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Karawari River, a tributary of the Sepik River

Our departure from Kavieng to Port Moresby was late, so Son Ly and I had to scramble to get our luggage to the Air Niugini check-in desk and didn't have a chance to say proper goodbyes to our fellow Febrina passengers. Luckily, Lucien offered to shuttle our dive bags to the Holiday Inn for storage until our return, two weeks later. We had a relatively uneventful flight to Mt. Hagen, where we checked into the Highlander hotel for an overnight layover. In the morning, Calden (I think that's how you spell his name!), our pilot for the next couple of weeks, picked us up and flew us north over the mountains that ring the highlands and down into the Karawari River area, in the Sepik floodplains. We were in "Arambak" country, and although there was some early missionary contact, the area was almost completely isolated from Western contact until the 1960s. The people living there are still living a subsistence lifestyle, fishing from the river and harvesting sago palms for wood, leaves, and flour. I was absolutely amazed by the people here; villages were full of naked, laughing children, who followed us around and got excited whenever any one of us lifted a camera.

The Karawari Lodge dots on a ridge with a nice view of the sprawling Sepik basin. Michael and Manu, the Nepalese managers, offer tremendous hospitality and made our stay very comfortable. Manu was happy to have Son and me (young Asian kids) at the lodge because we reminded her of her own children.

On August 16th, we visited Kundiman Village for a sago-making demonstration, which involves peeling the bark off off of a sago palm trunk, extracting the central sago pulp, pounding it into smaller pieces, placing it in a rough bag, and pouring water through it to extract the flour. Once the flour is dry, it is fried like a pancake or mixed with hot water to form a thick, paste-like porridge. We also attended a fish sing-sing at Yimas Village #2 (which branched off of the original Yimas Village, a four-hour canoe paddle up the river). The fish sing-sing was traded from village to village, and originated from somewhere along the coast. It tells a story of a fisherman who was pulled into the ocean by a large fish that he had hooked. The fish brought the fisherman into its cave, but spared his life, teaching him a couple of songs to share with his people. The story broke down in translation here, but it involved the ritualized killing of some number of pigs.

Lawrence, the teacher at the primary school in Yimas #2, is one of the few people in the area who managed to get an education. After working for the Karawari Lodge, he did some correspondence work and ended up going to Mesa, Arizona to study accounting and engineering before returning to his village to teach. Their schools almost literally have no resources; Lawrence said that he often uses bush materials while teaching, writing on bark and using stones for math.

On August 17th, Son Ly and I left the lodge at 6am and cruised up the river to find the twelve-wired bird of paradise (Seleuvidis melanoleuca) with our guide and jetboat driver. A bright yellow male finally landed on the display pole, but only stayed up there for a minute or so because it was already so late in the morning. Later on in the day, we visited Manjamai Village, Konmey Village, and Abonwari Village, perhaps the most beautiful of all the Sepik-area villages we saw. Many houses were nicely manicured with decorative hedges lining the road and ivy and other epiphytes growing on sago-leaf roofs. There were also beautiful, decorative trees that had been brought in from coastal areas. On the way back to the lodge, we stopped at Kurumbat Primary School, where we talked for a bit with Greg Waipi and Anthony (the two teachers). Teachers in such remote areas of the country really have a hard time; the ones we met have huge hearts and seem to be incredibly dedicated to their work. It's too bad we arrived in the afternoon after school was already out. We had just seen a lot of the kids along the banks of the river; the highlight of the day for some of the local kids is the small wake left by the jetboat as it cruises by. Kids wait on canoes or on the banks and leap into the water, swimming furiously into the center of the river. Frankly, I'm amazed that none of the kids has ever been hit by the boat, but the drivers humor the kids and accelerate through whenever a group of kids are ahead.

August 18th: Son really wanted to get into a dugout canoe, so Jerald, the security guy, went to "get a boy and canoe from the village". As soon as I stepped onto the canoe, I knew that there was no way I could remain standing, especially with three other people moving around! And so, Son and I promptly fell back onto our asses, and the four of us paddled upstream for about 45 minutes until we reached Yimas #2. Halfway there, a little girl along the riverside path saw us, pointed, and exclaimed to her father, "white people!" -- which was really strange because it was the first time I had ever been called, "white," except for once when I was called a "banana" by a particularly nasty distant uncle in Taiwan. At Yimas #2, Son and I stood by the school and watched Lawrence teach a lesson in which he taught the kids a few basic English sentences (through recitation). The rest of the group met us at the village, and we continued on to Binam Waterfall, Amongabi Village, Tangabit Village, and bloodstones in yet another village. Most of the adults were in the bush harvesting sago, so we mostly just wandered around (with a throng of kids following, as usual). It poured rain all day, but that didn't stop us from having lunch while floating in to the middle of a large lake, playing with a village's pet cassowary (scary!), and hiking up a hill to see some bloodstones. Near the ruins of a large spirit house and school, the bloodstones were used to celebrate the spoils of war, which not long ago meant spearing onto them the blood from the severed heads of their enemies. Bloody history aside, there was a beautiful view of the floodplains from on top of one of the larger bloodstones. I took a photo of Alan Pryke (Sydney photojournalist and speleologist) phooning on top of one of them.

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Self-portrait in charter flight to Karawari

Charter flight to Karawari

Charter flight to Karawari

Locals rest in the shadow of the airplane wing

Sago-making demonstration. Man removes bark from sago palm..

Sago-making demonstration. Woman pours water to extract sago flour.

Sago-making demonstration. Sago flour is used to make pancakes

Sago-making demonstration. Sago flour is used to make a porridge.

Students put on a show

Kids use string to play cats cradle, as an educational tool

Son Ly with kids from Yimas #2

Inside the classroom at Yimas #2 Village

Villagers, dressed up for the fish dance

On the Karawari River

Our room at Karawari Lodge

Son Ly at dawn

Young men paddle by on a canoe

Young men paddle by on a canoe

Man with little girl. This girl has a twin, but she was off in another part of the village.

Inside a large house, which may house up to three families

A motorized canoe holds no fewer than 27 passengers, plus cargo.

Inside a Christian church

Konmei Villagers perform in a victory sing sing, popular in 3 of the local villages

Villagers watch the sing sing from the comfort of their house

Allan Pryke shows off a GPS to local villagers

Kid, nearly camouflaged against the bank of the Karawari

Kids pull in a canoe from the river

A girl holds a pet couscous

A small child clings to his mother

Observing from a window. "There must be some really big mosquitos here," Allan jokes.

A street in a rather picturesque village

A row of houses

Children pose for a picture

Eric Cheng with young villagers (photo: Son Ly)

Son Ly with kids from the village

Kids wave, excited for the wake of the jetboat to wash by

The Kurumbai Primary School

Greg and Andrew, school teachers

Seated in a dugout canoe. These things are really hard to stand up in!

Eric Cheng, on the jetboat (photo: Son Ly)

A pig trap

A wood carver under his house

A young girl poses with her catch

A young girl with her catch

A pet cassowary

Kids pose in front of the bloodstones

Bloodstones, on top of a hill

View of the beautiful Karawari landscape

Son Ly inside the safe haven of a mosquito net

The Karawari Lodge

The Karawari Lodge

Dinner at the Karawari Lodge

Karawari staff celebrate our departure

Karawari staff celebrate our departure

Allan Pryke shows photos to Manu, Michael, and the Karawari staff

Son Ly poses by a carving

Eric Cheng ignores the danger points under the wing of an airplane

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