Sago beating: An example of a timeless innovation at work

In the Kurti language group area of Manus Province, producing sago is hard work. This is because it involves numerous processes, each containing smaller activities requiring the use of skills, innovation and utilizing available resources. Take for example, the first process which is the cutting down of the sago palm tree. You first have to identify the tree, make sure it has matured, then decide where the sago tree will fall when cut. This is important because failure to place it correctly will mean the tree palm tree falls and breaks into several pieces. It doesn’t break off but the outer shell covering is broken making it very difficult to remove the outer covering of the palm tree. Even when you are actually beating the sago, the sago pulp will fall through the crack and be lost. Losing sago means loosing food. Even the crown of the fallen tree must be intact as some of it’s parts will be used to create the basin for washing the sago. This is only the first part of the other processes that need to be done but you can already see the type of work that must be done to make sure the work of producing sago is easier to manage.

In the Kurti language group area of Manus Province, the men stand upright alongside the fallen sago palm and beat the sago with the wooden bow.

Some of the processes involve men and some processes are for women. For example, after the sago tree is felled, the outer hard bark like covering of the sago palm must be removed with an iron digging bar. It requires that a man must be physically strong to handle and maneuver the steel bar and must be experienced enough to plow the outer bark off. Meanwhile another process is that of the sharpening of a bamboo piece to put at the end of the sago beating bow. In this process, a man must go into the bush, look for right bamboos, cut them and bring them back to the place where the fallen sago is.  He must sharpen the bamboo and place it on the end of the wooden tool used to beat the sago. Even the intricate part of sharpening the bamboo takes time and skill to master the right edge required for beating the sago. Another process is that actual sago beating. One must stand beside the sago and swing the wooden bow to ‘beat’ the sago flesh into pulp. Improper stance will make a person swing the wooden sago beating bow awkwardly resulting in the bamboo piece breaking. Striking the sago with the bow is a repeated process so one must adjust themselves into a stance that enables them to strike in a rhythmic cycle. Then men pack the fine pulp into bags and then bring them to where the women will be washing the sago. This is just three processes so far for the men.

Some of the processes involve women. The women also have their own work cut out for them. They have to manually build a filtration system using some parts of the crown of the the sago palm, matting of the sago palm, maybe some pieces of a mosquito net and sago leaves. The decanting part of the sago washing system needs to be a place where the water for the washed sago is captured. This may include a dugout canoe or a collection tray made up of canvas. After the decanting process is done, the sago is placed into bags and placed on a stand to allow more water to drain out. Then the fresh sago is taken to the house and fried to eat. These numerous processes take place each day until the whole sago palm has been beaten.

In my view there should be around 5-7 different processes that are carried out to make sure a sago production is effectively carried out. Here is my list: 1) Identification of matured sago palm tree and cutting down 2) Removing outer shell/bark of sago using a digging bar 3) Collecting and sharpening of bamboo 4) beating the sago 5) cutting and packing the sago and transporting sago to wash area 6. Washing the sago using a filtration and decanting system 7. Packing and transporting sago bags home.

Although it seems like hard work, it is essentially a show of basic innovation on display. You see, the numerous process all use bits and pieces of the objects found in the natural environment. The individual objects have been picked out from the bush, trialed and practiced over many decades and have proven to be reliable in getting the job done. Our ancestors have used these to innovative practices to develop a system of processes that work together to produce sago. I have done this video to only show the beating sago (Process part 4) where the bow is used to beat the sago. In the Kurti language group area, the men beat the sago and the women wash the sago. This short video explains and shows the process of beating sago done by men. It does not show the next process where women wash the sago. I hope I can be able to record all the steps to develop a longer more informative video. In the meantime, here is a video of myself and my male relatives beating the sago.    

Meeting the PNGAAA Manus Chapter President

The Papua New Guinea Australia Alumni Association (PNGAAA) is a group set up to provide support to Papua New Guineans who have studied in Australia or with Australian government support in PNG. It is a network designed to keep alumni connected with each other and with Australian institutions and people.

The PNGAAA website

According to its website it has a membership of over 5,000 people and local chapters established in eleven provinces: the Autonomous Region of Bougainville (ARoB), Eastern Highlands (Goroka), East New Britain (Kokopo), Enga (Wabag), Madang, Manus (Lorengau), Milne Bay (Alotau), Morobe (Lae), National Capital District (Port Moresby), East Sepik (Wewak) and Western Highlands (Mt. Hagen).

Recently I got to meet the Manus Chapter President of the PNG Australia Alumni Association, Ms. Ruth Sokolou Selou. I am a member of this Association and have been with the Madang Chapter but now I am in Manus so it was good to connect to the local chapter. Ms. Selou runs her own marketing consultancy firm – Rin Consultancy – and is also an agent of National Finance in Manus. Her office in Lorengau provides a desk space and Wi-Fi services for Alumni members.

Ms. Ruth Sokolou Selou, the PNGAAA Chapter President for Manus. Her office is in Lorengau town and runs her own consultancy firm.

If you are PNGAAA member and are in Lorengau, drop in and say hello. For the local residents in Lorengau, who are members, if you want to know more about Australia Awards Scholarships, both long term (i.e. Masters, PhD) and short term (i.e. postgraduate certificates) or even apply for small grants to do community projects, then you can go visit her.

PNGAAA memberships cost K75 and is now open for payment up till March 2022 for those considering to pay for this upcoming year’s membership. Members have access to numerous professional development programs and an alumni grants scheme ranging with monetary grants from K4,000 to K30,000. You can check their website to learn more about this.

Tranquil island, resilient people: The Nyapio islanders of Manus

Manus Province is around 2, 100 square kilometers in land area and amongst its vast open 220,00 square kilometer seas, lie many islands, some inhabited and others, not. While some of these islands are large and can sustain multiple villagers like Lou, Rambutso, Pak and Baluan; others like Nyapio island are so small no one would think Manusians lived on them. Nyapio island, more popularly known as Johnston Island, today, has fourteen (14) households. It also has a population of just under 50 or so people who call this remote island their home.

A young men fishing on his small canoe in front of Nyapio island
The beach in front of the community guest house
A young boys walks in the ‘main street’ of the village which is only roughly 100 meters long.
A typical Nyapio island house

The island, on the south coast of Manus is part of Ward 6 of the POBUMA local level government area.  Nyapio is around a kilometer long, around 400 meters wide and has sparse vegetation. These Titan language speaking people do not have a trade store, a school or an aidpost on the island. Their livelihood and major source of income is fishing. They fish from the sea and then sell their catch to villages along mainland Manus or to Lorengau for cash. Other times they exchange fish with the Lou islanders for fresh vegetables. On the island, they have coconuts, banana, pawpaw, taro and very few sago trees but apart from that there are not too many food crops. The island is just three to four metes above sea level and even water is scarce on this island. When the seasonal trade winds become harsh, food from the sea becomes even harder to find making hunger a real issue at times.

The Nyapio sail on outrigger canoes to mainland Manus or the surrounding islands of M’buke, Lou or Baluan. They even sail to the nearest health service provider at Patu Health Centre on the mainland of Manus, some two to four hours away. One person I talked to explained that once, he had to take two children who were very sick most probably with Malaria, with their mothers, and sail on his outrigger canoe all the way to Lorengau town. They begun the journey in the middle of the night using the stars as their guide. All along the journey, the mothers kept keeping a cold press on the children’s bodies just to keep their fever at bay for that three hour journey on the high open seas. They arrived in Lorengau, just as daylight broke out.      

While their story seems sad and difficult, it is what makes them resilient in the face of constant hardship and continued difficulties. I usually write on my blog lopoki.com about community initiatives in Manus. So I was pleasantly surprised when I was invited by the community in September to come see a small project they had started early this year. It was there that I saw a resilient community at work. You see, being resilient means that when everything seems to be going wrong or difficult, strong people emerge and stand up to provide solutions to the problems faced by their communities.

The Nyapio people are a resilient people. Firstly, they sat down and thought long and hard about how they could solve some of their community problems. They knew that the island would, in its simplest and mundane form, still provide the solution. Then, the leaders decided to build a community based resort of sorts that would provide a means of an income to support their livelihood on the island. Together, they had this understanding that through such an enterprise, much more would come and eventually a school or an aidpost would become viable on their little island. In that way, they wouldn’t have to send their kids away to the mainlaind of Manus for months on end to gain basic education or sail the high open seas just to have access to life saving medication.

The young elite of the village, who live in Port Moresby, supported this move and began by chipping in cash and kind. Around ten young men on the island eventually built two bungalows – one completed using traditional materials like wood, sago leaves, bamboo thatched walls, etc while the other, still to complete, had a roofing iron. They are also building a septic toilet and shower room too. They sourced the raw materials from mainland Manus and shipped the rest of the materials from Lorengau. The community resort is 10 minutes away from the main village.

One of the two beach side bungalows being constructed.
The two beachside bungalows nestled quietly among the trees, sand and sea.

In November, through my small not-for-profit non government organization called Lopoki Inc, I organized a three day Basic House Keeping training for ten (10) of the locals. The Nyapio Island Getaway Resort fully funded the three day training on their island. Lopoki Inc. worked in partnership with the Manus Provincial Government’s Commerce Division and the Manus Training Centre to carry out the training. The Division of Commerce through their Business Development Officer Mr. Pius Kuweh and Manus Training Centre’s Tourism and Hospitality Instructor Mr. Albert Pih were both at the island to conduct the sessions. The trainer Mr. Albert Pih focused his training on three main areas of housekeeping –  Storeroom and stock control; Accommodation and guest laundry; and Room Servicing. The training provided basic housekeeping skills to the participants and increased their knowledge and capacity to manage guests.

Mr. Pius Kuweh, in representing the Manus Provincial Government through its Commerce Division, officially opened the training program.
Trainer Mr. Albert Pih teaches the participants the art of preparing a clean and comfotable bed
The 10 participants listen as Mr. Pih goes through the concepts of basic housekeeping.
The participants practice folding linen correctly.
Mr. Pih goes through the methods of hanging and removing, folding and using the clothes line as a tool to help in managing linen and clothes.
The participants practice full room servicing and the results are amazing!
The ten participants receive their certificates of participation. Mr. Albert Pih (far right), Mr. Pius Kuweh (left) and Mr. Kingston Namun (far left) look on.

I can already see that the community has already taken the initiative to build two semi-permanent buildings housing four rooms for around eight (8) guests when they visit the community based resort. The Nyapio islanders have proven that they want to bring change to their community and so they worked with Lopoki Inc. to ensure this training occurred. The very fact that they do not have an aidpost or even an elementary school speaks volumes about the hardship that they have had to go through all these years. It is inspiring to see the islanders stand on their own two feet and build something that will sustain them as a community.

If you want to visit Nyapio Island Getaway Resort, please visit the website: https://nyapioislandgetawayresort.com/ for more information. You won’t regret your decision to visit. If you do visit, please commit yourself to give something back to the island with a program or session while you are there through your passion, education and work so that greater cultural learning is mutual.

Getting from the provincial township of Lorengau to Nyapio island (Johnston islands)

Ends//

Lopoki Inc. improves its networking opportunities on social media spaces

So we have finally created our LinkedIn page and our Facebook page as well!

The Lopoki Inc. linkedIn page is now online. We are pleased to see three (3) followers already.

We hope that through such pages on this social media space, we will be able to reach out and form greater partnerships with those that have similar values as us. We also hope that through these connections, we can reach out to more people and help local communities in Manus and the rest of the country as well. So if you are also on LinkedIn, then please do not hesitate to follow our page and help us reach more people.

We are also reaching out and showcasing our work through our Facebook page as well. Its a small start as we begin to utilize the most popular social media app in the world by building our brand on thee platform too.

Our Facebook page has gained just over 100 followers already since its creation mid-way through the year.

So join our social media pages if you are on both these platforms. Otherwise, you can always come here to our website and read our stories just the same!

Lopoki Inc. training receives essential coverage on national television

Lopoki Inc. recently completed the Basic Housekeeping training a Nyapio Island in Manus Province so we were pleased to see that the mass media give us some coverage.

Although the television coverage was less than four minutes, we take courage in the fact that the training on Nyapio was put on national TV. This, itself, provided us the footprint to follow in future dealings with the media and improve our messaging as well. Our news on the training appeared on two national TV stations at their respective nightly news bulletin.

The first one was on EMTV News on the 28th November, 2021 while the second time for the same story appeared was on the NBC News on 7th December, 2021. Here are the respective news stories:

We’d like to thank Mr. Bradley Valenaki of EMTV and Ms. Sinivar Kasimani and Mr. Cashmir Waken of NBC for taking their time to put the story together and air it on their respective television stations.

It is the very first television news for Lopoki Inc. and its a small step for us as we begin to initiate and create contacts in the media industry here in Papua New Guinea. We hope to work with the mass media more to promote the work of Lopoki Inc. and eventually reach those who are willing to support our work across local communities.

Whuroh!!