Island in the sun

Normal, Weekender

LOU ISLAND, floating like a jewel in the Bismark Sea is about an hour’s dinghy ride from Lorengau town, in far flung Manus province.
As you arrive, Lou’s pristine blue seawater reveals the magnificent reefs which sprawl like a bed of colorful tiles at the bottom of an aquarium.
The reefs spread everywhere near the shoreline and at a cruising speed, newcomers arriving by boat are bound to be dazzled by this kaleidoscopic vision.
Dark huge leafy trees and mangroves hug the shoreline in perfect beauty, presenting the newcomers with a picturesque setting that is simply awe inspiring.
Food here is abundant and Lou Islanders love to prepare their dishes in style.
The Island is blessed with sweet potatoes, cassava, taro, breadfruit, wild fowl eggs, fish, coconuts and various other food species.
Lou Island is a food basket and much of what is planted and harvested on the Island is transported to the market in Lorengau, the provincial capital of Manus province.
The islanders mix these mostly starch ingredients with coconut and other spices to make delicious mouth watering cakes, which are served with smoked fish, boiled crabs or wild fowl eggs.
For decades, Lou Islanders enjoyed longevity in life because they consumed such healthy diets, mostly supplemented with fresh fish.
Fish has Omega 3, a valuable nutrient that strengthens the body’s immune system and protects the heart from coronary diseases.
The presence of many old people on Lou Island is testimony to this decades-old theory but some villagers told us that the mortality rate in some places on Lou Island is however changing because the younger generations are beginning to consume processed food stuff such as sugar, rice, and canned food and drinks.
The inhabitants love their culture and they take pride in entertaining visitors with their famous repertoires characterized by the heart-thumping sound of hollow garamut drums.
“Huro” means thank you in Manus and every time they beat the garamut, they shout names of their visitors, say a few words in their local dialect and end by shouting “Huro”.
In mid November, I was invited by Public Solicitor Frazer Pitpit who hails from Lou Island to attend two school graduation ceremonies and to help present a workshop on witchcraft related murders, crime investigations and court procedures.
Prominent PNG Law and Justice Sector personalities, Justice Panuel Mogish and Chief Ombudsman Chronox Manek and University Lecturer Dr Jacob Morewaya were also on this trip.
As we arrived we were thrilled at the sight and sound of beautiful young girls and boys who danced and led our delegation towards the official dais.
We felt our heart thumping and some of us were almost tempted to join the dance troupe.
Lou Islanders love to dance whenever there is a reason to celebrate and they do it in style.
After presenting speeches and prizes at Baso Primary School, our team decided to travel around the island on two motorized dinghies.
On the Eastern part, the Island is segregated by a gigantic clay gorge that protrudes out of the ocean, where humming birds and parrots peck holes to nest on the clay wall.
Undersea seismic and volcanic activities formed an Island in the 1950s, a few kilometers away between Lou and Baluan Island, and huge obsidian rocks formed by hardened lava flows now surround the Island like huge pillars planted by nature.
For us, it was indeed a marvelous discovery and after a few minutes zooming over choppy seas, we arrived on a secluded beach and found a man busily digging the sand with his bare hands, in search of wild fowl eggs.
This special beach is cordoned off with markers demarcating each person’s land portion but sometimes thieves intrude and steal the eggs at nighttime.
The villagers preserve the beach and only dig to collect eggs for feasts and important occasions.
As we watched in fascination, the man unearthed at least 20 eggs in less than 30 minutes.
After a while, dark clouds formed and it rained so we had to board our dinghies and return to Baso.
Along the way we were soaked and shivering but then our skippers maneuvered the two crafts and headed towards the mangroves along the shoreline and told us to jump overboard.
I splashed into the shallow water and immediately felt like I was swimming in a hot water sauna tub.
As we swam towards the shore, we discovered two hot water springs created by volcanic activities in the area.
They provide the perfect hot water bath for the locals close to the sea.
Sometimes, the women dig the earth and use it as an oven to cook their meals.
A few meters away, the country’s Chief Ombudsman Chronox Manek, Public Solicitor Frazer Pitpit and Justice Mogish were joyfully wading in the water like three cheerful kids.
After spending at least 30 minutes bathing in these volcanic springs, we traveled back to the village, washed in cold water and slept like infants in a cradle.
The next day, we traveled to Reila village, another exotic place which is situated about 20 minutes, dingy-ride away from Lou Island.
After a few minutes in Reila, Chief Ombudsman Chronox Manek departed for Lorengau to catch a flight to Lae.
We attended another school graduation in Reila, and after the ceremony, Justice Mogish and I were invited by boys from the village to go trawling.
It was a frustrating start but after a few minutes, the Judge felt a big tug and hauled in a tuna before I was able to reel one in.
As the sun set in, we hurried back towards the village and along the way, our skipper pulled off another mesmerizing act by maneuvering the boat into a hollow cave close to the shore and emerging on the other side.
That night, we showed a BBC television documentary on witchcraft practices in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, on a big screen, and Dr Morewaya presented some facts about the biological make up of the human body, and how diseases affect people.
When, Dr Morewaya finished, I enlightened the people about the procedures involved in criminal investigations while Frederick Kirriwom from the Public Solicitor’s Office, Mr Pitpit and Justice Mogish deliberated on the court processes and procedures.
The people were fascinated by our presentation and were still discussing the subject when we departed for Lorengau town the next morning.
It was indeed a hectic week, but Justice Mogish probably summed it up well by saying, “I’d rather spend time with 2, 000 people on Lou island than miss the opportunity.”
After spending a night in Lorengau, our team traveled back to Port Moresby overwhelmed by the traditional welcome and satisfied that as a team we had accomplished our mission of informing the people about the importance of law and order.
Huro Huro Huro to everyone on Lou Island and Lorengau, who received us, fed us and shared jokes with us during our visit to Manus.