The next morning was just as peaceful and quiet, except for the bird life, of course. After breakfast and packing we headed further down along the river, between forest and gardens. The last leg down to the coast was by canoe - the boys had theirs waiting for us on the riverbank. We boarded.
The Tumari River is known as the only place around Tufi where you have to look out for crocodiles. Only some months before a young man was actually killed by one just behind the village, when he was visiting home after his graduation up in Popondetta. We didn't see any. Instead the
trip down was just very lazy and enjoyable, especially for me who sat on the platform while the boys paddled. Some women on their way to their garden said 'mornin' as they paddled in the opposite direction, and some parrots and ducks also caught our attention as we glided by.
The river forms a narrow lagoon behind Tumari village, so the houses on the beach have water both in front and back. In the morning light they appeared as picturesque silhouettes along side the palm trees.
On arrival we had a short chat with Bryson's family before walking to the western end of the long, black-sand beach. We passed the school and the teachers' houses and through the little grove to Merivi village. There is no guesthouse here, but the
village has a small community house - the open kind with no walls - where they have their talk-talks and share their meals. This is where we were going to stay. We were greeted by chief Morison and his wife; by Philip, who had the hosting responsibility for guests, and all the others. We had a lovely lunch of fish and vegetables.
William and Damian had lots to talk about with lots of people, both where we stayed and down in the main village on the beach, so I got acquainted with many. In Merivi we were really part of the family during our stay, and this was a particularly pleasant experience. Such hospitality, and as I have experienced elsewhere in PNG, people are genuinely interested in hearing about places far away (like Norway), as well as eager to share and tell about their own lives. One of the women turned out to be the mother of the young man who was taken by the crocodile. She was still dressed in mourning, and one could tell she had lots on her mind. She seemed like a strong woman, though, so I'm sure she'll manage well.
The beach at Merivi - the community house: exterior and interior
Once again we rose early, but for a special reason this time. Before the sun was up Philip and I walked down to the main beach, because July is the month when the tuna comes in. It's the time of the big netting.
At each end of the long beach a canoe was waiting close to shore, with several men aboard, expectantly surveying the calm surface. Gradually more people appeared on the beach, and more canoes got on the water. Then it all started: When the school of tuna was spotted - for some reason they always head for the shallows - the canoes made a half circle around them, and the men let out a long rope. On the beach many gathered by the rope ends, while the canoe crews fastened nets to the rope. From the shore the net was now pulled, and while the ends moved closer and closer to the centre, the half circle got smaller and smaller.
By now the whole village was on the beach and excitement was rising. Would it be a big catch? On a good day they will get more than two hundred, and the record from a few years back counted more than 1500. With the net right up to the beach the tuna were splashing and bouncing around, and some young women and men were carrying the first ones up by their tailfins. The excitement died down a bit when the count stopped at sixty some. Still no great disappointment - there will be a new catch tomorrow, and maybe that will be a good one (and yes, next day they did get two hundred).
I couldn't see any negotiating, but it seemed like everyone knew how many each household should have. In a short while all the fish were carried off, and out on the canoes the nets were carefully pulled out and stacked on the platforms for tomorrow.
Back in Merivi the women were already busy preparing the fish when we returned. Some of the tuna were cooked right away for brunch, while most were cut up for smoking. I had tuna for all my meals during this stay at Tumari, and it was a treat every time.
At mid-day William took me along across the mouth of the river, where the village is called Katokato. Here we joined Amy, a young meri, and some of the village kids for a short walk further up the beach. From here a path took us through the mangrove and nipa palm forest and up to the grassy ridge behind. Up here, with a stunning view of the bay on one side, and over the river valley with the
mountains behind one the other, new houses were being built. A young couple was already settled, while Elija had a nice garden going and was now putting the final touches on his family's house.
This building activity was a sign of dramatic change, because the Katokato people had decided to move their village to higher grounds. When the cyclone Guba, two years before, released it's torrential rains over this part of PNG, it had taken a bit of the beach by the village. This had caused great concern. The beach villages' vulnerability at the event of a tsunami is also something everyone is aware of, so the short move up to the ridge made sense in many respects.
This little walk was also a very entertaining one thanks to the kids that came along. All the way they were running around our feet, talking, joking, giggling and laughing. Now up ahead; now behind us; now up in the trees, and now flying over the logs across the small creeks in lightning speed. Such a happy and healthy little gang - what a place to grow up! Triggers a few thoughts about television and computer games, doesn't it?