Friday essay: the Chauka bird and morality on our Manus Island home

by Michelle Nayahamui Rooney

This piece is republished with permission from Commonwealth Now, the 59th edition of Griffith Review.

The bell rings, school is over. I hear the sea break on the beach. I smell the sea in the wind. I laugh with my schoolmates and jump. Salt water fills my mouth. Chauka calls. I laugh with joy. Like little fish. My brothers and sisters play in the sea.

I catch a bus to Lombrum. The glassy sea at the Loniu Passage is melancholy; tenderly cradles the bus across the Loniu Bridge. Sea takes us across Lolak Bridge. Chauka calls. In the afternoon the bus returns to town. Wind blows in my face. I smell the sea. The sun goes down.

The sun rises, time for school. I hear the news and announcements on the Radio Manus, ‘the voice of Chauka is very happy to bring you all the news and announcements. This is the Chauka’s Voice.’ Chauka calls. Our grandmothers and grandfathers stay. We walk to school. The sea breaks on the beach. Chauka calls.

Wake, sleep, eat, and walk with the Chauka. Happiness, cross, and work.

Custom, work for money, work for government, work for church. Chauka calls.

-Excerpt from the poem Chauka, yu we?

Manus Island is home. Until I reached the age of 12 in 1984, Lorengau town – the urban administrative, political and commercial centre of Manus Province, Papua New Guinea – was my parents’ anchor. From there they navigated our lives between Manus, Port Moresby and beyond. They managed their careers, their growing family, their social obligations and their children’s education, while striving to get by as a bi-racial couple among PNG’s emerging educated elite who had helped lead the nation to independence.

In the late 1970s, they bought a small house at the east end of Lorengau town. This is a few minutes’ walk from the site of the Australian-funded East Lorengau Refugee Transit Centre for asylum seekers and refugees.

By the time I reached primary school, Mum had been elected as a member of parliament for the Manus open electorate and was regularly in Port Moresby. They settled my siblings and me into school on Manus Island, and between 1980 and 1984, bar a few months away in 1983, I lived and schooled between Lorengau town and the Lombrum Naval Base. Most of this time was spent attending the government-funded Pombrut community school at the west end of Lorengau.

Read the whole article published in The Conversation 2 February 2018
Friday essay: the Chauka bird and morality on our Manus Island home

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