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April 2003 Vol. 18, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Haus Poroman Lodge, Mt. Hagen, PNG

from the April, 2003 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Papua New Guinea has many splendid land tours that take travelers back 70 years before the first Europeans arrived. I selected a trip to The Haus Poroman (House of the People) in the PNG Highlands. It's an hour drive from Mt. Hagen -- the last half on a dirt road -- where this mother of all potholed roads leaves about an inch to spare until the road drops a long way to a river below. The spacious lodge has a fireplace, sofas, a dining table with cutoff logs for seats, a TV, and a bar, but it and our roundhouse were dark and dreary, in keeping with the local houses that have no windows. I came to see how the people live in the interior of the island, and this lodge is the best place available.

Maggie Wilson, who owns the Lodge with her husband Keith, is a descendant of the Leahy brothers, the first white men to set foot in this area, in 1930. That First Contact, as it's called in the book and film, is a remarkable story itself. I joined a party with many Leahy family members, who made me feel welcome -- but hearing Elvis singing "Blue Suede Shoes" in that setting was another shock!

The next morning, I awoke to thick fog, which soon cleared. Thomas, our driver, and Pius, our knowledgeable guide, took us for a half-day van trip, stopping first at a recreated village, giving me an idea of how the last generation lived. At the next village, men in loincloths and bare-breasted women -- in this tribe they now normally wear western dress -- demonstrated fire-starting and bow-and-arrow hunting. In a nearby field most of the tribe was gathered for a traditional Sunday feast. They dug a pit and lined it with banana leaves and heated stones and then put in a butchered pig along with sweet potatoes, vegetables, and chicken. One man proudly displayed a pouch in which he carried the chicken intestines! Fortunately I was not invited to stay for lunch! They were fascinated by seeing themselves on our digital camera. The chief thanked us for coming, sympathizing with us for 9/11, and asking us to tell others to come to his country. In the villages, there is no electricity or running water or plumbing. Few people are employed, most have gardens, but all had big smiles for us.

The second morning we visited the crowded and dusty Mt. Hagen market, then drove into the mountains. Altogether, there are more than 700 tribes, each having its own language, and none understanding any other. They communicate in pidgin or in English. In Chimbu I saw three shows, each staged especially for the four of us. The first group had their bodies painted black with skeletons outlined in white, and a "ghost" who looked more like a gorilla. They performed a short play for us and showed us their "market." I saw two more shows -- the Mudmen and the Chimbu players. I also visited an outhouse. It was either that or a "bush run." I shook many hands and saw many smiles and drove many miles.

There are many tours to be had in PNG, and a diver who ignores the land in favor of the sea will miss one of the more remarkable places on this small planet of ours. Anyone who arranges your tour to Papua New Guinea can arrange land tours. (www.hausporoman.com -- Our three-night Roundhouse Program included breakfasts, dinners, transfers, and tours at $325/person, double.).

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