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11 October 2016


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Perhaps patrilineal families are different but in rural Lavongai my wife's mum & dad were both gardeners. I can never forget the size of a new garden tambu-man took me to see. It was big enough for ten or twelve UK homes to be built upon. They did it as a partnership.

Sago harvesting likewise was a joint effort by our extended family unit with men felling the huge palm and then on the days appointed the men did a lot of the 'paitim sacsac' while the women did the 'wasim sacsac'. They even let me try...ONCE... I soon got excused with 'Tambu good effort but you are making the thrashed sago too thick!'

I can honestly say I very rarely saw my father-in-law idle and he was readily available to soothe or 'kaka' [cuddle] any of his crying baby pupu.

My daughter who lives with me says his nickname among the kids was, 'Lolly' because he was always there after mum or aunty, uncle or daddy had scolded her and her siblings.

I was indeed blessed with two wonderful parents-in-law; sadly he died recently after a stroke some few years after losing my lovely tambu-meri, his wife.

I have two other experiences of PNG women I can share today.

Tari, SHP – 6am.

I have prepared the lamb-flaps, along with other fast food items and am sitting in my small TalAir office that is attached to the store I manage.

I peer out into the early morning fog through the dusty fly-wired windows onto the main rough road alongside the airfield.

There comes a Huli women with her ubiquitous bilum hanging down her back from her forehead. A small child is wrapped up warm inside it. She is holding the lead of a piglet while droving a herd of bigger pigs towards a kaukau garden somewhere down the road beyond the Catholic Mission.

At Tari's 5,000ft or 1,500 meters the temperature is still not much above freezing but she walks barefoot on the roughly gravelled road. Not always but sometimes quite a few a meters behind her walks her man carrying his ax and/or bushknife.

As the mists start to return to the valley I may well see them again. The pigs are the same and he is at the rear with his tools on his shoulder.

But she not only still has the piglet on its lead but now she has a bilum on her back full of veggies with some long sugar cane balanced on top and baby is in another bilum or swaddled in a laplap at her breasts. Almost a beast of burden.

Kawito, Western province: Again its 6am dawn.

Steamships vessel 'Ame Rupa' is tied up to the Aramia River banks. The noisy donkey engine is already powered and there come my stevedores. 70 – 80 Gogodala women, mostly from nearby Aketa village, aided with a few of their menfolk.

If it's a fine day sat on the grassy bank looking down the slope to the busy unloading scene are the majority of the female stevedores' male relatives.

They are the infants and child minders for the next twelve hours as we race against time to unload the coastal ship; chartered in the seventies for K100 per hour and so we want it cleared as near as possible to sunset thus saving at least K1,200 if we can empty holds before the nightfall.

There are no stones in the swampy plains here and it takes two or even three women to roll the hundred or more 200 litre Mobil fuel drums from the ship. The drums are almost trapped in the sticky red mud that coats everything and everyone's legs and feet.

It's a busy day and there are other heavy items like bags of cement, boxes of very heavy louvre glass, cooking gas cylinders, wooden boxes of heavy drapery. We have the use of one flatbed trailer pulled by an old misso tractor to get all the non-fuel items from the landing site before finishing for the day.

But shoreside everything had firstly to be manhandled from the ships slings. I knew that in Moresby everything had been forklifted, hoisted by cranes into the holds but here only the small derrick of the ship would handle it onto the muddy beach.

My ladies and the small contingent of men worked so well particularity as I had begun the practice of providing lunch for all of us, even though Area Manager I made it a point to eat alongside them.

Previously the expat Area Manager and misso along with any staff would break for lunch up in their homes alongside the airfield, leaving the 'wharfies' to fend for themselves.

I found the provision of a free basic lunch of rice and fish swilled down with a cold drink of cordial would improve productivity and ensure a faster turnaround of the ships.

Our efforts at Kawito had given us the title of the fastest cargo offload on the Papuan coast. Though later at Baimuru in the Gulf I would achieve a close second fastest unloading rate.

I doubt that the passing of time has done much to alter any of the three scenarios I have described and the life of rural women not very much improved. It really is subsistence living and so even with the digital age unbelievably different from the lives of most urbanised western women.

'Yu lukautim meri bilong yu bai meri bilong yu lukautim yu'

Thank you Phil...You just made my evening, after a hard day at work.

I've just been motivated to write an article to back this one up.

Children, especially boys these days ( I have been observing this), recognize how hard their mothers work to provide food on the tables and to feed the families as well.

I wonder if the new generation of young readers and internet nerds will make better husbands in PNG. Ponder!

Mipla hat wok tasol. Go pas na kisim bia long bokis ais - em hat wok tru!

I can't wait for the moment where' women will be calling the shots'.

I commute daily to town for work. Every afternoon, its a normal sight to see people crowding around the bus stop and rushing to get on the bus home.

One of the sore sights I observe daily is the women who have finished selling their garden produce at the market or cold water, ice blocks, tang, sausages etc and are trying to get home.

They struggle with all these young men roaming aimlessly to get on the bus with their bilums, buckets, iron stands, umbrellas, eskies and even with their babies/ children clinging onto them.

These men don't have the courtesy to at least help our hard working women to get on the bus first.They shove and push them out and help themselves into the bus whilst the poor women has to wait till late.

On rare occasions I see some gentlemen giving up their seats for these women.

As one mother said one time in the bus: "Ol man upla bai go pas long haus na mekim wanem? [You men go home and do what?]

Translation - KJ

"Mipla ol mama bai go pas long haus na kukim kaikai blo upla ol man na pikinini. [We mothers go home and cook dinner for you and the kids]

"Sapos mipla no go hariap bai mipla kisim blak ai! Sampla time larim mipla go pas na upla ken kam bihain'.... [If I can't get there quickly I'll get a black eye. So sometimes let us go first and you come later]

It's the little things we do that count.

I believe there are many widows in Enga Province. Men die young during tribal fights, car accidents or of lifestyle diseases.

Resourceful women take control and sustain their families. They are indeed the backbone of society.

Some men go home in the evening and fight their women demanding dinner. But they don’t indicate from which garden food should come from for their meals. They just demand it.

Yes, women will take control one day when the menfolk become like opossums in the city which climb power poles at night only to be electrocuted at the top.

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