I am an Australian working in Papua New Guinea (PNG) in Bible translation and linguistics. Before I moved here I worked on traditional sailing ships doing sail training, and shared life with friends through our variation on intentional Christian community living.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinion of any of the organisations mentioned.
Saturday, 1 December 2012
Village Living: Cash Economies
Young boy climbing a buai palm
One afternoon our wasbrata (brother)came
home from school and asked for money for the school picnic. Cash is not
something that the family keeps much of but the solution was
straightforward. Our brother and sister went down the hill to the family
buai (betel nut) plantation. He climbed the thin palm trees, threw
bunches of buai down to his sister and she put them in bags to take to
market the next day.
People and buai loaded onto a PMV
The following day we went with our wassusa (sister)to
the market. We piled onto the PMV (Public Motor Vehicle) with all the
others bound for the market plus their produce. It was cramped. Before
we even got off the PMV at the market, the bargaining had begun. Teams
of men had come down from the Highlands to buy bulk buai to take home
and resell. Although the Highlanders are bigger and fiercer than the
coastal people, our sister was taking no nonsense from them and
bargained hard. As the men bought the bunches of buai they would gather,
strip the nuts from the branches, put them into sacks and sew them shut
once full. Once all our sister’s buai was sold, we caught another PMV
into town to buy store goods (rice, tinned meat, milk powder and a cream
bun) then back home with the rest of the cash to give our brother for
his school picnic.
Loaded PMV going to market
or betel nut, is a mild stimulant when chewed with lime and ‘mustard’
(not what we think of as mustard in Aus). These three combine to a red
paste which people then spit out, resulting in bright red spatters on
the ground and a high incidence of mouth cancer in the country. It only
grows at lower altitudes and the trade with the highlands was the
primary income for the family we lived with. Other cash crops were cocoa
and coffee…feeding the stimulating addictions of the west rather than
their own addiction.
Selling bulk buai at the market
saddens me that the cash economies of this country seem to be tied to
addiction. Sugar, tobacco and natural gas are other exports, each of
which is addictive in its own way. Most of it is feeding the addictions
of the culture I am from. Yet this is the cash which families put into
education or into nutrition (the protein of tinned meat, not the cream
bun!). A big LNG project is driving the economy and enabling the
government to promise free education, better roads and better
healthcare. Surely these are good things, but at what cost? There is no
simple answer, but it is interesting to be observing the grassroots
level of production and cash return. It is good to ask the questions,
even if I do not have answers.