Much like a lot of the mainland of Bougainville, Pokpok Island just off Kieta is blessed with water, small creeks and springs, large chunks of green forest areas – mostly still intact – bird and insect life and marsupials and feral swine.
In fact, because of awareness taken by the community there is more bird life on the Island than many areas on the mainland where birds are still hunted for game.
And of course the Island and the many islands nearby have beautiful white beaches and unpolluted pristine blue waters.It’s a good life here, but it can be tough with finite arable land areas to go around amongst increasing population. The sea with its shoals and reefs provides most people’s livelihood and income.
But more and more everyone is going out farther and trying harder.
Families with children working in PNG benefit from remittances, but when it’s shared around the extended family, it doesn’t amount to much. The other real benefit in remittances is in maintaining family contacts and in the way the workers are acknowledged and appreciated when they come home on vacation and special occasions.
Most people here are self-employed. Fishing by day or night, trawling, bottom fishing or night diving. Spouses, aunts, nieces and mothers sell the catch at the fish market. Beche de mer (sea cucumber) harvest time is one of the busiest times for everyone on the Island, harvesting, buying and selling in the village and, for some, selling in Buka.
There’s also copra. People take turns for each other or organise busy bees groups to do village chores within extended families and from for all of community benefits.
Wednesday is community day – a colonial legacy that still works where whole communities devote most of the day to work that benefits the collective. Repairing classrooms or teachers’ houses, or the village clinic, cleaning around the common cemetery, cleaning the beachfront, or meeting to resolve impending issues.
Every other week, that is once a fortnight, some of the expert hands do stevedoring at Kieta wharf, operating cranes and forklifts to unload Consort Shipping vessels. Kieta wharf has one of the shortest turnaround times for Consort shipping in the country. After the ships sail away, it’s time to clear the wharf.
Jomik group of companies has a permanent employee arrangement with a village company of workers from the Island. They clear and ship all cargo shipments into Arawa after the vessels sail away. Lukui Trading has a similar employer arrangements that involves another group of shippers that transport cargo to Arawa.
It has been a pleasant surprise to find out how these employer- employer arrangements have worked very based on trust – No complaints, no unions, no strikes, no pilfering. Everyone gets paid and benefits with some bonuses at year’s end and/or sponsorship of sports teams from the Island.
There is always so much to do, work and fun. The most spare time is on Sundays, when everyone is involved in one way or another in male and female volleyball teams that compete after church. The standard is high and it is good entertainment for spectators. Lately a soccer team with boys from the mainland has joined the local soccer competition at Toniva field.
There is good self management in teams that ensured everyone keeps an eye on each other to make sure no one gets inebriated the night before the games on Sunday. Those who do so (and get caught) can expect to pay a fine and be left off the team sheet for the Sunday games.
When young people have too much time on their hands with little to do, mischief can become a problem. You see this with young people drinking and doing drugs in the main towns and some villages. This doesn’t tend to be a problem in places where whole communities take an interest in young people’s activities and show young people that what they are interested in is worthwhile.
Community governments can play a role in maintaining peace in the village by supporting youth-initiated activities, like sports, one-off events, music gigs and arts projects. Everyone benefits.
There are visible and tangible dividends when communities take time and effort to organize around and inclusive of everyone as much as and as often as possible. There is a lot of common courtesy that comes and flows through as well as respect amongst everyone. Sports becomes an important tool more than just a fun activity and sports.
The fun, joy and happiness experienced by the young people flows through to the parents, the Chiefs, the clan elders and community Government Ward representatives, making everyone’s tasks less cumbersome, less complicated and lot easier.
At the back end of the village near the volleyball courts is the community cemetery. All early settlers, Kukurais, Tultuls, Chiefs rest here and are remembered by the community. To visit the cemetery is to be reminded that we can learn from cultures and societies – our own and those from far away – that have long held their peace and sanity together, and found ways to juggle the needs of young people and old, of the land and the sea, of work, of play and of rest.