On the Rock

I’m back in Papua New Guinea, the other end of the island. Not much has changed in Port Moresby. Major road construction projects are winding up and it’s easier to get around it seems.

One such project is an overpass built expressly for a big regional political meeting coming up in two years time. This overpass will swish dignitaries directly from the airport to the meeting site and
by-pass all the traffic and potential carjacking points and scenes of poverty. These meetings are great to expose these countries to world leaders, but I wonder about resources better spent on things like food and water and health care. But maybe there’s some bigger plan.

The Australians have contracted with the Papuans to put a refugee camp here.  The Aussies  have taken a hard line against people coming to their shore by boat.  It may not make the news back home, but they intercept folks coming by boat and put them in camps where conditions are considered pretty bleak. On the island of Nauru, distressed refugees are immolating themselves to protest conditions. Recently the Supreme Court in PNG ruled that these camps in Papua New Guinea violated the constitution and they should be closed.

Coincidentally, on Papua, some refugees have been let out of the camps to live in the community as regular citizens.  A number of them, though have asked to move back into the camps citing safety reasons.

I just finished reading “Savage Harvest” by Carl Hoffman. He goes back and investigates the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller way back in 1961.  The grandson of John D  Rockefeller was off collecting primitively art in western Papua when he disappeared while boating off the coast. Despite an extensive search his body was never found. It was thought he was swept out to sea or was even by sharks, but was also rumored he swam ashore and was eaten by cannibals. I leave it to you to read more, but the book is fascinating look at some of the ageless spirituality that infuses the people of this region.

On my way to the airport, the driver told me an interesting story.

We passed by a rock, a huge boulder of granite. He told me that back in 1990 as they were building the road to the airport they had to carve a pass over a mountain.  They carved down through the mountain and hauled all the rock down to the harbor and dumped it there. They packed it all down and have started building on it as reclaimed land.

But, he pointed to the big boulder that had been fenced off by the side of the road, and said that they hauled that particular rock down to the shore 5 or 6 times, but every time they did they found it moved back to its original site up the hill.  After a few times, they decided they needed to talk to the rock to see what the problem may be.  

They found landowners who had some rights to the land and they asked them to come talk to the rock. They did, but the rock didn’t listen until finally, they found an ancestor of some of the original people of the Port Moresby area. They had been displaced to up into the hills when the city was built. These people came and they talked to the rock and the rock talked back and they were able to reach a compromise where the rock would agree to be moved to the side of the road, but didn’t have to go down to the beach.

So there it sits. Some 5 tons of stone. They’ve even built a little wall around it. Whether that’s to keep the rock in or people out is not known.

He proceeded to tell me about a sacred spring that is inhabited by a snake spirit.  No one is allowed to swim there or fish there.  But, a the end of the dry season, when everyone is hungry and tired of the dust and the heat, they send someone up into the hills to splash about and make noise and soon after a flood comes and usually kills some people or destroys things.  

The loss is a payment to the gods, but at least they have rain.  

“Yeah, we’ve got a lot of stories about spirits and ghosts. It all goes way, way back.”  All that from a cab ride.  Well worth the fare.

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