Gona Gona Bobuana

That’s “good morning” in Dobu, one of Papua New Guinea’s more than 800 languages. It is one of several common languages in the Milne Bay Province, the southeast portion of PNG. Dobu, a small volcanic island, was the first stop in the area for European missionaries who translated the Bible into and began preaching in Dobu. The language spread throughout the province with Christianity. In addition to Dobu, most people in Milne Bay speak their local language, English, Tok Pisin (pidjin), and, on top of that, some people speak their parents’ languages (one parent likely comes from another area), their spouse’s language, and probably a couple of other languages handy for maintaining trading relationships. It’s rare to find someone who speaks less than 4 languages, and 8 is not uncommon. After the canoe festival in Alotau, we picked up a crew member, Rob’s kiwi friend, Pete, which has made it easier for us to pick our way through the barely charted waters of this part of the world. Pete has already kept busy bravely defending us from raskols and pukpuks (pidjin for pirates and crocodiles). The three of us have been slowly, painfully slowly-perpetually fighting the current with barely a whisper of a breeze slowly-exploring the islands around Milne Bay. We swam with giant manta rays at Gona Bara Bara Island, stalked nesting turtles at a remote atoll (we found turtles about to be eaten and nests that had been dug up, but were not lucky enough to find a turtle crawling ashore at night), tracked megapode nesting mounds (the mounds are mega, the birds are chicken-sized), hiked up to see the brilliantly-plumed Goldie’s bird of paradise at Normanby Island, and sleuthed out scorpion fish hiding on the rocky reefs in the Trobriands. Along the way, we learned that crocodiles and sharks are not dangerous. The animals themselves don’t eat people, they run away. It’s only when they are possessed through witchcraft that they eat people. We learned how to call sharks with coconut-shell-magic in the Trobriands. In another island, we learned that if you don’t follow the right customs when you make clay pots, the clay might run away and leave your island. And we learned a bit about shell money and the kula ring, a centuries old inter-island circle where shell money necklaces and armbands are perpetually exchanged, bringing much prestige to the holders of the items. The kula ring, and Milne Bay’s relatively calm waters, might be part of the reason there are still so many traditional sailing canoes on the waters here, but none in the other islands of the Pacific. We took a break from storying and stopped at uninhabited Hastings Island, an island of uplifted coral. As we dropped the anchor, the boys drooled over the 700 foot cliffs made of sharp coral limestone, while I stared into the beautiful, blue waters with a clear view to the bommies more than 70 feet below the surface. We explored some caves and snorkeled, then Pete eyed up the overhanging rock walls and picked his route. He boldly manned up around a bulge on a route he’s named “Dim Dim Dreams of Sirenians” (Dim Dim is the PNG word for white people). We’re pretty sure that makes Pete the pioneer of and leading world expert on rock climbing at Hastings Island. Rob tried to lead another route up an aesthetic crack, but Rob is not as manly as Pete and utterly failed. We had to leave before the boys could explore all the possibilities, as the anchorage is poorly protected and it started to get a bit bouncy. Our last stop in the Milne Bay province was the Trobriands, famous from Bronislaw Malinoswki’s detailed, World War I era anthropological studies. They are big on yams, carving, and trading here and live in very traditional villages with small huts and big yam storage houses made of sago palm and thatching. The people were interesting, the snorkeling was fantastic, and the boys got to shred their hands and toes climbing more sharp, overhanging coral limestone, but our experience was a bit mixed. A couple of nights ago, someone stole a snorkel and mask, a towel, and all the wet clothes we had hung out to dry overnight. We had an extra mask, but we’re down a snorkel, so Rob is practicing holding his breath. The loss of the clothing wouldn’t be such except that we’d already traded all our extra clothing for carvings and veggies. Now, the boys have no swimsuits. Rob is down to his last pair of not-so-swimming shorts, and poor Pete is stuck running around in his underwear. We’re now on our way to New Britain, and making very slow progress. But perhaps they will have a store there. One that sells swimming suits. The ladies are going to love Pete’s tan lines when he gets home.

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