Tourists' first contact patrol – oh yeah?
26 January 2009
There are still villagers living in Papua New Guinea’s Duke of York islands who have never seen white people before.
No, it’s not me making this claim but a senior crew member on an up-market cruise vessel which sailed PNG waters in recent months. Reporting on the phenomenon in Saturday’s Traveller lift-out in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, writer Craig Tansley lets slip this amazing snippet.
The cruise ship’s marine biologist, no less, imparted this piece of wisdom to passengers. “Most of the people around here haven’t seen white people before. You imagine if a spaceship landed in your suburb at home and all these funny looking aliens came out with their funny little gadgets - what do you reckon you’d do?”
Now, as I said, this was not a remote western highlands valley, nor the deep jungle border separating PNG from the Indonesian province of Papua. It was said to have happened in the Duke of York islands.
Someone should point out to Mr Tansley, and certainly the cruise vessel’s marine biologist, that German planters, missionaries and beachcombers were well ensconced in this picturesque locality decades before World War I.
This aside, Tansley’s article, accompanied by some excellent colour photos, painted a glowing picture of coastal PNG. Similar to blog editor Keith and Ingrid Jackson’s voyage aboard the MY Orion in late 2006, Tansley and fellow travellers visited a number of spots - the Duke of Yorks, east New Britain, the tiny atolls of the Luscanays and thence to the D’Entrecasteaux islands and Alotau in the Milne Bay Province.
But even here Tansley strays into dangerous territory. Describing an idyllic white-pebbled beach scene in East New Britain, he mentions that it’s in the Jacquinot Bay area of “New Britain’s unexplored east coast.”
What? Our intrepid kiaps - not to mention planters, missionaries and World War II troops - never set foot on New Britain’s east coast or its beaches?
Again, the travelogue suffers from lack of research, preferring to paint glowing word pictures of maritime communities and PNG’s wealth of flora and fauna.
Nevertheless the travel yarn does give PNG a bit of a profile and, in these economically straitened times, that can’t be a bad thing.
Photo: Craig Tansley again in dangerous territory near Gallipoli [Sydney Morning Herald]
While the Duke of York people might have known of white people for over a hundred years, it is likely that many of the present day younger ones have not actually met or spoken to a white person.
In August 2008, three other ex teachers and I went back to have a look at some of our old haunts. We all met at Maprik in 1970 and the last of us left PNG in 1986. We went to Pt Moresby, Goroka, Wewak, Maprik and Madang.
We met many ex students, who were delighted to see us. I noticed, however, that many of the younger people seemed excessively shy when we spoke to them. They understood English well and spoke it well but they showed the shyness that I used to encounter with old people, when I taught in PNG.
There are not many ex pats around now, so few PNGs have any contact with them. In my time there, kids were taught by ex pats from the beginning of school and soon got used to interacting with them.
One of my ex Maprik students is now in charge of the radio station at Madang. I met him and his intelligent and well educated 15 year old high school student son in Madang town. The boy spoke good English and had lived all his life in Madang but said that I was the first white person he had ever spoken to. So the shyness of those Duke of York people might be very real.
I thought the standard of English spoken in the country was good. The adults had all that teaching from native English speakers as kids and the current ones continue to be taught in English and have the very powerful English teacher of TV to help them.
Posted by: Graham Egan | 17 February 2009 at 12:05 PM