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.

In the Valley of the Shadow…

Papua New Guinea was the site of some major battles as well as Japanese occupation during WWII.  Many of the older generation were young children during this time and have many remarkable stories that they have passed down to their children in the tradition of PNG story telling.  On this particular mountain (Nobnob) Lutheran missionaries were already established long before WWII began.  It is uncommon in PNG to have generations of Christians in one family but I have met multiple families from the Nobnob language group whose grandparents were strong Christian men and women.  My tok pisin teacher Itbam’s grandfather was the first Christian convert in Nobnob and now Itbam is on the team of national translators who have helped complete the Nobnob New Testament and are making final revisions on the Nobnob Old Testament.  Maria is the granddaughter of a man who was martyred for his faith during WWII.  I will do my best to convey the story of her grandfather how Sharon and I heard it storied in the village house surrounded by Maria’s daughters and extended family.  We were sitting asking questions to the young daughters about the stories they had heard from WWII and they began to tell us about their great grandfather who was beheaded because of his faith.  It started in bits and pieces with them shy to explain the details because they had just been told the story themselves.  So they asked grandma who was sitting in the doorway to tell more about her father.  Grandma began by telling that he was a strong man and that he was killed alongside two Americans because he was a Christian.  She said that he was made to kneel in his grave before he was beheaded in order to make less work for the soldiers once he was dead.  Then grandma told us she was tired of telling the story and we looked to the daughters once again and they begin to fill in details of the church on the hillside that was spared from the bombing and how he was a man of great faith who wasn’t afraid of death.  Maria’s sister then came and sat down and started the story again.  She told of a man who had great faith in God, a man whose prayers spared the village church from bombing and whose prayers paved the way for future generations in Christ.  Her grandfather suffered terrible torture yet he remained strong and continued to pray despite the physical threats made by the Japanese.  His life ended with him telling the Americans on either side of him not to be afraid and then all three of them were beheaded and buried in an unmarked grave.  All the women told this story in a very straightforward manner but with great reverence.  This is their Christian heritage, a man who lived and died for his faith.  This account of the life and death of Yot Begbeg can also be found in the book In the Valley of the Shadow…of the Life and Death of Two Witnesses of Jesus Christ by W. Fugmann.  The book gives a more detailed eye witness account from two men who knew Yot and were with him during his last months, hours and minutes of life.  I am humbled and amazed at this story especially having been told from the mouths of his family themselves.  What a rich heritage of faith!  My prayer is that this story and others like it will continue to be passed down as a testimony to the generations to come.

Getting Sick in PNG

Mixed in among lectures on language, history and anthropology are medical lectures.  These are designed to help prepare us for common illnesses or injuries that we might get here or that we might see when we are out in the village.  This will enable us, with the help of a medical handbook, to self diagnose and treat some of the more basic ones.  The lectures are actually very informative but at the same time can make you kind of queasy if you aren’t prepared for the topic of worms, tropic ulcers or bush knife wounds.  Strange bumps, bites, wounds and sicknesses are just part of life in the topics.

Our group has gotten to experience various bush knife and coral cuts but no sicknesses other than a couple of cases of strep throat until a few weeks ago.  Then the flood gates opened and the past two weeks we have had a stomach flu-like illness make its way through the entire group.  It started with the children, almost all of the 26 children got sick within 48 hours of each other.  Then slowly the adults got different degrees of the same illness.  My turn came on Saturday when I got home from a town market trip, so I just spent the rest of the weekend in bed. Certain staff members were also affected and now only about 2 of the children and 4 to 6 adults have managed to remain healthy.

We live in very close quarters so please be praying for the health and safety of everyone here!

Drum Oven

The best thing about having a drum oven is actually being able to make bread and cookies- The worst thing about having a drum oven is the work that it takes to actually bake whatever you are baking.  This oven is placed over a fire and then we keep the fire hot enough for the time it takes to bake the food.  That’s all just fire and a metal drum with some sand in the bottom.  Sharon and I made this drum oven out of a kerosene drum, some sheet metal and pop rivets.  Don’t ask me how we did it but I think it turned out alright.  We even got ambitious and bent metal into pan shapes so that we could bake the bread and cookies.  Other than a burned arm no one was harmed in the making of the drum oven.  And it made some very delicious peanut butter cookies last week- this week chocolate chip!

Stretching My Spiritual Muscles

My time in PNG has so far been dominated with very practical lessons.  Everyday we are working on our physical strength and endurance.  Our minds are also being stretched and filled with language, culture, history, government and all the lessons on everyday living in PNG.  With all of these activities it has been a challenge to find time to spend exercising my spiritual muscles.  I believe that I am here in PNG for a reason and in God’s sovereignty this is part of His master plan.  However, that does not negate the everyday struggle that comes from being away from my support system and built in influences of my church and spiritual family.  I am thankful for every blessing that falls into my lap to remind me of God’s faithfulness. This week we had an amazing woman come and talk with us about government, history, missions and life in general in PNG.  Gail was born in Australia but is now a PNG citizen. She has lived in PNG for over 40 years, married a PNG man and has two biological children along with many adopted children from the wantok system (the language community/family system in PNG).  Gail and her husband lived at Ukarumpa for 25 years.  During our devotions Gail shared what God had taught her during that time and she expressed her heart in a way that I really indentified with.  Philippians 1:6 spoke into her life at that time.  In his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul says “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus”.  It is so easy to loose focus, but this is a reminder that a good work has begun in me and I am not yet perfected in Christ.  He is still working in me and He will continue despite my human nature.  I am getting, loud and clear, the message here that I need to take my eyes off myself and focus on Christ.  I may not have the same support system as in the US but God is still at work here in PNG and He is sufficient.

Tok Pisin (Melanesian Pidgin)

Since the first week we arrived, we have had Tok Pisin lessons nearly every morning with teachers from the surrounding community.  We would gather in our groups (about 6 to a group) and learn dialogues related to community activities, read various stories, sing Tok Pisin songs and even went on a couple field trips to actively practice language.  This picture is of our Tisa Itbam showing us how they would catch a wild pig if it was bothering our garden. He also gave us a tree climbing demonstration so that we could go get our own coconut or buai.  These classes have been great to gain insight into the culture through the language.  Below is a language quiz so that you can try your hand at deciphering some Tok Pisin.

Match the following Tok Pisin Words (1-8) with the English Words (A-H)

1. nogat

2. tisa

3. gras

4. pren

5. pis

6. traut

7. kaikai

8. pik

A. hair

B. food

C. friend

D. no

E. pig

F. teacher

G. throw up

H. fish

Translate the following

Mi laik kaikai pik.

Matching Answers

1=D      2=F      3=A      4=C      5=H      6=G      7=B      8=E

English Translation

I like to eat pig.

Independence Day

Just a short history of PNG (thank you to a previous teacher at POC who made this timeline accompanied by illustrations- below is just a summary):

A long long time ago- The first people came over the ocean to PNG most likely from Asia and slowly moved from the Coastal Regions to the Highlands.

A long time ago- People began farming in each region of PNG and trading between themselves.

Some time ago- PIGS=WEALTH in the Highlands and kaukau (like sweet ptotato) begins to be farmed and becomes the main food staple. Pig and people populations increase.

1526- People on the south coast of PNG see Jorge de Meneses on his way back to Portugal and are startled by his white skin and HUGE sailing canoe. Jorge sees the peoples “frizzy hair” and names them “Papuans”.

1600’s- People on the islands and coastal regions discover Dutch explorers.  Their white skin and material possessions are very surprising so the people in PNG begin to try and explain their encounters through myths and legends.

1700’s- French and English explorers are discovered on the islands and coastal regions.  The people of PNG begin to trade wood, spices, bird of paradise plumes, pearls, etc for knives, axes, beads, cloth etc.

1800’s- The “white skins” begin to stay and settle in PNG. Some of them make the people in PNG work on their plantations, others are missionaries who tell them about Jesus and try to get them to discard their PNG traditions. Some PNGers fight with the “white skins” and some are friendly.  Some are kidnapped by slave traders.

1884- People in the north are told that they live in New Guinea and that they belong to Germany.  People in the south are told that they live in Papua and that they belong to Great Britain.

1900’s- More “white skins” come looking for gold and they bring in amazing “cargo” (cargo refers to the possessions that have accompanied “white skins” coming into PNG- more on cargo cults in a future blog post). People in PNG continue to try and figure out where the “cargo” is coming from and how they can get it themselves.

1906- People in Papua are told that they now belong to Australia.

1914- People in New Guinea are told that they now belong to Australia because Germany started a war somewhere.

1920’s and 30’s- People in the Highlands see “white skins” for the first time and are scared and confused.  They think the “white skins” are their ancestors come back from the dead but after further investigation and personal contact they realize they are only human.

1930’s- People in the Highlands are told that they must obey certain Australian “white skins” and new local leaders with foreign names taken from the PNG coastal areas and imported into the Highlands.

1942- Japanese invade and take over the North Coast and try to move through PNG to take Port Morsby.  People flee into the bush and caves as their villages are destroyed and many people die.

1942-1945- As the war continues men are recruited as carriers, laborers and soldiers and begin to travel around and see more of their own country.  These men continue to be amazed by the “cargo” and lose more and more respect for the “white skins”.

1945- The war ends and life goes back to normal.  However, many “white skins” stay in PNG and the men who worked alongside the “white skins” are told to give back their uniforms but receive little to no thanks in return.

1949- Papuans and New Guineans are told that they are now united under Australian rule.

1950- Australia forms local governments so that PNG is ruled by its own people again (sort of).

1951- Australia forms the first Legislative Council and chooses 3 Papuans and New Guineans to be a part of it.

1961- Papuans and New Guineans are allowed to vote for the first time in a national election.

1964- Australia forms the new House of Assembly out of 38 Papuans and New Guineans and 26 Australians- some are chosen, others are elected.

1973- Australia allows Papuans and New Guineans to govern themselves (with Australia’s help).

September 16, 1975 Papua New Guineans put up their own flag and peacefully became the independent nation of Papua New Guinea.

On Tuesday September 16, 2008 Papua New Guinea celebrated 33 years of national independence.  To celebrate the people up on the NobNob mountain put together a festival.  This included a volleyball tournament leading up to Tuesday (a team of “white skins” from our training entered and lost all their matches but provided much enjoyed comic relief to the PNG locals).  The festival began with the raising of the PNG flag and the singing of the national anthem.  Then there was singing and dancing, different skits to music, various local bands playing traditional music, more volleyball and assorted concessions ice cream, popsicles etc. to buy as well.  My favorite part of the day was interacting with the local children who like to come and sit on our mats and play with the white children.  They are either inquisitive and just sit and stare, or they interact with you and smile and are eager to share the bugs they find crawling on the ground.