Demas Mangula, Matupit Island


The sun is harsh and glares angrily at a group of men, digging in the soil right next to Mount Tavurvur. The men are hard at work, looking intently for megapode eggs laid by Wild Fowl birds found on the Island close to Matupit village. The soil conditions, made rich with the volcano, is the perfect breeding ground for the seasonal eggs.

The birds are wily – they carefully bury the eggs in holes, almost 8 meters deep. Demas, an egg hunter in his 50s, has to be patient. He digs until there is success. He has found 3 eggs, which will fetch him K3 each. Not much by city standards, but that’s the biggest source of income for these men.

“In the past, we found 60 eggs and go back after an hour’s work. Now there are too many men hunting for them. Sometimes, we get only 8-10. Work more, get less!”

The work comes with its share of danger. Just last month, a man was buried alive under the loose soil while hunting for eggs. He was alone and help came too late. As Demas says, “It won’t matter what kind of a man you are, when the ground covers you…you are nobody.”

Women and children are not allowed to dig. Young boys do accompany their fathers, but only to watch and learn. When they turn 15, they are given a chance to apply their observations to actual digging.

In 1994, when the volcano erupted, Demas and his brother went out on a canoe to see the destruction. “We heard a loud noise, like guns firing away. The sky turned black for 3 days. Even if I had a torch, I wouldn’t be able to see your face. Coconut trees were gone, fish dead and we were evacuated to Kokopo.”

But the community returned gradually. For the hunters, farmers and fishermen, adapting to life in a town was tough. “Life out there is not the same as our life here, in terms of how we earn our income. So, it was better that we came back here to make a living through eggs. We struggled out there and that it why we came back here”.

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