Life on the Edge: Gabi Hanuabada Village, Port Moresby PNG

Motu Woman behind a wire fence, Hanuabada Village, Papua New Guinea

Motu Woman
Corrugated iron, fibrocement, wire fencing – and smiles – are the chief components of “modern” Motu villages in Papua New Guinea.

We were trapped!

Eleven photo-enthusiasts, photographer Karl Grobl, a couple of local guides and a bus driver – all trapped.

We had been warned: Papua New Guinea is not the safest place to travel. But, it was not tribal conflict, or spill-over from the recent election upheavals, or even tourist-targeting raskols (bandits) that had us stuck in a hot bus.

It was children!

It was if they had been wound up for weeks and fed sugar and red cordial all day before our arrival: from the moment we turned in towards the Motu village, they cheered and laughed and jumped all over our bus like mad things. It seemed unwise to try to work our way through an overly-enthusiastic crowd of sticky fingers and runny noses with our camera gear. We decided to try again the next morning, when – hopefully – everyone would be a bit calmer. Just getting the bus back out of the parking lot without running several youngsters over looked challenging.

I was glad we had more luck the next day, because these villages are fascinating and unique.

The Motu, long-ago descendants of Polynesian people, are traditionally sea-goers who are thought to have arrived in Papua New Guinea about 2000 years ago. They settled across the Port Moresby area and much of the eastern tip of the country, building their villages on stilts over the water to keep them safe from black magic and bad spirits (see: Koki Fish Market).

Hanuabada, which means “big village” in Motu, is the oldest and largest of the remaining stilt-villages. The original wood and thatch houses were destroyed by fire during WWII, and subsequently rebuilt (under the Australian administration of the day) from corrugated iron and fibrocement, on wooden pylons.

My Lonely Plant guide (2012) points out that you need an invitation to be allowed into the village; we were able to visit thanks to our two local guides who had relatives here. These women were fascinating to talk with. Although marriage within the village was preferred traditionally, obviously today’s social networks spread much more broadly: these women were educated, worldly, and had extended familial connections with Indigenous communities in Northern Australia and the Torres Strait Islands. They spoke good English, as well as Motu, and “Hiri Motu”, the local lingua franca

The village itself was – shall we say -“rustic”: simple houses built over the waters of Moresby Harbour, connected to the land and each other by elevated and swaying wooden paths. And therein lay the challenge for me: while I was a mountain goat in my youth, these days I get vertigo easily. Even with the patient assistance of local villagers, my cameras and I could not make it too far out onto the rickety, uneven walkways of timber planks.

It was a bit embarrassing: the locals didn’t mind the loose steps or missing pieces as they casually walked around eight-to-ten feet above litter and refuse-filled waters. According to Wikipedia, more than half of the Papua New Guinea national cricket team comes from Hanuabada; I guess running around on these perilous raised passageways improves their sporting performance!

Over-excited Motu children, Hanuabada Village, Papua New Guinea

Crazy Kids!
The children went wild the first time we tried to pull into a Motu village.

ver-excited Motu children, Hanuabada Village, Papua New Guinea

Kids on the Stage
Those youngsters who weren’t banging on the bus, climbed a temporary stage …

Over-excited Motu children, Hanuabada Village, Papua New Guinea

Girls on the Hustings
… and vied for our attention, as we made pictures through the bus windows.

Motu Women waving, Hanuabada Village, Papua New Guinea

Village People
When we finally made our way out through the sea of children, the women waved us off.

Gabi Hanuabada Village from the roadway above, Papua New Guinea

Gabi Hanuabada Village
The next morning we were able to stop our bus at some dusty roadworks …

Gabi Hanuabada Village from the roadway above, Papua New Guinea

Gabi Hanuabada Village
… to get a sense of the size of the village in the harbour, and its unique construction.

Villagers on a Gabi Hanuabada wooden walkway, Papua New Guinea

From terra fima, the walkways looks easy enough to negotiate, as they rise up over the mud …

Villagers in a Gabi Hanuabada house doorway, Papua New Guinea

Houses on Stilts
… and towards the tightly-knit network of simple houses.

Motu woman smiling from a dark window, Hanuabada Village, Papua New Guinea

Face in a Window

Motu child on his Daddy

On Daddy’s Back

Houses and Walkways, Hanuabada Village, Papua New Guinea

Houses and Walkways

Motu man in a painted doorway, Hanuabada Village, Papua New Guinea

Motu Man in a Doorway
Warm and welcoming smiles are everywhere – as are the signs of betel nut chewing, which is technically illegal.

Motu Woman on her Porch, Hanuabada Village, Papua New Guinea

Woman on her Hanuabada Village Porch

Motu Woman on her Porch, Hanuabada Village, Papua New Guinea

Motu Woman

Excited of Motu children, Hanuabada Village, Papua New Guinea

A Gaggle of Children
Once I was back on solid ground, it didn’t take long for the children to find me …

Trio of Motu children, Hanuabada Village, Papua New Guinea

Trio of Kids
…  and – without my coaching – push each other into posed positions.

Motu children, Hanuabada Village, Papua New Guinea

“The Look”

Happy Couple, Hanuabada Village, Papua New Guinea

Happy Couple
There is very little work in Hanuabada Village itself – most Motu men and many of the women work full-time in Port Moresby. Our visit was on a Saturday – so there were plenty of adults around.

Family Group, Hanuabada Village, Papua New Guinea

Spontaneous Family Group

Motu child, Hanuabada Village, Papua New Guinea

All the children seem to favour hand gestures.

Motu mother and baby, Hanuabada Village, Papua New Guinea

Mum and Bub
Like young mothers everywhere, this one was happy to show off her baby.

Motu children in front of corrugated iron, Hanuabada Village, Papua New Guinea

Children in the Yard
Papua New Guinea has a youthful population: more than half the people are under 25.

Old woman weaving under a stilted house, Hanuabada Village, Papua New Guinea

Old Woman Weaving
Some of the houses are over dry land rather than water; in the shade under one of these, an elderly woman sits weaving mats.

Motu children posing in the carpark, Hanuabada Village, Papua New Guinea

Kids in the Carpark
As we are boarding our bus to leave, more children – with their smiles and hand gestures – crowd in to see us off.

Traditionally, Motu grew some of their own produce in garden plots near their villages, the men fished, and the women gathered shellfish and crabs. They still do some fishing – although the villagers told me the fish was less plentiful – but they buy their produce from the local shops.

So, life changes.

There were few apparent resources in the village for the children, and the dusty car park seemed to be the only play area. Many of the children were chewing mouthfuls of betel nut. They had sores, runny noses, and dental decay.

To the Future (text)

One has to wonder what the future prospects are for those who don’t become members of the national cricket team. In the absence of toys, the children clearly have to rely on their own imaginations for entertainment.

Perhaps that is why they were so excited to see us.

Photos: 11-12August2017

  • Jan Lively - December 16, 2017 - 4:48 pm

    As usual Ursula, with pictures and words you easily transport me back to far off places we have been together.
    I remain impressed and dazzled by the history lesson you always provide, making me wish I had read your Weekly Wanders episode before going. You always delight and amaze.
    And we too send warm Christmas and New Year greetings to you and Gabe.ReplyCancel

    • Ursula - December 17, 2017 - 9:04 am

      Thanks so much for your lovely comments, Jan! It is always a pleasure sharing trails with you and Lew. 😀ReplyCancel

  • Karl Grobl - December 18, 2017 - 1:10 am

    As always Ursula, you’ve done a wonderful job of combining images and text to inform, enlighten and remind us all of places and experiences that we’ve shared. Thank you!ReplyCancel

    • Ursula - December 18, 2017 - 1:26 am

      Many thanks for your visit and generous comments, Karl!
      Happy Holidays to you and yours. 😀ReplyCancel

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