The first of the Trobriand Islands the Pacific Eden visited was Kitava Island. It is one of the four major islands of the Trobriand group and one of the most untouched islands.
The four major islands are Kitava, Kiriwina, Kaileuna and Vakuta. Kitava Island has one of the most intact island cultures in the world. Located in the Milne Bay province in the eastern part of Papua New Guinea Kitava is a unspoilt small island that welcomes visitors to explore its villages.
Life is as it was thousands of years ago with very little influence from the outside world. The residents of this island and their diet have been studied by Staffan Lindeberg, a Swedish medical academic, and colleagues because of their excellent health and traditional diet and several papers have been published on the subject. Kitavans are acne free and this is thought to be due to their diet consisting of fresh, natural foods such as tubers, fruit, fish and coconut. The consumption of tea, coffee, alcohol and dairy products is virtually nil.
The island is lined by stunning white sand beaches. Just offshore is an even smaller island, good for swimming and snorkelling, called Nuratu Island. Everyone is so friendly and the locals do not push their handicrafts onto you. It is very laid back. Aside from its breathtaking natural beauty, Kitava Island is also famous for its huge yam gardens, its numerous freshwater holes, burial caves, yam houses and ceremonial dances.
Kiriwina is the largest of the Trobriand Islands. Its small but important capital is Losuia and there is an airstrip located on the island. Most of Kiriwina is flat with the plains being highly cultivated as the islanders are subsistant on the crops to live.
The airport is in the north, where the US Air Force had two bases during WWII. South of here, on the west coast, Losuia is a sprawling village, known as ‘the station’, with a wharf, police station, health centre and trade stores. Elsewhere there are small traditional villages, their houses made of sago palm.
The very next day we arrived early at Kiriwina Island as it is only around 25 miles from Kitava. This is a great island for exploring on foot. We set off on one of the tracks from the jetty at Kaibola village on the side of the island which is considered to be the back by the islanders.
We walked through villages where locals sat on their verandahs, children played with puppies and pigs roamed freely as they pleased. Pigs, by the way, are an indication of wealth on this island.
The market stalls were set up with many locals selling wood carvings, shells and even a bat. The market consisted of the locals sitting on the ground on either side of the track with their goods in front of them. These people were a little more forward with their sales pitches than their counterparts on Kitava.
We met a local woman called Faith who agreed to be our guide and we headed off on a track towards the village. It rained sporadically through the day and got quite heavy leading up to midday.
Most islanders are religious and conservative and therefore it is advisable to wear at least knee length skirts or shorts especially when moving around the villages. At one point I felt that I would like to sit on one of the beaches under a nice shady tree so we took a left turn and headed to the beach. We passed Faith’s garden which had tapioca, bananas, giant taros and yams.
There are no shops on this island therefore if you don’t grow your own food and catch fish you would starve. These islands are made of coral and the snorkelling close to shore is quite good. The water was clear and tepid. There was an elementary school near the jetty and the children put on a show singing and dancing their little hearts out. Also some of the women sang and danced in skirts and no tops. The singing was quite beautiful and the dancing looked like an island version of Line Dancing with better music. Click on the link to listen and see the people of Kiriwina Island.
It is interesting to note that this is a matrilineal society where woman enjoy higher status than men. The island’s population at 12,000 means that Kiriwina is by far the most populous of the Trobriand Islands and the languages spoken are Kilivila and various dialects.