Monday 19 December 2016

Cruise Log: Return to Tufi

#expeditioncruising .

Performing an unusual role as 'guest lecturer' aboard Ponant, former expedition director for Orion Expedition Cruises, Justin Friend, shares some insights as he returns to the land he loves, PNG

L´Austral – Monday 19th December 2016
Kofure Village, McLaren Harbour & Kamoa Beach, Tufi Fiord
Oro Province, Papua New Guinea

By Justin Friend

Tufi has become one of the best-known destinations in PNG, primarily because of the world class SCUBA diving offshore serviced by the Tufi Dive Resort. But for us onboard L’Austral it was the exposure to the culture of this region that will no doubt stay long in our memories.

The area of Cape Nelson, where we were today, includes multiple fiord-like canyons; vertical cliffs either side descending directly into the sea. If we want to be accurate in their geological description these fiords are what are known as rias. A fiord is created by glacial action while a ria is created by volcanic lava flow. Either way the scenery is dramatic and the rain we experienced overnight and during the day had created several instant waterfalls flowing from the vertical cliffs down to the sea.
We were split into different groups today to visit the village of Kofure inside McLaren Harbour the next fiord north of Tufi Fiord itself. Some of us travelled by ship’s Zodiac, some in boats provided by the dive resort but ultimately we all transferred to local dugout outrigger canoes for the final leg to Kofure.

L'Austral in PNG waters
Sitting on top of our canoes, the local villagers, many dressed in their traditional bilas or “finery”, paddled us up the shallow waterway into the working area of Kofure. After negotiating the somewhat muddy landing at the village, warriors painted black as is the tradition when going to war challenged our arrival on their land. Right across Melanesia the warrior challenge is a common practice when strangers arrive in someone else’s tribal area. As we are still alive to tell this story, we were obviously deemed as friendly and allowed to continue on our way.

The people of Tufi are an interesting mix of culture and genetics spanning tens of thousands of years of migrations and history of New Guinea. The people of Tufi are genetically and linguistically part of the earliest migrations to the area as part of the larger “out of Africa” movement of early humans. They have only lived in the Tufi area itself for the last few hundred years, having for thousands of years lived much further inland in the area’s mountainous interior. As erupting volcanos and population growth limited their land choices inland they “negotiated” through both tribal wars and straight forward commercial purchases the acquisition of the rugged and relatively infertile coastal lands atop the ridge lines around Tufi.

Here the inland peoples were exposed to the much more recent arrivals of the Austronesian or maritime migrations, the same migrations that went on to give us the Polynesians further east in the pacific. These migrations stayed in the area long enough to influence the Tufi people who adopted their facial tattooing processes, their use of clay pots and some linguistic adaptations, but their maritime visitors did not stay long enough to have a significant influence on their genetics.
As we were led by local guides through the Kofure village working area we witnessed demonstrations of the facial tattooing process and the process involved in making the sago based starch food product that is the year-round staple in this area. Traditionally all local women were required to have the full-face tattoos applied at the time of reaching puberty however know the process is an individual choice. In the traditional sense a woman who was not tattooed could not participate in custom dance performances and was not eligible for marriage. Sago, the starchy pith of the Sagu sagu palm “trunk” is rather tasteless and bland but given the infertile and swampy ground the Tufi people live on, sago has become their main food source with the addition of protein in the form of fish.

Through-out the day we were also blessed with access to the white sand beaches and surrounding reefs of Kamoa. Just behind the beach Chief Lucas and his family live in traditional houses and are the customary custodians of the Kamoa area inside the Tufi Fiord itself and graciously gave us permission to use “his” beach. Late in the day the wind picked up considerably making the Zodiac transfers back the ship quite adventurous to say the least.

Leaving the rolling seas and misty skies behind us, it’s time to sail to the Islands of Love to continue our adventure.

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