Thursday 27 October 2022

From On Board: Heritage Expeditions in Melanesia - Manus Island

#expeditioncruising .

The mention of Manus Island in PNG conjures images of a joint US/AU military base and an awful detention camp. Today we saw a small part of the true Manus Island – and it was brilliant.

Heritage Expeditions Zodiacs mustered in formation to make our beachhead and landing at Derimbat village, on the northeast corner of the oval-shaped island. Once ashore, lines of exuberant children dressed in paint and foliage danced and chanted to the beat of timber drums as we filed ashore. This was just a precursor to what was to come.

Joyful interaction (RE)
The procession then moved a few hundred metres into the village proper, where the formal ceremonies took place. After the presentation of gifts and speeches, the whole street took on a raucous music hall feel when everyone – including the joyous guests – danced and stomped in unison to the rhythmic beats. Truly, it was a cultural exchange at its most fundamental – and an overwhelming success. 

After the brief festivities, I had a chance to chat with Mr Willie Inta, the local councillor, who told me the island had not had any rain to speak of for three months despite this being the time they would normally expect it. The island of some 70,000 people had almost no road system and what did exist was in a poor state. Private boat owners run expensive shuttle services to the main town of Lorengau, about 45 minutes due east by banana boat. 

School materials are presented to the village by expedition leader, Nathan Russ. (RE)

Our visit was the first they'd seen in three years and they were very keen to see more. If the performance I witnessed today is anything to go by – and I've seen quite a few in 15 years – they should be seeing several visits a year, such was the quality of their welcome. 

Later that evening we were addressed by our special guest aboard, Betha Somare, the daughter and speech writer of Sir Michael, who acknowledged the cruel injustice of the Manus Island detention centre and the supposed benefits for PNG that never materialised.

Manus Island naval base (Wikipedia)
“The legacy of Manus Island is the result of decisions made by governments that the people must live with,” she concluded as the room responded with applause. 

The naval base at Manus Island remains a vital strategic asset for both the US and Australian military, especially in light of increased regional activity by China and its navy.

Tomorrow we head ESE toward Tsoilik in New Ireland.

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