Ninigo: photographs and memories

Hopefully, a few photos and anecdotes can help communicate the good memories we have of our time in Ninigo.

Our children were a little shy at first, but there’s nothing like getting to hold a shy, docile pet cuscus (tree kangaroo) to help them loosen up. We’re told these are food for islanders, but “Boiman” was doted on. In a culture where animals don’t get this kind of gentle treatment, we doubt he’ll ever end up in a cooking pot.

Adorable cuscus

The kids tried paddling the smaller dugouts on the beach. I suppose these are the sub-compact cars of Ninigo. With no outrigger, these boats are extremely tippy to the unpracticed, as they soon found out! I have newfound respect for the careful balance of visitors to Totem, who lift themselves carefully up to our deck from these wobbly boats.

Fidelma paddles the girls

The day after we arrived, we brought in the treasures from Anui. Lots of excitement, lots of fun opening gifts. Sarah knew exactly what people would want or need, and had thoughtful gifts that were both practical (cotton fabric yardage, elastic bands for making clothes) and sweet (prepared photo albums with pictures of the families from Mal and from Anui during their stay in 2011).

Opening the gifts

Fidelma is the daughter of Thomas’ brother Joseph. She was my escort on a few occasions. I thought it was a little funny, but  mostly very charming, that I wasn’t allowed to walk anywhere alone. Although there is ONE footpath that connects the smaller villages with the main village running the length of this long, skinny island- so basically, no possibility of getting lost- I always had a guide. “There could be dogs that bite!” No, not these skittish creatures.

One day, Fidelma came with me so I could bring a letter to one of the teachers down in the village. As we were there, her parents sailed in- they’d been at an island a full day/night sail south of the atoll and were just returning. Joseph and Mariann caught some lovely tuna on the way, and insisted on sharing a portion with us (actually, they tried to give us a whole fish- we allowed a tail chunk, more than enough, knowing they’ll use the head and better than we will).

Fidelma and Mariann

Rather than walk a couple of km back around the crescent curve of the island, Fidelma and I sailed back with her parents. They were concerned that I understand it could be a wet- was that OK? (was that OK?! Heck yes!)  I’ve been reading David Lewis’ “We, the Navigators” about the remarkable traditional navigation  skills of Pacific islanders. He writes about Ninigo, and their long distance forays to micronesian islands. Look on a map, and it’s really like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack. I wish I could have spent enough time in Ninigo to somehow earned the right to hear from Joseph about navigation. There wasn’t exactly a GPS on board.


Sitting with Thomas on a new canoe he’s building, we had a long talk about finning one afternoon. It’s something they’ve done, like pretty much every islander we have met in PNG, but it’s not what they want to do. Fraught with danger (poor weather and navigation tools, not to mention, can YOU imagine landing a thrashing shark in one of these dugouts?), it’s still a good source of kina. “Money makes men brave,” Thomas tells us.

Thomas' new canoe

Trochus shell collection on the atoll’s reefs is becoming a popular alternative, but it’s not regulated. I know we have been in areas (French Polynesia comes to mind) where collecting these was forbidden- presumably, it will be overfished next.

Meanwhile, the fishing on the reef was pretty good- we saw a number of sizeable fish, something that hasn’t happened a lot in PNG. But the local guys were really willing to take fish of all sizes, and there was no clear plan for managing the fishery.

Richard and Thomas

But we did get some pretty great fish on our trip to the outer reef. these were good, but even better are those homemade spear guns- seriously impressive gear. It was tempting to swap!

More photos on Flickr at