Gentle introduction to Papua New Guinea

Bramble Haven might just be the perfect landfall in Papua New Guinea, and yet it is pure serendipity that we’re even here. Our original plan (a word every cruiser hesitates to use!) was to arrive at the far eastern end of the Louisiades. Prevailing winds are southeast, so this would give us a better angle for working west through the archipelago- instead of moving west to east, as most people from Australia seem to do. It would ensure we spent more of our time in an area were fewer boats tend to go. But weather trumps all, and the weather dictated that we’d be farther west.

Our knowledge about Bramble Haven comes entirely from a couple of hand-drawn maps with a few sentences to describe the island adjacent to the anchorage. From this, among the few things we knew about is that it’s uninhabited. This was a welcome bit of information, as we’ve heard that constant streams of local visitors alongside (from the merely curious and to the persistent merchant) are one of the sometimes tiring realities of being in PNG. Exhausted from the passage, with our trade goods well stowed, it was appealing to postpone our introduction to that aspect of cruising here.

As seems to be the theme for us lately, events do not necessarily turn out the way that you expect. Within minutes of setting our anchor, the smaller outrigger paddled out to greet us with fish and lobster.  We learned that three brothers and their father were on shore: they had traveled here from their home island on a fishing expedition, and were stuck until the weather abated.  Reuben, Davidin, Bill and their father Sake had come more than 30 miles in a leaky open sailing canoe, with plastic tarps hand-sewn for sails.

The next morning, they were alongside again with fruit from their garden. The islet turns out to be well set up to accommodate temporary residence by fishermen, with a series of palm-thatch shelters, fish smoking sheds,  fresh (though non-potable) water, and an established garden with papaya, pumpkin, and bananas.

What started as minor trepidation on our part regarding company- we just wanted to rest up peacefully- turned out to be a gift. Over the next two days, Reuben and his family became our coaches and unofficial welcoming committee. Along with Bella and Derek from s/v Pandana, Aussie cruisers who have spent many seasons cruising the Louisiades, passed easy hours talking story in the shade of the thatch shelters off the beach. We learned that Misima (the dominant island in this greater part of Milne Bay) area peoples belong to one or another of four clans, that each clan is represented by a different species of bird.I now have a smattering of the Misima dialect phrases to help us with introductions as we continue on our way. We found out what they fish for commercial sale, and what they fish to feed their families. Jamie tried to understand how they navigate, something we are interested to better understand.

As seems characteristic of those who have the least to give, they were unfailingly generous with the constant stream of offerings from what they had available. I’m not sure I’ve ever had so many fresh drinking coconuts and bananas. We gave, and they gave. On our third morning at Punawan, the weather moderated enough for them to make the return trip. On the way out of the lagoon, the men first sculled their outrigger to Totem to say goodbye (and pass another hand of delicious bananas). “If you come to our island, we’ll kill a chicken for you to have a feast!”

And so, now we know the one other island that we must visit in the Louisiades archipelago. Good thing we’re not vegetarians.

2 Responses

  1. That sentence, “As seems characteristic of those who have the least to give, they were unfailingly generous” is just so true! In my travels over the world while I was in the Air Force, it’s so apparent that the rich and greedy westerners can’t hold a candle to the willing generosity of people who have to scrape out a meager living. And they seem so much happier and peaceful, too.



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