Monday, April 27, 2009

Dust over Rabaul

Dust over Rabaul
Children on the eerie, moonscape-like landscape near Tavuvur Volcano, Rabaul

Dust over Rabaul


Rabaul Market
Rabaul volcano
Tavurvur sends out clouds of ash over Rabaul

Tavurvur sends out dust over Rabaul from seen from the volcano observatory
…but there is a silver lining to the dark cloud

Going back to the dusty volcanic town of Rabaul after many years can be a very emotional experience.
And that’s exactly what I found out when my guide, University of Vudal lecturer Gitala Pranis and his lovely wife Jacinta, took me to Rabaul as a last stop after an extensive tour of the Gazelle Peninsula.
Last time I was in Rabaul was way back in 1993, when I traveled there from Lae one weekend with my uncle, Elijah Kissing, to support our beloved Lae Bombers in their rugby league clash against the Rabaul Guria.
Our team lost; however, we had a great time that weekend in Rabaul and the many nightclubs in town.
A year later, in September 1994, our hearts broke as Rabaul was destroyed by falling ash of that fateful volcanic eruption.
Before that, in the early 1970’s, when my late father Mathias Nalu was school inspector on Bouganville, we family often stopped in Rabaul as the DC3 we were traveling in refueled on the long run between Lae and Buka.
Those were indeed the halcyon days when Rabaul was widely regarded as the “pearl of the Pacific”.
Those memories of another day touched a nostalgic chord in my heart as I saw the sad remains of Rabaul, which were so poignantly captured in song by one of its favorite sons, the late John Wong, who died so tragically this year of a heart attack.
He was a huge figure on the PNG music scene in the 80’s and 90’s, playing with such legendary PNG bands as Barike and the Unbelievers.
His songs Dust over Rabaul and Rabaul Town were huge hits and meant a lot to the people of Rabaul after the destruction caused by the volcano in 1994.
Tavurvur Volcano in Rabaul continues to send out clouds of ash and steam, as I found out.
It was making belching noises like a mammoth jet engine and continuing to send out ash over Rabaul.
The area near the volcano is eerie and like a moonscape, however, people stubbornly
persist and continue to live in Rabaul.
The town was the provincial capital and most important settlement in the province until it was destroyed in 1994.
After the eruption the capital was moved to Kokopo, about 20km away.
Rabaul is continually threatened by volcanic activity due to being built on the edge of Rabaul caldera, a flooded caldera of a large volcano.
There are eight active vents in Rabaul Caldera: Tovanumbatir, Kabiu, Rabalanakaia, Turanguna, Tavurvur, Sulphur Creek, Vulcan, and Vulcan Island.
A large eruption occurred at Rabaul volcano on Saturday October 7, 2006, with ash to 60,000 feet.
The eruption shattered windows in the town, and lava flows reached the sea
Many long time residents of Rabaul whom I spoke to remarked that 2008 has seen one of the worst ash fallouts from Tavurvur, with one of the largest and most consistent amounts of ash.
On November 20 in 2008, Tavuvur released a spectacular plume of ash and steam, and the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite took a picture the same day and posted it on its website http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/.
In this image, a dingy gray plume blows westward over the Bismarck Sea from the volcano’s summit.
The plume differs from the nearby clouds in both its darker color and more diffuse shape.
At the Rabaul Hotel, staff are on the roofs, in the garden and its surrounds, every day, with shovels and wheel barrows digging out the ash that has accumulated over night.
A recent newspaper report, saying that the ash was life threatening, led to mass hysteria and panic by the workers of Rabaul and the closure of some much-needed utilities like the hospital, technical, school and power.
That aside, Rabaul is still a beautiful place with a lot of history, remaining the third largest port of Papua New Guinea, importing and exporting and the feeding straw to Kokopo Town and indeed, the whole Islands Region.
The history of Rabaul is one of wreckage and regrowth.
Modern historians will find a treasure trove of World War 2 relics, tunnels and caverns to explore within driving distance of Rabaul.
Close to the now-thriving centre of Kokopo, are the remnants of Gunantambu mansion, built in the 1880’s by the legendary Queen Emma.
After the eruption of Tavurvur and Vulcan in September 1994, most Rabaul services were relocated in Kokopo, which is strung along the edge of Blanche Bay.
The town has grown rapidly and the busy market, selling fresh produce, local cigars and betel nut, is located on the main road from Tokua Airport.
The waterfront is the place to find boats for travel to the outer islands or for a spot of fishing.
The drive from the airport, now located at Tokua about an hour from Rabaul, is along a narrow road winding its way around the glittering waters of the Gazelle Peninsula.
Through the coconut trees villages of thatched huts surrounded by colourful flowerbeds and tropical fruit trees look out over calm waters.
East New Britain has a fascinating World War 11 history and visitors can explore Japanese caved systems, barged tunnels, aircraft wrecks and submarines.
The people of East New Britain have been seen as culturely diversified with rich and unique traditions.
The tubuan signifies spiritual dancers and traditional ceremonies that demonstrate a history well kept and used in today’s society.
The Tolai people of the Gazelle Peninsulla have continued to use the traditional shell money called tabu.
They use the tabu as a contribution to the Tolai male secret society of tubuan and dukduk, for distribution to people at death ceremonies, as payment of a bride price, for settling disputes, to purchase land or even garden food from local markets.
The tropical nature of the province, with its evergreen rainforest vegetation and rugged mountain ranges, the imposing volcanoes which surrounds the town of Rabaul and the beautiful Simpson harbour have made East New Britain an attractive and adventurous place to visit.
The marine resources are diverse and the tropical environment provides opportunities for bush trekking, mountain trekking, mountain climbing and cave exploration.
Yes, indeed, there is a silver lining to the dark cloud looming over Rabaul.

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