The south side of Samarai Island. The sight of a lone man in his canoe – still the main mode of transport for many people in these islands.
It was a short trip to Samarai from Doini Island – less than 30 minutes. I had never seen the island from this side before.
The Kwato Mission boats, MV Osiri and MV Labini would berth here some Saturdays bringing shoppers from Kwato and the famous homemade Kwato bread and buns. These were a popular hit as the ladies always returned to Kwato with the large empty bread basins.
Many happy memories of this wharf especially when the mission boats, MV Osiri and MV Labini would berth here for Kwato islanders to do their shopping at Samarai’s two main department stores – Steamships and Burns Philp and many other shops such as the hardware store.
Samarai was the District headquarters for the Milne Bay District before the advent of provinces. It was a hub for many islanders and a government nerve-centre for Milne Bay District in the south eastern tip of Papua New Guinea.
To a little girl growing up on the neighbouring island of Kwato in the mid-60s, Samarai had everything from a post office to two hospitals, two prisons, two clubs (mind you the two of everything meant one for whites and one for natives) but one bank, one dedicated hardware store, one bakery that turns out beautiful Samarai bread (the ones that come close to this size of bread could be found at Brumby’s bakery in Vision City in Port Moresby), a fresh local vegetable market and so on.
Samarai was an exciting place to be. There were lots of colonial government officers mainly Australian and a number of mixed race families lived here too.
We used to visit the dentist on Samarai a couple of times a year – arrrrgh that was a visit no kid wants to make but such was life for 7-8 year olds in the early ’60s.
This memorial stands on one of the main drags leading to the many lovely colonial residences and the Samarai cricket ground. Many of these houses were built like the ones you can still see today in Cairns, Australia.
The message on this memorial is not politically correct now but it must have been in those days or how else would they have got the message etched on the thing in the first place. As a young girl I never paid attention to the message until much later.
I don’t know why this memorial still stands with its politically incorrect message. To my knowledge no-one had tried to remove it from this beautiful island. I dare to think now that perhaps its historical heritage value is considered more than by removing it.
In fact I think this is a classic example of a memorial that could be regarded as offensive, yet it tells a story of what times were like then. Particularly the colonial mentality that reigned supreme in those days. How different would Milne Bay have been or for that matter PNG if this message were to have continued into the 21st Century. I dare not think about that. The value now would be in tourism mostly and something to see when at Samarai or in these islands.
Samarai was self-sufficient. It had everything we needed in the islands and more. There was a bank – the Bank of New South Wales (now Westpac) which was situated in the heart of the town and a tea shop where meat pies and coca cola were the popular items on the menu.
Samarai was the place to be on Saturdays for grocery shopping, native vegetables, smoked fish, cooked chestnuts in coconut, Logea aigaru (unique green leaves that are found in Milne Bay and absolutely delicious when cooked in coconut and as an accompaniment to smoked fish) and many other exciting bits and pieces such as icecream, apples and meat pies not to mention Buntings biscuits (white) and navy bread biscuits. My faourite sweet biscuits in those days were called ‘MilkyWay’ and ‘Tea Cake’.
This island was a heavenly treasure trove for us ‘other’ neighbouring islanders who were fortunate to be on Samarai on Saturdays, ANZAC Day and Kaihea (cultural festival) events.
On ANZAC Day (25th April) school children would gather to march around the island led by the Pacific Island Regiment Band. This was an exciting time for us. We’d come over from Kwato to join in the celebration. Everyone would congregate infront of the Memorial Hall for speeches etc. We’d also sing hymns and the one I especially remember is “O God Our Help In Ages Past”.
We came from Kwato Island to join in the commemoration. We would join the parade with the Pacific Islands Regiment (PIR) and march along the identified route which brought us back to the Memorial Hall. I didn’t quite understand why we had to do this but it felt good to be marching in our Brownie uniforms. I was fascinated with the bagpipes that the PIR carried and played as we marched to the tunes.
A plaque (photo on the right) honouring the fallen in Gallipoli reminds us that war is not a cool thing then and now. I could not recall ever having seeing this plaque but that’s probably because we only went anywhere near the Memorial Hall only when invited or when there was a good reason to be anywhere near it such as the ANZAC Day commemorative events.
I dug into my memory bank and recalled that hundreds of copra bags full of copra waiting to be shipped would be piled high on one side of the main wharf. We’d look for the dried coconuts that fell out on the side – they made such a lovely snack!
Walking down to Government Wharf and our boat to take us back to Alotau, I felt a pang of homesickness. Well, even a grown-up feels that from time to time. We are all captives of the tranquility of these islands. Especially the peace it brings especially when the day is done and one is in a reflective mood which I admit was my state of mind as we strolled towards the boat.
We assembled at Government Wharf and boarded our boat. There was no-one I knew I could wave aioni (good bye) to. Kind of sad. We pulled away from the wharf and as we set the course for Alotau we passed the main wharf and what used to be the Steamships wharf and all I could see was critical infrastructure falling apart and no-one seems to be doing anything about it.
Views of the seafront where the Samarai CBD was once the hub of financial, economic, and social activities.
This seafront was a hive of acivity in the ’60s and ’70s which made Samarai Island the place to be. Even during the early ’80s and ’90s. It was a meeting place for all sorts of people I reckon – and I don’t mean that in a bad way. Samarai was such an iconic place then.
Would we be able to rekindle that illustrious past maybe in another way and make it once again the hub every province needs. Each province needs more than one hub to get services to remote areas of the province.
“Back to Samarai the island of my dreams….” courtesy of the Island Sounds resonates with all those who came to love this idyllic little island, once full of life.
So the visit to Samarai was a painful reminder that we seem to let our history and heritage fade before our very eyes. We seem to take what was really good and practical in the past so much for granted and which we can use and turn to our advantage in our current development plans and activities. We seem to go for new things rather than building on the ones we already have. Samarai is a very real case in point.
It is still worth a visit if you are in Alotau and need to stretch your legs or do some island-hopping over a weekend. Samarai is worthy of a stop.
I believe there is time for a major resucitation and facelift. Let’s get government services back to the smaller islands in the southeast of Milne Bay by making Samarai a critical stopover place. It is bound to grow from its hibernating roots if given even a dog’s chance, to revive itself with the help of those who loved the island and still do. Perhaps the ‘Samarai Island diaspora’ is an excellent start. What sayeth ye?
The bungalows on Doini it seemed are named after the neigbouring islands eg. Sariba, Logea etc. I can’t recall the name of the bungalow I took this photo from but anyway the bungalows are on a class of their own in terms of the standard of cleanliness, design and comfort – actually quite luxurious.
This bungalow was quite spacious and I reckon it can take a group of say six or seven people. Perhaps a family at Christmas time when the pineapples and mangoes are in season or any other time. In paradise it’s all good.
Looking around this big room brought back memories of home on Kwato where polished floor and clean beds were a common feature in every home. Every Christmas we’d gathered in the family house on Kwato. Those were the times when I wished this festive season could be suspended in time and school a future away.
There are so many lovely features of this bungalow and am sure the others have too. I really admired the design and the wood work and panelling. If I were to live in one of these bungalows I will be the happiest person around. The bungalow had all the mod cons.
One of our fellow daytrippers decided to take a swim in the sea and although I was tempted to do the same, I was, let’s say, ill-prepared.
Some more views from the verandah of the bungalow. The sea has an alluring thing about it – call it magic perhaps – but one can never tire of looking out to sea especially on a bright sunny day. There is nothing that can obstruct the view all the way to the horizon.
As with all short trips, all too soon our visit to Doini came to and end. On the way down the jetty to our boat, this boat arrived with a whole bunch of school children. I realised that like us, they will have the whole place to themselves.
I realise that a couple of hours on Doini wasn’t enough time to see all there is to see of the island and, am sure, more. However, we certainly will remember this place, without a doubt.
After Doini, Samarai Island was our next and last stop on this day trip so we had to get a move on or else we’d loose the daylight and that would have been a waste. So we said our goodbyes to the ladies in the dining room and kitchen area and headed towards the jetty.
As we pushed off the jetty and away from Doini Island, my thoughts turned to Samarai. I haven’t visited the island in yonks and wondered what the island looked like then. All my favourite spots.
The breeze once again on our faces and the sun warmer outside en route, I looked at this chap (one of our crew) sitting at the front of the dinghy and I couldn’t help thinking about the freedom we were experiencing. No fences, no looking over our shoulders just freedom to enjoy another beautiful corner of Papua New Guinea.
We left Kwato around midday and once again glided across on glassy seas towards Doini Island. I’ve never been to Doini Island believe it or not before this day trip so I was equally as excited as my fellow daytrippers.
The photo above is of Logea Island across from Kwato Island. Logea is the island that inspired Uncle Robert and late Cousin Nasona to pen the song ‘Discover the Island’ found on one of Salima’s albums. It does conjure up in one’s mind the moonlight nights on these islands,
‘”Have you ever been to eastern shores of Papua,
Discover the island, across the China Straits…”
Then it goes on to say…
“As we reached the island and walk along the shore,
Side by side we walk holding hands beneath the island sky,
Then we stoodtogether beneath the golden moon and you lean to me and whisper,
Whispering the words, saying I love you”…
Eni kapole saha sabidi.
We cruised past the island of Logea (bigger than Kwato Island). The tip of the island north-facing – that is Logea Pwata. The white sandy shores are a common feature on these islands except the southern part of Logea which boasts of soft black sand.
I had never seen this part of Logea and took this shot of the kunai grass on the hill.
I was amazed as we cruised by this part of Logea Island towards Gonubalabala. Now this is an interesting place, Gonubalabala, because one of its attractions apart from its natural beauty, is a ‘cleaning station’ for manta rays. Apparently this is a must see feature. Unfortunately, it must be seasonal because we didn’t see anything, and this was early November, 2010.
We were looking forward to witness this awesome sight, the cleaning manta rays, but alas it was not to be. The fish were nowhere to be found so we cruised on to Doini Island which was our destination. Anchored off the shore at Gonubalabala was the M.V. Chertan.
We slowed down just to take in the view, feel the sea breeze and just enjoy being out on a boat and ‘discovering’ for ourselves new ‘destinations’ as we commit them to memory to share them with family, friends and colleagues when we return to Port Moresby.
Approaching Doini Island…aaahhhh what can I say…just beamed from ear to ear…
So you see, before you convince yourself that Port Moresby is PNG, think again! You will be pleasantly surprised to find that this land of islands and mountains is not only a treasure trove, but as one commentary stated ‘a naturalist’s wonderland’, and a sure place to spend that holiday you’ve been saving up for.
As our dinghy pulled up along side the wharf at Kwato, I was struck with the beauty of this island where my siblings and lots of relatives grew up and lived. I went to school here. The big badila tree reminded me of waking up early in the mornings to collect the nuts that the flying foxes have dropped on the ground the evening before.
We used to sing “Oh Kwato is a green place, a home for the flowers…”
The walk across the cricket ground and up towards the main road brought back lots of memories. But hey, the big gisoa (mango) trees were gone. The place did not look right. I searched for a small landmark which my Grandfather left and what a great relief that brought tears to my eyes. It was still there.
The iconic Kwato Church. One of the two stone churches in PNG. Both are over 100 years old. How majestic the dubu looked.
This is the first time I am able to take a shot like this. My Nikon D90 did not fail me – more like the panoramic lens. This is a Papuan dubu design. We walked around it and then looked beyond – now one could take in a 360 degree view from this vantage point. The dubu is situated on a small plateau on Kwato. Isiiii kapole hinage…the day was sunny and bright and was the right time to visit Kwato. Met up with some relatives and wish I had time for more meetings but we were on a schedule so next time.
We walked up to Tupi and met up with Uncle S who incidently saw us earlier on during our climb up towards dubu. He was with a couple of the guys repairing parts of Aituha ( short distance from the back of the Church). His house has a priceless view of the Papuan mainland and surrounding islands.
He had a great collection of hibiscus and other beautiful flowers. Uncle S let us take as many shots as we wanted of the flowers and here’s one of them of the magnificient pink and white hibiscus at the front of the house.
We bid Uncle S goodbye and headed down the old Sipi Road towards the B & C building and the wharf. It was a wonderful two (2) hour tour of Kwato Island. Thank you much Jenny (Driftwood Resort) for letting me be the tour guide for this trip to Kwato.
Doini Island beckoned as we quickly had some cold drinks and headed towards the wharf.
I reflect on this week and what has happened or has not happened depending on one’s perspective. I think PNG went through a process that showed how mature Papua New Guineans have become in looking at political developments and how these events impact on our daily lives. Whilst the seriousness of the impasse and the legal judgements and constitutional dos and donts were debated in Facebook and other media and our freedom hung precariously in the balance, I was amazed at how well we handled ourselves as a nation. Not even Australia can say anything nasty about Papua New Guineans anymore. The smear campaigns their papers run and their politician’s perceptions of PNG as a failed state are blown right out of the water. Politically we are more mature than anyone I know.
PNG leaders must sort themselves out and resolve their differences because we the silent majoity are taking our democracy very seriously and are putting them on notice with every hour that goes by.
I can’t help thinking that Peter O’Neill now is like the Grand Chief Sir Michael in the early 70s. History is replaying itself again it seems, as the young takes over the reins to take this country to another level. Its proud and risilient citizenry watches silently in hope and positive expectation as another era in our democracy is born before our very eyes.
PNG is a beautiful and amazing country. Let’s keep it that way.
These were some of the sailing boats that took part in the 2010 Canoe and Kundu Festival in Alotau, Milne Bay Province last November.
I took these shots from shore looking out into the bay. The Suau word for bay is alotau. In other dialects in the area the word for bay is ‘kalotau’. The capital town of Milne Bay where the Provincial Headquarters is located is Alotau – taken from the Suau word for bay. I think it is a fitting name and one that conjures up so many lovely memories and warm thoughts about Milne Bay and the Milne Bay way of life. Like the bay, it can be choppy at times but mostly calm.
The bay was reasonably calm but slightly windy. Anyway, the canoes and their skippers were unfazed. It was a good wind for sailing. For me a landlubber, I wouldn’t allow myself to be dragged out on a canoe at that time of the day. I would rather be taking photos of others, like these folks, racing around in open canoes or sailboats.
Am not so sure why the sails are all in blue. It’s either the most popular colour or that’s the only colour they have available. Perhaps it was the only colour available in Alotau at that time. Yeah, let’s not forget this is one part of PNG which is so far southeast of the capital city of Port Moresby. So it is better to get a sail even if it comes only in one colour. So no choice for colours really. That seems to be a common thing in PNG. Sometimes you end up with only one colour, only one size etc. If you get something and it serves your purpose why worry about colour, make, shape etc. The important thing is that it works! Well, I hope some enterprising citizen would provide assorted colours for this year’s Canoe and Kundu Festival. It would be great to have a rainbow of colours for sails than just blue. But hey, it may be that these folks like blue! Who gives a rat’s behind what I think! End of story!
Watching these folks deftly move about the boat was worth watching. I thought about the huge sailboats that ply the Milne Bay waters on the Kula Trade routes that take them to as far as the Rossel Islands in the southeastern most tip of Milne Bay from all the way out in Kiriwina (Trobriand Islands). Now that’s a thought!
Other craft were also visible (between the two blue sails) and I wasn’t sure whether the folks in the dinghy were heading for the other side of the bay or going out to help someone who went overboard. It’s probably the former.
These folks looked relaxed and probably happy to be just floating on the sea to shore. I guess the end of a tough afternoon and the fun we landlubber folks had taking shots of the sailboats. They must be in many many photos taken by people like me – amateurs and professionals alike.
…time for a hot cuppa something and to chew betelnut. One of the favourite pastimes of Milne Bay people…betelnut chewing.
I too packed my camera away and headed for Masurina Lodge for some sumptuous homecooked meal of aiai nugini (taro, sweetpotatoes, greens etc) and a hot cuppa Milo…
It was a wonderful day. It was so nice to be in Alotau, the cleanest town in PNG. Eaide!
Before 2010 is up I’d like to share some photos and enjoyable moments during the 7th Canoe and Kundu Festival in Alotau, the capital city of the Milne Bay Province.
I was so pleased to have made it because the last time I visited Alotau was in July 2004 before I left to take up a post in London, UK. Of course, this trip to Alotau was in my capacity as the head of the policy development, strategic coordination and monitoring and evaluation entity created last year. So it was part of the job to attend the Festival and what a kaleidescope of beautiful traditional dances and costumes. The cultural diversity blew me away! I was simply entranced!
I enjoyed the dances presented by many cultural groups who travelled many miles in some cases to get to the Festival. The Festival showcased the various cultures of the Milne Bay Province. Missing though were the traditional Kiriwina dancers from the Trobriand Islands. Hope they make it next year – they will no doubt add more colour to the already colourful dancing costumes and dances.
Being the 7th Canoe and Kundu Festival, people said it was bigger and better than in previous years. I guess like anything else, we learn and improve. So that’s how it was then.
However, I’d like to remember one of the key movers and shakers who is, if you like, the founding father of the Festival – the late John Wills Kaniku – RIP Uncle John. This Festival is his legacy. I think it would be a fitting tritbure to his memory to name one of the main events after his name or at least one of the trophies. I am so pleased that he spearheaded the cause and was the brainchild of this Festival which is fast becoming a major cultural event in Milne Bay if not in PNG. I know that it will gradually become a major cultural event on the national cultural events calendar if not already.
The Festival was held from 5th – 7th November, 2010.
Here are some of the photos I took from the Festival. There was so much to take in and I was most impressed by the many different dances and costumes plus the traditional food exchanges at the Festival. Included are some shots from one of the canoe races.
I have photos to show that it was a cultural extravaganza and one that I hope would be in the calendar of travellers heading towards the Pacific. The Festival is usually held in November – a great way to visit and pick up some really lovely exotic gifts for friends and family.
It was a great Festival and I enjoyed it immendsely. I was able to witness once again diversity in action as PNG is one of the world’s most diverse societies – linguistically, culturally, artistically etc.
The town was the cleanest I have ever seen it, friendly and warm and the sun very hot but I am so looking forward to the 8th Canoe and Kundu Festival.
On 24th October, 2009 I celebrated Foundation Day in London with my friends and members of the Queensbury Methodist Church (QMC) as part of their World Mission Week events.
Unless you are from Kwato Island, Milne Bay Province of Papua New Guinea, you are likely not to have heard of or know what Foundation Day is about. This is a special event that celebrates the life of the Founding Father of the Kwato Church and the Kwato Mission in the Milne Bay Province – the Rev. Charles William Abel.
Simply put, Foundation Day is the celebration of the birthday of Rev. Charles William Abel within the Kwato Church community. It is a time to gather and reflect on how far the Church has developed from a core of dedicated and committed adherents of the Kwato Church’s congregationalist ways of worship to a fully-fledged Church established by law in PNG.
The Kwato Church grew from humble beginnings through the outreach work of Rev. Charles Abel who came to Milne Bay as a missionary from the LMS (London Missionary Society). The celebrations almost always has a re-enactment of the arrival of Misiebo, as he was referred to by the local people then – a mispronounciation of ‘Mr Abel’.
Choirs are also a major feature of this celebration as the Abels were credited with the introduction of choir singing and the tonic sol-fa music system to Papua New Guinea through the Kwato Mission. This is one of the most striking legacies of Abel’s work in Papua – the other being domestic science, nursing and midwifery, boat-building and the trades and of course the teaching, learning and speaking of the English language.
The Foundation Day is usually a time when we feel proud of this part of our heritage as we sing the Kwato anthem: ‘Father The Light’. The opening lines go something like this: “Father, the light has come to us we have known. Thy wondrous power that can transform us and make. Anew our lives blot out past evil sown. And give us the victory for our Lord Jesu’ sake. O hear us as now we bring our country to Thee. For bound other people Thou dost wait to set free…”. I remember learning this song in Grade 5 with the late Aunty S. Mark who was our choir teacher then. We had to learn the song through the tonic sol-fa method before we can even dare to sing the words. Kapole…those were the days at Koeabule (KB) Mission Primary School near Alotau town, in the Milne Bay Province.
The name of the Church is the Kwato Church – its name taken from the idyllic little island called Kwato surrounded by four equally beautiful islands of Logea, Samarai, Bonaruahilihili and Ebuma – Logea being the largest and Ebuma being the smalles of the cluster of five islands. Samarai, east of Kwato was the district headquarters of the Milne Bay District then up to 1966/67 thereabouts. Kwato Island is boomerang-shaped and has a plateau on which the Church stands. The Church building on Kwato Island is one of the two stone churches in Papua New Guinea – the other one is in Rabaul, East New Britain Province. The Kwato Church was built by some of the best local stone masons in the area, and with local labour and completed in or about 1937.
This time last year, I was delighted and honoured that the QMC Council accepted my suggestion for this celebration and diarised it in the Church programme for the latter part of the year.
Prior to the gathering that evening, a few friends and I arranged the Morcombe Taylor Hall and I took some of my PNG artifacts, baskets and books to put on display. This was partly, a good opportunity to share something about PNG to my QMC family here in London, and partly to create an appropriate atmosphere for the celebration.
Of course the cooking began the evening before with the preparation of the mumu. This is because it takes hours in either an electric or gas oven. Thanks to sis CK and other wantoks who helped with shopping and peeling of veggies. Without their help and support we would not have had any PNG food to add to the celebrations. We had two big mumu dishes which were a hit. To accompany out delish mumu kaikai we also had barbequed pork and chicken curry. I had a special cake made for the ocassion by a local cake maker which had an imprint of one of my photos on the cake – that gave it that special touch. Of course there was also icecream for dessert.
On the night I was blessed to have over 50 QMC members join me. The gathering of the QMC family was further graced by the Minister of the Church, and Superintendent of the Methodist Church Circuit for Barnet and Queensbury.
I gave a PowerPoint presentation on the Kwato Church – it’s history, work and legacy which received excellent feedback from the audience. I praised God for His many blessings that enabled me to bring the Kwato Church back to England in this way – through the celebration of Foundation Day.
It was a great gathering and a good time was had by all – from what I gathered at the Chruch service on Sunday (25 October, 2009).