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Papua New Guinea: Matupit megapode egg gatherers

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Matupit megapode egg gatherers | Papua New Guinea | Oceania

[Visited: June 2016]

Instead of a planned scuba dive excursion that does not work out, I decide to make my way down the peninsula south of Rabaul. A pick-up truck stops and takes me there, only stopping to collect some volcanic sand. It turns out they are heading to the cemetery of Matupit, and use the sand to construct the tomb of the grandmother of the driver. They introduce me to a young guy in the village who will be my guide. His brother comes as well. We walk the pleasant streets of Matupit, with plenty of frangipani trees, and I cannot resist to take one of the flowers and carry it with me: it must be one of the richest perfumes of any flower. We meet a well-travelled lady on the way with whom I have a good conversation, before we head down to the beach.

Picture of Matupit megapode egg gatherers (Papua New Guinea): Beach near the megapode fields with steaming hot sea and volcanic sand

After walking for a while, a traditional outrigger canoe comes our way, and it turns out that my friend has arranged it to take us across. The ride in the canoe on the mirror-like sea is reason enough to come here: we have unrestricted views of the smoking Tavurvur volcano which is reflected in the tranquil waters. During the last eruption in 1994, Matupit miraculously escaped the destruction that took place in nearby Rabaul, even though it is much closer to the volcano. We pull the canoe up the black sand at the feet of the active volcano, and walk a little up. Before the eruption, megapode birds used to make their nests high up in palm trees, but these have since disappeared, and now, they lay their eggs deep inside the volcanic ash. The men of Matupit have made it their main occupation to dig up these eggs, and sell them.

Picture of Matupit megapode egg gatherers (Papua New Guinea): Megapode egg gatherer covered in volcanic ash with betel nut-stained teeth

We reach a small field pockmarked with deep holes. This is not solid ground, but volcanic ash, so we walk carefully on the narrow ridges between the holes which are two metres deep. We soon meet several of the egg gatherers, completely covered in the dark grey volcanic ash in which they dig all day. They proudly show us their catch of the day: a couple of eggs. One egg sells for 2 Kina, but are usually sold in groups of four. I now recognize the egg I was offered the previous day, which was cooked in the hot bath a little further north at the feet of the volcano. It is quite amazing how deep these guys dig, which is not without risks: people get trapped in the ash when the holes collapse, and can even die. Nevertheless, the megapode eggs have become the main source of income for Matupit, and the guys make the journey in their canoes every day to collect eggs. We see the megapode birds in the trees, and I wonder how they can survive in the long run if their eggs are taken away. We reach the beach again, and I see steam coming off the sea. Indeed, the water is too hot to enter the sea here, and I am happy to have solid sandals under my feet because the sand is hot, too. When asked, my guide and his friends are egg gatherers, too on most days. They are merely showing me their usual occupation. On our way back, there are small waves on the sea, and Tavurvur is still smoking. It is then a pleasant walk back to town, passing the airport that was completely destroyed by the volcanic eruption of 1994. I cannot help but wonder what will happen to Matupit when the next eruption will come.

Picture of Matupit megapode egg gatherers (Papua New Guinea): Egg gatherer deep inside the volcanic ash in search for more eggs
Picture of Matupit megapode egg gatherers (Papua New Guinea): Landscape of deep holes in which the egg gatherers dig
Picture of Matupit megapode egg gatherers (Papua New Guinea): Egg gatherer showing his latest catch in a deep hole in the volcanic ash
Picture of Matupit megapode egg gatherers (Papua New Guinea): Volcanic beach with hot sea at the feet of Tavurvur volcano
Picture of Matupit megapode egg gatherers (Papua New Guinea): Beach with hot sea water at the feet of Tavurvur volcano
Picture of Matupit megapode egg gatherers (Papua New Guinea): Canoe resting on the volcanic beach of Tavurvur volcano
Picture of Matupit megapode egg gatherers (Papua New Guinea): Volcanic beach at the feet of Tavurvur with canoes of megapode egg gatherers

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