IN PNG today you won’t find many people from the coast, especially men, migrating up to the highlands but highlanders migrate in large numbers down to the coast in pursuit of fortune.
Coastal people for varying reasons dislike venturing to places up in the highlands. Maybe because they regard their places of birth and upbringing as nice places that had provided them the best garden food with many fruits along with free protein obtained from the sea – and coconuts.
Another factor that makes coastal people forever venerate their birth and dwelling place more than other places has been the fact that the mother nature (the sea) has every time provided them the ‘goodies’. Besides the sea also provides a venue for fun and joy with its beaches on a daily basis.
I have imagined these but there other things that make coastal people hesitant to migrate to places in the highlands. An obvious one is news of all negativity like prevalent tribal conflicts and warfare, killings and the chilling climate that would send you shivering to a near-death situation. These scare away many coastal people from either migrating or exploring the highlands in search of opportunities or simply for a change of atmosphere and climate.
But obviously those stories of volatile situations or cold climate are true for only certain parts of the highlands. So while most coastal people either hesitate or dislike going up to the highlands, highlanders, both men and women in record numbers are migrating to every coastal province in pursuit of possible settlement and going after other fortunes for both obvious and hidden motives.
Peter Alu is one such young man who has migrated to the coast. Peter, a young man in his 30s and originally from Bangants-Bomol village in North Waghi, Jiwaka, left his village for somewhere different where he didn’t have to pick coffee and plant sweet potato all his life.
Here is an account of how he decided to leave behind his homeland in the plains of Waghi with a motive.
Coffee has been his family’s main income source for years. However, this young lad felt that life was not satisfactory for him and he made up his mind to migrate down to the coastal province of Oro or Northern – a cocoa and oil palm growing province.
Peter said he was educated to as far as Grade 6 but for a school dropout like him to continue living out village life in picking red cherries from coffee trees did not seem as a very pleasant prospect. He had been doing this for a few years after dropping out from school.
Peter decided to run away from a life that centred around picking coffee every time from his family garden to earn a few bucks. Peter thought of escaping from the same routine of life and go elsewhere for a change and if lucky, end up with something good.
So that is what Peter thought as he left his childhood dwelling place in August, 2007 for Ramu in Madang. His long PMV trip along the Highlands Highway for the Ramu plains was not for a particular business such as to seek employment. He was not even on a buai trip like many highlanders do. But it was just to escape the monotonous life of picking red cherries from coffee trees and eating a diet of kaukau all year around.
A stay in Madang’s Ramu valley at the home of some tribesmen who were employees of Ramu Sugar Plantations was for only a month and he made up his mind to get out of there. So he had a plan to travel down to Lae and on to Popondetta. Why he was so eager to travel across to Popondetta at all cost was because of the stories about many young and beautiful Oro women he could find there.
A wantok also told Peter that in their village they would e buy a small container of cooking oil for more than K2 to add flavor to their food whereas in coastal places you would buy a coconut instead of cooking oil for only 40 or 50 toea.
It was the very first time for the Bomol-Bangants native to travel into PNG’s second largest city – Lae but Peter wasn’t nervous. He was determined to go to the place that sounded sweet to his ears. He was confident of reaching his destination at all cost. Straight after getting off the PMV in Lae he got on the first available banana boat with other passengers.
Though it was as his very first time to travel on a banana boat in the open sea, Peter didn’t show any sign of fear as a typical highlander and acted with confidence as if he had already travelled many times before.
After getting off the boat, Peter asked the boat operator and owner if he could accompany him to his house for the night. The man responded positively and took Peter along with him home for the night. The next day Peter thanked the boat owner and walked away with confidence in trying to accomplish his mission. The place where he had spent the night was less than a kilometer away from the main Popondetta market.
So his first sightseeing walk was to the market. While taking stroll around and about the market, Peter had his eyes on young girls passing by and those at the market.
Fortunately he received a smile from one of the girls. He didn’t waste any time and asked her if he could buy her something and she agreed. A conversation started soon after Peter bought some garden stuff for the girl.
Peter told the girl of his arrival in her province the previous day – and about his wishes to find a bride.
Surprisingly, the girl agreed. That instant was as a turning point for the Bangants-Bomol red cheery (coffee) picker. It was like aa new lease of life in a coastal place. In the evening of that first day in Oro the girl took Peter away to her home.
Peter, now in his early 30s says they live ‘happily ever after’ that as wife and husband to this day.
Over time Peter decided to take a second wife. He is now living with both his wives and a daughter in their respective villages of Sorovi and Jakarata.
Peter left his birthplace at about the age of 20 for Popondetta in 2007 and has been living here in the Oro for almost 14 years now. He says if he decides to go back home to the highlands he will be missing the variety of good garden food he currently enjoys here in Oro and the delicious meals prepared with coconut cream.
Besides he has built homes and gardens here in his two wives’ places and can hardly leave. He calls Oro kaiva land home sweet home.
- Paul Minga is a freelance writer.