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PAPUA NEW GUINEA

People of the Wind Nation

Story by WWF January 8th, 2015

Photos by WWF Photographer Jürgen Freund

Husband and wife photographic team Jürgen and Stella Freund have travelled extensively with WWF in the Coral Triangle – an area covering 6 million square kilometres of sea and land, including Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste and the Solomon Islands.

Within this nursery of the seas live 76 per cent of the world’s coral species, six out of seven of the world’s marine turtle species and at least 2,228 types of reef fish. The ocean also directly sustains more than 120 million people in the region.

Stella Freund’s reflections and recollections of their experiences — captured in the Coral Triangle blog — offer insight into the cultures of the region, and the challenges and opportunities for both people and nature.

Stella Freund investigates the local coral and sea life
Fishing from the community canoe, produced with help from a WWF project on M’Buke Island
Stella Freund investigates the local coral and sea life
Two blue starfish stand guard over the local reef

S2 22.915 E146 49.513 – M’Buke Island.

When I was still researching projects to cover for our expedition, I heard of the traditional community canoe making project of WWF Western Melanesia Programme in M’Buke Island. This was not a small dugout canoe that I was familiar with, but a big outrigger canoe that could sleep 20 people.
Fishing from the community canoe, produced with help from a WWF project on M’Buke Island
WWF staff member and native of M'Buke, Selarn Karluwin - Jürgen & Stella Freund's expert guide
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An islander paddles a dugout canoe to go fishing

The canoe is a tangible representation of the close link between the M’Buke people and the sea. WWF has helped communities create their own management plans for marine resources – deciding where to catch fish, and where to leave them to breed and grow; setting rules for harvesting coral; doing their own biological monitoring, socio-economic surveys and mangrove reforestation.

Friant's sea star (Nardoa frianti) on coral
Blue starfish shrimp (Periclimenes soror)
Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) swimming over the reef
Spinecheek anemonefish (Premnas biaculeatus) in its bleaching anemone home, Kimbe Bay
Red whip corals
Bright gorgonian fan coral and blue starfish on the reef

Betel nut chewing is a custom that dates back thousands of years, and remains very much a part of modern life in many parts of the Coral Triangle. If you visit a country such as Papua New Guinea, one of the first things you notice is the red stain on people’s lips and teeth. The combination of betel nut and mustard stick dipped in lime powder acts as a mild stimulant that helps suppress hunger, reduce stress and heighten senses.

WWF staff member and native of M'Buke, Selarn Karluwin, on a community canoe
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Fisherman catches a coral trout from the community canoe
Nothing goes to waste: making a stick broom out of the spines of coconut leaves
WWF is helping communities create their own management plans for marine resources

The betel nut and mustard stick (a pepper plant) can be grown in people’s backyards. But the lime is processed from corals. Harvesting corals can become a problem if unregulated and unmanaged. In M’Buke, the elders, the environmental conservation group and the women coral collectors in the community have agreed with the village chief on regulations for coral harvesting. It can only be done four times a year; the harvest season is closed for three months and women can go out to selected areas to harvest a limit of one basket per collector.

Harvesting local coral
Sustainably harvested coral goes into the lime powder used in betel nut chewing
Sustainably harvested coral goes into the lime powder used in betel nut chewing
Lime powder, mustard sticks and betel nut for chewing
The people of M’Buke Island belong to the Wind Nation. Councillor John Tokios explained that the Wind Nation believes in total freedom. Freedom from hardship, hunger, old age and disease. They believe in a continuous life — an ongoing life that has no end. Here are the Wind Nation’s five fundamentals to total freedom: 1. To live a life, you must like people. To be accepted, you must accept people. 2. You can joke a happy joke – not one that creates anger. While joking, it must not be insulting. 3. You should be happy and smile. Be playful. 4. Be honest. 5. Get together as a community through rituals — discuss things that will answer all objectives to create total freedom.

The M’Buke Island people both young and old make up the rich character of this amazing place. We loved our short stay here. I told the councillor we were in essence wantok which, in Tok Pisin, means “someone who speaks my language”.

Carefree children of the M'buke Islands
Footnote: All photos: © Jürgen Freund / WWF. text: Stella Freund, edited for Exposure by Gretchen Lyons.
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