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Papuan Island Celebrations
A Day Out with the Ladies' Fellowship
Recently I mentioned my visit to the Papuan Islands in the D'Entrecasteaux Group. I went as a short-term volunteer in July, 2009, almost fifty years after we had first gone to live there for three years. Much of my time was spent helping with paper-work, but as a retired teacher I also enjoyed taking some classes in the schools and accessioning donated books in the High School Library. Sometimes there were dinghy trips and celebrations and I could take a day off to join them.
One day I was invited to join the Ladies' Fellowship on a visit to the home of retired Bishop Apenai Tauwaigu and his wife, Patricia. I was delighted as I had known them when they had been students at Wesley High School. Early in the morning, some of the ladies called at the Guest House and we walked down the track to the wharf. My shoulder-bag contained a bottle of water, a couple of bananas and a small gift for the couple. The ladies carried baskets of yams and other gifts on their heads. The dinghy and its operator had not yet arrived, so we sat in the shade and waited. Eventually he eased in to the muddy shore beside the wharf as the tide was out. We removed footwear and squelched over slippery rocks and coral to clamber in. He did not have sufficient petrol, so we made a detour to the village of Gomwa to the smallest Service Station ever. After finding and arousing the attendant, at last we had the fuel and set off.
Most of the ladies sat on the bottom of the boat and sheltered themselves and their baskets under a blue tarpaulin. Sweltering beneath a voluminous, borrowed raincoat, I and an elderly lady shared a plank rather perilously placed across the boat. Once we were out of Salamo Bay I realized the need for protection. The sea was choppy, but the operator knew his job, we slowly climbed crab-like up the waves, then swiftly surfed down the other side. Cooling spray spread over us. My top may have been dry, but my seat definitely was not!
The whole day was a delight, from the boat, to the wearying walk up into the mountains, to a rather tearful reunion, to the friendship of the ladies.
Wesley Day Celebrations
A few weeks later there were great preparations afoot for Wesley Day. The little local vernacular school, the Primary School and the High School all made special preparations for the great day. The two elementary schools prepared food stalls on their own campuses, while each Wesley High School class chose a theme for their stalls, to be set all around the oval. Much of the previous day was spent with the boarders going into the surrounding forest for bush materials to build and decorate their stalls. I elected to assist a class, whose theme was 'Coconuts,' to prepare coconut cakes and cookies. It was really hot and smokey in the outside 'bush-kitchen' where there was a large oven that needed continual stoking. It was almost midnight when they finished.
The great day dawned. Students put final touches to stalls, donned uniforms, and lined up for a special assembly with a flag-raising, National Anthems, and speeches. As a guest, I was required to join the dignitaries on an high platform that had a thatched roof. To reach the seats I needed to negotiate the 'steps.' These were a series of graduated poles set in the ground. There was nothing to grasp and I was very relieved when I eventually made it onto the platform.
At last the formalities were concluded and the students could take turns to serve in their stalls or spend their pocket-money in other classes' stalls. In the afternoon, there were several dances presented by students of Wesley, some surrounding village schools - assisted by their teachers. The girls wore grass skirts, some of the older boys and teachers beat out the rhythm on traditional drums and they used traditional headdresses and make-up. It was really well done, enjoyed by all. There were some very sleepy students (and teachers) the next day.
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