The All Important PNG Garden

Land is super important to the culture and economy in PNG.  Traditionally your life and your livelihood were tied to your land.  Now, even though more people are moving into the city, land remains an integral part of PNG society.  Even politicians or businessmen who live their lives in the city and are well traveled will retire to their home villages where they still have traditional claim to land.  This land is not just important for building homes but also for planting their large gardens to sustain their families.  The Nobnob area is very mountainous and so the gardens tend to be on very steep hillsides.  This allows for the maximum sun exposure which is great for growing gardens but not so great for planting and working in your garden.  Most people have small garden houses or at least shelters nearby so that they can rest during the hottest part of the day. No matter what food is potentially going to be grown in the garden, each garden starts out the same way.  The men go through and cut the bush back so that the ground underneath is exposed to the sun and begins to dry.  Then the men go through and burn all the dried debris- the ground and jungle in PNG are so moist that they are easily able to control these fires.  Then depending on the crop the men and women take turns tending the garden.  Women traditionally grow the food that feeds the family: starches like taro, kaukau and yam and leafy greens (kumu) like aibika, tulip, pamkin and sas.  The men are the ones who tend the cash crops like vanilla, coffee or buai (betel-nut).  There are also banana, coconut and buai trees. Buai Side Note: Both men and women chew buai, a mild stimulant.  This can be mixed with other things such as lime power, the combination of which turns the mouth of the chewer bright red.  The red mouth is a very distinctive PNG characteristic. Back to the Garden: In this picture you can see a new garden in the beginning stages of being planted.  The woman in pink is preparing the ground for planting root vegetables.  While tending the gardens they start at the bottom and work their way up.  When we visit gardens the nationals are always very worried that we will fall down because we are not use to the steep and slippery embankments.  As we walk along they continually say “no gut yu pundaun” which literally means “no good you fall down” but can be more accurately translated “be careful”.  We like to joke that only in PNG could you fall out of a garden.  In the US many people garden for fun but in PNG gardening is a way of life.  Almost everyone is a subsistence farmer- they farm to feed themselves and their families.  As long as subsistence farming remains the norm here, land ownership will continue to be an important part of life and society in PNG.

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