Morning in Goroka: John Pearne

Shared thoughts with those who have known Papua New Guinea

Lines written following a return visit, after twenty-one years, to the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea

One awakes, the memory of so many similar awakenings afresh, to the sound of rain. Rain that is heavy, full and deep-sounding, which itself carries a feeling of timelessness in this mountain place. The rain beats to a cadence. Not the lively rising-falling of the laughing voices which will soon ring out on the road outside; rather an impelling slow waxing and waning. Then the deep inexorable drumming begins to fade, and just when it must needs soften to the point of ceasing, again the rain swells with a force that strikes the listener passive. The early light is grey and diffused. No sparkling dawn here, but a spreading of the new day through the clouds and mist. A light that is in monochrome. A light that has no shadows. A light that is just there, without source, and which hovers without increasing until the day is well on.

Goroka is at the centre of a valley, with its mountains encircling in the middle distance. Every morning the same scene replays. The grey light reveals the dense cloud-mist which covers all the valley. Clouds so white they appear solid; and which, falling to the surface of the land itself, make one’s world simply the diffuse-lit epicentre which is oneself. And in the distance, all around, peak the ring of mountains. Mountains of matt deep grey, here obscured by cloud now, changing, there visible as the ring-barrier that is the circlet of this place.

Here, the dawn is the lessening of the dark. Here, the sound-calls of the living world are reversed. Man before nature. Always with the first light come the sounds of humankind. Men and women on the road, the intimacy of talking or the startling closeness of a friendly call. Men and women already walking—travelling from who knows where—with a bilum of vegetables, or a pikinini, or a doublet of two youths on the road—to where? And only later come the bird sounds. Later, after the padding of human feet in the first lessening of the dark, come at last the calling of the birds. Clear in the moist air are the tinkles and coughs, the whistles and the barks of the birds. Not a transient swelling chorus, but from its start a persistent loud accompaniment of the light.

Form the colours take.The near world becomes the deep lush green of tropic wetness. The houses and building take on their colours. Movement is in the streets, and the ordered life of the working day generates its own pulse. But every day the clouds in the middle distance rise, and what was a flat, cloud-filled valley surmounted by mountain peaks now disappears. The rising dense whiteness becomes grey, and grows and rises until all the ring of grey serrations on the skyline disappears. Goroka becomes the town itself, a man-built island, isolated, the horizon gone. Now cloud and mist are all about the edges of this place: clouds off the valley floor become grey and multi-layered, rising to meet the grey full-filled layers of the sky.

This is the cycle of the morning. The outside timeless power of the hidden mountains, the still now-grey clouds which are their chieftains, and the white lights–these hold the power of the day. All is still beyond the outskirts of the cloud-encircled town. Motionless is the ground-to-heavens montage of the grey-filled sky. Yet to look away, and peer again is to see a changed pattern in the mists; a dark distant mountain for a moment revealed, to be gone again when one next looks. The cumulus network seems that it will last forever; but if the glance is broken, its re-view now reveals a different lacework, and the layer of its silhouette has a new tracery.

Each day all this will pass. And as the warmth of the new day grows, so too will all the valley be revealed; and the ring of jungle-covered mountains look down on this epicentre of town and village life.



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