The Gardens at Damabo

The agricultural method in the New Ireland area is swidden horticulture (also known as slash and burn): An area is cleared from trees, left for some vegetation to grow back, and then burnt off. It is then cultivated for one or two cycles of sweet potatoes (and other crops), before being left to go back to bush. For best results, it then has to be left alone for 15 to 20 years before the process starts over. Basically, rainforest soil is not very rich, and cultivation relies on the ashes for fertilization.

The long cycle of rotation also means that a large area has to be available for cultivation to sustain a not so large population. Due to increases in population pressure in recent years, land is sometimes brought into use sooner than was the case traditionally, resulting in reduced yields.

Land is for the most part owned by clans, and clearing an area for cultivation is a cooperative effort. It is the men's work to chop down the trees and burn off regrowth. The area is then partitioned by boundary logs into plots which individual women plant, and later weed and harvest. Men may cultivate land too, but in a nuclear family it is usually the women's work to provide vegetable food. The traditional tuber crop among the Kuots was taro, but since the faster-growing and less labour-intensive sweet potato was introduced, few people grow it. Yam is another traditional crop, but in the Kuot area, taro is what counts as "real food".

Most gardens are about one to two hours walk up the mountains from the village. (All villages in the Kuot area and almost all of New Ireland are located on the coast nowadays.) The one in the photo is in an area of the jungle called Damabo. The picture was taken from one of Roslyn's sweet potato patches, and it's her bananas further down too.

The gardens at Damabo

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Photo by: Robert Eklund (sorry, I cut it a little...)

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