Friday, February 04, 2011

A timeless connection


Like seagulls, the ancient mariners with their kasali (sailing canoes), with hand-woven sails displaying the insignia of the capatain of the voyage , plied the Huon Gulf from the south to the north, often into Madang and across the Vitiaz Straits to the south coast of West New Britain trading claypots and sago for mats, bilums, garden produce and obsidian.

Serene...Dot Island in the background

They were critical in sustaining the intricate trading network that had existed before the arrival of the first Lutheran missionaries.
They feature in folklore, and in certain traditional stories and songs from Sabic to Sia genre – and is testimony to the often romanticised status that the seagull people once held amongst the people of the Huon Gulf coastline and the role they played in trade in traditional society.

Inlet to Laukanu
It was the the Ahi, Bukaua and Jabem people of the northern part of he Huon Gulf coastline of Morobe that called them the seagull people, thus the name Laukanu in “Jom Kawa/Jabem”, their lingua franca ,
Laukanu, originally called Apoze, is a small Kela-speaking village past Salamaua point.
It is my mother’s birth place and is where she spent her early years.

Dinghy at Sawet against the backdrop of Laukanu
It is still the place where my maternal relatives live and is where I retreat to escape.
Located in a closed inlet marked by Dot island, it is sheltered from the open sea and sits at the foothills of a majestic mountain range that rises immediately from coconut palm-fringed shorelines past several rows of thatched roof houses, into sago swamps on into waterfalls and lush tropical rainforest.
An hour out of Aigris Market, next to the main wharf in Lae by banana boat takes you to Salamaua Point, another half hour on leaves the point a blue haze in the background – and will have you approaching Dot Island.
It is then through a coral lined canal with calm turquoise green waters that separates Dot Island from AliawePoint which then gradually merges into the tranquil calmness of crystal blue waters as you round Sawet Point, emerging into of a secluded mangrove lined inlet, strangled between touring mountains covered in the dense canopy of lush tropical rainforest which rise from the sea shores.
We then pull alongside a small jetty outside where my Uncle Janganouc lives, near the old sawmill “Sawet”, in the inlet across the bay from the main village.
It is then, that the breathtaking beauty of the scenery and tranquility dawns on you, never ceasing to leave me in awe, as I step off the dinghy.
Adding to the mystique, as if on cue - the deep haunting, cooing sounds of the giant hornbill and pigeons breaks the eerie silence of the early evening.
The sound bounces and echoes through the inlet and over the bay, from the mountains to the sea almost as if the ancestral spirits stand to acknowledge and greet the return of a lost son and sense the true agenda of my trip.
The sweet serenity, familiar sights and sounds quickly puts you at ease - it is only then, that you know you are home.
This trip was a personal pilgrimage to put to rest the silent cries of the same ancestral spirits.
My late mother had been laid to rest near her late husband, far from the tranquil settings of her ancestral home.
I was there, simply to make amends.
Arriving in the main village at dusk, I opted to head for the mountains to bathe in the cool waterfalls.
My cousin Stanley, and myself tred along a dried river bed that weaves its way through the rain forest into the mountain, to the head of a stream where waterfalls cascades icy cool water over moss-covered rocks and is where we settle in for a long refreshing dip.
As we return, night sets in quickly.
The night forest comes alive as cicadas, crickets, birds, flying foxes, mammals and various insects conspire to blend their sounds and perform their orchestral manoeuvres in the dark
On our return, dinner awaits, smoked tuna with taro and a cup of sweet black nevers taste this good.
And then late into the night , I sit on the canoe decks of one the many canoes that line the water front, around a fire and over more cups of black sweet black tea, buai and tobacco to catch up with my maternal uncles.
Maternal uncles and relatives

Early the next morning, with the first rays over the sun creeping up over the horizon, I rise to see the silhouette of lone fishermen on canoes paddling in or anchored in the distance.
Looking around, I notice the trunks of fallen coconut palms evidence of rising sea levels which have definitely wiped away all remains of my late grandfather’s footprints and eroded away the very shoreline where his small bungalow once stood amidst remnants of his epic kasali voyages.
Familiar sights, smell and the rhythmic roll of breaking waves evoke childhood memories that arouse nostalgia, of long days I spent here with my grandfather, who would enthrall me with tales of his exploits sailing the kasali.
Memorabilia and remnants from those epic voyages stored in the rafters and under the flooring of his thatched roof bungalow, each had a story.
He would pause , give me this strange, distant look, as his mind wandered back to the days of his adventurous past, proceeding then to earnestly relate and recount the details of these stories to me, but always in Jom Kawa, never in Kela.
Flicking back to reality, I set off to leave the village and to trek around the bay back to Sawet where I had arranged to be picked up for the return trip to Lae.
The walk takes me through the Kaiwa village of Kelkel where I am stopped to have buai and a chat with acquaitances of my late mother.
I move on along the beach hearing the screams of delight, as a group of children swing from a cane cable tied to a tree and drop into the sea.
I pass another small hamlet at Gomara where mountain streams have been piped by bamboo and PVC hoses into a steady gush of the same cool water and is where I stop to have a quench my thirst and dip under.
I walk on mesmerised by the magical visual effects that the early morning light has, as it bathes and dances on the foliage, sea and the mountains.

The old man and the sea
Finally, now midway around the bay – I pause on the beach at the entrance to the village cemetery .
I take a quiet moment of reflection , to remember aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents who lay here, but moreso to finally let the ancestral spirits of my grandfather know, that though my mother was laid to rest far from her ancestral home, her very essence will always remind me of the timeless connection I have to the people of this tranquil paradise.


  1. That was a very evocative description of what must be a magical place! Thanks for that ... I feel more peaceful now.

  2. Thanks David and Malum. It's just as I remember.