Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Cruise log: Kitava & Nuratu, the Trobriand Islands

#expeditioncruising .

L´Austral – Tuesday 20th December 2016
Kitava & Nuratu, the Trobriand Islands
Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea

Trobriand dancers welcome guests (file image by Justin Friend)
By Justin Friend

Leaving the rain of Tufi behind us, we awoke to find the sun shining down upon us as we anchored off the island of Kitava in the Trobriand Islands. Before us the clear blue waters of Nuratu Lagoon separating the larger island of Kitava and the much smaller uninhabited island of Nuratu beckoned to us while off to the distance we could see the coast line of the largest island in the Trobriand group, Kiriwina. To fit in with the local customs on Kitava we needed to be welcomed as group before we set off to explore our surrounds.

Using our trusty Zodiacs, one by one we landed on the white sand of Nuvo Beach, where we were welcomed by two young girls in full traditional Trobriand Island dress distributing flower leis. Taking our place under the shade of a large tree it didn’t take long for the official cultural welcome to begin. Several different cultural groups, representing different villages on Kitava performed traditional dances as part of our welcome. Some of the dances were traditionally used before going to war, while others were performed during times after battles, to make peace with your enemies.

At the end of the official welcome, the local tour company presented Captain Daumesnil with a beautifully carved bowl in the shape of fish, with intricate inlays made from nautilus shell. For myself, as many of you now know, I have an adopted family on Kitava, and my family also wanted to give Captain Daumesnil a gift as this was his first visit to Kitava. I had overheard the Captain admiring the Trobriand feather headdresses so a quick word with my uncle Jack Cameron and a feather headdress arrived for the Captain. The Captain obligingly wore the head dress bringing a rapturous round of applause and rousing cheers from the locals and visitors alike.

The rest of the morning was ours to explore the island. Some of us made the trek up to Kumwagla Village while others wandered the beach, or walked to the grave of King Cameron. Cyril Cameron was a Tasmanian employed by the Australian colonial administration as a Patrol Officer. Patrol Officers were used to spread the rule of law and order throughout the Australian colony before independence. When Cameron arrived on Kitava, so the legend goes, he immediately fell in love with island and never left. Taking several local wives and having many children and grand-children, he became known as the King of Kitava and his legend, and his descendants, live on today. Jack Cameron who presented the Captain with his gifts is one of two surviving children of King Cameron alive on Kitava today. His grand-children have gone on to hold many important positions including at times one of his grand-sons being the Deputy Governor of Milne Bay Province.

After lunch it was time to get into that beautiful blue water. The strong winds we had experienced at Tufi yesterday were not entirely behind us however, and while the rain of yesterday had passed, the strong winds on top of strong currents made the snorkeling a little more challenging than we had hoped it would be. But the sheer beauty of the beaches and the incredibly warm people who welcomed us was always going to make the afternoon enjoyable no matter what. There was still great opportunities despite the conditions to view the coral reefs and their associated marine life.

The last great chief of Kitava passed away in the mid-2000s. Those of you who walked to main village would have seen his elaborately decorated grave at the entrance to the village. The late chief was awarded a medal from the Queen for his services to the community and the family proudly display the medal to anyone who asks. The hereditary chiefdom of the Trobriands follows the matrilineal line, however there has been a dispute amongst the people of Kitava who is the rightful chief today due to no suitable male heirs on the rightful matrilineal line. The Grand Chief of all of the Trobriands, based on Kiriwina declared the oldest son, Tauri, as the next chief. Tauri’s house was the decorated red and white house on the left as you walked into the main village. However the majority of people on Kitava preferred the younger brother Mwaga to be their leader. Given the Australian’s had introduced an elected governmental representation system based on the Australian model, the people of Kitava now also vote for their elected representative, think of it as their local council representative if you wish. For 25 years running without fail the people of Kitava have elected the younger son Mwaga to be their elected chief. He has never lost an election and usually now the position goes uncontested, such is the support from the island residents.

For me, knowing the local politics of the island personally, I found it interesting to note that the hereditary chief was not there to welcome us, but the elected chief, Mwaga stayed with our group all afternoon to ensure we felt as if we were warmly welcomed to this island paradise.

It’s hard not to feel a connection with these beautiful islands and beautiful people, even after only a day visit such as this, but I have no doubt all of us now have a place in our hearts for the Islands of Love, my adopted home in the South Pacific, the Trobriands!