Oh, Wallaby!

wallabies of papua new guinea

Central Province, Papua New Guinea / November 2013:  I consider myself open-minded and adventurous when it comes to exotic foods and delicacies and I try my best to respect and appreciate what locals consider delicious or essential elements for their daily nutrition and survival.  In a Kazakh community near the border between Russia and Mongolia, my hosts and I feasted on the meat of a whole horse especially prepared for my visit and I enjoyed it.  On my recent visit, while travelling through the scenic landscape of Bulgan Province, I was served a roasted marmot.  Tasty though a bit tough and oily, the poor rodent became a great company  for drinking airag with a couple of friends as we pondered the meaning of life under the big Mongolian sky.

wallabies of papua new guinea

During my travels around the Philippines and Southeast Asia when I was younger,  I competed with other locals in consuming “balut” –  a developing, about-to-hatch duck embryo boiled alive and eaten out of the shell.  I now refuse the balut not because I lost appetite for it but because I feared it’s rumored high cholesterol content.  And, yes, in the Western Province of Papua New Guinea,  I ventured into the local markets with my camera and found grubs, pythons, turtles and cassowaries being sold as food.  It didn’t bother me then that these creatures were about to become the main dish in some family’s dinner table and I even wondered how they tasted when cooked.

wallabies of papua new guinea

But this small discovery during this trip to Kairuku in the Central Province of Papua New Guinea somehow affected me.  While rushing to Kairuku to catch a meeting, I noticed a few stalls along the scarcely populated roadside.  Thin smoke usually marked a stall and then, when close enough, one can figure out some meat apparently being displayed for sale. At first I thought they were the meat of deer or wild pigs and so, on the way back to Port Moresby, I especially requested our driver to stop by one of the stalls so I can photograph them.  I was caught in shock when I realized, as I approached a stall, that the meat being displayed were those of a wallaby, a marsupial resembling a small kangaroo.

wallabies of papua new guinea

The last time I came up close to a herd of wallabies was in a park in Adelaide, South Australia.  Almost domesticated, they posed with us and fed from our hands and, if not for the warning from the park attendants, I would have posed with one of them on my lap. I know that the Australian aborigines also hunt wallabies for food but, not having seen that part in person,  it did not bother me at all.  But this time it was different.  The wallabies right in front of me were lifeless, cut up to pieces with their legs, tails, heads, and bodies hanging from a bamboo pole like ordinary meat and, although I kept shooting with my camera, I felt like I was taking photos of a massacre rather than a display of meat for food.

wallabies for food

The boys tending the stall were apparently part of a family that’s just starting to build a new home in the savannah in that part of Central Province.  I tried to learn more about them and their livelihood but they replied to most of my questions with gestures, obviously unable to understand most of what I was saying.  As I headed back to our car, I wondered whether it required this much meat to guarantee the family’s survival for the day and whether that house, once completed,  is not just the start of a new home but also the beginning of the complete eradication of wallabies in the area.  These boys will surely have a good chance of surviving, the wallabies not.

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