Matupit


The village of Matupit faces a unique set of challenges due to its proximity to the volcano Tavurvur. Every aspect of daily life has been influenced by the steam and ash routinely emitted from the volcano. The people of Matupit have developed their knowledge in the geologically active region for millennia. Following the most recent series of eruptions and at the encouragement of development experts from around the world, the conclusion was made that the best future for the community at Matupit would be to relocate the community from its traditional customary land.

Through the Gazelle Restoration Project, land plots of up to 3 acres with average garden plots measuring approximately 30 meters by 15 meters have been provided at Sikut Matupit for relocation. However, this relocation site is located at a higher elevation, thereby differing in soil makeup, water sources, and plant growth from the coastal village. Despite pressure from some organizations encouraging the people of Matupit to relocate, they remain on the peninsula, as their biological systems and living methods have all become accustomed to their environment. In the years following the 1994 eruption, many of the relocated community members actually became quite ill - some dying – as a result of drastic changes in diet and lifestyle in the relocation areas. Most families chose to return to Matupit; out of a population of over 4000 people, approximately 250 families have relocated and 400 families have stayed in the village. Though not every family has chosen to relocate, total community relocation is reportedly not possible due to a land allocation deficit.
According to Vincent, councilor of Matupit Ward 2, knowledge learned and passed down from their ancestors’ has equipped the people of Matupit for life by the volcano. Using this knowledge, the community was able to anticipate the 1994 eruption of Mount Tavurvur having observed receding tide and rolling vibrations from within the Earth. This led to their exodus, which in turn motivated the inhabitants of Rabaul to evacuate prior to official notification.

It is this type of knowledge that has also helped the people of Matupit survive in an area where nothing is able to grow at a subsistent level. Currently, the community relies on a protein diet as there is an abundance of Megapode eggs at the base of Tavurvur and the harbor surrounding the island is heavily populated with small fish (called Lala fish). Though they have some level of food security, the same cannot be said for water security. The community members explained that there is no fresh water on the island or any that is easily accessible close by. Members of the community must travel between 4 and 6 hours away from the village to obtain fresh water for drinking.

While much attention has been paid to the Tavurvur eruption, a tsunami caused by a neighboring volcano, Vulcan resulted in the destruction of 14 homes on the west side of Matupit Island. In our conversations with the community leaders, the absence of this information from official reports of the disaster has been deeply hurtful as the world has been unaware of this community tragedy. While natural destruction, looting, and other challenges confronted the communities immediately following the eruption, there was a sense that the needs of the community were not being considered by aid organizations. For example, in close proximity to the village are six large water tanks built during the Second World War that are currently filled to the brim with ash. These tanks have the potential to provide the village with a fresh water source if they were restored, however, they remain unusable at present.

The periodic ash fall from Tavurvur interferes with the children’s ability to go to school. The children of Matupit must go to school in a village that is up to a two hour walk away. Their attendance is completely dependent on the weather conditions and when the ash cover is too much, they do not go to school at all. A number of the youth do not even enroll in school because they wind up missing most of the days due to lack of reliable access to transportation.

Date Entered: June 2010

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Megapode Egg Gathering