Monday, October 31, 2011

Return to Karai Komana

By Geoffrey Heard

“My brother’s Dava -- that’s our name for marriage settlement -- is happening in the village on October 29. Like to come?” said my mate, Lavui, on the phone. Would I like a return to Karai Komana in the Rigo mountains east of Port Moresby? And for a Dava too? Would I what!

I visited Karai Komana, Lavui’s home village, last year (2010) for a quick in-and-out trip during the night. See May 2010, I Break Out!

I hadn’t really seen the place, let alone the magnificent scenery of the area. That the scenery was magnificent was made clear by the hair-raising seven hour b0uncing and jouncing trip up and down the mountains to get there and back. Whenever the road, um, track is as precipitous and rough as that, you know the scenery is magnificent even if you can’t see it!

My Tolai son confirmed it. Despite being from Rabaul right on the other side of Papua New Guinea, he knew the area, having walked through it in younger days. “Wait till you see the places where the track is running along the ridge and there is nothing but space on both sides of the road,” he chuckled when I told him where I was going. Cheeky wretch; I brought him up on the Bougainville mine road in the early stages of its construction and the then notorious Chimbu sections of the Highlands Highway. There were times on both those roads in the wet season when we had to tailgate a bulldozer cutting a path through a mud and rock slide, with the mud closing up behind us. If the mud caught us, we would be over the edge of a 300+ meter (1000 foot) drop. Instant death and instant burial. How dare he try to scare me!

We would be staying in the village for two nights so I shopped accordingly. One 2 inch foam mattress, sheet, blanket, pillow, towel. I packed a change of clothes including long pants and a jacket; while Port Moresby was sweltering in doldrums heat and humidity, Karai Komana is at a considerable height and it could be fresh during the day and markedly cool at night.

The trip to the village started with the usual chaos of any extended family holiday journey; people popping up from all over the place with items to take (particularly contributions to the marriage settlement) and/or looking for a seat in the back of the Toyota Landcruiser 4WD truck (or ute as we call it in Australia). Lavui had to take a firm line to maintain an appearance of legality (in PNG, that means everyone sitting down within the confines of the truck and no arms, legs or bits of cargo sticking out the side) and a modicum of comfort for the closest family members. We only had one truck, we could have used a small fleet!

First stop was the pig farm where we purchased pigs to contribute to the bride price. Thankfully, Lavui was able to hand those off to his brother to take in his big truck so they didn’t have to come with us. I like pigs -- we used to have a few on the farm in my youth -- but I have never had a burning ambition to share passenger space with them when we’re bouncing up a mountain. Odd, that! :)

Then it was round the city making last minute purchases and collecting passengers and luggage before we finally hit the road in the gathering cool of the evening.

There were the usual stops to buy buai (betel nut) at roadside stalls lit only by a kerosene lamp as we rolled down the sealed road to Kwikila east of Port Moresby, then we turned towards the mountains, forded the big river, and started to climb.

The steep, badly eroded track was muddy, slippery and cut up. It had rained in the previous few days and with the marriage settlement about to happen, there had been a lot of traffic -- there would be a lot more before the weekend was over -- with scores of members of both the giving and receiving clans hurrying home from Port Moresby and other centers for the big event.

Several times, Lavui had to backup and tackle a section again as the Landcruiser was brought to a halt by deep, muddy holes in steep sections of the track. Once, everyone in the back had to get out and walk for a stretch while Lavui threw his usual finesse out the window and with a demonic grin and a vice-like grip on the steering wheel, slammed the Toyota up the mountain by main force, the engine roaring, the wheels spinning, the truck lurching and sliding.

We reached Karai Komana at midnight, unloaded our gear, unrolled our mats and mattresses on the floor of the small hut allocated to us, and within minutes, fell into a dreamless sleep cosseted by the quiet breathing of a dozen others similarly engaged who were sharing the room.


Next morning, Saturday, dawned fine and clear -- a little overcast, but with no hint of rain. Good. It was going to be a great day. More people had arrived in the early hours, and our Toyota had gone back down the mountain to ferry up the pigs from the point where the big truck had had to stop.

In the meantime, there was breakfast, and time to walk around the village, get to know new friends, and to appreciate the beauty of the location.

The place was bubbling with the fun and excitement of the Dava in prospect! (See my next post.)


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This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2011.

The opinions and comments in this article are his own.

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