Day of Saints

Flowers in a bucket

“Day of Saints” / Western Province, Papua New Guinea / November 2016

I know I am at least four days late.  All Saints’ Day is celebrated in most of the Christian world every first of November in honor of all saints, known and unknown.  I happen to be working in Port Moresby last Monday (01 November) since, unlike other Christian nations in the region such as the Philippines which observe it as a national holiday, Papua New Guinea does not.  In this country which is now dominated by Christians, ranging from Evangelicals, Adventists, Pentecostals, Anglicans, and Roman Catholics; observance of the All Saints’ Day is mostly localized, depending on the denomination that prevails in the area.

It can be recalled that, in decades past, Papua New Guinea has been at the top of the list of many Western churches for “evangelization”.  In the process, not a few Christian missionaries have sacrificed their lives for the mission, succumbing to the attacks of tropical diseases like malaria, the violence of tribal wars, as well as the pagan practices and beliefs of local tribes which included cannibalism.  But the sacrifices of those missionaries were not in vain.   Now, almost every village or ward has a church and nearly every villager would identify himself or herself with a Christian religion.  It also amazes me that the local religious leader (a pastor or a priest) is a compulsory member of the local development council.

Anyway, I remembered this photo because I happened to be in a predominantly Catholic village in Western Province at around this period last year.  From the provincial center, Kiunga, it took us about an hour via a motorized dinghy on the Fly River to reach the village.  Panting from about a kilometer of uphill climb from the riverbank, we arrived at a cluster of houses and, as I surveyed the surroundings for things to shoot, my lens chanced upon this scene at the porch of one of the thatch houses; three wild flowers in a shiny bucket that laid on the floor, set against a background of smoke-darkened wall.  I instantly liked what I saw and my index finger instinctively pressed the shutter release.   I liked not only the composition but also the stark contrast among the elements in the photo.   All of them are raw materials gathered from the “bush” or the thick jungle surrounding the village, including the fresh flowers which couldn’t have come from a garden or a flower shop, but excluding the shiny bucket which could only come from a store in Kiunga.

After a brief meeting with the villagers and as we were heading down to the river, I found the owner of the thatch house and immediately complimented her on the lovely wild flowers on her porch.  She told me that she spent a day to look for this special flower which only grows along the riverbank so she can place it on her late husband’s grave on All Saint’s Day.  Although her voice came out with a hint of sadness as she talked, there were also flickers of joy in her eyes which I can only interpret as nuggets of love and happy memories she shared with her late husband.  To me, the simple gesture she made to reminisce a profoundly affectionate memory was already worthy of a saint.