Last month I travelled to the island of Kitava; part of the Trobriand archipelago in Milne Bay Province, far east Papua New Guinea (PNG). What an utter delight it was! Everywhere in PNG the hospitality I've encountered has been overwhelming, and this was certainly the case with my host, Cedric Uriupa, and his family of ten who live in Lalela, one of three Kitavan villages.
Some readers might consider me foolish for visiting during the wet season. But what I missed in sunny days and tranquil turquoise seas was easily compensated for by the generosity—and generosity of spirit—villagers expressed toward me, and each other. And what better time to witness that than during the annual yam harvest feast!
Kitavan gardens are very productive, but the island's population continues growing. The main crop is yam (pictured below). Sweet potato, cassava, coconut, bananas, corn, sugar cane, chickens, and pigs are produced, as is 'buai' or betelnut, and mango. To celebrate the harvest, a temporary platform is constructed and decorated with colourful laplaps (see below), and the following day prizes are awarded to producers of the greatest yam crop, the longest yam, and the heaviest yam, among other categories. One of many benefits of the feast is that food (and goodwill) is distributed fairly throughout the village.
I felt honoured to experience Kitavan village life, albeit for a short time. But island life is not always rosy. During my 10 days there, two Kitavan villagers died; a young woman in her 20s, and an infant. A consequence of Kitava's remoteness and access difficulties (dinghy in calm seas only), is that the healthcare clinic, while well staffed, has no full-time doctor.
Furthermore, Kitava experiences a drought approximately once every six years or so. Usually, water is collected in a few large tanks, which helps some of the village when it rains. Notwithstanding this, women walk an hour return almost daily carrying empty plastic bottles in large basins balanced on their heads to a shore-side spring for refilling.
I've planned another trip there later this year, and hope to raise funds enough to help Lalela purchase two 9,000 litre rainwater tanks to help ease Kitavan women's burden of carting water. If you'd like to help, please get in touch here or through my facebook page.