Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve in Papua New Guinea

It's hot, dark and still along the Sepik and Karawari River banks. Then the first beats are heard in the distance. Garamut drums are carrying the message from village to village: "Hamamas Niu Yia Olgeta!" Happy New Year to All!

In Papua New Guinea's towns, truck drivers pull over at trade stores to buy a Coke or a beer. At midnight they reach into their vehicles to honk their horns. Cheers can be heard from nearby houses where families and friends have gathered: "Hamamas Niu Yia Olgeta!"

Tomorrow may be a good day for a mumu.....

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Four Notes About Christmas and Papua New Guinea

1. Bikpela hamamas blong dispela Krismas go long yu!
That's "Merry Christmas" in Melanesian Pidgin, the common language spoken amongst Papua New Guinean language groups.

2. There are few birth records in Papua New Guinea. It is common to ask someone's age with thie questoin, "Hamas krismas bilong yu?". It translates as: How many Christmases do you have?

3. An observation: urban stores in Papua New Guinea use much more glittery tinsel garlands per square foot of sales space than stores in North America.

4. Imported grapes and apples are a Christmastime treat.

Bikpela hamamas blong dispela Krismas go long yu!

Thursday, December 3, 2009


Below is a link to my recent piece on "voluntouring" with the Sierra Club.

While this information doesn't directly relate to Papua New Guinea, it may be of interest to some readers of this blog.

The adventurous spirit of the PNG traveler seems a quality shared by participants in the Sierra Club's Service Trips.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Birds of Paradise Inspire in PNG and Paris

I never thought I'd be typing the words "Van Cleef and Arpels" in this blog but there, I just did.

Like the imaginative and creative highlanders of Papua New Guinea, the designers at Van Cleef and Arpels have been inspired by the Birds of Paradise.

The Paris based jewelery house displays its "Oiseaux de Paradis" collection at Be sure to click on the video clip.

Stylized and realistic interpretations of Birds of Paradise are seen in the precious metal and gem bracelets, earrings, rings and necklaces.

Travelers who have visited Tari Gap or other homes of the fabulous birds will recognize the silhouettes and graceful curves.

I don't see the prices of the jewelery pieces in the video clip. My memories of tail feathers of Birds of Paradise swooping and trailing across the dawn sky are golden.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Tips for the Jet Lagged

Below is a link to my piece in the current 50+ Fabulous e-zine. It's about jet lag. Travelers planning to cross the time zones to Papua New Guinea may find some helpful tips there.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Mayflies in August

The river connects the Blackwater Lakes with the Sepik. Aboard the flat bottomed boat used for exploring these waterways, we travel downstream towards our base, the MV Sepik Spirit with its air-conditioning, cold beer, refreshing showers.

Most are sorting through private thoughts about the day's experiences: meandering along pathways between houses on stilts, giggling with students in bush material classrooms, lingering under the soaring roof of a Spirt Haus, meeting the carver of the wooden crocodile one passenger now holds in her lap.

Attention is suddenly drawn to the present and to the whiteness ahead. Surely it isn't a snow storm? Inquiring eyes go to the guide who, with great enthusiasm, announces: "They're hatching! Mayflies! Mayflies!"


"Yes, Mayflies!"

"Wow! Mayflies!"

"Cool! Mayflies!"

"Really? Mayflies?"

The boat driver cuts the engine. We're adrift through a blizzard of Mayflies. Thousands and thousands of Mayflies rise, fall and swirl around us.

There is something about sharing the air over the river with masses of gauzy winged insects that fills many with a genuine sense of wonder. Maybe the surprise of encountering this impressive act of nature takes us back to the first time we blew on a dandelion's fluffy seeds.

We watch fish jump from the water, plane along the surface and gather dozens of Mayflies into their open mouths. Birds swoop down for their big helpings.

Villagers, perhaps alerted by our repetition of "Mayflies!", canoe onto the river with pans and nets. In our excitement, we forget to ask how this alternative protein source, available only a few hours per year, is cooked.

We also forget to ask for the local name. There must be a name other than "Mayflies".

Mayfly recipes and local names remain questions for a future visit.

Wikipedia provides more general information including this: "The lifespan of an adult mayfly can vary from just 30 minutes to one day depending on the species. The primary function of the adult is reproduction; the mouthparts are vestigial, and the digestive system is filled with air."

So, the primary function of the Mayfly is reproduction. That means that on our way from the Blackwater Lakes to the Sepik River, we delayed a half hour amidst a Mayflowers' orgy. That's an unexpected private thought to add to the many others gathered today.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Landing in Tari

Even the most well traveled person experiences a rush when landing at Tari in Papua New Guinea's Southern Highlands.

A quiet "wow" is often the first work uttered as the traveler steps off the plane onto Tari's airstrip. The air feels as fresh as Muskoka's. The sky looks as blue as Tahoe's. The rest of the scene isn't quite as familiar.

A baggage handler has a stem through his nose and ferns in his hair. Some faces are decorated with clay and paint.

Men walking along the roadway wear yarn caps in patterns that reunite colours perhaps reminiscent of the summer of '69.

An even more creative design sense has been used to create the woven bilum bags women are carrying over their foreheads, leaving hands free to carry firewood, gardening sticks and umbrellas.

And about those umbrellas, there are hundreds and hundreds of bright and over sized umbrellas opened as shelter from the sun. Where did they come from? All those colours, they are used in ways rarely encountered in visitors' regular lives.

After the initial "wow" factor is processed, there is the grope for cameras. Lens caps are removed. Electronics whirr in preparation to record. This landing marks the beginning of a very good trip.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Head Full of Papua New Guinea

Am just back from Papua New Guinea with a head full of blog topics.

The Papua New Guinea experience resists organization and categorization so individual blog entries may be the most appropriate way to report on this trip full of wonders.

Our group of 17 well-traveled travelers visited the iconic regions of Papua New Guinea: the Southern Highlands and the Sepik River Lowlands. We attended the the Mount Hagen Sing Sing. We explored with enthusiasm and curiosity. Our minds and eyes were open to the wonderful.

We should have tried to estimate the number of photo images shot by the group. I wonder how many thousands it might have been. I hope to have the opportunity to see them all.

Knowing the trip would be well documented by generous and talented photographers, I rarely took my basic little camera out of its case. I had the luxury of letting the images make their impressions on my mind.

And that's where they swirl now: children waving from the riverside, a waterfall framed by a high altitude tropical forest, groupings of fantastically carved masks, a Bird of Paradise posed on a bare branch, three women carrying bilums full of sweet potatoes, human hair wigs on men with yellow faces, circles of sing sing dancers jumping as they drum, a "conga line" of overseas visitors dancing to the music of a bamboo band...

More focused blog entries will follow once the contents of my memory have been sorted and edited.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


Today I attended a "summit" on Interactive Media. It made me think beyond the parameters of the screens on my laptop and phone.

The keynote speaker started with a discussion of the power of small communities. He showed slides of thatch roofed villages to illustrate his point that the new media's social networking communities have similarities to villages that look they could be in Papua New Guinea.

He talked about tribes discussing problems and working together for the common good and drew parallels to Twitter and Facebook groups.

Of course, I thought about Papua New Guineans communicating within their own clans: fire light reflecting in the faces of men discussing customary land boundaries and bride price payments; children's laughter in the background as old women advise young women about sweet potato gardening and bilum bag patterns.

The presenter made the point that over the past several decades, we lost much of our community way of life and now, by participating in social networking, we can build and participate in new communities. It's exciting.

The light of a computer screen reflects in our faces as we discuss, advise and keyboard our way back toward a community social structure Papua New Guineans have not yet lost.

copyright (c) 2007 - 2011 Mary Jane Murray