I spent the week of 2012 Christmas in Milne Bay Province. I spent half of the week on Misima Island and the other half on Sudest Island.
I made the journey to Sudest Island, especially to the village of Araetha, the beautiful home that my wife Christine comes from. I went along with my daughter, Cheryl, and son, Langston Hughes Junior on this incredible journey.
The Island of Sudest, sometimes known as Vanatinai or Tagula is a volcanic island in the southeast of the Louisiade Archipelago. The Island is 63 kilometres long, stretching northwest-southeast, and up to 13 km wide. A wooded mountain range runs through the length of the Island, with the summit, Mount Riu or Mount Rattlesnake (806 m) near the centre.
On Sudest Island there is no modern communication system to link up with rest of the country. No mobile communication system. The islanders live their lives structured around traditional chiefancy system. For the most part they remain unperturbed by modernity.
Getting to Sudest from Misima is like making the journey to the end of the earth. Sudest Island and Rossel Island are the far-flung islands on the border, before the Barrier Reef and Lawik Reef. These islands are the last of Papua New Guinea Islands.
As soon as we arrived the family received us with warm welcome and embrace. Our arrival brought joy and happiness to their hearts. The family was so happy to see Christine return home with her children. They were happy I also made the trip.
We travelled from Misima to Sudest on Sunday. I soon learnt that the boat we hired was the most expensive means of travel. We could have paid only a K40 per person to travel to Sudest if we had travelled on a dinghy. The trip to Sudest took us almost 10 hours. It normally takes at least 3 hours on a dinghy to travel between Misima Island and Sudest Island.
Christine decided that we had to travel back to Nimowa on Monday to visit Father Tony Young and her other aunt. Though we had a brief stop at Nimowa a day earlier we never went ashore. We stopped only to pick up Christine’s brother, Abel, and Leo, a cousin.
Our visit to Nimowa station was an important one. Christine had gone to school there. She had brought a wine to Father Young, who first arrived in 1964 and is still there. Father Young had stayed most of his life as a priest on Nimowa Catholic Mission Station. His reputation is legendary to everyone in these islands.
Christine had brought Father Young a red bottle of wine from Port Moresby. He was delighted with the gift--a rare thing in this part of the world. Father Young offered us tea, coffee, and a quarter of cake at the convent. We enjoyed the coffee and cake before being shown around Nimowa station, especially the set up that Father Young is proud of establishing in his parish.
Father Young shared his vision and efforts to improve education opportunities on the islands of Nimowa, Sudest, and the neighbouring islands. Through his efforts there will now be a high school and CODE. I offered to help by writing about it in my column on my return to Port Moresby. He asked for my email address. I wrote down the address for him.
We talked with Etty, Christine’s maternal aunt. Langston decided to take a swim in the sea on the southern side of the station. Langston was restless with his mother. She took all her time. I was in the same mind as Langston because we had to travel again across the passage to get our supplies from the trade store on the Sudest side of the Island.
The sea was rough, making our trip very uncomfortable. I was unperturbed with the condition of the sea. I had learnt long time ago to enjoy the sea or sea travel without worrying too much about it. In most cases the skippers were experienced with sea travel.
The mood in the village was celebratory when we returned later in the day. The villagers were preparing for the Christmas celebration early the next day.
Early in the morning around 5.00am the villagers gathered in the village. It was the 25th of December 2012. The villagers sang carols by candle light the Sudest way outside all the main houses of the village. They sang in their own language in the early hours before the sun rose in the horizon.
I woke up quickly, rushed out with my camera and mini voice recorder. As soon as the villagers came around to the house we stayed in I was ready to record their beautiful angelic voices. It was so entertaining and refreshing to have this show presented to us. I video-documented and recorded their singing until morning.
By daylight the villagers gathered in the fence prepared earlier and continued with the Christmas carols. An interesting part of the singing and performance was that everyone was showered with perfume and powder. I had never seen anything like this before. It was awesome.
Canoe racing and other sports were planned. Unfortunately no one was interested in sports after the breakfast was taken. Most returned to their own villages along the coast.
Christmas in Araetha was the best Christmas experience I had in 2012. It was a family affair. It was a community experience that I will never forget. It was a simple, yet powerful experience for my family and I. I am glad I took the trip to Christine’s village. It made me appreciate the most important values in life: family, relationships, community, and our village and the members of our family living in the village. I truly treasure the experience.
I know that the Araetha experience of Christmas is one that I will never forget. The Chief, the Councillor, Carolyn Kemp, and the rest of the central Sudest people know how to celebrate Christmas in style and as a community.