Coffee, women and tyranny of terrain – an Eastern Highlands perspective

 Highlands women with coffee bags

By:  Jeffrey Mane Febi

They call us camels. They call us white horses. They call us semi-trailers. They call us many names. Names of things we don’t know much about. We’re they who walk with the strength of our grandmothers; those bygone women who tamed angry rivers; appeased bellowing clouds and walked with mists.

This very dawn, as light stretches its influence across a grey sky, a weary traveler under a rock shelter; or under a tree’s roots; or from inside a hastily constructed temporary shelter during yesterday’s twilight; wakes to an early dawn orchestra.

A stifled yawn and stretch, then a long loving look and gentle graceful touch at life warmly kept in her bosom’s softness; and then at neatly stacked pile of white bags dissipate lingering weariness from a restless night. The journey that started 37 years ago must continue.

On a rocky ridge where violent winds play and clouds more often than not watch and cry over those who rise with sweaty sleeves, blistered backs and heavy hearts in any given gloomy morning; a young family walks on somewhat silently under heavy loads. The mother firmly cuddles in her weary arms a package from which a pair of peering sickly eyes – devoid of animation and manifesting all life’s flaws-caught her gaze.

At the ridge’s foot, over a fast flowing river a cane bridge swings left dangerously, then right. A stretcher of wood and reinforced used-rice bags is being ferried across on bare shoulders – one step at a time while the river’s deafening roars remind the carriers what lays beneath. One wrong step and certain death is inevitable.

On the other side of the river a voice gentle and soft sings: ‘…oh mighty Wamu, flighty splashes! It’s only me, only him! Olomo’s mama, Olomo’s papa! Calm down now, warm down you! Don’t be cross, let us cross! Sorrow will be tomorrow’s! Don’t be cross, let us cross’.  It echoes into the heart of him who is in the stretcher and uplifts the spirits of the carriers.

Then a skinny arm, like a dry tree branch reaches out and attempts to steady the unsteady stretcher. It drops back in as quickly as it emerged.

On a lookout, resting place where multitudes have paused to marvel at the beauty of seemingly unending evergreen faces of mountain ranges, waterfalls and patrolling birds yonder; a teenager pulls a piece of newspaper from a side bag. Before he rolls his tobacco leaves, he reads aloud: ‘…the gov…ern…ment…’ and abruptly stops. However the next word is pronounced and whatever the bloody hell it means isn’t going to stress his exhausted mind – not now! Soon he’ll be puffing his exhaustion into circular skinny columns of drifting mists of vapor.

But close by watches his mother. Her heart breaks upon hearing her dear son. ‘He really misses school! Hope the coffee bags we’ve been ferrying for the last three days raise sufficient funds to ensure his return to school next year’, she started to cry.

A dry bitterness in her thirsty throat starts to grow. She looks up. The damn track, zigzagging endlessly up into the mists glared teasingly back at her as if she hadn’t conquered it before. Figures of women under heavy loads, accompanied by their spouses and grown children continue on in a long line like camels.

Eastern Highlands women from remote rural places like Unavi, Gimi, Marrawaka, Unggai and Wesan, are daily impoverished by the tyranny of its terrains. Other places in PNG: Teleformin, Menyyama, and Salt-Nomane to name a few also encounter similarly daunting circumstances.

Many a heroine, accompanied by a trustworthy husband, whilst waiting for the government to at least promise them a glimmer of hope, continues to tread treacherous tracks to make ends meet.

Their eyes have beheld countless sufferings and their ears have heard many a final cry but still they persevere. Giving up isn’t an option and still they derive and summon incredible strength somehow. It is truly a marvel – the strength of a woman.

And the journey continues; a journey to sell coffee beans, vegetables or meat for money and to access the nearest health facility.

Oh words of hope, which glisten and dance from many a leader’s lips, are words and mere words.

Highlands women with coffee bags

The PNG Way – a paradox, rhetoric and almost bullshit

Tribal fight in the Highlands of PNG

Tribal fight in the Highlands of PNG

This has been our custom – the PNG Way – the way we have been doing our business ever since our Tumbunas understood the advantages of living together in groups – communities that developed ways of doing things that increases their chances of survival.

On many an occasion, I read and or hear rhetoric from delusional leaders, who occasionally emerge from a place where glimpses of almost-insanity tests my belief in our customs. Other times I hear one who actually sound like insanity itself rumbling from its deep and dark enclosure. There are also times when I think I am insane not to have understood their logic or lack of it.

How often does one hear or read of a PNG leader who does not call with a hint of ignorance to the masses to return to ‘our ways’ to sort things out – whether it is tribal fights, political fights, CEOs fights, or any other fight that involve leaders and their equally ignorant die hard supporters?

Somehow, weird though, when I hear a call to return to ‘our ways’ to settle disputes, a sense of assurance, and of confidence in the workings of our ways automatically envelopes and calms me. An inner call that tells me things will be alright when and if we return to our ways to find solutions. And I usually take for granted that our ways will certainly do us good.

Recently however, a call by a ward councilor from Enga province for a certain sitting MP and his runner-up from the 2012 elections to return home to stop the fighting and killings that started after the elections the ‘Enga Way’, got me thinking.

These same two leaders’ supporters fought after the 2007 elections. And they stopped it their way. But this didn’t stop them from fighting again this election, did it?

Having pondered for a long while about this – the return to our ways to settle disputes – I began to realize that our ways never solve once and for all our problems.

The call to return to our ways to settle a tribal fight after many deaths and destructions of properties usually end up freeing, in addition to rapists and torturers, killers or sharp shooters who are likely to find employment as hired guns in other tribal fights. And history records that even after a settlement, apparent pay back killings occur away from home. So essentially, some tribal fights are not stopped; rather they evolve and take another form, and may start again anytime.

So what constitute the Enga Way of solving a tribal fight? And by extension, what constitute our way of stopping tribal fights in other areas of the country where recurring tribal fights are prevalent?

How about this – a person suddenly dies from a mysterious illness. And doctors fail to diagnose a probable cause; and or relations of the deceased decide to ignore the results of an autopsy and return to their villages to find the cause of death ‘their traditional way’? Next we read about an old woman clobbered to near death and dumped in a pit latrine, or burnt alive or of something grotesque. And ‘our way’ helped discovered the cause of death.

Honestly, can anyone recall the number of calls by relevant government authorities and churches leaders for sorcery related killings to be stopped?

Further, after corporatization of PNG government’s business arms aimed at blocking political interferences and increasing efficiency hence productivity; PNG continues to be burdened by corporate liabilities. And there seem to be no end to government rescue announcements.

Who do you find working in those large corporations? Papua New Guineans! And more often than not, bulk of the workforce is Wantoks of respective CEO’s – some of whom aren’t qualified to serve in positions they occupy. And they usually have things their way – the PNG way.

The PNG Way – our way – is in the most part a curse unto itself. It may have served us well in the past but seem incompatible with contemporary PNG. There is an urgent need for change – a change that should happen immediately. Not to do away with ‘our way’ but to modify it to work effectively with current trends. Perhaps, change in mentality – discarding of redundant aspects of ‘our way’ and fusing its good aspects with globally accepted ways of doing business to come up with something PNG flavoured.

Our way is seriously crippling the country’s lifeline – the heart, arteries and veins, and its blood are poisoned. How long does this country plan to use ‘our way’ to manage its affairs?

Recurring tribal fights are testament of the inability and of course uselessness of ‘our way’ to settle problems once and for all. So for instance, just what do our leaders mean by calling to their fellow tribesmen to ‘stop a tribal fight our way’? Do such calls carry an inherent ‘stop_fighting_for_now_until_next_election’ clause? Isn’t our way the way of not settling issues once and for all?

On a brighter note, we’re not lesser human beings – we’re equally endowed with mental powers that enabled citizens of other countries to rise from the dusts of their mistakes to take their country to greater heights.

Many a brother or a sister from another country looks to us with sad envy. So many resource projects, yet we appear wretchedly poor. If and only if we see where our way has taken us and break free from its stranglehold. And no one will save us; it is us who will save ourselves, so let us make the changes our way – the PNG way.

Merry Christmas and a prosperous 2013.


A daily selection of the best content published on WordPress, collected for you by humans who love to read.


A great site

she is confidence in shadows.

Dean J. Baker - Poetry, and prose poems


Gotta Find a Home

Conversations with Street People

Presh Olives Blog

The readers 'n' writers world ...........

Selected Essays and Squibs by Joseph Suglia

The Web log of Dr. Joseph Suglia

Natalie Breuer

Natalie. Writer. Photographer. Etc.

Beautiful Life with Cancer

Discovering the Gift

Dr. K. L. Register

Just a small town girl who writes about Christian stuff.

Elena Xtina

Poetry & Memoirs

Ray Ferrer - Emotion on Canvas

** OFFICIAL Site of Artist Ray Ferrer **


Beauty, Fashion & Lifestyle Blogger

Crone's Corner

Musings, Thoughts . . . On Occasion Wisdom

Lazione Budy

'Saoirse' is not a word, it's angel

%d bloggers like this: