Seedsavers In Papua New Guinea II

Michel & Jude Fanton
Michel and Jude Fanton, co-founding Directors of the Seed Savers’ Foundation being interviewed by Phil Dudman of ABC Radio North Coast (2005)

Email from Michel:

“We had an early start at 5.45am to get ready for a trip near to the swamps. It was the first time we took the main highland road. Clay and bumps, but much larger than our Koli stone-paved road. Tiny bit of traffic – mostly police and army.

We visited eight families in an idyllic settlement. We had to wait as they weren’t ready for us. On arrival through the famous ‘spike gates’ we were treated with a full-blown welcoming ceremony. John Vail is a hero there. They thought I looked like him. First there was a Huli dance in full costume – quite sophisticated. Then the dances to welcome me. Then a Polynesian-style dance with flowers petals everywhere in a home-made, cute community house – all decorated. The table with the seed savers had an elegant display of fruit and vegie collections. All amazing. Short speeches.

Then quickly off to the mumu area with fifty women and men getting it prepared. A few pigs looking spick and span, held on leashes. I took a picture of a particularly clean and happy looking one snorting with pleasure. They are very expressive, especially when happy, and they show it with little snorts. Then all hell broke loose. One offical started saying “misel” this and “misel” that. Another guy had a huge cricket bat. They batted seven pigs in front of me with my video camera in hand. Blood splashed on me. Pigs were getting knocked repeatedly on the ground to make sure they were killed. Others that knew all too well their fate were dragged in forcibly. I shook. And it was all en mon honneur. I really felt it was put on me.

Without wasting a second, the butchering began, some pigs being thrown on a fire to burn off their hair. Some weren’t completely dead. The rushes caught everything. Everyone was excited. I will ask as soon as I can how a woman who has cared for these pigs feels when seeing them killed. Still following the coca cola trail that also featured in the ceremony today.

I filmed an interview, translated on camera, of a woman in seed savers who said how it feels to be involved in clan wars and their effects on her family. She responded so comprehensively. They have been at peace for five years now and are loving it. Last time they had to leave for two years and live in the bush without help from relatives, she said. They had to build everything and survive on what they could grow. She said she cried at the time. Her husband took a pair of each animal: a rooster, the best hen, rabbits, pigs, etc, and they took all the seeds that John Vail had been given. And off they went…

Everything was shown to me with precision, but very fast. All the costumes are home made. Check google for Huli and costume or use similar keywords and hit the pictures menu to see for yourselves.

They appreciated my interest and camera work. They want you to know. They told me I wasn’t like other white men. The others are politely disinterested. I arrived in a torn green tee shirt and my holy trousers – like everybody else. They are the masters of body decoration. Everybody had yellow marks on their faces; it was a treat to see.

Six kinds of ferns were cooked with the pigs. This is a key to nutrition as we know it. As they served and carved up, rain started slowly as it does at around three o’clock. Everyone joined their immediate families under umbrellas and ate. More shots of feeding mouths. I made myself invisible. I was fed by people putting things in my mouth as I returned to my CBHC group.

The community put it it all together just for my visit and partly because they had been given a coffee sheller as a prize at the show. They gave me two arrows and two lances for hunting when I go away, a head band and one rough bush ‘bilum’ to bring things back in…all official gifts… luckily I also had gifts …and to each of the staff they gave live chickens and rabbits plus, from the nutrition garden, many greens nicely gathered into bundles. It was all over the top.

I was offered land, pigs – and wives. When I said I was married to Jude they said ‘no objections’, Jude could stay as the first wife and she’d get a young one to run around and do things for her. I politely declined with thanks. They showed me all the things that John Vail, their hero, had given them, including a plastic container, a bucket, etc. He is well remembered.

People are used to getting soaking wet. ‘Matthewmatthew’ – Matiumatiu – the smart, fully bush-dressed dancer, in Year 9, was my perch man. He was shaking so much with rain chill, I had to ask him to have a break and warm up.

I met quite a few people who live traditionally. The live far up in the hills, wear only feathers, leaves and dangly bits of pandanus. They sleep on the ground and use bows and arrows for hunting. If they use money at all it’s as little as five bucks a year. They are unchanged.

Then there are others who have changed somewhat. They wear baseball caps with feathers and a grass skirt. Several kids only have one shoe. One old red tennis shoe was so worn it was open at the toes. Better than nothing, I guess.

I have had meetings, but only informal so far, about creating inventories of chokos (they have many varieties), pit pits (some are purple), lots of peanuts and bananas, etc.

This evening Todai prepared no sweet potatoes, but instead had killed ten chickens for a birthday party of nine kiddies… all in one big bowl and they sat around eating from it. No candles, nor tablecloth that time… We brought back pigs with the cousins and Ecobia who is a clan member.

I heard another genealogy story today. Fifteen generations they recited – with a little help at times. Normally only the chief or the wise man knows this. He was the butcher after the pigs came out of the mumu. You will see this on the tapes. As soon as you smile they smile back. Very responsive people.

I filmed last night on nightshot – it looks interesting. I used up almost all of my batteries today. I fell down a very steep dirt track and my sound man could not catch me as I flew down. Camera got a bit muddy. The wide angle lens got covered in red muddy soil, but it worked after cleaning.

Lots of love – “low power”


For information about Seed Savers visit their website at:


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