Background information to The Patea Kukuku Tribe of Papua New Guinea, working with Dr Yaso Nadarajah (research fellow) at RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia.
The Patea (Kukukuku) are a tribal community of over 90,000 residing in the highlands of Papua New Guinea (PNG), Melanesia’s largest and most populous island. The Patea’s customary land covers some of the most rugged and beautiful mountains and valleys of the PNG highlands. However its isolation and the lack of serviceable roads mean that most Patea villages are beyond the reach of basic government services and there is little external trade. Meanwhile, the livelihoods of many Patea families are increasingly coming under threat from the destructive environmental practices of mining and forestry companies encroaching on their land. While members of the Patea tribal community have expressed an interest in development and ‘opening themselves up’ to the outside world, there is an acknowledgement that this needs to happen in a way that the community has some control over.
To that end, the ‘Patea Eco-Enterprise Project’was established in 2009 as a community development project built on a partnership between the Patea tribal community and Senior Research Fellow Yaso Nadarajah at the Globalism Research Centre, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia. The project was established as a long-term partnership; its aim is to help the Patea people find ways of taking control of their own development and livelihoods in their own terms and at their own pace.
There are several aspects to this task. Through a series of small funds and partnerships the Patea have been able to come together and explore community-based solutions to the lack of employment, food insecurity and other problems in their villages. They have established a number of creative ‘pilot projects’ including a collective pig-raising project, a sustainable farming and nutrition initiative, and a women’s co-operative which encourages women to become traders. These pilot projects have been established in different villages around the Patea’s customary territory, and will hopefully flourish and expand over time.
Meanwhile the project has a broader aim. At its outset, Patea Chiefs and Elders articulated that much of their culture had become lost or distorted through a long history of negative/corrosive outside interference. They recognised that they must find new ways of nurturing, recovering and expressing their culture in order to gain the confidence and community strength to negotiate a new place in an ever-changing world. As part of this process, the Patea have established a theatre group. Their first performance piece, entitled “Tears of the Rainforest”, powerfully asserts the Patea’s ancestry, heritage and relationship with the environment. In September 2013, “Tears of the Rainforest” will be performed at the regional Lae Cultural Festival. For many of those involved, this will be the first time they have travelled outside of their homeland.
And now the generous support of the Quilt Collective has been initiated by Gina Wilson from Eltham, in Victoria, Australia. Yaso shared the project and the lives of the tribal community with Gina at dinner one day. This conversation has led to this amazing Quilt Collective and generous gifts of handmade quilts as Gina connected through her networks and friends. The first two quilts were given by Gina, and Yaso took them to the remotest part of the Patea community village. The Elders and Yaso talked about who would need these quilts most – especially in the cold mountains and with so little means to buy clothes and warm coverings. The Elders and Yaso decided that the young babies, the ones most vulnerable would benefit so much from these lovingly crafted quilts. As Yaso presented these quilts on behalf of Gina Wilson, the mothers cried and the babies looked up with great joy as they were wrapped in these wonderful quilts, made with so much love.
These quilts, as we gather them and take them to Patea Land and to the Patea babies, represent a thread of great exchange and humanity – of that between all of you amazing women who make these quilts and these little babies who will grow up, being wrapped in the warmth and care of the quilts handmade and sent from many parts of the world. The best part is that they are new, handmade and with the names of the person who has made it. We will also try very hard to make sure that we are able to give the names of the babies who have inherited these quilts. They will remain in the family for as long as they hold together.
This Quilt Collective already represent so much of that which this Patea Eco-Enterprise project seeks to engender – one of universal humanism, and one of reciprocal exchange between someone so different from you – in care and respect and genuine effort.