Tag Archives: indigenous cultures

The Art of a Doctor: Powesiu Lawes


A self-taught artist, this man showed artistic skills as a child by simply drawing fishermen on the sandy beaches in his remote Papua New Guinea village.  Years later, he ventured into higher education and became a medical doctor, yet never leaving behind his love of drawing.

Dr Powesiu Lawes on the beach at his beloved Loniu Village, Manus, Papua New Guinea.

Born in 1957 in Loniu Village, on Los Negros Island, in Manus Province, Powesiu Lawes’ art began as drawings in the sand. He recalls that he always enjoyed capturing images of fishermen catching fish on the reef at dawn and later at dusk.

A gifted school student, he quickly accelerated from Primary to Secondary School in Manus Province, during the Australian colonial administration. From his home province, Manus, he was selected into the elite Sogeri Senior High School outside Port Moresby (now PNG Capital) in the early 1970s. He was recognised at each school he attended as a talented artist, actor, sportsman and gifted student whose abilities would enable him to do anything he wanted in the soon-to-be newly independent Papua New Guinea. PNG gained its Independence in September 16, 1975.

At that time, Powesiu was expected to train to become one of PNG’s first airline pilots, but he rejected this path and began medical school. While studying medicine,  he produced a collection of work published in his first book of art – Wati Kui: “I always wanted to help people, so medical school was a natural choice and my art and the first book – Wati Kui – was one way to pay my way through my medical training”.

After graduating from medical school, Powesiu Lawes spent some years as the senior medical officer in the PNG Navy. Then he began his private medical practice in Port Moresby. He maintained his art rugby union coaching and stayed closely connected to his beloved Loniu Village, by regularly trips home.

In 2009,  he retired from medical practice and returned to Loniu Village where he was elected the Councillor of Loniu, Los Negros’ largest village. The village has its own distinct language and cultural practices and is also known for producing  PNG’s educated elite such  as PNG’s Supreme Court judges, academics, diplomats, doctors, scientists and lawyers. Powesiu Lawes’ art is one central strategy in keeping Loniu’s cultural practices alive, along with his aim of establishing a Loniu Culture House in the village to teach Loniu’s youth their unique practices.

“Without a good grounding in the tradition of their birth” he said,  “many of them will lose their way once they leave the village for the bright lights and temptations of Lae, Port Moresby and beyond. I never did, because of the very grounding I had”.

About art, he said he has tried many different mediums – using brushes,  spray painting for murals, and coloured inks; but the result that black ink on white paper gives, is the medium that gives him the greatest satisfaction. He has completed a second book – Wati Kui 2 – and its drawings are currently shown in Redlands Performing Art Centre in Cleveland (Brisbane, Australia). It is part of the Melanesian Wantok Showcase. Here are some of  Dr Lawes’ artwork and their stories

The ‘Loniu Files’: Some customs and traditions of the Loniu people. Pen and Ink drawing by Dr Powesiu Lawes, Papua New Guinea artist

 

The ‘Loniu Files’: Some customs and traditions of the Loniu people

Loniu, like many other societies, has a well-developed set of cultural practices and traits that have provided reference points for Loniu’s cultural, social and spiritual development over hundreds of years. These have contributed to refined sets of knowledge and skills that have sustained and maintained Loniu society. The Loniu Files is a set of shared and understood ideas, idiosyncrasies, beliefs, values, knowledge and language. The substance of these has stood time’s test and cannot be disproven nor proven.

Aspects of Loniu’s culture are respect (u-uie), being sorry (kolumwamwa) and having shame (pulemachi), to whom, for what, and why; clans, their names, their number and the existence and origins of sub clans, along with each clan’s and sub clans’s origin stories and particular practices (reke pwen); in the various fishing methods, by which clans they are owned them, for what fish and whether for private or public consumption; the layout and size of a clan house (haus boi); utterances made by whom, when, where and for what purpose; who can make public speeches, where he sits or stands and why; land and sea uses and how and why, in the case of land or other property, it is given away; stages of custom and traditional practice during or after a death, when a woman is ready to marry, and gets married; and in the case of two or more wives, the use and distribution of land and other property; who is considered a leader and why; who gives advice to and stays with a young girl in her first menstruation, the advice given and why; who speaks in a haus boi during a customary event, gathering or happening, and why; circumcision of young males, the curses (pen) shouted at them by patrilineal relatives (lau-a-niataman, family of father) and why.

These are but a few of Loniu’s cultural traits with many more needing documentation. Efforts are being made to document the Loniu culture and to preserve its language. It is our identity that, because of modern influences and intermarriage, has deteriorated. Because of ignorance of the power of new ideas, practices and attitudes, not recognising these causes early enough, we have failed.

“Traditional Wealth in Transaction”. Pen and Ink drawing by Dr Powesiu Lawes, Papua New Guinea artist

 

Wealth is always used in very important transactions in Loniu society. Clay pots, wooden bowls, grass skirts, arm bands or waist bands, shell money, dog’s teeth and sometimes cowry shells.

They can be used to reciprocate for a large supply of food given to a husband’s people as bride price or as death payments to a deceased father’s people; again as in reciprocation for previous work done or land used and money or other customary events and obligations, such as in a circumcision ceremony.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Melanesian Wantok Showcase – Art and Music


Melanesian Wantok Showcase

Limited edition prints, paintings and bliums, a collection of art at the Redlands performance Art Centre, Queensland.

I am proud to announce that a collection of my artwork (art, textiles and pencil drawing) will be in a community art exhibition to celebrate the Melanesian Wantok Showcase. This exhibition opens in the Redland Performing Art Centre in Cleveland tomorrow. The music concert and will be on September 17, featuring musicians from Papua New Guinea and other Melanesian countries.

Contemporary Textile Art – Papua New Guinea

J.K.Leahy Textile. A contemporary interpretation of the traditional tapa cloth printed on cotton. 2017.

Kalem – Warrior Woman fashion. Designed by J.K.Leahy. A selection of leather handbags and silk dresses on exhibition with natural fibre woven bags in Wantok Melanesian Showcase. Redland Performing Art Centre, Queensland.

Pen and Ink Drawings – Dr Pomasiu Lawes

This is the first time ever artist Dr Pomasiu Lawes will be showing his pen and ink drawings. This blog will feature some of these artwork and stories that accompany each one, in the near future.

 

A taste of Melanesia in Cleveland

Head along to Redland Performing Arts Centre (RPAC) for a night of Melanesian music and culture when WANTOK Musik performs on Sunday 17 September, on the weekend of Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) Independence. This showcase celebration is a partnership in community cultural development with the Quandamooka Festival and is an exciting opportunity to experience a coming together of Quandamooka and Melanesian communities, artists and musicians.

The evening will feature a fabulous line-up of contemporary and traditional Melanesian musicians.  George Telek from PNG will headline the concert, bringing his signature blend of contemporary and traditional Melanesian rhythms to the RPAC stage. Telek will be joined by Charles Maimarosia from the Solomon Islands who will astound you with his talent on the pan pipes, Tio from Vanuatu with his amazing vocals, ukulele, guitar and violin skills, and Ben Hakalitz from PNG who will bring 30 years of musical experience and amazing technique on the drums to the night of celebration. They will be joined by a number of other musicians from PNG and West Papua, for an amazing night of indigenous music and culture.

There will also be the opportunity to enjoy some Melanesian food on the RPAC Piazza, and browse the art and craft display in the Concert Hall Foyer, to complete your night of Melanesian indulgence. This art and craft display curated by PNG artist/curator Joycelin Leahy in partnership with RPAC’s Elaine Seeto will be open to the public throughout the month of September, to give you more opportunity to enjoy the pieces on display. The exhibition opens tomorrow (September 4).

Don’t miss this coming together of Melanesian, Quandamooka and wider Redland communities at RPAC Sunday 17 September at 6.30pm.  Tickets are $30 and can be booked via www.rpac.com.au or by calling the RPAC Box Office on 3829 8131 (booking fees are $4.10 by phone and $5 online per transaction).

Creating Culture Innovation In Indigenous Knowledge


In this Ted Talk, Terri Janke weaves her own personal story in with her reasons for ethical collaborations between Indigenous communities and researchers. Indigenous people hold knowledge that can be used for improving the planet and building sustainable economic opportunities. By engaging respectfully with Indigenous people, scientists and creative collaborators can potentially eradicate Indigenous people’s poverty, which stands at 15% of the world’s population.

Terri Janke was born in Cairns and has family connections to the Torres Strait Islands (Meriam) and Cape York (Wuthathi). She was awarded NAIDOC Person of the Year 2011, the Attorney General’s Indigenous Lawyer of the Year 2012, and was a finalist in the 2015 NSW Telstra Business Women’s Awards.

When languages die, ecosystems often die with them


RTX14PWN
An Aboriginal performer in Sydney, Australia. Aboriginal languages in Australia are among the fastest-disappearing tongues in the world. Credit: David Gray/Reuters

You probably know that much of the world’s environment is under threat. But a new study says languages are disappearing alongside plants and animals.

The study, from the World Wildlife Fund, measured the threat to languages using a scale that tracks how threatened species are. Not only are many languages steadily losing speakers, says co-author Jonathan Loh, but “the rate of decline, globally, is actually very close to the rate of decline in populations of wild vertebrate species.”

There’s the obvious threat of in-demand languages, which many people start speaking more and more as the speakers of smaller languages dwindle. “Thousands of indigenous languages spoken around the world are being replaced by one of a dozen or so dominant world languages like English, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese,” Loh says.

But Loh, who’s also a research associate at the Zoological Society of London, says that languages are dying off due to many of the same issues that plants and animals face.

Read more here.

 

Miss Pacific Islands, Papua New Guinea – Culturally Inspired


There are many aspects of the Miss Pacific Islands Pageant (PNG) that are worth writing. I wanted to share tonight two aspects that are very valuable; one is the culturally inspired dress and two, the education support it gives to PNG women.  

Here are some pictures from the crowing night of the Miss Pacific Islands PNG pageant. There is a pageant category called traditionally inspired dress. In these pictures, the six contestants wear their dresses inspired by their own tribal cultures. PNG has 22 provinces, over 800 languages with three official communication languages – English, Pidgin and Motu.

2015-11-14_21-34-31Roe_03-2
Winner 2015, Abigail Havora – Miss Balanced Finance. Picture by Frankie Frank and Rocky Roe.

The Miss Pacific Islands Pageant Papua New Guinea’s motto is: Passion, Strength and Beauty.

2015-11-14_21-22-18Roe
Mary Magdarline Konobo, 3rd Runner Up 2015. Miss PNG Air Services. Picture by Frankie Frank and Rocky Roe.
2015-11-14_21-24-59Roe_03
Picture by Frankie Frank and Rocky Roe. Miss Dinoke Gonapa, Patron’s Choice, Miss Laguna.

The Miss PNG committee, while developing and moulding the young contestants to prepare for the final and then bring the winner to the regional Miss Pacific Pageant, this powerhouse team of women  raise money to educate young Papua New Guinean women.

2015-11-14_21-36-43Roe
Takes Helen Vetali, 2nd Runner Up 2015 and sponsored by Italpreziosi South Pacific. Picture by Frankie Frank and Rocky Roe.

The process is that if any of the young women completing their tertiary education cannot finish their schooling because of financial reasons, this fund can help. Since its conception in 2010, the PNG committee has paid for 140 young PNG women to complete their tertiary education.

2015-11-14_20-54-43Roe_01
Miss Shamila Paliwa, 1st Runner-up 2015. Sponsored by Garamut Enterprises. Picture by Frankie Frank and Rocky Roe.
2015-11-14_20-28-14Roe
Miss Samantha Vulum sharing Patron’s Award 2015. Sponsored by Bank South Pacific. Picture by Frankie Frank and Rocky Roe.

 

 

 

 

The Song of the Turtle – Children’s Story


Winner of the Paga Hill Development Company Award for Writing for Children in The 2015 Crocodile Prize.

PaperArtist_2015-06-28_15-18-25
JK.Leahy© Illustration in Pen on paper. 2015.

The Song of the Turtle – ©JK.Leahy Children’s Story

THE night was still and dark. Dogs did not bark. The wind blew gently.

Children and babies had stopped crying and laid their heads to rest. Even the night birds were silent around the coastal Morobe village.

Below the whistle of the gentle breeze, Kalem heard a song. It was soft, beautiful and so sad it almost made her cry. It sounded very familiar.

Lying still on her woven pandanus mat that grandma made for her, she searched through her memories – where has she heard this song? Her grandma had passed away last year. She missed her. After tossing and turning for what seemed like forever, Kalem knew she had to find out.

She picked up her mother’s torch. Beside the torch was a piece of hard shell, a turtle shell she found on the beach. She kept it for good luck. Suddenly she remembered – the song! It was the song of the turtles. Their nesting time happens near Kalem’s birthday, but they have not come to her village for a long time.

Tonight, something was wrong. Grandma said only the mother turtle sang the turtle song. No one in the village knew that song except her grandmother, mother and now her. Grandma sung and taught the song to Kalem while they were fishing. “Who is singing it now?” Kalem wondered.

Afraid but excited, Kalem headed to the beach. As she walked, she remembered Grandma’s words: “Our people are connected to the ocean, we fish to survive but we must respect the lives in the ocean. We must never kill for nothing.”

Not many people can connect to the animals and fish, but grandma said their family had a special gift because their ancestors came from the sea and are tied to the ways of the sea. Kalem walked quickly along the beach as she listened for the song.

“If you ever hear the song Kalem, you know, Mother Turtle needs you”, her grandmother told her. When Kalem was born in the turtle season, grandma told her mother – “this girl would one day meet Mother Turtle”.

Kalem followed the song out of her village and along the shores, further and further away from her house. Her heart beat faster when she arrived at the river where the villagers washed. Where the river met the sea, villagers set fishing nets along the shoreline. Kalem heard a loud splash. She slowly stepped forward, flashing the torch.

Tied to a large driftwood stump on the beach was a long, green fishing net. On the calm water surface, a big red buoy floated just offshore, and at the end of the net.

Something had been caught in the net. The thing splashed again. It rippled and frothed the seawater in a circle. It was large, dark and nearby the shore. It did not look like any fish or crocodile Kalem knew.

6a00d83454f2ec69e201b8d131573c970c-400wi
Photo Digital illustration image JKLeahy ©

When she flashed the torch at the dark shape, she was shocked to find a very large sea turtle tangled in the net. It was so large, Kalem was sure it must have been the mother of all turtles. Kalem flashed the torch on the water.

She could see smaller turtles floating about, their heads bobbing in the water. The turtles circled the net. They were all making strange noises like they were crying too. The mother turtle was bigger than Kalem’s ten-year-old body, but Kalem had to try save to her.

Even with no strength left, the mother turtle kept singing her song. Weakly, her tired flippers hit the net and her voice faded to almost a whisper. Kalem’s tears flowed down as she waded through the water quickly and tried to set the turtle free. After struggling with the net and the weight of the turtle, Kalem ran back to the village and woke her mother.

“Help, wake up!” Kalem cried. “It’s Mother Turtle – we must help her”.

Kalem’s mother was confused. Often she thought her daughter was a daydreamer. After Kalem calmed herself and explained, she grabbed her mother’s arm and led her back to the beach. They took a knife and cut the net to set the mother turtle free. The large turtle swam up to Kalem and her mother. She bumped them with her nose before she and the other turtles disappeared into the deep, dark waters.

Kalem remembered grandma telling her about the life of the mother turtle. Grandma said it took many years before the turtle was ready to make babies. Every two or three years, the mother turtle leads her group to her own nesting beach, where she was born. Sometimes she travelled long distances to get there. Usually she would lay over a hundred eggs, but only a few survived.

Other animals, people and large fish eat the eggs and baby turtles. Kalem’s people loved eating turtle eggs and meat. Their village was once a nesting ground for turtles. Lately, less and less turtles have come to lay eggs. Standing silently in the dark with her mother, Kalem thought of how scared the turtles were tonight.

“They might never return…we must teach our people to protect the turtles”, she whispered to her mother.

“I am so proud of you Kalem. The turtles will head to a safe place to lay their eggs. Maybe this was not the right place for them, but they will find a perfect home some day”.

Her mother held Kalem close as they headed back to the village.

Crocodile Prize Anthology cover

The Crocodile Prize 2015 Anthology is out on Amazon

This is My Heritage: Photographic Exhibition


This is My Heritage: Photographic Exhibition

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA
Similar seed pod rattle found on the public domain images.

Standing in the warm Brisbane sun outside the Queensland Museum this morning, listening to Rhianna Patrick recall her story about her heritage, which reminded me of my own. My grandmother and I collected the same seeds and went through almost the same process to produce seed pod rattles for my aunts to dance with. This musical instrument is quite common in Melanesia and other cultures such as the Indigenous Australian culture.

While Rhianna and her father drilled holes in the hard seed shells, grandma and I used metal rods from broken umbrellas by burning the rod on the fire until it was red, which then easily burnt a hole into the seed.

Rhianna’s story was about making the Kulap, the dance rattle (as pictured above) from the Torres Strait. The rattle was an object found in the Queensland Museum collection. Rhianna’s is one of twelve stories told in a photographic exhibition to highlight the significance of Australian indigenous cultural heritage in association with the collection. The exhibition also acknowledged young keepers of traditional knowledge and promoted the importance of skills in making these cultural objects. Young keepers of traditional knowledge and skills were encouraged to sustain the knowledge and skills for future generations.

Curated by Michael Aird and Mandana Mapar, twelve outstanding indigenous Australian story-tellers were invited to speak about their personal recollections of their cultural heritage – the Kulap, an object in the Queensland Museum, was the one thing that stirred many memories for Rhianna.

In her early childhood, at eight, Rhianna recalled that she had run out of things to ‘show and tell’ at school, and finally, she was forced to make something up. That was when her father suggested the two of them make the Kulap. In the process of collecting seeds on the beach to sawing the seeds in half and incising holes to threading the half seed pods together, the Kulap-making became one tradition she learnt from her father, and also one cultural heritage that has left a lasting impression on her.

Rhianna’s story about the Kulap with 12 other storytellers and their personal recollections on objects of cultural significance went on show in Queensland Museum today. The event was timed to mark the beginning of the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) week.

In the curatorial statement, curators Aird and Mapar wrote, “In our own way, each of us gathers mementos and keepsakes around us as we remember our past and look towards the future. Our collective stories and memories guide us to tell our own personal narratives with strength and conviction.”

According to Aird and Mapar, the stories told in this exhibition reflect on the tangible core themes of connection to family and country of the indigenous people. The stories also acknowledge the unique techniques used to craft some of the artefacts and signpost historical and political milestones in Queensland indigenous history.

National NAIDOC Awards Ceremony 2014. Event Photos Australia Pty Ltd
National NAIDOC Awards Ceremony 2014. Event Photos Australia Pty Ltd

This is my heritage opened today to coincide with the Statewide launch of NAIDOC, a week-long event celebrating the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Treasurer and Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships Curtis Pitt said the This is my heritage exhibition was a stimulating way to recognise Queensland’s indigenous people as the primary guardians and knowledge holders of their cultural heritage.

Naidoc Home Page

PNG Literary Competition Achieves Record Entries.


The Papua New Guinea Literary Competition The Crocodile Prize received the highest number of entries ever, this year.  On closing last night the Crocodile Prize fetched a total 826 entries from 132 writers & illustrators.

Poetry 355; Essay 196; Story 129; Children 52; Heritage 48; Illustration 21; Tourism Arts Culture 15; Book of the Year 10.

These numbers may not sound very much for writers in other countries, but for any Papua New Guinean writer, it is a very heart-warming news, especially coming from a literary culture that almost became extinct. In the early 70s, leading up to the country’s independence, passion for art, culture and heritage including the literary pursuits and publishing of works written by PNG writers were at their peak. It is not quite clear why the interests have fallen so much after independence. That culture may have been used because we were proud of our identity and we wanted independence so much or perhaps the general growth of consumerism and the wider issues of social, economic and political changes have contributed to this new – lack of passion of culture. I remember growing up with radio stories written by PNG writers, attending and being part of stage plays – written by PNG writers. Poetry, stories, essays as well as other forms of literary work were promoted and supported by the national government.

The lack of passion in the arts and the literary support to me is quite surprising and sad; our culture is based on oral history and story-telling.

As a PNG writer, a practicing artist and an arts curator, it seems very clear to me, that the PNG government’s priority is elsewhere and not the least in the arts. But to not even support the literary aspect and especially in developing educational content that is relevant to our children and educational for our people is wrong. We cannot just tell stories and pass them on – now we can write them down and keep for many years.

It is not how much minerals we export and logs we sell, but the natural beauty, our rich art, culture, languages and stories that set PNG apart, and gives us our unique identity.  The literary scene dwindled to almost non-existent, although that could have been easily combined with and taught through the education system. There are not many avenues and support nor funding where PNG writers could train or share their work, and even to sell. Most workshops, training and activities relating to creative writing or any literary work have been Aid funded or Privately sponsored in the past four decades. Now this is how things have started to change for the PNG literary scene.

THE CROCODILE PRIZE STORY
The Crocodile Prize was established in 2010 by Phil Fitzpatrick and Keith Jackson, (both Australians) worked for many years in Papua New Guinea; Fitzpatrick as a patrol officer, Jackson as a broadcaster and journalist.

The Prize evolved from the popular PNG Attitude blog, which has a policy of encouraging and publishing Papua New Guinean contributors.

The concept of a national literary competition was triggered by Fitzpatrick’s concern that creative writing in Papua New Guinea had fallen upon hard times, and that this was a cultural constraint needing to be addressed.

The first awards were presented in 2011, a year of determining whether or not a project of this kind could be managed successfully given geographical, financial and the constraints of a voluntary organisation.

Using PNG Attitude as a vehicle for publicity and initial publication, Fitzpatrick and Jackson soon discovered an enthusiastic and rapidly emerging body of Papua New Guinean writers.

They were assisted greatly in the early stages by material and financial support provided by the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby and later by a range of sponsors, most of them PNG-based.

This backing made it possible for a range of associated activities to be instituted in addition to the Prize, including an awards ceremony, the publication of an annual anthology and the initiation of writers’ forums.

After the first awards in September 2011, it was agreed the Prize should become a permanent part of the literary landscape of PNG. Now under the management of the Crocodile Prize Organisation, COG, 2015 will mark its fifth year of operations.

PHIL FITZPATRICK on 2015 Competition

Thus ends another year of the Crocodile Prize literary contest.

IT’S not every day that you get to influence the revival of literature in a whole country, unintentionally or otherwise.

I must admit to some surprise that it has happened at all. What started as a humble writing competition seems to have bloomed beyond all expectations.

There is a sense of pride in what has happened but, strangely, it’s not personal. Rather it is a sense of pride in the achievements of the writers involved.

At a personal level it has been more of a humbling experience. There is also a sense of awe and enrichment.

The enrichment comes from reading the works submitted to the competition and the sheer learning experience involved.

I think, despite nearly fifty years travelling back and forth to the country, I’ve really only learned to understand Papua New Guinea in the last few years of the Crocodile Prize.

There is also a tinge of anger involved, mostly through the fact that an uninterested government and lackadaisical education system could let such a promising and rich cultural emergence in the 1970s wilt on the vine and become moribund.

That aside, one of the ironies I really enjoy is the fact that the revival has only now been possible because of the advent of digital technologies that were supposed to see the demise and eventual extinction of books. Such are the shaky prognostications of the doomsayers.

The key factors in the Papua New Guinean revival have been the Internet and the availability of digital publishing and print-on-demand technologies.

These have underpinned the Crocodile Prize, firstly by providing a writers’ outlet in the form of PNG Attitude and secondly in offering a cheap way to publish the best in an annual anthology and then to go even further in publishing stand-alone individual books by Papua New Guineans.

The future of literature in Papua New Guinea is starting to look rosy but we need to remind ourselves that it is still extremely fragile.

The disastrous complacency of the 2013 competition organisers reminds us of what could still happen.

2014-15 has been a watershed year and there’s light at the end of the tunnel but sustainability is still a long way off and we aren’t there yet by any stretch of the imagination.

The winners of this year’s Crocodile Prize will be announced early September. The awards event will be held in Kundiawa on Saturday 19 September

Keith Jackson & Friends: PNG Attitude

My Last Walk – Short Story.


This is my second entry into the short story category in PNG National Literary Awards. Some of you know this story. It has been cut down to 1000 word limit.   For more stories and entries into the competition, please visit the following links;

The Crocodile Prize

Keith Jackson & Friends: PNG Attitude

h-wp
Western Province, PNG.

My Last Walk  ©JK.Leahy

I felt his eyes piercing into my back as I struggled over the grassy hill. The air was tight and chilly so early in the morning.

“Walk faster!”

I needed my three-month-old baby Boni’s softness, and the laughter of his older siblings. I was exhausted and wished I could stop. A sudden breeze brushed over the tall grass. Shoosh. I shivered.

Usually, when we returned from the garden, Bomoga walked proudly ahead, carrying his prized spear with a small bilum strapped across his bare chest. The children and I fumbled behind him: me with a child on my shoulder, another in the bilum on my back together with our second bilum of food and pulling our eldest by the hand.

Today, I was in front. I wore my favourite red meri blouse. In haste, I had worn it inside out – its flimsy seams waved loosely.

We reached the top of Kasu Hill. I gasped for air.

“Hurry Up!”

My heart pumped. From the only hill in Domogu Village in the wallaby plains of the Western Province, pale yellow-green lowland laid before me. The grass had been burnt in patches to entrap wild game. The lowland was also known for Papuan black, a deadly snake.

I marched down the ridge, as ordered. Cold mud numbed my sore foot. We reached the place where the Ok Tedi Mining had caused hundreds of fish and plants to die along the riverbank. Usually, there were people here. But it was still early – no one was about as we passed.

My milk dripped down my blouse. Without bra, my breasts swung full and uncomfortable. It was feeding time for Boni. The rising sun cast faint shadows and the warm air caressed my face. We had crossed Domogu tribal land. Bomoga’s ancestors, nomads like mine, had decided to settle in this fertile land.

My eyes scanned the mountains that Ok Tedi had exploited. To the south, there was an airstrip where planes flew in weekly. Our village looked like a jewel, deep jade opal, festooned with glassy lakes of many sizes.

“Move!”

I stumbled forward.

We entered a forest. Strangely, the birds here were silent. I heard sorcerers came here for bush medicine and magic making. I searched for sunlight through the tree openings.

“Keep walking,” he hissed.

I had not looked once in Bomoga’s eyes. When his sweaty hands had touched me that morning, I thought he wanted sex, but instead he shook me roughly and ordered me out of the house. His shadow had loomed over me as I took Boni off my breast and put on my meri blouse and my rubber skirt. Boni nestled into his blanket, eyes still shut. He didn’t cry for more milk, thank God. My other children, Eka and Maria were asleep. I heard Bomoga pick up something in the house before closing the door behind us. He was quiet and cagey, which was not like him.

He was never a warm person, not even to his family members, though he was loud to his male friends. He liked sex that was rough and on demand. In any argument, a sudden punch to my face or stomach was a possibility. If the children screamed, he yelled at them. The beatings only worsened if he thought I challenged him. “No one will help you, because you are MY wife,” he said. I felt he was right and did not seek help, not even from his family or other villagers. Recently his best friend Tommy had returned from Port Moresby. I heard Bomogu now liked Tommy’s sister who was younger and prettier than me. He wanted her, I heard.

I stepped on a stump with my sore foot. The pain almost made me cry out. Two of my toes had broken when I fell in the last fight. We continued through the gloomy undergrowth into a flat area. Through an opening I saw sunlight sprinkling light of various colours onto leaves and moss. I saw a beautiful butterfly on a fern. Its brilliant blue wings and black outline set against the leafy greens. I felt a flash of hope.

We walked on and soon I could hear rapids and the forest thinned out as we reached a Y junction. At my feet a Papuan black, unaware, slithered quickly across my path.

“Turn to the river,” Bomoga commanded.

I turned towards the rapids. My throbbing foot distracted me and I was afraid to fall. The river frothed, full from recent rain. Watching water as it rushed away, a thought stirred my mind. Was he going to toss me into the river?

I imagined where my body would lay after death; my treasured red meri blouse, still inside out, clinging to my slim frame. Dragged ashore with a paddle shafted under the hem of my blouse, a trail would be imprinted on the sand on the silky Suki River banks. Villagers rushed to screaming children who discovered me. A woman bellowed my name, “Sulita!, Sulita!” But after hours in the muddy river, half-dressed and impaled by a black palm spear, I would no longer be Sulita.

“Stop!” he yelled.

I halted.

The ground looked easy to dig in places. I kept my face down. My feet were covered in mud and grass

“Turn around. Look at me!”

I turned and raised my eyes to the point of his most prized black palm spear.

With this spear Bomoga had speared the biggest pig, the fastest wallaby and driven the largest cull of deer. Many feared Bomoga because of his mastery with the weapon. My eyes shifted from the spear to my husband’s eyes for the first time that day. They were bulging and blood-rimmed. His nose flared and his sweat drenched eyebrows twitched. Ten long years and we still stared at each other like strangers.

He raised and pointed with the spear. “Where would you like to be buried?” he asked.

I dropped to my knees, closed my eyes and prayed.

 


This story is based on a true story set in Suki, Western Province. It is dedicated to the strong women and the survivors of domestic violence in Papua New Guinea and other Melanesian societies.