PNG through young eyes
Last year Revs Fred and Marcia Baker made a return visit to Papua New Guinea Highlands. where they served as missionaries in the 1970s They took with them two of their sons, Graeme and David, and their daughter Meryn. Graeme’s children – Michelle (22) and Andrew (11) – also accompanied them. Here are their stories.
Expectations, apprehensions, excitement! I had grown up hearing from my Dad about Papua New Guinea, had read Grandma’s story, and completed a university project for a course on ethnicity course. I had travelled overseas before and discovered a world outside NZ, but this I knew would be different.
And so to Yaken. Journeys along dirt roads in the back of a ute (shock absorbers noticeably absent!) were memorable. Everybody waved, and eventually I responded. The welcomes at villages were overwhelming and humbling. Genuine warmth, kindness and generosity – it was impossible not to feel at home. The house they had built was wonderful (despite nightly visits from curious mice). Views were breathtaking – no photographs can replicate the beauty. Food was great – especially sugar cane, bananas and cucumbers.
Memories include a trek up a vertical mountainside – pushing, pulling, and then sliding down. Washing with bucket water, eating food cooked in a mumu (hangi), walking the countryside, and spending evenings by lantern light in the kitchen with the women, answering questions about myself - my world of cinema and popular culture and a forthcoming wedding seemed far way. Leaving Yaken we all felt very sad – we were part of the village.
I promised to go back one day and take my husband and other family members to meet my new friends. A visit is the only way to meet people and to convey sights, sounds, smells, tastes and temperatures of this unique place
It was my first trip overseas. We flew to Port Moresby. There were no white people on the streets. Next day we flew to Mendi and went to Yaken where my Dad lived when he was my age. I was excited. We were welcomed by men and women in traditional dress and painted faces. I shook hands with lots of people.
The boys said:’ Come and play, Andrew.’ We played every day. I went to see their houses. They all had pitpit walls and grass roofs.
My new friends took me to a waterfall and we played underneath it. I liked eating sugar cane and sweet potato. Because I was turning 12 the day after we left they made birthday cakes for breakfasts. Four cakes!
We went for a BBQ and I had a swim. There was a pig kill and feast too.
I learnt some Mendi words. They called me ‘Yaken Naik’ and gave me a special hat. ‘Now you are a village boy, Andrew’.
I planted a tree like my Dad and Uncle had before me. ‘Come back, Andrew, when your tree has grown.’
At the farewell service I made a speech. It was hard saying goodbye to new friends.