There has always been a hidden economy in the remote, inaccessible areas which never feature in any account of Papua New Guinea. Only those who have lived in the interior of the country for any length of time will know how money crosses hands and how people can be extremely enterprising, without paying overheads or paying tax. It is the barter-exchange system of buying and selling from existing local stores or from the urban centres and carrying their wares back to the villages for re-sale. Also there is a demand for garden produce in small markets or along the road, selling peanuts, bread scones, vegetables, cigarettes, tobacco, matches, batteries etc.
More and more men are seeking work in the exploration projects and the mines, thus abandoning the gardens (in some cases, a few acres of land for growing kaukau, both for human consumption and for the pigs, sugar cane, bananas and coffee) to their wives or children. They are mostly responsible for the smaller vegetable patches that have created in the Highlands to meet the need of the expatriates, i.e. carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, onions, potatoes, cabbage and beans.
Money is never short and the wantok system, (those who speak the same language or related by clan), ensures that each mouth is fed. ìFortnight Fridayî is a common feature in keeping the economy and cash-flow afloat, whereby relatives and those remotely related to any worker, expect a cut in the fortnightly wages of those who work in the town or in the local government offices. Even those who manage to travel to the National Capital have a way of sending money back to relatives through the post-office system.
As with any developing country, the National Capital is believed to be paved with gold, so men borrow or amass the price of a one-way air ticket to Port Moresby, seeking out their wantoks for accommodation and food. Employment is not always readily available, so while they hang about the city centre, they add to the ìcityís refugees and resort to joining crime gangs with a ‘rob the rich to feed the poor’ mentality. Escaping boredom and non- employment in the village after six years or more of education brings no recommendation or prospect of work in Papua New Guinea. It is still a fact that literacy is low in the Highland provinces.
According to the Census 2000, 45% of 7-16 years olds attended school, but less than 5% of the population had completed grade 10 (age 16). If there are chances for those who have attended 10 years of full education, it will be to seek employment in the mines, thus weakening the concept of subsistence farming that has been part of the rural economy for centuries. With no mines, the only source of income would be teachers, police and employees in civil administration. It is a catch 22 situation, as more and more women are creating their own industry by selling their wares, often to the detriment of neglecting village commitments of cleaning the coffee, (removing the skins of the coffee cherries and drying the beans), child raising and tending the pigs, which now has fallen to the children, mainly the girls, who will often miss school to tend the gardens while their fathers/brothers/uncles are away from the village. Many of the gardens inherited to the clan are scattered over a radius of miles, so it is common to see the women with babies carried in the traditional bilum (woven bags) and older men walking early in the morning with their umbrellas and axes to tend their gardens far away. At the end of the day, the same procession is seen but this time, the men still with the umbrellas and axes but the women laden with fire-wood on their heads, and the babies still in the bilum on the back, but laden with yet another net bilum full of kaukau for the evening meal and the pigs! Since first Contact, in the 19th century, when Europeans entered the once forbidden forest and unknown terrain of this remarkable Island, making contact and transactions for making settlements with the exchange of axes, spades, salt, razor blades and matches, the need for white manís commodities have increased. Locals were taught to make bread and grow commercial edible products. Today, every Papua New Guineans uses an umbrella instead of the former banana or pandana leaf for shelter from the rain!