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Kaupa & Maria call this place home. So do millions of others

Mt Gahavisuka - looking from Kefamo villageBOMAI D WITNE

THEY are far removed from urban life and its knowledge, innovations and technologies. The hut at the end of the ridge is what they have. It is connected to the outside world by a walking track.

Kaupa and his wife Maria live on the edge of a ridge, close to a stream. They are geographically isolated.

The mountains around them are high; the clouds hang forever on virgin forests; the streams are crystal clear and fast running as they descend through the endless gullies to the east.

East and west there is forest. The sun visits this ridge for less than five hours daily.

This where the birds nest on walkways and feed on rare red and golden orchids. It is a natural home to cuscus and possums. Only the village dogs and their owners can smell and identify them.

The jungle is too cold for snakes, making it a safe haven for different species of coloured frogs. The sound of insects at night sing to the richness of this vast forest.

Kaupa chose to build his house on the ridge because of the morning sun bath. Piece of sharp woods stand in a neat line to keep the family pets from wandering into the wilderness.

Kaupa inherited his name from forefathers. ‘Bird’ in the local language. Kaupa withstood pressure from Christianity to change his name. His wife Maria succumbed and changed her name from Guldewin, meaning ‘tree with beautiful fragrance’.

They plant crops to feed family and animals. They have a few pigs, all with human names. They keep some hens and roosters which scratch for worms and insects in the garden. A black dog keeps an eye on things and barks if threatened by the morning breeze or swaying shrubs.

Maria works hard to get the house in order before the rain. Her twin daughters watch, ready to help. They learned to do mama’s work when they were three. Now they are ten and can do better than her.

Kaupa takes a break from long hours of digging and rolls tobacco on a discarded page of a bible he found on the road. He knows it’s a page from the bible although he can’t read a single word. Puffing his tobacco, he whistles a favourite courtship song. It had landed him Maria a few years back.

The mountain wind takes Kaupa’s whistle in Maria’s direction. She wants to move closer and listen to the full song but does not have time. She looks over and sees her girls helping Kaupa.

The girls also do papa’s work. They sharpen spades and bush knives on rough stone, build fences around the garden, dig drains, plough fields and prepare soil for planting.

This is the world Kaupa and Maria know. They know the names of shrubs, trees, beans, frogs, insects, snakes, soil and everything around them. However, they could not write them. They are not used to holding a pencil. They have heard of schools but never set foot in a classroom.

The nearest Catholic Mission school is 10 kilometers from the village along bush tracks winding through steep mountains and crossing several rivers on single log-bridges.

Tribal people close to the mission school wait impatiently to take revenge for one of their kinsmen who died a decade ago. Word reached Maria and her husband that Kaupa’s sister poisoned the man to death to marry a new lover.

No attempts have been made to correct this allegation. There is merely a resolution to keep away from the neighbouring tribe. Hunting, gardening, sporting fields, churches, markets and all common spaces previously shared by the tribes are separated.

School children stay home. The twins are denied attending school. This does not bother Kaupa and Maria, the tribe is more important.

The girls have few clothes and those they have they use for many months until the cotton loses its strength. The other village children are like them; a few not possessing clothes at all. People do not worry about what they wear, or don’t wear.

Kaupa and Maria don’t know it, but they represent the indigenous mountain people who occupy the hinterland of Papua New Guinea. They live on less than a dollar a day.

Kaupa hopes each day that things will get better for him and his family. But hope does not solve problems. Sometimes, he hates Christianity for the false hope, but there it is.

Kaupa and Maria rarely visit the nearest town. The cost of travelling is high. They have heard of Port Moresby but understand little of what it is.

Mega overhead bridges, four lane roads, traffic jams, overcrowded markets, corruption and the news headlines do not reach Kaupa and Maria’s ears. 


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Raymond Sigimet

An expose well have taken me on a familiar trip through rural PNG.

Michael Dom

This is fantastic writing Bomai.

Will you send it anywhere else, Paradise Magazine say or Stella Magazine?

Francis Nii

A good panoramic portrayal of the lifestyle in rural Papua New Guinea, Yalkuna. Development and change will take many years to reach our rural population given the harsh geography, limited resources and high level corruption. It's sad but that's the reality.

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