New Ireland: islands where you learn to get away from it all - and live

Dawn at Bol guest house, New Ireland. The eerie Vivan Malagan figure emerges from the sea to welcome guests.

In the pale pre-dawn, a Malagan figure, Vivan, emerges from the sea to welcome visitors to the ancient traditions and cultures of New Ireland

NEW IRELAND is laid back and relaxed as it ought to be -- after all it is a cluster of Pacific island jewels large and small, set in an azure sea between one and five degrees south of the equator.

But it is much more. It is a place of contrasts -- of almost trackless jungle clad mountains and tiny atolls, of colorful birds flitting from tree to tree in the air and impossibly colorful fish in the sea, of modern open cut mining and intensive agriculture and subsistence farming and undocumented orchids.

Most of all, though, it is the New Ireland people who make these lovely islands the dream tropical getaway that they are.

YOUR SMILING WELCOME

13-08-11 P8114506 Smiling welcome

Did someone mention a smiling welcome? These youngsters insisted on having their picture taken!

Not much more than a century ago, visitors stepped ashore in New Ireland at their peril -- invading Europeans claimed the New Irelanders were the most ferocious fighters and cannibals in the south seas. Of course, the Europeans making these complaints were invading New Ireland to steal the land and subjugate the people, and many were themselves merciless killers, rapists, and slave traders -- psychopaths euphemistically described as "adventurers" in the European literature.

Today the descendants of those people who fought against murderous invasion make New Ireland one of the safest and most welcoming places on earth where tourists and other visitors can wander at will and be assured of a helping hand if they need it.

Not only do New Irelanders offer a smiling welcome to visitors but most express it in English, Christian churches are ubiquitous, business and sports rivalry have replaced clan and tribal wars, planes in the air, buses, cars, and trucks on land, and large and small boats on water link individuals and groups near and far, and all work and live within the framework of democratic institutions.

And then there are the cultures and traditions of New Ireland which provide the stable foundation for a society that can be confident in itself and throw up people who look the world in the eye and say: "Welcome! We know who we are and where we come from. Let us share our life style and our lovely homeland with you."

THIS IS 'BILAS PLES'

New Ireland has adopted the soubriquet of Bilas Ples, a Tok Pisin term that almost defies translation into English without being grievously weakened. Tok Pisin, the creole that has grown out of the Pidgin English of half  century ago, is a language of few words and many meanings; it is a wonderful language for oratory and labeling. Bilas Ples might be translated to mean "beautiful place" or "decorated" or "dressed up" place, or the place which enhances all others -- the icing on the cake.

Whatever the (in)exact translation, New Ireland undoubtedly deserves its appellation.

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