By MALUM NALU
HOLLIE Maea frontman Robert Oeka’s song Kerema Yu Yet Kam Na Lukim (Kerema, come and see it for yourself) is an anthem for both the least-developed province of Gulf and Papua New Guinea.
It extols the virtues of each province and then comes to Kerema, capital of Gulf, where Oeka sings about the hidden treasures of his province.
“Maunten wara bilong Kerema (mountain streams of Kerema)
“Mix wantaim solwara (mix with the sea)
“Kerema yu no save (Kerema you don’t know)
“Yu yet kam na lukim (you come and see it for yourself).”
It is indeed a parable of Gulf in our times. On this visit we are standing along the windswept black sand beach of Iokea village. Locals call the beach Moru Earo. A sea breeze blows in from the Gulf of Papua, fluttering the leaves of the coconut palms, as waves break on the ebony shoreline. Children run and play on the sand.
I am mesmerised by the sight before my eyes. Tis simply poetry in motion.
Aptly so, in the background, Robert Oeka’s song is playing on the music box: “Kerema yu no save, yu yet kam na lukim.”
The man-of-the-moment has set up a beachfront project consisting of three village huts at scenic Moru Earo Beach with its black sand.
“I’m taking a new journey in promoting tourism in Gulf province,” Oeka tells guests who include Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer Charles Abel, Gulf Governor Chris Haiveta and Youth Religion and Community Development Minister and Kikori MP Soroi Eoe.
Abel, the Alotau MP who has been actively involved in tourism development in that town, is an Iokea boy by heart as his mother is from that fair village, so that could be a boon.
Likewise, Eoe is a former director of the National Museum and Art Gallery, and brings with him a wealth of experience to promote tourism in Gulf. Haiveta, an old dog of politics, is making a renaissance and knows how to weave his way through the Waigani bureaucratic swamp to get things done for Gulf.
“In Iokea itself, we do have sites which can attract tourists, visitors and holiday-makers,” Oeka says. “There’s a good view from the hills, where we can set up a guesthouse, for tourists.
“There’s also a Samoan cemetery, lying idle, which needs a facelift for Samoan people to come and see the graves of their forefathers who brought missionary work into Gulf province.
“That’s also a tourism site. We also have war relics between Lavare and Koivu, including a plane in the sea, which could attract visitors. I do have a plan, which I wish, will one day become a reality.
“It’s my idea to set up these beach houses as a barbeque place.
“My idea and dream is to have a one-stop tourism centre. For instance, if this is a barbeque spot, the next thing is to have a guesthouse, then a traditional food restaurant, then a cultural centre.
“I’d like a set-up along the beach with all village activities involved.
“It’s just a dream that I have and I hope that one day it will become a reality.”
Gulf is not well known for tourism like other provinces, however, all that can soon change with support from the Government, says Abel.
Abel commended Oeka and his family, as well as the landowners, for taking up the tourism initiative “in their small piece of paradise”.
“We are passing through and we have said everything we’ve wanted to say in the village,” he says.
“Robert (Oeka) wanted us to come and spend a few moments with him and we’re happy to come and listen to some of your ideas.
“We can’t say too much at this stage.
“I was just discussing with Robert some of the challenges of tourism. I agree with him that the first market he should look at is the local market as Governor (Haiveta) starts to get the (tourism) industry growing.
“We want to make sure that the gas is processed and exported from Gulf, we create internal traffic, and we have a market that will come and access areas like this.
“But you will need a place to sleep, or you can work with the governor or even myself and Soroi (Eoe), but you need some facilities here.
“Then we can look at things like small conferences.
“To get expatriate tourists to come is going to be a bit harder. You need surfing, or I was telling him ideas like when you have the crayfish migration come in, tourists can come and dive and look at those crayfish, spear them, eat them, and you can have a crayfish festival or something like that.
“You have to create and build a product and it’s not easy.
“The first thing is to start with an idea, and from the idea, you take it step-by-step.
“We political leaders will do what we can to help, but it’s very competitive, because people are deciding where to go for the weekend, where to fly, where to drive, and if it’s too far, or if there’s nothing there really unique or specific to look at, they won’t come.”
Abel said as the Papua LNG project gets underway new opportunities will come: “We will then have an internal market that can come and access areas like this.
“Tourism is there but it’s going to take time.”
The National veteran photographer, Ekar Keapu, is a Iokea boy and is the perfect tour guide for visiting journalists. He takes us to the windswept hills offering panoramic views of the Gulf of Papua and Iokea and the coastal villages.
Up there, on the hills overlooking Iokea, I hear Robert Oeka’s voice in the wind: “Kerema, yu no save, yu yet kam na lukim.” I am a believer in Gulf.
By MALUM NALU