Groovy Adventures in Milne Bay



You have heard all kinds of adventure stories from the Islands of Love – the Trobriands. But I tell my stories to promote the culture of the people and their beautiful place to attract visitors. The main island is called Kiriwina after which the next bigger island is Kitava where we are now going for a weekend.

John Rei from TPA and I were on our way to Kitava and we stopped at Wauwela east of Kiriwina for the boat trip. On the first night at the guesthouse located on an isthmus, string music and chants floated through the small cove with the glistening bath of a full moon adding a magical spell.

John asked to check out the dabarere (Papuan word for nightclub all night) but I refused, reminding him of what we had been told; that Wauwela was a staging post for witches coming from the east with white man’s possessions such as wristwatches and cigarettes.

* Dabarère
John decided to move forward and I saw his shadow disappear in the moonlight along a long beach in the bay that curved towards the headland and the village. I hosted our own song with the girls from the guesthouse whose beautiful voices and sad melodies were lovely to listen to. They made it clear to you that you were in the islands; far from the noises of the continent.

As John entered the village he saw an old woman sitting by the fire looking at the dabarere and thinking he was doing a favor to offer him two cigarettes from his packet. The old woman accepted the cigarettes but told John. It’s good that you offer me cigarettes, but when I’m done, where will I find more?

The dabarere ended when the moon passed in the middle of the sky. At the guesthouse everything had been quiet for a long time. The moon has passed behind the large coconut palms of the plantation and has cast long shadows on the beach and John is all alone. As he approached the guesthouse he felt sick so he went to the tidal shoals and sat on a rock. Unbeknownst to him, the old woman to whom he had offered cigarettes followed him and observed him in the shadows.

The attendant at the guesthouse told us the next morning that he had chased the old woman away. Then he told us a scary story. John was lucky to sit in the water. If he had sat on the beach, the old woman would have taken him and we would have lost John. It would be a dead man.

I thought John had learned his lesson. No; we were circling around Kitava when we reached a large village on the east side. The villagers took their pressure lamp to show us their cave. When I saw the mouth of the cave; I didn’t like it and told John. But John was adamant about entering so I let him in with the guides and the lamp that had been lit now. I warned him that the light would go out when the oxygen inside the cave cleared up.

* Cave and bats
Half an hour later, John emerged, looking tired. I asked him what had happened and he told me that the bats had attacked them and that there was almost panic when the light flashed; threatening to plunge them into darkness. It was then that John interrupted his exploration and hastily retraced his steps to exit.

The guides left us to return to the village as John and I began to descend the base of a mountain when a drizzle began to fall. We put on our bright yellow raincoats that went down to our ankles.

Almost instantly, a strange, high-pitched war cry erupted from the mountainsides. We had been spotted by a yam harvest party and they were coming to pick us up.

After being briefed on the yam harvest time and what if you didn’t have a chance to get caught, John and I tried to escape by increasing our speed. But the raincoats slowed us down and the menacing war cries got closer and closer as the yam harvesting group quickly descended. We were oblivious or strangers and the women were determined to give John and I a lesson or two that we would never forget. Never forgetting would have been right because we would be dead anyway.

As the slope stabilized there was a large mango tree and John suggested we climb it to hide in the canopy. I told John to do it and kept running as the women’s war cries got louder and louder. Very lucky for us, a man appeared on the trail and quickly saw the situation we were in.

We were being chased by a group of women of about 70 carrying baskets of yams and they were very angry with us.

It took a good 15 minutes for the man, a village councilor, to appease the women who still looked very angry and wanted to walk past the councilor and grab John and me. While the advisor was still talking to the angry women, I mumbled to John: What are you waiting for and started walking up the trail to put as much distance as possible between us and the angry women.

We did not know that we were not far from the village which presented itself at the bend of a bend.

Then John made another careless suggestion to go and rest in an empty roadside house. I asked John where he thought these women we had just left were coming from and kept walking away.

It was a lucky escape. It’s hard to imagine what would have happened, but we lived to tell the story. I don’t know where John is; I haven’t seen it for donkeys, but buddy, if you’re reading this, please take care.

I avoided a similar, almost tragic situation, but it was on the main island on another trip with my partner Dave Lornie. This time it wasn’t a yam harvest party but just a few chicks from the village who wanted to teach Dave and me a lesson or two.

There were five of them and only the two of us.

* Dave’s tattoo
Dave and I were at the Butia Lodge near the airstrip. We had gone down to Kaibola beach and were coming back at sunset when the girls attacked us. Dave wasn’t like John in the previous story but his question almost made me laugh.

As we turned around a bend, our path was blocked by five girls. Their leader and the prettiest was tall and lean who occupied the middle position while on her left and right flanks her co-conspirators blocked the small jeep track.

They were just the short grass skirt and as soon as we appeared they hit their bare thighs with a song and walked over to us.

Dave asked: Barnes, what is this? This Australian knew the stories but he asked anyway, so I had to tell him.

Listen; we are under siege. Do what I say. If that fails, it’s every man for himself, get it? Just focus on this warrior princess Zeena and walk right on her. If she strays, keep walking and don’t look back.

The waterfall worked. The girls came threatening behind us but Dave remembered what I said and we kept walking until we got closer to our lodge. Then the singing stopped. When we looked there was no sign of life on the trail. Now you can let your legs wobble, I say to Dave. And next time, don’t flaunt yourself with your tattoo; it makes girls angry.

On another trip to Milne Bay, Dave and I were at the Treetop Lodge, over the bay above Wagawaga, across from Alotau. The place was lonely and Dave wanted to share his bottle of whiskey, which I refused. Telling him to close the door, I fell asleep. The next morning I saw the door ajar and with Dave not in sight I quickly ran outside. There on the veranda with half a bottle of whiskey beside him was Dave, snoring calmly. I shook it; when he opened his eyes, I said; I warned you. Look, there’s a ladybug crawling up your leg.

Dave sat down and quickly dusted off the bug I pointed to. He sobered up very quickly. Did I intervene just in time? I do not know. By the way, we have a Milne Bay. There is no place called Millin Bay in PNG.

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