A Pink Bundle with Price Tag is a poem I wrote about an incident that occurred some 20 odd years ago. I was trying to write my exercise in a prose form (for my Creative Writing Workshop), and after much confusion, I had gone down this path with the exercise, so I just went with the flow. With 700 odd words later, I told the whole story in a poem, by accident. I spoke with the workshop facilitator and confused her too, but she has forgiven me, she said. I think it’s because she wants to hear the rest of the story tomorrow. This is the opening of the story and hopefully, it will be part of my collection of poems and short stories book later. I hope you like it.
A Pink Bundle with Price Tag – Poem
JK. Leahy Memoir
The house was low, a brown brick hole with blue shades.
Through the open windows, the inside was newborn stained.
A littered table of copious nappies and toys in rainbow frame.
On a ruffled bed, a small centre-piece, wrapped in a pink bundle.
Outside, my aunt sweats on a hardened dry brown lawn.
Desperate time calls for a monsoon, but none had come.
The sward had suffered Port Moresby’s arid time.
Aunt had waited to have babies, years these many,
that patience had become her virtue and time, her company.
Unique plant, wildlife and forest species have been lost and more are being threatened as loggers continue to log pristine forest of Papua New Guinea. And, in a new report, scientists have found that the devastation is also affecting climate in South East Asia. The PNG forest contributes moisture into the air in this region.
Russian physicists Anasatasia Makarieva and Victor Gorshkov suggests the role of windblown moisture from PNG’s mainland forests in cooling and creating rainfall in South East Asia and beyond may have been be underestimated.
“PNG’s forests contribute to the maintenance of this current favourable climatic regime,” they said.
“Their devastation could trigger adverse changes in local, regional and possibly global climates.”
ABC’s Jemima Garrett wrote an area of Papua New Guinea’s internationally significant rainforests in excess of the size of Australia’s entire Wet Tropics Heritage Area in north Queensland has been cleared or logged in the 10 years to 2014.
There is an international concern that PNG government continues to allow loggers not only to re-log in a short time, but giving the loggers to further destruct pristine remaining intact forest that is very crucial to the world eco-system, for example the Kamula Doso-Strickland region contains one of the largest remaining intact rainforest ecosystems in the world. It is an ecological wonder.
The University of Papua New Guinea’s Remote Sensing Centre report shows pristine rainforest and unique species are being lost, and they are calling on PNG not to go ahead with major new logging concessions.
It took scientists two and a half years to piece together evidence from satellite images to produce their report, State of the Forests of Papua New Guinea 2014.
The report found 11,457 square kilometres of pristine forest had been cleared or logged between 2002 and 2014. Australia’s Wet Tropics Heritage Area, which stretches more than 600 kilometres from Cooktown to Townsville, is less than 9,000 square kilometres.
Jane Bryan, lead author of the latest State of the Forests of Papua New Guinea report said it is a concern that not enough time has been allowed by the government for the forest to regenerate.
“The forest needs time to regenerate and if you harvest again in too short a time period you can permanently damage the species composition and ecology of the system”, Jane Bryan.
Deforestation accounted for 3,752 square kilometres of PNG’s forest loss while degradation of previously unlogged forest accounted for 7,705 square kilometres.
The island provinces of Manus, New Ireland, East and West New Britain saw the greatest proportion of change, followed by West Sepik and Gulf provinces.
“The biggest driver of that change was the expansion of industrial logging into previously unlogged areas,” said Jane Bryan, lead author of the report.
In older logging concessions repeat harvesting as soon as 15 years into the 35-year cutting moratorium is widespread, the report said.
Associate Professor Gideon says the PNG Government’s lack of action is disturbing.
“PNG is a signatory to a number of international conventions about biodiversity conservation but in terms of efforts on the ground it has been extremely disappointing,” he said.
The story was told that when Kemampum heard strange sounds coming from nearby bushes on the edge of the water, he approached cautiously. He wondered whether it was an animal or a bird.
To his amazement, in a basket on top of a pandanus bush, he found an infant. Such was a case of the biblical story of Moses. He exclaimed: “ngamalac!” (which translated means ‘a human’).
Earlier that day, there was a battle between the Ahi and Labu people at the mouth of Bumbu River where the baby was found. In the late afternoon as Kemampum was trying to fetch sea water for cooking he found the baby. Due to fear, Kemampum was cautious in approaching the baby in the basket. The tide was rising and the child was about to drown, and there was no-one else there. Kemampum rescued the baby.
The next day, Kemampum took the child to known Ahi hamlets to seek the child’s parents, but no-one claimed the baby. Since no-one had claimed the baby, Kemampum kept and raised the child with his two biological daughters, Awelu Jalecsu and Geyamtausu Ngongwe.
The child was named Hamalac, which came from Kemampum’s initial exclamation when he discovered the baby on the water’s edge, near the Yam Hole.
Currently, the case of the Yam Hole (Ambisi) is an ongoing dispute amongst our people in Wagang Village, Lae, Papua New Guinea. The national government is negotiating with the villagers to build a large fisheries wharf on my village. Wagang is a small coastal village less than 20 minutes drive to the heart of Lae City. This is the story about the site of the proposed development which is referred to as Ambisi, or the Yam Hole. The Yam Hole is my family’s inheritance, but due to foul play, the authorities have been negotiating with other people who have claimed to own the land referred to as the Yam Hole. With the permission of my Uncle Ahe Max Mambu, I am proud to tell you this oral history and a story about the Yam Hole as told by my late grandmother Geyam Baim to me. This story was told to my grandmother by her mother Geyamtausu Baim and her aunt Awelu Hampom. In one of the flash fiction stories I wrote in Monday’s Finish the Story, I made a reference to this story in Scatterings of the Blood River (Budac) and how a child was discovered.
My grandmother told this story almost every evening and in between other stories after our dinner. When I was 15, I presented the story of the Yam Hole to a large crowd of Lae City residents in the Lions Club Youth of the Year awards. It was in 1980. I represented Busu Provincial High School in the Lions Youth of the Year challenge. In the competition, an outstanding student was picked from all high schools and tertiary schools to give a five-minute original speech of cultural significance. After a gruelling week of interviews in an elimination process, the final test was to give a five-minute speech in front of business houses, leaders, and distinguished guests of the Lions Club (a large charity organisation) in a 3-course dinner event.
That evening, I borrowed a batik skirt, a white cotton blouse and a pair of sandals from my high school principles’s wife. I did not have anything of such quality and was specifically instructed that it was a high society gathering and I must not even wear slippers. Most children owned a pair of slippers or jandals, which we wore to school. None of my family members had any fancy clothes, let alone shoes of any kind. Despite not having anything smart to wear, my family was excited because I would make this speech about our ancestry. I tried to practice my speech in English because in Bukawac, I knew it by heart. It was after all, out family history.
My speech, although based on the Yam Hole and our family’s oral history; featured my great-grandmother and her sister and how they fought the white men/Australian administration and German missionaries to settle and remain in our village. The two sisters were not prepared to give this land away because it was fertile, had clean drinking spring water and completed with two large rivers circling the entire village portion of the land. Part of this land is where Lae city sits on and part is where our village is.
The Lions Club evening was also the evening I learnt to use knife and fork at a table for the first time. Each finalist Lions youth was sat at a table consisting of dignitaries and business people. Our conversations were also marked. I sat in my ‘borrowed’ clothes, the wrap skirt feeling too tight. I struggled to keep the slightly larger sandals on my feet with my napkin still on my lap while I carried on what seemed to be a normal polite conversation with very important strangers at my table. In front of me, on the huge white dinner plate, I tried to elegantly spear my dead cooked half-chicken while it gracefully danced on this huge white plate. I remembered, how crowded the table was with no room to move. It had too many flowers, candles, cutlery, glasses and people, while the food on the huge plates were in very small neat quantities. I could not really tell you which was scarier; the conversation, avoiding the glasses on the table, using the wrong cutlery, losing my borrowed skirt or shoe or catching and eating the dead chicken on the big white plate without getting any of the sauce on my white cotton borrowed blouse from the principle’s wife. I was very hungry, but I had to keep calm and keep it all together until I told the audience my oral history about the Yam Hole.
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;
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.