Memoir series – JLeahy
In the first moon of the coffee season, the bees would have long gone from the sweetness in the coffee blossom. The delicate petals of coffee blossoms would wither, turn brownie-yellow and drop to carpet the base of the trees. Here, under the tree, other insects such as ants would gather around the sticky rotting pulp. This was the picking time. My mother and her sisters would prepare to harvest grandpa’s coffee.
This is my mother’s Coffee Land story.
My grandfather’s name means “intelligent” and so he was. Kauc’s coffee garden was planted on his father’s land, miles away from our village.
To harvest the coffee beans; equipment, food, bags, water and all other necessities for processing had to be carried to the garden on foot. It was a labour-intensive method in which cherries are picked, selected and pulped by hand all day and for several weeks.
The remaining flesh from the pulping process was used as composting material for both the coffee and food gardens. Once the bean was dried, it was shelled. The coffee was now ready to sell and grandpa took it to town and in exchange, he bought sugar, rice and a small stick of tobacco. The tobacco was his treat, although he rarely smoked. My mother often wondered why he spent his hard-earned money on tobacco he did not really smoke. She said perhaps he shared it with his friends.
The coffee garden was Kauc’s pride and joy. Being a male and the second eldest in his family, Kauc owned a large piece of land. He was a devout Lutheran and a teacher. Kauc loved the land and he tried some cocoa and his coffee garden for cash.
The coffee garden, near our food garden, was situated less than an hour walking distance from our small coastal village outside Lae, Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea. Kauc grew Arabicas. With a high rainfall and good soil, the trees grew well and produced top quality beans. The family did not drink this coffee. They drank tea which came from Garaina, a sub-district in our province. This coffee garden was purely cultivated as a cash crop.
When the coffee berries ripened they developed a glossy sheen on its deep red shades. My mother, her sisters and my grandparents would go to the garden to pick the coffee and spend the whole day sorting and processing.
Sometimes, they would take a break and make a fire in nearby kunai (grassland) to surround and trap bandicoots for lunch. This made the long day interesting.
My mother said she would feed me milk and lay me down in a bilum (string bag) and hang the bag on a Rosewood branch. Under the shade, the cool breeze kept me asleep while she and her sisters picked coffee. My grandfather washed and peeled the red skins, revealing pale beans. The sisters would pick and bring bags of the red cherries and pour them into my grandpa’s pulper.
“He would stand there in his laplap and T shirt and just turn the handles until the machine skinned and spit the pale brown seeds out the other end. The seeds were collected and dried in the sun. He was in charge of this machine” my mother said.
The trees and in particular, the Rosewood tree became the landmark. Memories of the coffee garden surfaced in a family argument over land allocation eight years ago. My grandfather and his brother were the head of our family and clan. Both men had died three decades ago. Their sons, my two uncles who became head of our clan and land had also died. My mother remains the eldest of the family and clan. Her being a woman brought another cultural and customary argument about where she would live.
According to my cousin brothers, my mother should not have any land. Fortunately for my mother, and for the fact that she was born the daughter of an intelligent man, she stood up for her share. My mother made sure she had spoken to my uncles and got both their approvals before they died. When my uncles asked her to choose, she had marked the land where she used to hang me in a bilum, while she picked coffee with her father. This coffee garden became her land. In memory of her father, my mother named her son Kauc and I named my son Kauc.