The Quest for Wakonai!
part 17 of Sylvain's adventures in Papua New Guinea
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Tuesday, 14th October.
The start of the track from the coast to Vivigani airfield.
In fact, the forest only lasts for 150 metres. Then I cross a wide plain of grassy savanna.
And arrive at mixed forest and savanna.
I pass the first-aid post and reach Vivigani airfield.
At the end of the runway is a little wood where they hold the weekly market.
Further on, after the fork to Bolbolu, there is a horseshoe-shaped mound that must date from WWII. The 360 panorama is taken from this mound.
I arrive at the first house of Wakonai. I ask a woman for some water, then I go to get washed by the river. There, I meet a man and some children whom I chat to. He invites me to come to his house. It is the house where I had stopped before. and his wife that I had asked for water. It is the house I'm going to live in during my stay in Wakonai.
The family of my hosts, Chris and Mizpah, who are standing in the background. Lovely people.
I am finally in Wakonai!
First surprise, the village is not flat. This is in fact the start of the mountains. The home of Chris and Mizpah is exactly on the border between the totally flat grass savanna (with kangaroos) and the beginning of the mountains. Second surprise, the village extends over a kilometer. That was not visible on the satellite maps.
Tomorrow, a meeting with the village chief.
VIVIGANI, GOODENOUGH ISLAND, PAPUA. C. 1944. LEADING AIRCRAFTMAN F. H. EDELSTEN RAAF OF WARRNAMBOOL, VIC, RESTS ON HIS PARK BENCH MADE OF PSP (PIERCED STEEL PLATING, USED TO SURFACE AIRSTRIPS) IN BETWEEN CONTROLLING MOTOR TRAFFIC ACROSS THE END OF A STRIP.
I wondered about the horseshoe-shaped mound in Syvain's panorama photo, and decided to investigate a little more about the wartime history of Vivigani. I came across the Australian War Memorial website which contains many photos from that period. Most are of personnel and equipment - relatively few are of the local landscape and environment. I have reproduced a few which relate to this part of Sylvain's trip -- but many others are of interest. Take a look starting from: Australian War Memorial - Vivigani
Notice the metal bench, then see the photo below!
Goodenough Island, D'Entrecasteaux Islands, Papua. July 1943. Two soldiers of the 6th Division AIF with local native people in the foothills of the mountains to the west of Vivigani airfield.
Goodenough Island, D'Entrecasteaux Islands, Papua. July 1943. A view over the northern part of No. 79 (Spitfire) Squadron RAAF's campsite and across the north east coastal plain where Vivigani airfield can be seen faintly about three miles away; located between the sea to the east and the central mountain range immediately to the west of the camp.
Possibly some of Chris and Mizpah's ancestors!
Note the same metalwork is still being used.
This is probably part of Wakonai - but the name is not mentioned
Wednesday, 15th October.
At 7.20 am I go to meet the chief in the village.
My host in front of the beautiful mountains, for once clear of cloud.
The meeting with the village chief turns out to be a village council.
The village chief is in the yellow T-shirt and red cap. The man in yellow and blue is in charge of the census register. You can also see my chair and my bilum. Photo taken looking north.
Seated, left, is my host. Standing behind him is one of the two youths who had accompanied Malcolm Smith in September 2000. Photo taken looking south.
That's him on the right of the picture.
Note that this photo is the one sent to me by Malcolm Smith from his expedition to Wakonai in 2000.
He is a farmer in a village in the mountains. I made an appointment for the next day to take his picture in front of a citrus wakonai but he returned to his village and I did not see him again.
Having said that I was looking for the wild citrus that Australians collected in 2000, a young man (who is now 14 years older) gets up and comes back 30 seconds later with a branch and an immature fruit. This is my first contact with C. wakonai.
After deliberation they announced that I can study the plant and have as many seeds I want for 300 kina. No luck I have only 200 kina. ( £50. €66, US$77) Re-deliberation, and they accept 200 Kinas. Later, I learned how it works:
When someone arrives in this village they are not allowed to do anything without paying.
To walk in the forest 500 K.
Take a picture of plants 300 K.
Taking pictures of animals 400 K.
Climb up the mountain is 1000 K. And so on ...
Evidently for 200K I will not be allowed to go in the forest or in the mountains. I will have to work on the two plants found in the village. They send two young people in the mountains to bring fruit. During this meeting, I hurt my foot on one of these steel half cylinders dating from the war.
The meeting lasted an hour and a half and was mainly questioning my motivation for coming here, and haggling over a money-making racket. No one can come to this village without giving their precise reasons. As usual I told the truth, it might have been a mistake.
On the way back we go to see a C. wakonai near the school. Approximately 5 metres tall.
Back at home, I take pictures of the fruit and branch.
I will keep the fruit as long as possible to give the seeds a chance to mature. But when I opened the fruit there were only two small seeds and they have not germinated.
Having no more money to pay for the return journey, we decided to go to Vivigani village to meet the owner of a dinghy which is soon going to Alotau. I ask if he can take me and get paid in Alotau after I have been to the bank. He accepts. Departure is scheduled for Friday 17 at dawn.
On the way I try to send an email because I was told that sometimes you can receive from an aerial that is located on a hill in the north of the island but it works only occasionally. Actually, the e-mail was sent on the 19th when near Fergusson.
On the way there is a house with one of the few traditional local ladders. All the others are made of metal sheets abandoned after the war.
We miscalculated and found ourselves returning to Vivigani without a lamp, on a night without a moon. A struggle!