Seedsavers In Papua New Guinea

Just received this email from Michel Fanton, relayed by his partner, Jude Fanton, both Co-Founders of the Seed Savers Network in Byron Bay. Michel is currently networking in PNG, one of the many international Seed Saver projects:

Jude & Michel Fanton

Jude and Michel Fanton

“Even though the rain is falling on the southern highlands the HF email radio is working. All worked out well travelling from Brisbane to Tari, a small town of 800 with another 100,000 rural and very wild tribals living around the region. For shops it has only a burned-down supermarket and tiny shops left.

When we landed there were 800 to 1000 people outside the gates at the airstrip with a uteload of cops. It was like a carnival. All were looking at the plane landing and us disembarking. I started filming. Joseph (a friend of Michel’s) picked me up in a ute with all the windows protected by thick bars.

Tens of thousands of people turned up at the celebration of independence from Australia. People’s clans arrived with some walking six hours or more. It is another world that white people only saw in the 1930s and only began to settle in the 1960s. I met some elders who remember seeing the first white person.

We were met by the community Health Care van each morning and dropped off each night. I have been invited to film lots of action, once even from the back of a police ute. I have felt very welcome all over and have filmed four hours of cassettes having had two PNG people minding me all the time whilst filming. Not that it felt dangerous. Actually the opposite despite the state of emergency. The carloads of army and police with mean looks make it all very safe. They are everywhere.

Thousands were walking near the airport where the celebration was happening (from Thursday to Saturday), 200 metres from hospital and CBHC office. Everyone is very individualistic wearing ornaments that they have made: all sorts of ferns decorating their hair. When they dance tribal or otherwise things get hot very fast. They seem fearless. It is the most impressive place I have been to.

There is a most peaceful air about it all but at the same time an incredible violence unleashed on some, like the kids. But everyone cops it – and does not react. An example is during some of the competitions like running in a bag. The cops and volunteers started whacking the crowds with bamboo sticks at full strength to get them to step back.

Some men came dressed in full traditional gear which is made of only what they grow or harvest: no clothes. Some had their birds of paradise headdresses, bones or grasses in their noses. Every nose that I checked had the piece between each nostril pierced with some very large holes, so you can insert a small bone, but most wear a stick. People in full traditional gear would just come and shake my hand out of the blue. Some never wear clothes, even in the rain. They are like the health freaks in oz: ‘pure et dur’.

The reason the police were here and very harsh is that when lots of people meet the whole thing becomes a powder keg: they act with untempered emotion. And the Huli, they’re the most warlike and fearless tribe, as I mentioned.

At the independence celebrations there were dart throwers everywhere. People wandered in front of them. Incredibly accurate. Whoever hits the red target five or six metres away gets a can of coke as a prize. They are still using bows and arrows and spears as some of the most isolated see only A$5 a year. There’s 160 people in a clan which means a few hundred bucks for spending. One can of coke at a time. It is wild.

The dances were for peaceful purposes as no one would fight wearing the elaborate headdresses – they’re so amazingly delicate. Some kids were in war costumes all painted black, with green leaves, spear and all. There is an area near here where they have had ten years of skirmishes and they are way behind in their health and living standards. CBHC very much works on that. I will interview a woman who works on the reconciliation of tribes this week.

There is lots of AIDS around, spread by people who came back after being away. Kids do not see the danger of AIDS. Hundreds of condoms were given to the crowds dancing wild in the rain. Everyone started throwing them in the air and making balloons from them.

I am staying with a family at Koli. The old woman, who is around sixty, cooks in the ground-fire every night with the grandchildren while their parents are working in Port Moresby. Tonight I had the best sweet potatoes in the world cooked to perfection in the ashes. I made an impromptu meal using the tuna and tahini which has been my salvation.

Monday we will start in earnest to visit the key farmers we have met at the show. Angelin has been busy keeping people visiting from Oxfam happy and they leave soon. I have met some of her seed savers at the market and we will be visiting them.

Jude this may have to be edited, but I have little time to correct it all as the connection could go any time. Sorry. Sometimes it cannot connect when it rains. So many things have happened here that I cannot cover it all.

Big hugs to all, lots of love,

Michel

As Michel reports it wasn’t until the 1930s that the first white people visited the Tari Basin, in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. At that time 250,000 people lived simply – some may call it a ‘stone age culture’ but I prefer to call it a mature permaculture.

There’s and interesting related article on the Al Jazeera website ‘Thousands pitch up for tribal meeting’ in PNG at: http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/A6E0B203-9FD2-48BC-8199-0F97169FEA70.htm [Sunday 17 September 2006]

Wherever you garden it’s possible to get seed grown and saved from locally grown stock through local Seed Saver Networks. Seed Savers is a not-for-profit community organisation whose members conserve cultivars no longer offered commercially, cultivars that might otherwise become extinct and cultivars that have been adapted to suit local climates.

Seed Savers can be contacted at: P.O. Box 975, Byron Bay, NSW 2481, Ph: (02) 6685-6624, or http://www.seedsavers.net

Jerry Coleby-Williams