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The strong links of the market chain

Petrus and the bag
Petrus and the bag


LAE - I was in the heart of Lae City this morning, at the centre of the curve of Huon Gulf on the map of Papua New Guinea.

The sun had just come out of the dawn's bilum. It was a promising day with good weather and the people were carrying out their usual early morning activities.

I was escorting an expatriate at the Lae main market: showing him around, giving him a market overview, taking him to various food sections and showing him the various types of local vegetables, spices, protein and fruit.

It was not a laborious task.

When the stranger came up to me holding a needle and string in his hand, I knew he must have been on business.

He smiled at me showing red stained teeth. I returned the smile.

"Young man do you need any help?" he asked.

"Follow me," I said, and winked an eye.

“What’s your name, sir?” I asked the man, smiling.

“It’s Petrus, I’m from Simbu” he replied and smiled back.

OK angra, holim bag ya.” (“OK bro, hold this bag”) I instructed him.

Petrus took the bag and carried it diagonally across his chest. He was a stocky man and the expatriate wanted to carry his vegetables and fruit inside the bag.

The role of Petrus was to carry the bag for us. It gave me more flexibility to assist my expatriate friend.

We started at the vegetables section. We bought everything we wanted and I gave it to Petrus, who followed us and packed the bag.

We also picked up potatoes, fruits and nuts and our friend Petrus packed them in the bag for us.

Once we were done, Petrus helped us sew the bag's open mouth with a special knot. We paid him for his service and he went off.

As I saw him walking away I thought, this man has a wife, children and family back home to be responsible for.

His services may be small but they were of great help to others. Some of his friends carried kaukau (sweet potato). They had grown muscles overnight by unloading 50 kilogram bags of kaukau from trucks and carrying them to the market arena. They got paid depending on how much work they did.

Another group pushed wheelbarrows and their task was to move bags of coconuts, vegetables and fruit from PMV vehicles for a small amount of money.

As I watched this band of workers, I noticed they were largely unnoticed but their services contributed greatly to PNG’s economy and wealth.

At the end of the day, these workers, mostly men, had something to put on the table for their family, school fees for the children and financial support for anyone within their circle.

Apart from those informal helpers, like Petrus, at the market there were also people – women, men, young old - who came from the rural areas of Morobe.

They kept the Lae market vibrant with their proteins, vegetables, fruits, nuts and all sorts of garden foods. But these people were considered ‘formal’ because they pay market taxes to the city council officials before selling anything.

They too are a hard working band of troops. Their effort contributes to wealth creation and economy building.

I sat down and observed the activities and reflected on Petrus and the other helpers. They were all vital.

I remembered that it must have been like this since our ancestors’ time. It takes sweat and effort to create wealth and build an economy, whether in a formal or informal way.

So, if you are from outside Lae and Morobe Province, here for business or pleasure and want to visit our main market, please recognise our talented band of informal labour.

Their services come in handy and I guarantee you will not be disappointed.


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David Kitchnoge

This story reminds me of my own encounters in Mt Hagen three years ago.

While on the plane from Port Moresby, I had told myself that I would have fruits at dinner that evening in Hagen. So I dropped my bag in the room on arrival and took a stroll through the streets down to the main Hagen market in the afternoon mist.

At that time, I didn’t know of this practice of market bag handling and sewing services. So I arrived at the market and bought myself a bag, swung it across my chest and started pacing through the market and taking in the glorious bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables on display at crazy low prices.

I was naturally sensitive to my surroundings as a new comer in town so I became worried when groups of young boys approached displaying their needles and asking me for their services using their speak.

They would walk past me uttering ‘smahp, smahp, smahp’ and I would just ignore them and walk right ahead whilst peeking behind my back to make sure they weren’t trying to rob me. I hadn’t quite work out that they were saying ‘samap, samap’ which is Pidgin for sewing.

After several times, one of them realised I didn’t understand their speak so he walked up to me and touched my arm. I turn around and he said he could carry my bag for me and also sew the bag. That’s when I realised what all these was about.

Long story short, this young fellow from Unjamap in Mendi helped carry my fruits bag back to Highlander hotel that evening. I gave him K20 plus a can of coke and some flour balls.

He was waiting for me two days later when I went down to grab my fruits and veggies to take back to POM. This time, he did sew my bag and prepared it for air freight back to POM.

Glad to see this very handy service catching on in Lae too.

Iso Yawi

Hi Daniel, Phil and Betty.

Thanks for lovely remarks of you all. It's my pleasure and inspiration reading your statement. Yes indeed Lae is becoming safer with the help of our Lae MP John Rosso.

I will write more about Lae in days to come.

Betty Wakia

Really enjoy reading this article.
Never been to Lae but reading this story makes me wanted to go.. thanks Iso

Daniel Kumbon

Thanks Iso for this account. It reminds me of my own time in Lae (1974-78). Of course in those days, there were no porters but the market was always full of fresh produce and fish.

And you know, I missed my mother very much. I missed her food - fresh from the soils of Enga.

I had this habit to buy produce only from elderly women and those nursing a child. I wanted them to go home early. They represented my mother taking care of my younger siblings..

I wanted to buy a dress for mum at one of the Chinese shops at Eriku as a Christmas present. But I found it hard to figure out the right size. I just bought one anyway.

When she put it on, it was too long. Now, Lae city is full of people from the highlands. I think the dress I bought was meant for tall Morobean woman.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Thoroughly enjoyed this account Iso.

A small part of PNG but an important one. I've used similar services in other places like Mosbi, Wewak and even Lorengau but didn't think too much about it until reading your story.

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