Daru Island 1

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

Daru Seaside

Stranded

I was on my way to Kiunga in Papua New Guinea when our plane had to make an emergency landing on the island of Daru because of fuel leaking into the cabin.  It was a scary moment landing into the Daru airstrip knowing that the plane was dripping with highly flammable fuel and a small spark during landing could catch fire and blow us up into pieces.  Thankfully, we landed safely although it meant that I had to wait for two days on the island for the next flight that would bring me to Kiunga.

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

The Daru seaside is filled with dugout canoes which become the temporary home of traders from villages at the mainland

Daru is just a small island in the Gulf of Papua near the mouth of the Fly River.  It used to be the capital of the Western Province but, in recent years,  most government agencies have moved their offices to Kiunga where the biggest industries in the region, particularly the mines and rubber plantations, are located.

Photo Op

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

Women traders start unloading their goods from the boat

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

The traders’ goods — sago, bananas, coconuts, vegetables, fish and jungle meat — are displayed in a makeshift market by the seaside

Being stranded on the island wasn’t too bad. Daru was part of my travel itinerary for the following week and I just made arrangements for my appointments to be moved forward since I was already on the island.  The itinerary included visits to nearby villages and that also excited me because it gave me a glimpse of village life along the coast in contrast to those further inland in the jungles closer to Kiunga.  Of course, it was also a wonderful opportunity to take photos.

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

Traders from other villages also display their products under makeshift stalls

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

The goods being displayed are almost the same among all the traders. This lady waits for early customers

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

While this man has sold out his final bundle of sago but still has a few coconuts to dispose

The lodging house  where I stayed, the “biggest hotel” in town called New Century, offered a further bonus. Although it was a simple affair, it has a wide balcony that offered a great view of the gulf and the mainland across the channel (first photo) as well as the busy seaside and colorful local market just below the balcony. And, since the visit inadvertently happened ahead of schedule, I found some extra time which I mostly spent on the balcony chatting with locals and other guests and photographing whatever caught my attention from my vantage point.

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

In another corner, buyers compete for the scarce and expensive fuel for their outboard motors. Sometimes supplies run out and traders get stranded on the island.

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

As the day progresses, the open market gets busier

The seaside below the balcony was always teeming with activity.  Viewing it from an elevated position felt like watching a movie except that this one was live and the pattern kept on unfolding with every turn of the tide. Motorized dinghies and canopied dugouts were always present on the seaside high tide or low tide, rain or shine, day or night.    As a dinghy or dugout left, another one arrived.

The vacant lot by the seaside also followed a daily cycle.  As the sun rose, poles sprung from the ground and grew canopies of blue plastic sheets under which piles of basic local food stuff get displayed and around which locals and visitors mill to buy their food for the day.  And then, as the sun set, the makeshift stalls also went down only to arise once again the next day.

Subsistence

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

Meanwhile, as the parents traded, the children wait patiently in their boats

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

And, by the muddy shores, mothers care for their babies who will soon inherit the boat and this form of subsistence.

What I was witnessing by the balcony was in fact an important economic pattern in the region.  What the boats brought in represented almost everything that the villages at the mainland are able to produce.  And they are not much.  Coastal villages brought in fish or shrimps; villages further inland brought in sago, bananas, coconuts, vegetables and meat from whatever animals they have caught  – deer, cassowary, crocodile, etc.  They come to Daru Island with their products,  most of the time accompanied  by their whole family.

And so the boats become their temporary home while they are on the island.  Children played on the muddy shore as their parents traded and haggled for their goods at the makeshift market.  Mothers bathed and fed their young under the boats’ canopies as their husbands sought supplies to bring home.  And when they have sold out their products — sometimes after several days — they pack their supplies and sail back to their villages where they will gather as much food stuff until they have collected enough to be delivered to Daru once again.   And this vicious subsistence cycle went on as politics dominated the discussion of the leaders who also watch the activity from the balcony from time to time.

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