BY MATHIAS KIN
I had been invited to attend a marriage party. It was raining as we hit the dirt road at Munuma so I was apprehensive of the newly graded South Simbu roads as we traversed the ever winding bends towards Gumine and further onto Sol Nomane.
However Uncle Ben’s machine was truly trustworthy - the Japanese made these vehicles for the rural roads of Simbu!
The next day Thursday afternoon, I went down to Deboma. There I sat at the edge of the cliff enjoying the spectacular Wahgi gorge painted beautifully gold by the setting sun over the Digine Mountains.
Beyond the cliff far below me, the canopy of willow trees, their leaves flipped over white simultaneously by the down flowing convectional currents from higher slopes and further at the bottom of the canyon, the spectacular crashes of the mighty Wahgi against the ancient black Maril Shale, all presented a totally different setting to the Waigani polished shoes and neck tie scene which I had roamed amongst in mid-2009.
Suddenly from the corner of my eyes I saw two figures slowly but surely walking up this threadlike steep track with ease and competence, each carrying huge loads on their backs. It was Awi Magret and her daughter Mary.
It then struck me that in this twenty first century, our mothers are still performing unbelievably very grueling jobs; chores only fit for mules. So I decided to do this story; A day in the life of Awi Magret in Sol Nomane. I wanted the world to know the story of Magret and her people in this part of Papua New Guinea.
Magret is about 60 years old and Mary in her late twenties. They are each carrying several bundles of kunai grass and had been climbing up from the thin alluvial flats below at Pleme where for centuries tons of soil and organic matter had been deposited by the Wahgi as it snaked its way carrying most of its contents to the swamps of the Papuan Gulf.
These bundles of grass tied together and strapped onto the head and suspended on the back are about 30 kilograms each. Twenty similar loads will be thatched together to roof their new in-law’s house.
The next day Friday 13th was a blue windless morning. There was excitement buzzing through the village of the marriage. Magret’s grandson Hauba will be married to Priscila from Bosila village, two kilometres away.
Today Magret looked cool in her coloured meri blaus and matching laplap. When I imagined the previous day’s encounter, she did not show any sign of it. Yesterday had simply been another day in her life.
We arrived at Bosila to a huge welcome of war cries and singsings. There were over three hundred people here today. Five huge pigs were slaughtered and cooked in a pit oven. There was so much food for everyone. It is an occasion where new friendships are fostered and old ones rekindled and enriched. It is also an opportunity where the “bigman” makes long eloquent speeches to enhance his status.
The last ritual is the eating of the pig lard by the new couple to legalize the marriage. The events of today had been a grand show of Simbus’ rich culture. By 5.00 pm, we came home with our new family member.
The people domesticate pigs and grow kaukau and many other food types in huge gardens. They participate in the formal cash economy only during the coffee season. In this year’s harvest, Magret’s family will use their coffee money to reciprocate the recent party. She will use the remaining money on other traditional obligations.
This is a beautiful story of a perpetual uncomplicated existence.
In the bigger picture, PNG is 35 years old and has six million people. Our country earns billions each year from our minerals, hydrocarbons and cash crops. Our people are educated in many disciplines and thousands more graduate every year.
Our modern communication and transport systems ensure that our world is smaller than it was a few years back. Even our dominant government can afford a luxury jet to fly them around the globe.
Despite these gains, PNG’s social and economic indicators are the worst in the world. Many villages lack basic service. Our people are dying every day from diseases. News of criminal activities frequents the media and the shantytowns of our cities continue to grow as our rural people flock to the cities to access services.
While in the corridors of Waigani, our elected representatives and their unelected collaborators and government bureaucrats continue to embezzle government resources without fear. In all truth, our living standard has deteriorated since the Aussies left our shores.
In our feature story, life hasn’t changed much for Magret and her family since independence. There are others in our mountains, on the coasts and on the islands that identify well with her. So how do we draw a fitting conclusion to this familiar story?
In the last 35 years, our politicians have mismanaged this country so much and left our people in great despair and deceit.
How long can it take before we become another Nigeria and Angola, states in Africa that have so much oil and gas, yet its people are the poorest in the world?
If our politicians do not change their style of leadership, we are not far off from reaching that dreadful highpoint. Sadly Awi Magret and her kind all over PNG do not know that this great calamity is about to befall them in the very near future.