Alakasam


Alakasam is one of the most remote communities in the highlands of East New Britain. To get there, we had to travel four hours inland by truck until the dirt road ends at the village of Malasaet. The drive was then followed by a six hour trek down the mountainside, across the valley, and up the neighboring mountain into the village of Alakasam. The village itself is organized into clusters of two to four bamboo structures, usually including at least one raised structure used primarily for storage and a ground level structure used for cooking and sleeping (generally called a “housecook”). Usually up to three families, which function as a singular family unit, live in these collections of buildings. Community responsibilities rotate among these family groups throughout the month. For example, groups rotate the responsibility of harvesting and processing their main crop, peanuts. It is a two day labor intensive process requiring the farmers to work through the night and carry the large bags of peanuts (some weighing as much as a person) from the village all the way to the markets by the coast so they can be sold. Because this requires so much work, groups take turns doing this as needed so one family is not responsible for every harvest.

Though a number of nuclear families create these bigger family groups, we noticed that everyone in the community cares for each other regardless of blood relation creating an overarching family structure. The children of the community treat every adult as their mother, father, aunt, or uncle. From the moment we arrived, we were incorporated as part of the larger family instead of simply being visitors in the area, making interactions much more personal and relaxed. While taking part in the harvesting of peanuts, we were told that the community as a whole decides what to do with the profits from their sale. They have been able to pool their funds to purchase a Land Cruiser that is kept at Malasaet so they can drive the rest of the way to the markets, cutting down on the travel time and ensuring that more of their product gets to market.

This same sense of communal support exists among Alakasam and the surrounding villages. The network of villages collaborates to make sure that church services are prepared and that the school is taken care of among other larger responsibilities. The church and primary school are located in close proximity to one another and serve as the center for community activity throughout the week. Frequently during our stay, we noticed that the field located between the school and church was utilized as one of two meeting places primarily for smaller community gatherings. Throughout the week, it serves as a place for members of the communities to meet up or hold smaller community events. On Sundays, the communities utilize this area to plan for the upcoming week’s responsibilities and the next week’s church service. We learned that a great deal of planning goes into the church services as it is each community’s opportunity to incorporate their traditions into the service. Since the time that Catholic missionaries introduced the religion to the area, the communities have blended their own traditions with those of Catholicism creating a way for them to keep their identity alive while still incorporating the religious traditions they value.

Located in a clearing farther up the mountain is a large field surrounded by a number of buildings that serves as the gathering place for larger community events. This field is roughly the size of one and a half football fields. It is managed by everyone in the communities and groups rotate cutting the grass and preparing it for events. While we were there we learned that, on Saturday mornings, all of the surrounding communities come together to have a small market where everyone can socialize while selling their goods. It is also here where traditional ceremonies take place. The field is large enough for all the communities to meet making it the ideal area for these types of events as the majority of people attend.

We were able to experience a Qaqet fire ceremony while we were staying in Alakasam and noticed that such events require a large area as hundreds of people come together ranging from the youngest to the oldest and the people must keep a safe distance from the large bonfire used in such ceremonies. These types of events also bring the members of the community together into a closer bond as they are all taking part in a common celebration. Even people who are not members of the Qaqet tribe participate in the ceremonies, extending the community family to all in the area.

Date Entered: June 2010

Integral Accounting

Commodity
Custom & Culture
Knowledge
Money
Technology
Well-Being

Trust Items (must be logged in to view)

Bamboo Comb
Fire Starting
Peanut Harvesting and Processing
Qaqet Male Dress
Sling
Umbrellas

Location
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