The life we live

Travelling on a outboard motor to Lorengau with other passengers

This is the life we live.

Travelling by boat from the village to Lorengau takes about 45 minutes but is a costly exercise. This one way trip costs the boat owner between K90 to K120 just to buy fuel. If he takes passengers, it reduces his burden. All of us, as passengers on the boat, have to fork out K20 individually for the one way trip into town. Then we put up another K20 for the trip back home in the afternoon. Other Manusians from villages much further away from Lorengau just cannot afford to have passenger travel. It’s just not economical. One would have to pay K50 or even K100 for a one way trip into Lorengau. Some places that are 2 hours from Lorengau cost a boat owner K500 for a one way trip into town.

Villages much further away from Lorengau have a high fuel burden.

So how do those who are far away, travel in to Lorengau? The villagers either wait until a businessman or government worker (a teacher or health worker) wants to travel into town and then they can contribute fuel (a 4 litre costs around K30) so they can travel or when a relative goes into town, everybody gives their shopping list, letters and request to that one person. Other times when there are movements of large groups of people such as school term breaks, customary obligations or deaths, these events give rise to travel. Apart from these events, it is quite difficult to travel due to the high cost of travel.

This fuel burden or travel cost then trickles down to affect everyday living. When fuel costs are high, people don’t move. The supply of food items decreases and the demand increases leading to increasing costs of these items. Other things like essential medicines are delayed and even a reduction in the cash flow in the village, etc. Life, in general becomes difficult. How do Manusians counter this burden? Like what they have been doing for years – they live off the land. The hunt, gather, plant, harvest, fish and work in groups to meet their basic needs. But that lifestyle too has its limitations as activities in living off the land have cost components as well. For example, a man may decide to make his garden bigger but he needs a better file for his knife. Another way, is the practice of remittances. Many Manusians living outside of the province, send money back to their relatives at home.

Manus is often seen a ‘beautiful place’ physically but the high fuel burden contributes to poor access to services such as health and education.

Will this fuel burden slow down in the future? It seems unlikely. External national forces continue to work in such a way as to increase the cost of fuel rather than decrease it. For instance, COVID-19 drove up prices and limited trade at the local level. The country lost money through the UBS loan scheme and even corruption and mismanagement in national government departments have contributed to hindering progress. But is it all doom and gloom in the future? I hope not because when problems arise, innovation arises as well. I hope the answer to the problem lies in electric rechargeable motors – ones that don’t use non-renewable fossil fuels but those that rely on solar energy. Electric cars are already a reality and soon, I’m hoping, it will be electric outboard motors.

In the meantime, for us Manusians, this is the life we live….

Beautiful mornings on the north coast

Sometimes when we wake up in the morning, we are already thinking ahead of the plans we have to carry out and the people we need to meet. But when it is very early in the morning, you just have to step back a bit and appreciate what is around you.

Yes we have problems but we are also thankful of where we live. When I walked down to the beach ( I live up in the mountains) to look for a boat to travel into Lorengau, I couldn’t help but notice the morning sun as it rose from the east of Manus

Standing at Madawo Esio, in Liap, I look eastwards as the sun rises on the east of Manus province.

I looked up and saw a fisherman trawling for small fish, most probably ‘mamau’ or ‘mas’ – those small silvery fish that zip to and fro along the sand on the sea floor. He paddled fast with his string in the water. As he cut the morning waters with his outrigger canoe, he pauses paddling and lets the wooden canoe slide along. He quickly tugged at the string behind him, then pulling the string right past him in a swinging motion, checking to seek if a fish had latched onto his hook. When he notices no fish has struck, he releases the string and quickly paddles again repeating the process. Before long, he will have ten or fifteen of these small fish then he will retire back to his house to have breakfast. As I walk along the beach, some more men are heading out to sea to join the first person in the sea bay.

Yes this is one part of the morning activities in Liap village on the north coast of Manus. The land and the sea continues to feed us and we appreciate the place where we are born into, live and work. It is not pretty at times but it is where we call home. It is the place where we will eventually die and be buried here. It is our home. It is where the sun rises so beautifully in the east and a village rises.