Sunday, August 20, 2017


Years ago, I met a couple who said they were getting ready for a trip to Machu Picchu as part of their backpacking tour of South America. I think I had barely heard of it and was really not quite sure of which country it was in. They made it sound impressive. Of course, not wanting to risk looking stupid, I asked an open-ended question about their travel itinerary and pieced it all together. (I Googled it later.) One of the most iconic places in South America, this ancient Incan city is now a World Heritage Site. 

The name Peru is most likely stemmed from Birú; however, who Birú was referring to is somewhat disputed in history. Some believe he was a local ruler who ruled from what is now Panama, but other theories implied that he was a just an Indian crewmember on a ship that belonged to the governor Pedro Arias de Ávila. Regardless of its origin, it eventually changed over to Peru.

Peru is located in the northeastern corner of South America. It borders Ecuador and Colombia to the north, Brazil and Bolivia to the east, and Chile to the south. It also has a long coastline along the Pacific Ocean to the west. The Andes Mountains run down the coastline, dividing the country between the mountainous region and a highlands region. The Amazon rainforest extends itself into Peru as well, and many of the rivers that vein their way through the country are actually extensions of the Amazon River. Because of this immense change in scenery and altitude across the country (along with being near two major ocean currents), Peru has quite a wide biodiversity.

The earliest people in this area were of an agricultural-based society. During the 15th century, the Incan Civilization gained prominence in the Andes, growing to be the largest civilization in the Americas during the pre-Columbian era. With their capital in Cusco, their empire spread pretty much for the entire western seaboard of South America. However, they were no match to the Spanish Conquistadors. They pretty much exploited the people in their search for gold and silver and anything else they thought could turn a quick buck. And the Spanish brought quite a bit to the area: African slaves for labor, diseases, Catholicism, and the Inquisition. It was like a hellish Christmas. By the 18th century, several rebellions and reforms have taken place, but most were suppressed. Much of Central and South America was swept up in the mass independence movements during the early part of the 19th century. Peru was able to gain theirs through the help of Simón Bolívar and José de San Martín and their military power. As a new country, they worked to expand the railroad system and a number of other infrastructure improvements that ended up nearly bankrupting the country. There were a number of conflicts between Peru and its neighbors throughout the latter part of the 19th century and 20th century, several of which ended in many deaths on both sides. Today, the country is working toward a better human rights record, peaceful elections, and more transparency in government. (Most of the rest of us can strive for this, too.)

The capital city of Lima is not only the largest city in Peru, but it’s also one of the largest metropolitan centers in South America. It was named after a famous oracle (Limaq) who lived in the area. The capital city is located along the Pacific coastline about halfway between the borders. Lima (and not the Spanish word for lime, mind you) houses the center of the federal government as well as being a center for commerce, finance, and education. The National University of San Marcos is the oldest continuously functioning university in Latin America, opening its doors in 1551. It’s a global city, holding numerous international competitions, conventions, and events.

Peru’s economy is one of the fastest growing ones in the world. The World Bank classified them as an upper middle income, and they also have a high Human Development Index to match. Inflation is generally low, and unemployment rates are falling. Agrarian reformation and income redistribution has helped with some of this. Services account for more than half of the GDP, followed by manufacturing. Trade has increased through free trade agreements, especially with the US.

Roughly 97% of Peruvians are Christian, with about 80% of them being Catholic. The remaining 3% are non-religious. However, there are also a number of indigenous spiritual traditions that people also adhere to even if they are Christian, and sometimes they merge the traditions of the two. Some of the Incan festivals, such as Inti Raymi, are still celebrated to this day.

Peru lists three official languages: Spanish, Quechua, and Aymara. In areas where other indigenous languages take prevalence, those languages will also have a quasi-official status for that area. Spanish is used as the language of the government and in education and is spoken mostly among the coastal regions. In the mountainous regions and other areas, Quechua and Aymara tend to be spoken more than Spanish, especially in the Amerindian communities.

Lima has made great strides in recent years at really creating a name for itself as one of the global leaders in the culinary scene. Rivaling much larger cities, Lima has several restaurants that have made the list of Top Restaurants in the World. One of the key elements that many of Lima’s restaurants encompass is to embrace its multiculturalism: its demographics include Incan and other indigenous/pre-Columbian cultures, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Lebanese, and several other immigrant cultures. And not only do they embrace it, they blend it and merge it and create something that is quintessentially Peruvian. I’m really excited to venture into this and find out more.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, August 13, 2017


It’s taken a long time to come to this meal. I took one of those rare breaks because the kids started back to school, and I spent the entire weekend that I was supposed to be cooking running around trying to get them school supplies and school uniforms. Plus, sometimes you just need a break. But it’s good to be back at it again. 

The perfect accompaniment to pretty much any meal.
So, today I started with the Sopa Paraguaya, or Paraguayan Cornbread. I dragged out my blender and put in 1 ½ c of frozen corn (that had been thawed) and blended it until it was smooth and poured it into a bowl. In that bowl, I added 1 ½ c of yellow cornmeal, 2/3 c of milk, ¼ c olive oil, 1 ½ c of grated muenster cheese, and 1 tsp of salt and stirred until it was all mixed together and smooth. I sautéed some onions in oil until they were transparent and soft. I put the onions into the corn mixture and stirred them in. In a small bowl, I beat 3 egg whites until they formed peaks and set it to the side while I beat the 3 egg yolks until they were thick. I carefully folded the egg yolks into the egg whites and then added this to the corn mixture, making sure everything is mixed well. At this point, I preheated my oven to 400ºF and greased a 8-9” shallow baking dish with butter and 2 Tbsp of grated Parmesan cheese, shaking the pan slightly to spread it evenly. Once I poured the batter in, I drizzled the top with 1 Tbsp of melted butter and baked it for 45 minutes. I absolutely loved this. It was thick and cheesy at the same time, but because I used muenster cheese, it was a subtler flavor. I think I left mine in the oven until the last possible second—any longer, it would’ve been burnt. But it was good.

Not quite exactly what I envisioned, but I should try it again and do it correctly.
The main dish for today is Pan de Carne, or Paraguayan Meat Loaf. My dad would be so happy knowing that I’m making meat loaf.  This is pretty easy to make. In a large bowl, I mixed together all of the main ingredients: 2 lbs of ground beef, a little flour, a pinch of nutmeg, chopped onion, parsley, thyme, ground cumin, garlic, an egg, salt, and pepper. On a baking sheet, I laid out a sheet of aluminum foil and spread out my ground beef mixture on the foil. Down the middle of the mixture, I spread out my pieces of shredded carrots, sliced green pepper and 3 hardboiled egg that I sliced up. Then I used the foil to help roll up the meat into a log shape. I used the foil to help keep it closed, and I baked this in a 350ºF oven for 50-60 minutes. There were a couple of things I did without thinking of the consequences that kind of messed this up. First of all, I had this sitting seam-side down, so all of the juices leaked out into the baking sheet. And because it did this, it turned out pretty dry, and a lot of the spices I feel leaked out with it because it was also on the bland side. Lesson learned.

Actually, this was quite refreshing. Quite a nice salad for summer.
To go with this, I made Ensalda de Mandioca. The first thing I did was peel the skin off of the yucca roots (also called tapioca or manioc or mandioca). I chopped it into smaller pieces and boiled it with some salt until it was soft. When it was cool, I combined it with some soy sauce, olive oil, garlic, and capers (in lieu of chopped onions). I arranged endive leaves on a plate and put this mixture in the center. Then I mixed together some grated carrots, black olives, and tomatoes together and topped it with parsley. I spread this around the outside of the yucca mixture. And to finish this off, I placed avocado slices on the outside of the plate, drizzling them in a seasoned sauce of olive oil, sesame oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. This was pretty tasty. It was my first time cooking yucca/cassava and eating it in this way. It almost had the consistency of a potato but a little reedy. The soy sauce overpowered any of its natural flavor in this dish. I actually kind of liked this. It was a nice counter dish to the richness/heartiness of the meat and cornbread.

Overall, this turned out to be a really good meal. I really loved this.
Once again, the news has me thinking and overthinking. All day yesterday and today, I couldn’t escape reading about the violence in Virginia from those damn Nazis and white supremacists. Living in a conservative state, it makes me nervous when I hear about this kind of stuff. Especially seeing how I’m married to a black man and have two mixed-race children. I think our educational system has failed us. And it’s failed us all. This is all the result of selective education, hand-picking what they want us know, leaving out the bad parts, telling us we wouldn’t be able to handle the truth, and undermining the entire educational system on a whole. When you have generations of lessons that aren’t based in fact and misconstrued truths, this is what you get. We’re more alike as humans than they care to know. We are better than this.

Up next: Peru

Saturday, August 12, 2017


The folk music of Paraguay is deeply rooted in European musical traditions. One of the styles that has become iconic in Paraguay is the polka. However, what’s different between Paraguayan polka and European-style polka is that European style is based on more binary rhythms and Paraguayan styles combine binary rhythms with ternary rhythms.

Another popular form of folk music is the zarzuela, a Spanish-influenced form that blends operatic lyrical music with dance. The Paraguayan form drew in elements of Paraguayan polka and Guaraní music (and the Guaraní language). 

Many of the instruments commonly used in Paraguayan music were brought over from Europe, like the Spanish guitar and the harp. The harp was one of the first instruments introduced to the native Paraguayans and has been in use since the 1500s. It was far more practical to use in religious services rather than an organ or harpsichord. Typically, it’s made of mahogany or other tropical woods, and the number of strings can vary between 32-46 strings. Although it stands nearly 5’ tall, it is fairly light in construction. The Paraguayan harp is often considered the national instrument. 

I had already mentioned that polka was a popular form of music, so it’s not hard to imagine that the polka dance is also a popular dance form as well. Another dance that is known throughout the country is the bottle dance; it’s signature move is that the performer dances around while balancing a glass bottle on their head. There isn’t a specific musical style associated with this dance, so many different forms can be used to accompany this dance. 

As far as trying to find some bands that were from Paraguay, I had to do a little more digging around than usual. Typically, Wikipedia has been a great resource for listing a bunch of bands or musicians from a country to start with, and I’d go look them up on Spotify. But this one was lacking. However, I did manage to find a few. First of all, I listened to the band Flou. I loved them from first listen. Definitely in the nu metal category, they were loud, but their instrumentals were driving and clean. They kind of reminded me of Disturbed a little bit along with a bunch of other bands. However, they do have a slower, more melodic side to them that I also liked.

Revolber is another hard rock band I listened to. I liked what I heard from them –at times they have almost a punk or ska sound to their music. I think it’s pretty catchy stuff. They remind me a little of Los Rabanes from Panama.

Paiko is a rock-pop band. I listened to several of their songs, and they have quite a range in styles from rock to reggae to almost a country sound. I’m not a fan of the country sound, but the other stuff was decent.

By now, you should know I have a penchant for punk music. Area 69 fell into this category, and I quite enjoyed it. It was more of that pop-punk style, but that didn’t matter. I still thought it was kind of fun.

I also listened to Kchiporros. It’s hard to explain, but it’s very much Latin pop mixed with reggae. I really like it a lot. It’s very danceable. I found myself listening to it longer than some of the others – although I’m not exactly sure how to pronounce it.

It was hard to find any rappers or hip-hop artists from Paraguay. Not too many popped up for me. However, I did come across one called Rapper Soul. I listened to a few of his tracks. He’s got the rap-rock thing down – kind of in the style of Rage Against the Machine (one of my favorite bands). And like Rage or even Red Hot Chili Peppers, they also incorporate elements of funk into their music as well. I seriously wish I could find more of their stuff.

Up next: the food

Tuesday, August 8, 2017


The indigenous art of Paraguay is fairly diverse as far as crafts and utensils are concerned, but they are more known for their basket weaving and featherwork. The baskets were used for a variety of purposes and came in a number of different styles. Most of these baskets are woven using the fibers of canes, and not only do they weave baskets, they also weave mats, shades, fans, and the piri (a type of hat worn by country folk). Many of these products are also made with leather (or are made entirely of leather as well). The related art of wickerwork also uses a number of different kinds of palms. 

Featherwork was also used as a part of their fashion and accessories. It was mainly used in bracelets, anklets, and collars. However, it was also used in headdresses (often used in ceremonies) and even cloaks, like what was worn by Guaraní medicine men. Embroidery and other textile arts are also very common. The Jesuits and Spanish introduced different techniques to the Guaraní that they built upon. One style of embroidery that is widely known from Paraguay is Ñandutí. I love the shading they use here; it creates quite a dramatic effect.

Like most other cultures, ceramics were an important part of their development. Most of their ceramics were divided between two purposes: functional (cooking, food storage, medicinal) and ceremonial (funeral urns). Ceramics is an artform primarily learned by women. Wood carving is also a traditional art. Smoking pipes, chairs and other pieces of furniture, and wooden masks are some of the items that are most commonly carved. Animals and anthropomorphic characters were often carved out of wood and gourds.

"Meditacion" by Olga Blinder

Today, there are many Paraguayan artists who work in a variety of mediums: Julia Isídrez (ceramics), Juana Marta Rodas (ceramics), Ricardo Migliorisi (painter, architect, scenery designer, costumer), Jenaro Pindú (architect, sculptor, cartoonist), Félix Toranzos (architect, artist, graphic designer), Edith Jiménez (engraving, plastic arts), Pedro Di Lascio (engraver, painter), Serafín Marsal (sculptor), Olga Blinder (engraver, sculptor, painter), Hermann Guggiari (sculptor, engineer), Elsa Wiezell (painter), Lilí del Mónico (painter, artist), Juan Sorazábal (painter), Ignacio Núñez Soler (painter), Josefina Pla (painter, art critic), Livio Abramo (engraver, sketcher), Feliciano Centurión (plastic arts), and Mabel Arcondo (artist, painter).

"Cristo" by Hermann Guggiari

Paraguay has a diversely strong literary history, despite many authors finding it easier to get published in other South American countries. The vast majority of literature is written in Spanish. Juan Silvano Godoi was a political journalist during the mid-1800s and rose to prominence while helping to rebuild the country after the war.

Gabriel Casaccia

Gabriel Casaccia is often considered the father of modern Paraguayan literature. Although he started out studying law, he jumped into journalism after he graduated (I’m sure his parents were thrilled). He ended up writing for a few magazines and literary journals, and eventually wrote his own fiction novels, short stories, and even a play.

Hérib Campos Cervera

As far as poets go, Hérib Campos Cervera is one of Paraguay’s more important poets. He was quite an outspoken poet, especially against the government and leadership. And because of his Marxist viewpoints, making him a political target, he had found himself on the run a couple of times in his life.

Roque Vallejos

Another poet, Roque Vallejos, actually started out as a forensic surgeon before he became a poet and essayist. (Less chance of killing someone that way.) He was part of a literary group called 60 Generation, which was a well-known group of writers who focused mainly on socio-political issues of the time.  

Up next: music and dance

Sunday, July 23, 2017


When I went to Brazil in 2003, I spent my first week in Curitiba, which is the state capital of Paraná. I was asked many times whether I was going to travel to visit Foz de Iguaçu and see the famous waterfalls. However, it was on the other side of the state, and it just wasn’t feasible to fit into my schedule or budget. But if I ever make the trip back to Brazil, I definitely want to add this into the trip. While the city is on the border with Paraguay, the actual falls are across the border from Argentina. Foz de Iguaçu (or Foz de Iguazu in Spanish) is pretty much a five-and-a-half-hour straight shot to Asuncion, Paraguay. I’ve already got this planned out.

Kind of like certain dishes, everyone has their own take on how the name Paraguay came to be. Many historians and linguists have come up with a variety of translations over the years, but most of them stem from the Guaraní language and most have something to do with water or the river.

Paraguay is a landlocked country in the central part of South America. The northern part borders with Bolivia (the other landlocked country in South America), part of the eastern section borders with Brazil, and the southern and western parts touch Argentina. Its climate is tropical and subtropical, depending on where you are.  The Paraguay River, which is the second-longest river in South America, pretty much divides the country in two.
Jesuit mission ruins
The first people moved into this area thousands of years ago. Today, there are still 17 different ethnolinguistic groups still living in Paraguay. The first Europeans to arrive in the area were the Spanish when de Espinosa’s crew created what would become the capital city of Asunción. Jesuit missions popped up across Paraguay as well as other areas throughout South America with the mission of forcing Christianity among the indigenous peoples who were content praying to whatever they prayed to. Paraguay actually kicked the Spanish out in 1811. It only took three years to get their first dictator, José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia, who wanted to set the country up as a utopian society and pushed a mixed-race (mestizo) society among other things. Although there wasn’t a lot of slavery in Paraguay, it was officially banned in 1844. In 1864, Paraguay entered the Paraguyan War against the Triple Alliance of Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina. It was one of the bloodiest wars in Latin American history, although the actual causes are still being debated. The first half of the 20th century saw numerous back-to-back coups and presidential changes. In 1954, Alfredo Stroessner took to power, and his Colorado Party had a history of violating human rights and violence to get things done until he was overthrown in 1989. The Colorado Party that had been in power for the past 60 years finally lost its majority. However, Fernando Lugo, who won by a landslide, was impeached in 2012 on grounds of a badly executed land eviction among other issues.

Asunción, otherwise known as Nuestro Señora Santa María de la Asunción, is the capital city of Paraguay. As one of the oldest cities in South America, founded in 1537, it was named after the Catholic Feast of the Assumption (held August 15). Today, the city has over 2.1 million people in its metro area. It sits on the banks of the Paraguay River, which pretty much borders with Argentina, especially heading south of the city. Not only is it the center of government, but it’s also a center of commerce, banking, and education. It’s rife with museums, historical buildings, sports facilities, theatres, and arts galleries.

For much of the past 40-50 years, Paraguay has had one of the highest economic growth patterns in South America, and it only continues to grow. They are among the world’s leading producers of stevia, soybeans, corn, tung oil, wheat, and beef. They're also known for their yerba mate production. Agriculture is extremely important since most of the country lives in rural areas. Mining, pharmaceutical, and manufacturing industries have really began setting footholds in the country. Even at that, the country still struggles with wage inequality; estimates show between 35-50% of the country lives in poverty, and most of those in the rural areas. Clean drinking water and electricity haven’t even made it to the vast majority of the rural and indigenous population.

Nearly 90% of Paraguayans are Roman Catholic. There are smaller numbers of various Protestant denominations as well as some communities of other religions such as Baha’i, Islam, and indigenous religions.

Officially, Paraguay is bilingual in both Spanish and Guaraní. The Guaraní language is one of the largest indigenous languages in South America, native to Paraguay and Bolivia (although there are also communities in Argentina and Brazil as well). The city of Asunción has many speakers of a dialect called Jopará, which is more of a casual form of Guaraní that uses quite a bit of Spanish loan words. Because of its history and proximity to Brazil, there are also a significant number of Portuguese speakers.

From what I’ve gathered in reading about Paraguay and its people, they’re society is built around the land, their food, and hospitality. They even made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for having the world’s largest barbecue that hosted nearly 30,000 people. It’s easily a country I could spend some time in, eating my way from city to city.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, July 16, 2017


I can’t believe it’s the middle of July, and I have to say that the summer is winding down. Who would’ve ever thought that the kids would go back to school in July? Sheesh. And when I got my daughter’s shots to enter kindergarten, it seemed like such a long time until the 6th grade shots booster. And yet, here we are. 

One giant loaf of banana bread. Basically.
So, this afternoon I’m not going to think about it. Thankfully, the soundtrack to HBO’s Big Little Lies on Spotify and cooking Papua New Guinean food is exactly what’s on my agenda today. (Followed by the new season of Game of Thrones tonight!) The first thing I made today was Papuan-style Banana Cake. In a large bowl, I mixed together ½ c softened butter (1 stick), ½ c sugar, and 1 tsp vanilla extract until it was well creamed. Then I slowly beat in 2 eggs and added in my 3 mashed bananas. Once I mixed this until it was consistent, I poured in 1/3 c of milk and 1 tsp of baking soda before folding in 1 ½ c of flour. After stirring everything together, I poured my batter into a cake pan and baked it for 45-50 minutes in a 350ºF oven.

This is my breakfast. Truth.
When it was done and completely cooled, I topped it with a pineapple-coconut cream. To make this, I mixed 2 c of milk and 2 Tbsp of cornstarch into a saucepan and heated it until it simmered and thickened to a cream (but I made mine thicker). I think I had my heat up too high or something because mine was a little bit lumpy, but I tried to work out most of them. I let it sit in the refrigerator for a couple of hours, and it thickened up quite nicely. (For once, something was going right, more or less. Knock on wood.) I gave it a good stir and added in 3 Tbsp of cream of coconut and 3 Tbsp of crushed pineapple, stirring it up and putting it on top of the cake. I thought the cake tasted like banana bread. Because I didn’t trust my round springform pans, I used a 13x9 rectangle pan instead, and it was a little flatter than I would’ve liked (and a little tougher, I think, too). But it was good with the cream on top. It turned out better than I thought it would.

I'm really beginning to like bok choy. Its flavor really enhances the dish that it's in.
My main dish today is Chicken with Bok Choy in Coconut Milk. I bought boneless skinless chicken breasts, so I cut them into smaller pieces and lightly browned them in a little coconut oil and minced garlic. Then I threw in some coconut milk, ginger, and some more garlic and let it simmer for about 15 minutes. While this was simmering, I cut some summer squash into cubes. After I added it to the chicken, I let it simmer for another 10-15 minutes. Then I threw in my chopped bok choy and let it simmer for 5-10 minutes until the greens were bright green and kind of wilted looking. I took it off the heat and seasoned it with a little salt and pepper and served this on rice. I liked this; I thought it was really good. The coconut milk kept the meat tender and the squash gave it a good flavor. The flavors were a little more subtle than I thought it was going to be.

Interesting, to say the least. I guess I'll be the one eating all the leftovers.
To go with this, I made Kaukau, or Papuan sweet potatoes. I wrapped four sweet potatoes in tin foil and baked them in a 400ºF oven for about 45 minutes, turning them over halfway through. They just need to be soft enough to pierce with a fork. (The recipe said 30 minutes, but mine took longer.) Once they were cool enough to handle, I took the tin off of them and cut them in half longways. I scooped out the potato and put it in a bowl, carefully leaving the skins for later. In a bowl, I mashed my potatoes and added in my coconut oil until it became a puree texture. Then I added in some coconut milk, finely chopped onions (in lieu of shallots), garlic and ginger and stirred. Once that was stirred in, I added in some orange juice (I actually used naranja agria), cinnamon, salt, and pepper and stirred again. Then I added a few spoonfuls back into the potato skins. Then I put them back in the oven for another 5 minutes or so. I actually added a step and garnished each potato boat with some chopped scallions. (I’m sure they won’t mind.) I’m used to eating sweet potatoes either plain or sweetened/candied. So, mixing it with onions was a little different for us, since it’s not what we’re used to. My husband wasn’t a fan, but I didn’t think it was that bad.

Overall, I thought this was a pretty tasty meal.
As I was doing the research on this, I couldn’t help but thinking of how much a place changes over time. Not just the landscape, or the number of people living there per se, but the culture. More often than not, you’ll find the colonizing culture become the dominant culture, and it’s often forced upon the native/indigenous peoples there. And with modern technology and land development, their own culture changes along the way. I always find it interesting which parts of their traditional culture that remains because to me, that is the beacon to what the crucial parts of their society are. I mean, I could be entirely wrong about all of this. But it was just something I was thinking about.

Up next: Paraguay

Saturday, July 15, 2017


Before Papua New Guinea’s independence, music from this island nation was relatively unknown. 

They’re known for a type of celebration called sing-sing. This almost festival-like ordeal includes singing, dancing, gift-giving, and plenty of good food to go around. Dancers wear colorful costumes that represent their particular culture. One of the styles of music that is performed during this is a polyphonic form between a leader and a chorus, creating a fugue-like effect. 

During the latter part of the 1800s, Gregorian chanting and Christian hymns were introduced by both the British and the Germans. Australians coming over during the Gold Rush introduced the mouth organ to the Papua New Guineans. Of course other Polynesian music was slowly integrated with their own as well. By the time the 20th century rolled around, work songs, hymns, and other recorded examples of Western music became quite popular. After the World Wars, instruments like the ukulele and string bands were introduced to the islands.

After the country gained its independence, a few other Western styles were introduced, including pop, reggae, and hip-hop. George Telek was one of the first musicians to merge his native Toloi musical traditions with Western rock and reggae styles. He was among the first musicians to gain any kind of notoriety outside of the country. His first solo album actually won an Australian award for Best World Album in 1997.

Ansolm Nakikus is a prominent reggae musician from Papua New Guinea. Although he has a couple of solo albums out, he often collaborates with other musicians from around the South Pacific islands. I would say that although he’s known for his reggae, it sometimes sounds like a different style of reggae than the Caribbean variety that I’m more familiar with.

Probably one of the more popular musicians is reggae/hip-hop artist known as O-shen. He was actually born in the US but moved to Papua New Guinea when he was little and was raised there, so many of his songs are in Tok Pisin. He currently lives in Hawaii. I like his music; it kind of reminds me of a Jamaican “lovers rock” style, like Beres Hammond and others.

I also came across Justin Wellington. His music is definitely reggae but it’s closer to the dancehall style than anything, I suppose. At least on some songs. I listened to his album Reign of Morobe, and I really liked what I heard. I was quite impressed. Definitely the kind of stuff you’d find in a “summer” playlist.

Up next: the food

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


One art form dominates when it comes to the art of Papua New Guinea: wood carving. Like in Africa, where the original people of this country came from, carved wooden masks are also commonly made here as well. These masks are tied to a number of religious purposes including masks designed for/against certain deities and ancestors.

The tongue sticking out just gets me.
Storyboards, like the ones I mentioned when I covered Palau, are an artistic way to depict the folklore and stories of the Papua New Guinean tribes. However, in other similar carvings, they make use of colors and decorate it with other natural elements like beads, feathers, grass twine, and shells. They also carve designs into their canoes as decoration.

One thing that binds much of their art is nature and the land around them. A variety of plants and animals are important representations in their indigenous religious beliefs. And since they have hundreds of ethnic groups and languages, there are hundreds of religious and artistic variations as well. The Sepik River Valley is one of the main areas in the country that has very deep traditional arts customs.
by Mathias Kauage
As far as modern artists go, there are several who have been quite successful in their field: Larry Santana (painter), Timothy Akis (batik, pen/ink drawings), and Mathias Kauage (woodcuts, drawing, painting; awarded Order of the British Empire for his contributions to Papua New Guinean art).
by Timothy Akis
Literature in Papua New Guinea on a whole really didn’t take off until the 1960s. The large part of literature up until the 20th century was of an oral tradition. With colonization and the introduction/establishment of English, it began to also be included as a language of communication. However, most writers write in both English and one of the many local languages spoken here.
Ulli Beier
Ulli Beier, a Jewish German writer and academic, helped establish creative writing courses and promote (or encourage, rather) Papua New Guinean literature. (He actually worked quite a bit doing similar literary projects in Nigeria.) Besides teaching at the university level and setting up a small poet society, he also helped establish the literary magazine Kovave. This magazine made it easier for up-and-coming writers to get noticed and published, like writer John Kasaipwalova (known for his satirical plays).

Other writers include Vincent Eri (famous for his 1970 novel The Crocodile; it was the first novel published in Papua New Guinea), Albert Maori Kiki (famous for his autobiography Ten Thousand Years in a Lifetime), Nora Vagi Brash (teacher, best known as a playwright), and Ignatius Kilage (4th Governor-General of PNG; famous for his novel My Mother Calls Me Yaltep).

Up next: music and dance

Sunday, July 9, 2017


Papua New Guinea, at least for the things I end up reading, always seems to wind up on the strangest of lists. There have been several times when I’ve come across this country on lists of weird, bad, or dangerous things. Or really remote one-of-a-kind kind of lists, which aren’t quite as bad. I’m really hoping there’s more to this country than the scary human rights issues I’ve read about and poisonous animals. So, my mission is to find out what things are really like here and what kind of secrets I don’t know about yet. 

The name of the country as we know it didn’t come about until the 19th century. The first part, Papua, is derived from the Malay term that refers to the frizzy hair of the people, especially anyone who’s from the Melanesian Islands. The second part, New Guinea, was named by the Spanish since they thought the people reminded them of the Africans they met in and around the country of Guinea. 

The country occupies the eastern half of the island of New Guinea, which is located just north of Australia and is part of the broader Melanesian Islands. The western half consists of the Indonesian provinces of West Papua and Papua. Its easternmost island, Bougainville Island, is essentially on the northwestern end of the Solomon Islands. The Solomon Sea separates the main island of New Guinea from the Solomon Islands to the east while the Bismarck Sea lies to the north in the midst of the Bismarck Archipelago. If you go even farther north, you’ll run into Palau, Guam, and the Federated States of Micronesia. Because the country is on the Pacific Ring of Fire, it has several active volcanoes and experiences frequent earthquakes (sometimes leading to tsunamis). There are several rivers, highland areas, and rainforest areas while coral reefs surround the islands. Deforestation remains to be a problem for the country. Papua New Guinea lies just below the equator and is one of the few equatorial countries to also have snow (in the higher elevations).  
WWII plane in its final resting place in the waters of PNG
The first people arrived in Papua New Guinea as a result of one of the first human migrations in the world. Africans arrived in the islands somewhere around 45,000 years ago, and they developed agriculture in the highlands. Another wave of migration took place around 500 BC from various other tribes around the Southeast Pacific Islands. Portuguese and Spanish traders arrived during the 16-18th centuries and introduced several vegetables, including the sweet potato, which significantly enhanced their agriculture. Many of them were after the plumes of the bird of paradise. The southern half of the island was handled by the UK and called British New Guinea. In 1905, the British handed that control over to Australia who renamed it Territory of Papua, but technically, on the books, it was still a possession of the UK. During the end of the 1800s, Germany controlled the northern side of the island, calling it German New Guinea; however, Australia captured and controlled it during WWI. During WWII, the Japanese, Australians, and the US fought a major battle where almost a quarter-million people died. After WWII, the two sides were united and referred to as Papua New Guinea. They gained their independence from Australia in 1975, although they do remain part of the British Commonwealth. In 1988, miners in Bougainville created an uprising concerning the fact that they were bearing the brunt of the down side to mining (illnesses, environmental issues), yet they weren’t compensated with a fair share of the profits in this. Even today, there has been some discussion as to Bougainville’s autonomy.

Port Moresby is located along the southern coast on the Papuan Peninsula. The city is named after British Naval Officer John Moresby, the first European to site the area where the future capital city would be. With only around 400,000 people, it’s also the country’s largest city. There are a couple of international schools, several sports stadiums, museums, libraries, shopping and markets, as well as its usual business district and high-rise apartments. While many of these features used to be in the downtown district, quite a few of them moved to suburbs and other neighborhoods during the 1990s.

The islands are rife with natural resources, both on the land and in the sea. However, there is also a lot of rough terrain, which makes it very difficult to access. Minerals (like gold, copper, and oil) make up nearly three-quarters of its export revenue. Palm oil is one of their major agricultural exports, even though the palm oil industry has increasingly become quite controversial over the past few years. (Watch this VICE video from Season 3 about the palm oil industry in Indonesia. I would suggest watching the entire episode, but you can skip ahead to the 16:00 mark for the story on palm oil.) Although PNG’s economy has struggled in the past, it has also made some growth over the past decade. They not only rely on mining, but they also have a growing oil and gas industry as well.

Christianity is overwhelmingly the majority religion in Papua New Guinea. Nearly 95% of the population adheres to some form of Christianity, with the majority of those following Protestantism. As far as the significantly smaller non-Christian population goes, the Baha’i religion has the largest following, followed by Islam and Confucianism. Animism and mysticism is still very much alive, especially in the rural areas. Several high-profile cases have made news in the past few years of women being tortured and burned alive on charges of witchcraft.

What’s unbelievable is that this relatively small country has more than 820 languages, but most of these languages have fewer than 1000 speakers, and several have already died out. The most widely spoken indigenous language is Enga, followed by two other Trans-New Guinea languages, Melpa and Huli. However, it is the #1 country in the world with the most languages. (Indonesia is second with 742, and Nigeria is third with 516.) There are actually four official languages in the country: Hiri Motu (a simplified form of the Motu language), Tok Pisin (an English-based creole; once used as a trade pidgin, it is entirely its own language now and serves as a first language for many), English (language of government and education but not spoken by many people in everyday activities), and Papua New Guinea sign language.

Papua New Guinea is one of the world’s most remote areas. Not necessarily its physical location, but its accessibility to traverse the country. Because of its rough terrain, thick jungles, and swamps, there are areas few people have ever visited (save, perhaps, for some of the locals). In fact, it’s nearly impossible to build roads through some of these areas, and it’s easier to fly to where you need to be. I wonder what secrets lay in the jungles. Could the next cure for cancer lie within its green realm, or is its tight-knit foliage saving itself from exploitation?

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