A Papua New Guinea Paradise

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The outlook from Goba village

A magical experience awaits visitor to the north point of Normanby Island, a small community lives in harmony with nature needing very little from western culture. The clear aqua waters provide swarms of tropical fish. The men in the village can provide the family with a tasty meal, with the simple skilful throw of a spear. Mangrove and palms circle the waters along the shore of the small community. The palms provide the locals with a source of income. “If you have coconuts you have money” a young man in the village said. Two brightly coloured parrots play amongst the fronds of the palms. It is a tranquil and peaceful setting and a place many call home.

Goba is the home to a very friendly group of people, most of them are related in one way or another and they live together in harmony. This section of the island remains largely undisturbed except for the occasional dive charter that arrives once a week to dive on the fringing reefs of the village. It is a common practice for the vessel to offer goods such as rice and sugar when diving in the area.  There are three other small villages that occupy the same small patch of paradise with the beaches lined in coconut trees. This small paradise has a price for those who live there. Since the missionaries arrived little effort has been made to encourage the people to learn English. So know only a few of the local people speak English well. In this province the most common language spoken is Tavara. It is spoken by most of the villages found in the Milne Bay province where Normanby Island is located.

Tavara, an Austronesian language is the most commonly spoken. Tavara is one of over 770 distinct languages in Papua New Guinea. Austronesian languages are spoken by most New Guineans found on the islands and around the coast. Many of the villagers also speak Tok Pisin or Pidgin which is a second language to most Papua New Guineans. It is a simple language that was developed in the early planter days and is easy to pick up. There are only about 1300 words in Pidgin; this results in many conversations being simple and rounded. In a small village such as Goba it is quite satisfactory as an additional tool for communication on top of their own language. The language of the village is an important part of the local culture and is taught to the children in school. English is know being taught to the children in order to improve trade as they grow older. Since trade throughout Papua New Guinea is increasing the teaching of English is becoming more popular and will provide the children with a valuable tool for the future.


The children of the village  participat
e in several different activities 
while at school. Here you can see the study of the human body.
Each body part is labeled in their own language.

In Goba there is a small Elementary school where children from the ages 7-9 attend. There are approximately 15 students at the school and one teacher. The teacher, Raymond, works with the children in educating them and preparing them for primary school. The primary school is located at Esa’ala, which is a 40 minute walk from Goba. Many of the children make there way to school by canoe, which is often quicker. While at the elementary school in the village the children are educated in several different studies. They begin school at 8.00am and finish at 12pm. There is a note on the wall reminding them to arrive promptly (Yalomanin sikulu lekyana). This teaches the children to be organised, so they can work to a timetable and get the most out of there morning lessons. The morning is divided into three sections. They study first Culture and Community, then recess for 20 minutes after which they study Mathematics then Language.

Culture and Community enables the children learn many things about their home. Some mornings they will look at the traditional dance from their ancestors and dress in traditional costume. On other occasions they examine many things about the village’s flora and fauna. When class begins they go outside into the village and collect samples from all around and then bring them back to the school where the teacher then proceeds to explain to the children about each item they have collected. They also study their own bodies and learn how to identify each different part. While at school the children sit on mats on the ground while the teacher stands at the front so they can all see him.

At the front of the school is a blackboard. The board is divided into three sections one for each lesson (Culture & Community, Language and Mathematics). At the elementary level children learn the basics of addition and subtraction and advance to multiplication and division when they attend primary school. Children are being taught that with an education they will be able to reach higher goals. It is unfortunate that the costs of higher education are quite high and inaccessible  to most. In some of the poorer villages very few children go to school past grade 6, often remaining at home after this time to help their parents with crop collection.

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Frank is 7 years old and is one of the 30 students that attends the 
elementary school in Goba.

As education is improving everyday the next generation will soon be able to profit from what they are taught and help their families improve their trading. From most areas there is some funding to help assist some of the children through high school however it is limited and only one or two children from each village can go. In other parts of New Guinea some communities have more money and are able to send their children to school. Most of the senior schools are located near big towns and the children often board in order to study that far from home. A young girl from the village said that she had to finish school in grade six because she wasn’t as good as the other children in her ability to learn. She believed that the better you spoke your own language and the languages of others the greater your chances are of being chosen to go to high school. The amount of money that the family could put together was also an influencing factor. She mentioned that it would cost around K5000 (Kina) for her to attend high school. It is common for the children to return to village life after completing primary school. They take their place in the community and life goes on. There are other motivator aside from school to keep the community focused. Many of the villages turn to the church for this support.

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This man is preparing the church for mass the mats are placed on 
the ground for people to sit on. At the back of the church there is a 
bench for the elder people to sit.

The church is an important part of life in the village. On Sundays, a day of rest, there is no fishing and certainly no harvesting of crops. It is a day when most of the villages in the area near to Goba attend mass together. The church in the village is a United Church. There are approximately 260 people that attend. The mass runs from 10am to 12pm every Sunday. The village people celebrate Christ and sing songs brought to them by the missionaries. They also have traditional songs with meaning to their culture. This is a sample from one of the songs brought to them by the missionaries.

Father Abraham has many children, has many children, Father Abraham
I am one of them and so are you my friends, so let us praise the lord,
Raise your right, Raise your left, Stamp your right, Stamp your left, Nod your heady, Shake your body, Sit down.

The children enjoy this particular song as it involves actions that are noted at the end of each verse. The songs are taught to the children while they attend school. After school they often will accompany their fathers,  they may go fishing or simply help them around the village.


This young man throws his line in the water in the hope of catching 
some fish that he can take back to the village and share with his family.

Many of the men go fishing early in the morning and also late in the evening. Fish is one of the main sources of protein for the people in the village so fishing is an important part of daily life. The men also busy themselves in maintaining the huts around the village. They are responsible for the upkeep of their own family huts an also work together keeping the church in good order. The women in the village tend to the gardens. Each family has it’s own garden were they grow crops to sell at the Markets at Esa’ala. The garden is divided into sections; some of the crops are grown simply for eating and others for selling. They have lots of fruits and vegetables, cucumber, lettuce (different to the lettuce we are use to). There are also pumpkins, bananas and a large variety of nuts from the trees. In some seasons pineapple is also grown. The biggest export for the small village is copra or smoked coconut.

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Mari returns to the village with some vegetable she collected from
the Garden to prepare a meal.

Most of the village gets involved when it come to the making of copra, the process is divided between the people in the village. Firstly they need to collect the coconuts, in most cases this is done by the women, and place them in piles. The men then strip the husks from the coconut so that all is left is the inside of the shell. The milk is not needed in the copra so often it is collected and used in cooking around the village. The coconut is remove from the shell and placed in a smoking room. This is basically a small hut with a shelf in the roof. A small fire is placed under the coconut and it is smoked. The coconut is left to sit for about one week. The women then place the copra into bags while the men work to break it up inside the bag so that it can carry more weight. It is sold by weight so the more they can place in each bag the greater the value of the bag. At the market the bags sell between K20 and K80. To get the copra to the market the village people must walk it, in some cases the sheer weight of the bags means they have to be rolled along the ground. The coconut oil makes up about 20 percent of all vegetable oils used in the world. It is a common ingredient in the manufacture of soaps, detergents, and shampoo, margarines and salad oil. Nothing from the making process is wasted the shells of the coconuts are kept and used for bailing canoes or as a drinking cup. 

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This is a typical kitchen found in the village it is share by one family, 
who use it to do all their food preparation you can see it is close by 
to the sleeping houses.

Some villages are fortunate to have fresh drinking water easily available. In Goba there is a hot spring which the village people use for washing and bathing. This spring is not good for drinking and the nearest available drinking water is from a small community a little bit further down the coast. Another of the daily jobs for the women is to collect enough water for cooking and drinking. This is done by canoe. The water is used in the preparation of food for meals. The kitchen is built separate to the sleeping huts and is shared by each family. The kitchen is found somewhere in the middle of the huts were everyone can access it. At one end are three stones placed in a ring. This arrangement is the stove. Small fires are lit inside the stone circle and food is cooked. Typical meals prepared are of a stew nature. One meal that is sometimes cooked is pumpkin prepared with fish, coconut milk and ginger. Something you might want to try at home. Take one whole pumpkin and peal, cut the pumpkin into reasonable pieces and put in a pot to soften with water. Add ginger to the water as pumpkin softens. In a small amount of water steam fish until it is soft. Remove pumpkin from water. Place pumpkin and fish in large pot with coconut milk and shavings. Allow to heat slowly add more ginger if desired. Served with coconut rice it is quite tasty.

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Frank scales a Betel nut tree. 

Nuts are another local ingredient used in food preparation. Betel nut is one type of nut found in the village and around most of New Guinea which is not used in cooking. You will find most of the village people chewing  it the way you might chew a candy. 

A day will not go by without the ritual of “chewing”. Throughout New Guinea most of the local people chew Betel Nut. The children begin to chew at the age of five and are allowed to chew on social occasions only. As children they only chew with Mustard and not the Lime. A local said "you have PK (chewing gum), I have Betel nut". Not quite the perfect analogy but the point is understood. It is often used as a little pick me up during the day similar to a cup of coffee. There is a slight stimulant brought on by the combination of the Nut (buai), Mustard (daka) and Lime (cumbung) crushed from coral lime. 

Chewing the Betel Nut :

The husk of the nut is torn away using your teeth, the kernel is then taken and placed in the mouth and chewed. From the chewing saliva will build in your mouth. It is important not to swallow ... you must spit. If swallowed it can make you feel a little nauseated. Keep chewing! Take the mustard and moisten the end then dip it in the lime. Place it in towards the back of your mouth and bite the lime-coated section off and chew, don’t forget to spit. At this point your spit should turn red and you may feel a little light-headed. The effect is largely due to your chewing technique. You make the day of any local if you accept a Betel nut, they will be your friend for life!

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Ben, Franks uncle begins to husk the Betel nut.

Day to day life in the village is quite simple. It is a happy life for those who live there and a beautiful experience for those who visit. If you ever come to this lovely part of the world take some time to say hello and you might find a friend in a place you least expected.

Louise Oliver

Acknowledgements / References :
Thanks to the People of Goba village for all the assistance in providing information for this piece.
Microsoft Encarta Reference Suite 2000
Lipscomb.A, Mckinnon.R & Murry.J , (1998 Feb) Papua New Guinea ( 6th Edition) Lonely Planet Publications.    The Bookmaker Pty. Ltd. Hong Kong.