The tranquil waterways around Balimo in the Western Province are the main transport corridors with dugout canoes and dinghies being the most popular vessel of choice. Uladu village is a 30-minute paddle by canoe (or 10-15 minutes in a motorised dinghy) to the landing area in town. This village is known for making beautiful cane furniture, but over recent years, they struggled to find a market for these products, other than the occasional one-off order from around the local area.
The man who keeps this skill alive within the village is Mr. Saida Stiggy Lalela. He learnt to make cane furniture from his father and brothers when he was 22 years old and continued to make furniture for the past 38 years.
Earlier this year, PNG Sustainable Development Program Limited (SDP) moved into Balimo working with the Kokoda Track Foundation to develop the Balimo campus with its start-up of the FODE program, and to also prepare for the launch of its proof-of-concept Aerial Health Patrols (AHP) that reaches out to remote communities serviced by rural airstrips.
SDP’s Chief Program’s Officer, Susan Allen came across a few old pieces of this carefully crafted cane furniture – a small stool here, a little table over there – whilst working on SDP Balimo-based projects. She asked where this furniture had come from; and if a message could be sent to the village so she could speak to the person in charge.
She was put in contact with Saida and from the first day a firm friendship was formed.
“Saida is a lovely man. What he does in his community is amazing,” said Susan. “He is passing the skill to the younger generation and the regular SDP orders are providing a much-needed in-situ training opportunity, with many people in the village involved.”
Saida’s father, who has limited work capacity now, assists with the cleaning and lashing together parts of the process.
Women are also involved in making cane furniture,” said Saida. “Group of widows, women’s fellowship members and sports groups assist with the cleaning or ‘scratching’ (removing) of the black soot from the ‘cooking the cane’ (burning) process. They also collect the coconut leaves required to light the fires for this process. Each group is paid K20 to pay for some sugar and tea to eat with their sago meal during the time they work.”