Trading in the Louisiades: what will you get?

What you should bring to trade was covered in the last post; We knew we’d do a lot of trading, but we weren’t entirely clear on either side of the equation. Here’s a rundown of some of the things we traded for during our weeks in the Milne Bay Province of Papua New Guinea.

Lots of fresh food.


You can cover a wide range of seafood, fresh fruit and vegetables through trading. Unless personal or dietary constraints limit what you eat, this is worth considering when provisioning. We’ve been offered:

  • Starchy tubers: more of the yam/cassava/potato/sweet potato assortment than we can eat
  • Vegetables: pumpkin, ibecca (a slightly bitter green), cherry tomatoes, hot chilis, long beans, green beans
  • Seafood: reef fish (no ciguatera!), mud crabs, crayfish/lobster, and squid
  • Fruit: limes, green-skinned oranges, passion fruit, bananas (many varieties and SO good), papayas, and other fruits we’d never even seen before – like the soksok on Budi Budi
  • …as well as eggs, coconut crabs, and even a prepared dinner of whole chicken cooked in coconut milk showed up (it was just this side of shoe leather)

Gorgeous shells.

After a few years of picking up the odd shell on the beach, we have more than we should already- but we have been stunned at the beautiful shells brought to us for trade. Large tritons, helmet “conch” shells as big as your head, beautiful nautilus and cowries. We hardly needed to expand our collection but have trouble resisting some of the lovely shells brought to us.

Carvings and Crafts.

The wood and style will vary with the island, but the carvings are lovely. We had nice pieces made by Ishmael on Panapompom, and gotten a beautiful ebony seahorse on Budi Budi. Also on Panapompom, we acquired a beautiful scale model sailing outrigger from Rubin. This is just the beginning! There are also bagi, the shell necklaces which are historical (and current) forms of currency. Women do lovely weaving: we have beautiful baskets holding our fruit, and a soft pandanus mat on the floor of the main cabin.


We found it was really worthwhile to get our trading partners to look beyond “stuff.” People have generally wanted to trade in concrete items with us, and I’ve tried to show that we are also very happy to trade for a service or knowledge transfer…especially when we really didn’t want our 45th lime or 253rd banana (that stem had well over 200 on it!).

  • On Panapompom, I spent a memorable afternoon having cooking lessons from a woman so I could better understand how local foods were prepared. Wendy was pleased to get flour and yeast to make bread to sell a visiting rally; I didn’t just learn a skill, I made a friend and gained cultural insights.
  • On Budi Budi atoll, we got together with a few boats and organized a lesson in weaving pandanus mats. The church women’s fellowship group was happy to share their knowledge and very pleased to get a stack of exercise books, pens and highlighters.
  • On Panasia, we traded for help to guide us to the spectacular limestone caves. We might have found them on our own, but I doubt it, and it wouldn’t have come with the history and personal experiences that our guide could share.

We didn’t need the things we traded for, but had fun with the process. Oh, it was a great way to supply fresh produce. I’m having fun collecting souvenirs of crafts and shells, something we really haven’t done much before. And the learning has been among my favorite experiences. I can imagine looking at the triton years from now, or attempting to bugle from the conch, and picturing the idyllic atolls where they came into our lives.

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