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Ramu River Map | Lower Ramu River Carvings | Middle Ramu River Carvings

Art-Pacific (Carolyn Leigh - Ron Perry): Guide to artifacts

Ramu River Map, Madang Province, Papua New Guinea

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[Misingi face from top of a canoe paddle: 10k]

[Map of the Lower and Middle Ramu River, Mandang Province, PNG: 8k]

Lower Ramu River Carvings have stylistic affinities with lower Sepik River and coastal artifacts.
Middle Ramu River Carvings have different distinctive styles like this ancestor face.

Figure 1: Face carved on top of a canoe paddle, collected near Misingi Village, Middle Ramu River, 1986.

The Ramu River is narrow and very lightly populated compared to the Sepik River with long, winding stretches full of snags and sandbars between villages. Sago is the main staple, supplemented by fish, gardens and irregular access to trade store goods like rice.

The Sepik-Ramu basin originated as an inland sea. When tectonic and climate changes began around 6,000 years ago, the basin evolved into the present river system. Excavations by the PNG National Museum on middens near Bosmun on the Lower Ramu show human occupation along this earlier marine shoreline transitioning to river floodplain about 1,000 years ago.

Next: Lower Ramu River Carvings

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Access to the Ramu River:

Most of the trade stores and fuel depots have closed or are short of supplies which are very high priced. Fuel may not be for sale anywhere. The lower part of the river is tidal with extreme changes in water level overnight. The middle part has sudden floods from heavy rain in the mountains. It's easy to lose a canoe to these 10-12 foot (3 meter) surges or else have it stranded in deep mud a long way from the water. The high tide also determines when a canoe can make it out through the sifting sandbars at the mouth of the river, back through the gaps in the reefs and then through the shallow barets that connect the mangrove swamps with the rivers.


Diary entry, 1986: Broken Water Bay and the Watam Baret

Left our camp before daylight to catch the high tide. It's dangerous to run a boat on a river at night because it's hard to see the snags and the sandbars. The moon is close to full. Overhead, thousands of slow black silhouettes of fruit bats cross the sky, gliding home. In front of us, straight out the mouth of the Ramu, across the dark waters of the Bismarck sea, is the perfect volcanic cone of Manam Island glowing orange in the distance.

Our friend, Harry, sent a guide along the beach track from Watam to meet us. He pilots our dugout past the sand bars and into Broken Water Bay. Just as dawn breaks, flying fish began to jump and play in brilliant rainbow flashes across our prow. It's scary being in the open ocean in a river canoe heavily loaded with artifacts without outriggers. When we turn to make the run through the coral reef into Watam, waves start to break into the canoe, but between the pilot and Sori, our motorman, we make it safely into Watam Lagoon.

The tide is still rising, so Harry guides us on through the maze of mangrove lakes to the entrance to Watam Baret. This muddy tidal baret is only wide enough for a single canoe and only deep enough to allow passage at high tide.

The sticky hot jungle canopy closes in. Occasional sunbeams highlight metallic blue and yellow butterflies. The action is high above us in the canopy where we can hear the chattering cockatoos and green parrots. Down in the baret, only the high whine of mosquitoes breaks the silence when the canoe stalls in tight turns.

Bom has to dig out the bank with his paddle to allow our long, heavy dugout to pass. If we get stuck, we will have to sleep in the cramped canoe until the next high tide. Long hours later, there's more light ahead. Our crocodile head prow noses out into the bright flat expanse of the lower Sepik River. The canoe speeds up, the breeze dries the sweat off and it's only a few hours more upriver to our landing at Angoram.


Diary entry, 1986: PMV (Public Motor Vehicle) service between the Ramu and the Keram Rivers

The Misingi men told us that an oil exploration company had left a bus for them to use as a PMV between the Ramu and Keram Rivers. Ron had walked over a dirt track in the 1970s, so we knew it was possible.

"A real PMV? How often does it go?"

"Oh yes, a big one. They brought it up on the boat. It goes very often, every week."

We decide to take a look. If we could drive over the top of the Keram to collect, it would be a much shorter trip. After an hour slog through the jungle we see the bus. The oil company must have really worked to get it up here so far off the river. It sat bogged in the remains of the rutted road, its hood up and jungle vines already draping gracefully out the windows. Once upon a time, within living memory, maybe it did go once a week -- once.

It's what's called in Pisin a giaman PMV - pretend bus service.

Next: Lower Ramu River Carvings

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Artifacts on this site are collected in the field by my husband, Ron Perry. I take the photographs, do the html, text and maps. More background in Who We Are. Art-Pacific has been on the WWW since 1996. We hope you enjoy our New Guinea tribal art and Indonesian folk art as much as we do. Carolyn Leigh, P.O. Box 85284, Tucson, AZ 85754-5284 USA, Art-Pacific at http://www.art-pacific.com/