The unique ‘marmar’ market


THERE is a small roadside market place in the far-flung corner of Basamuk in Rai Coast district, Madang which is occasionally referred to as Marmar market. (Rain trees are referred to by that name in Tok Pisin.) This meeting place is quite unique because it is an ideal venue where Papua New Guinean and Chinese mine workers can mingle freely and at a leisurely pace.
In the mornings, from Monday to Saturday, workers and villagers are out at Marmar with the purpose to trade, chat and generally enjoy the rural environs of Rai Coast.
The villagers, particularly women, arrive as early as 6am with fresh produce such as fruits and vegetables and fresh edible greens to sell.
Consequently, the market over time has become an ideal business spin-off from the Ramu NiCo (MCC) Basamuk Refinery. The market provides a wonderful income-earning opportunity for village women in the Basamuk area, who in the past four decades since PNG’s independence, have been greatly challenged by poor access to markets, bad roads and lack of transportation.
That has somewhat changed in the last half-a-decade. People in the Basamuk locality are having the pleasure of selling their produce to Ramu NiCo employees and are receiving a readily available cash income.
Each market day morning, Chinese shift workers from Ramu NiCo’s Basamuk Refinery carry plastic bags and stroll leisurely to the market. Papua New Guinean workers are also there for the same reason. Buai is one commodity that is a hit, excuse the pun, for local people.
For those who love peanuts, marmar market is perhaps one of the few markets left in the country that sells them for only 10t per heap.
“We love the ‘marmar’ market because we get fresh fruits and veggies and our buai and daka supply to enjoy after work,” says Johnathan Karato, a training specialist at the Basamuk Refinery. Andy Hu, Ramu NiCo (MCC) Community Affairs Superintendent at Basamuk said PNG is a country truly rich in natural resources and the natural environment here is suitable for farming.
“PNG is blessed with many beautiful things which local people can use to help transform their lives,” Hu said.
Little do the villagers realise but this simple informal market somewhat compliments the “One Ramu NiCo, One Community” vision that calls for harmonious co-existence between the developer and the local community.
Since the construction phase of the Ramu Project, the local people in the Basamuk area have experienced many “firsts”, their first formal employment, their first business opportunity and their first access to health care and education
Wendy Paul from Lamtub village said marmar market has greatly helped local women in the area since it opened.
“What little money we earn from selling our food stuff we use to support our family with basic items such as soap, cooking oil and rice,” Wendy said.
“We are always happy because we won’t risk traveling all the way to Madang town because we have a readily available customer base in form of Ramu NiCo employees at Basamuk,” she added. Visitors to Basamuk will be pleasantly surprised to see local women bargaining over the price of their produce. The women now know the Chinese (Mandarin) word for no, and you can hear them say ‘meiyo, meiyo” when disagreeing with what is being offered.
Furthermore, a good number of Chinese employees of Ramu NiCo have also learnt Tok Pisin, through their continuous interaction with the PNG colleagues over the years.
In fact, nowadays local women from villages including Dein, Yanganon, Dugur, Lamtub Mindre, Ganglau, Jangag and Kulilau now communicate with Chinese workers in a kind of broken pidgin-English. The women have picked up a few words of basic Manadarin and are able to communicate with their friends from overseas
I was fascinated during a morning visit to the market recently. A Chinese woman was trying to buy two village-raised chickens for K20 each. The seller replied to her proposed price saying, meiyo, meiyo. She wanted K30 apiece for her chickens.
The mine worker fished out two K20 notes and tried again to bargain with the seller. She again refused to let go of her products. Not one to give up easily, the Chinese woman asked one of her wantoks from China to try to get the vendor to lower the price. That still didn’t work. Eventually, the two relented and bought one chicken for K30.
It was an interesting interaction that brought to my mind how people from differing countries can still understand each other and conduct small business despite language and cultural differences.