Published in The National on Oct 5, 2001

Itís that time of the month

The monthly Ela Beach Craft Market in Port Moresby is much more than the local flea market, writes Lena Liew.

"Guess what I FOUND!!" I gush excitedly at Hubby Dearest. "See! Isnít this so cute! Look at the fine workmanship! And this Ö Jane would love this! And this Ö now Iíve got a pair!

"Look, this was K20 the last time we came; today the guy said I could have it for K12! 

"And this Ö I saw the same thing four craft markets ago but I had run out of cash by then; havenít seen the lady again until today. Oh, do you think John would appreciate this?"

I ignore Hubby Dearestís expression of mock dread as I proudly show off my latest acquisitions. Itís the same routine each time we visit the monthly Ela Beach Craft Market.

Hubby Dearest is parked by the secondhand book sellerís stall near the canteen of the Ela Beach International School. Many husbands, mothers with babies and young children can be found relaxing around the canteen as well.

Me Ö I spend at least one hour each time going from seller to seller fingering the "bilum" (handwoven sling bag), "lap lap" (wrapskirt), "kundu" (long bongo-like drums), basketware, bark cloth, wood and shell carvings, sculptures, paintings and drawings, traditional kitchenware, household and personal ornaments, and countless smaller items that make wonderful gifts or souvenirs.

As in most flea markets, bargains abound. I once saw an Oriental visitor snap up a large cardboard stuck full of shell earrings shaped from A to Z. A richly colourful and awe-inspiring painting could cost a mere fraction of the four figures it would otherwise command overseas. What more, you are likely to find yourself face-to-face with the artist himself.

According to the Craft Marketís coordinator, Hane Rarua-Napkai, some 250 "casual" sellers turn up at the Craft Market each time. They pay a K5 "gate fee" and then 10% of their sales as commission. The "permanent sellers" get a fixed location near the school canteen and pay K45 gate fees in advance for the whole year. The school posts security guards at the gates and they are friendly and helpful while being sternly alert.

The Craft Market is truly the mainstay of tourism in Port Moresby, as it is held every last Saturday of the month (barring January, when the school is closed for long school holidays). Compared with the crowds of visitors at the annual Hiri Moale Festival and now defunct Port Moresby Show, visitors to the Craft Market easily number tens of thousands for the year, counting expatriates living in Port Moresby.

Expatriate teacher Jim Shearing couldnít have described it better: "Here you get unique, beautiful, painstakingly handmade traditional handicraft. You get cultural exposure from that and traditional entertainment from the childrenís Ďsingsingí groups who perform traditional dances from various provinces.

"And you are helping to keep the various Papua New Guinean traditional art and cultural dances alive."

Plus the great bargains, the food and drinks, and the clean and safe environment.