish talked about. Now in the 21st century, people are still saying those things.
“But that’s not true, people are so generous. There has been a lot of negative stuff that has been said about PNG and I have to take responsibility for that to promote PNG in a positive way.
“Papua New Guinea is not a dangerous place if you behave properly and if you take proper steps.”
Allen said towards the end of his journey, he fell sick and because all his medicines were  spoilt in the rain, he could not take any medicine and so he was diagnosed with dengue fever and malaria.
“People were so kind, they looked after me when I was sick,” he said.
“I should have returned home on time as expected by my family but because there was a tribal fight, my way to the nearest airstrip was blocked because the local guides who walked with me were from one of those fighting tribes.
“That’s how I was delayed to get my flight back to Port Moresby on time. I want to emphasise, this fighting is not something that threatens outsiders – people like me. It’s almost like family arguments or local communities with their differences.
“My wife was getting worried that’s how this developed into a story and eventually hit the media which I am not aware of.
“So this helicopter arrived and took me out to Port Moresby on Friday and I was treated.”
Allen will be returning to his country today.
Allen was reported missing when he failed to arrive home as scheduled just over a week ago.