In the Papuan Jungle: “Maka Base Camp”


Table of Contents

The “Maka” is a river in the Walsa zone (LLG) and it is from this river that this “Base Camp” gets its name. The “Camp” belongs to one of the lumber companies here in the Sanduan Province.[1] The company’s name is the “Vanimo Forest Products Company” and it is the largest company in the province and its “Base Camp” here in Maka is consequently the largest in the business.[2]


The bishop sent me to attend to Maka because many of the workers who live here with their families are Catholics. There are more or less 70 families coming from different provinces to live here in pavilions built by the company itself. The pavilions are long structures divided into rooms measuring about 4 m x 6 m, constituting a family’s home. Many of those living here came as teenagers to work and now they are married or living together with their children. On average each family has about 4 – 5 kids which were born in the camp. For this reason there is a great need for spiritual attention. The company helped them to build a church, but the nearest priest lives in Utai, about an hour’s walk away along the same mountain road. Due to the long distance and the lack of availability of a vehicle to pick him up, he is only able to come a couple of Sundays out of the year to celebrate Mass.


There are also a few Asians living in the camp who came from Indonesia and Malaysia to work in the company. A few of them are also Catholic and have also lived here for a while (In fact two of them asked me to marry them. They came as single individuals, but now have their own family here). At the beginning they acted a little opposed to my visit, but after a few days I have been able to become friends with a few of them…Especially since the time that I went up to talk to them on the day that it was raining and they could not go out into the jungle to work. As they were all gathered in a house, I took the opportunity to visit them while they were placing bets on cock fights…It was something new for me, so I began to ask them questions and then began to cheer for the rooster of the friend who was explaining the fight to me. They were happy that I joined them in this…afterwards I invited them to the Rosary and mission sermon at night and a few of them came. Obviously they knew that I had not come to place bets with them.


The Malaysians are very simple people. They come from a culture that is a little bit similar to that of Papua and they are Catholics…this is already a great advantage and of great value. After exchanging a few words with them you realize that you already have a lot in common, especially a common faith. Here they live a little better than the Papuans, but not too much better: they also have a few large houses (large pavilions, but elevated on posts) where two or three men live together in a room or in a room all to themselves if they also have a wife and children. They also have a house for the common kitchen and dining room where a group of ladies cook for them. Newton, the seminarian, and I are living among them. They have given us a small portion of one of these houses which has two rooms and a bathroom. It’s still rustic, but pretty nice for being in Papua. Having a bed, electricity, a bathroom and a shower is not so common here. I would never have imagined having this at the camp, even less would I have imagined that there would be air conditioning! Certainly, it’s a luxury! In our house in Vanimo you can’t even turn on the fan for an hour because it sucks the battery dry. This, in comparison, is a five-star hotel! In reality, the company can provide this sort of luxury because it has two huge generators (as big as a car or one of those containers you see at the port) that run 24 hours a day, without which they could not run the factories and other machines. Even more so, it would be unbearable to live in these pavilions in this climate without air conditioning.


This company, like the rest, help the local people, at least momentarily. For example, they build roads, which the company itself needs in order to extract lumber, but which at the same time allows for communication between villages and with Vanimo Town. Being connected to Vanimo means: access to a hospital, the possibility of buying simple things like rice and sugar, that other services can reach the villages, and that missionaries like us can arrive more easily by vehicle. The companies also build schools, and the “Papa-Graun”[3] help them to build “permanent” homes (out of “material” we would say—tin roofs, wooden floors and walls, a water tank, but without a kitchen or bath, but this is nonetheless enough). Also, for example, once every two weeks they offer a ride to Vanimo in one of their trucks for anyone who needs to make a trip to the town. But as I said before, it seems to me that they are only helping them “momentarily” since as soon as they leave these roads go by the wayside (which has already happened to a few of them). They build the roads only for the time being, since left unattended, the roads and bridges are destroyed and filled with potholes. Neither do they teach the people how to use their money, nor are they worried about their families by giving them a home and dignified life or by taking care of the schools and their functioning…and obviously, they are neither missionaries, nor Catholics, nor Spaniards (like those of the Spanish kings of old). They are businessmen. Their priority is to extract lumber…and abide by a few rules.en-la-selva-papuana-maka-base-camp-n-2-3-768x576

In order to complete this panoramic view of the situation and the zone in which I am currently on mission (I hope this is not too boring, but it’s necessary so that later on I can speak more easily about the details) along with this base camp there are also two other Catholic communities which I want to visit and attend to. First, there are more workers who live about 15 km away near the sawmill (there are about 50 families, mostly Catholics, and good people. I have already been to visit them a few times and each time they are always asking for the sacraments—baptism, Holy Communion, marriage…). Second, about 50 km away from Maka there is another camp belonging to a different company, called “5 – 6 Base Camp”. Nearby there is also a Catholic village called “Smok” with its own catechist.[4] I estimate that “Smok” has about 40 families living in it. Also, about 130km away lies Kiab-Konabasi (a non-Catholic area) where a new group of Catholic families moved this year in order to form a new village entirely for the purpose of living together in the same faith. I hope to be able to go and visit them too. The diocesan vicar told me about them before I left Vanimo, but I don’t know if I am going to make it…they tell me that the road is very dangerous, especially during the current rainy season. Finally, there are a few more Catholic families dispersed among various “non-Catholic”[5] villages nearby. I hope to be able to visit them as well or at least send them a message so that they will come and receive the sacraments now that there is a priest nearby for a few weeks.

To be continued….

Fr. Martin Prado, IVE

Missionary in Papua New Guinea

[1] Papua New Guinea is divided into 22 provinces, which are further sub-divided into districts and furthermore into LLG’s (Local Level Governments). Finally, each LLG is made up of towns and villages. We belong to the “Sanduan” Province (some also call it the “West Sipik” Province since it is on the western side of the one of Papua’s most important rivers, the “Sipik”, also known as the “Green River”). Vanimo is the capital of the Sanduan Province and the capital of the “Vanimo Green District”. Walsa is simply one of the localities (LLG) that makes up part of the Vanimo Green District. I am on mission in Walsa, and it has only a small portion of the population of the Vanimo Green District. In all of Walsa there are only 100 inhabitatns (attended to by two parishes) and I will only be able to visit a few of them during my time here.

[2] In Papua there are many companies dedicated to cutting down trees and extracting wood, which is the most sought after resource in our province, and I also believe in all of Papua. For example, within the boundaries of our parish there are two companies, each with their own shipping ports, machinery, and jungle camps (where they have houses, workshops, 24 energy, etc.). They are something both impressive and strikingly different for all of us, considering that here the local people have neither vehicles nor electricity and they still hunt with bow and arrow.

[3] This is what they call the heads or fathers of the family, among those families that first inhabited this area. They are the heads and owners of the villages.

[4] The title “catechist” does not simply refer to those that teach Catechism classes. Here “catechist” makes reference to those men which “take the place of” the priest in a village or parish. They are fathers of families who receive classes one a year in the diocese (classes which are taught by our sisters, SSVM, who work at the diocesan “Pastoral Center”). Thus, these catechists are the ones who celebrate the Liturgy of the Word on Sundays when the priest is absent. They are also the ones who prepare the people to receive the sacraments and they are the ones who keep the pastor and bishop informed about their village. For instance, when I arrived to Maka, the catechist already had a list of children needing baptism and a few parents ready to regularize their marriage.

[5] All of the villages here were once Catholic. They were evangelized by the Passionists about 50 years ago. But, due to the lack of missionaries and a crazy pastor who arrived to the zone many of the people became part of the “Revival” or the CBC. Practically speaking they don’t practice anything, since the same thing happens here in our parish which I believe happens everywhere else—those who enthusiastically run after the new “versions of Christianity” eventually lose their fervor and are left empty because of the sensible nature of their piety, and thus they stop attending their services and they also do not return to the Church out of shame. Thus, they are left with nothing, not even prayer.

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