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The life changing Cacao Journey through Bougainville

The life changing Cacao Journey through Bougainville

Bringing Cacao home to Her People!

And the journey begins:

We board a prop plane, excited, apprehensive, as the unknown awaits. The plan has only a handful of passengers, and touches down in Raul, which is on the Island called New Britain.

This was the last moment I was to enjoy quality Wi-Fi and connection with the outer world.

More passengers boarded and we were on our way to Bougainville.

Bougainville is an island just north of Solomon Islands and to the west of mainland PNG. From the very bottom the Solomon Islands are visible.

Perhaps this is what my heart has called me here, as the extension of the love I have for the Solomon’s, and the unrelenting pull to work and support our brothers and sisters there.

Bougainville has a troubled past. The inner conflict that began in 1989 and continued to 1998, has many versions. I spoke with many and have heard many variations. It is impossible to put into words. In essence, Bougainville was thriving in the 80’s. It had massive Cacao plantations and was world renowned for its quality. Those who are English may know of a chocolate company called Rowntree, and they purchased all of their cacao from Bougainville. In addition, in the central mountain spine, were and are enormous amounts of gold silver and copper. It was being mined, and the town of Arawa south and on the west coast was booming. How much of this was distributed amongst the people is a real question, but there was employment, power systems, excellent hospitals, great school systems it seems. And then everything erupted into a civil war, firstly against the PNG Government, who had only received independence in 1978, and then village against village, clan against clan, with horrific stories of the terror that ensued!

Today it is deemed safe. The deputy High Commissioner of NZ, Dr Nathan, shared with me that Bougainville is the only part of PNG where they are allowed to travel and drive independently without a driver of security..

We land in the heat, walk through an old open air building and are met by James and his team. James is leading the program here that has and is endeavouring to make a real difference in farmers lives. The mini chocolate festival that I was a judge for, was and is the core groups creation.

I was sponsored to be here by Bougainville Partners, an Aid organisation funding between New Zealand and Australia.

It is a warm greeting, and we wait for our bags. My bag did not arrive. NOTE to myself from this moment onwards: Always back essentials in back pack one takes onto the plane!

We stand in a shed that is similar to an old air plane hanger and endeavour to find out what has happened. James leads the way. In the end we leave for our guest house and James stays to sort.

An hour or two later, this is Pacific time James joins us, with no clarity on the bags, and we head for a local tour. Julie was with us and Julie runs the local mini chocolate making lab and had made all the samples that we had judged two weeks previously.

We hopped onto a Banana boat and were whizzed around Bukka. Bukka is a small island separate from mainland Bougainville and the capital was moved here when peace first ensued as it was a safe place to commence peaceful administration.

There are no tourists here, no resorts and was stunning! Pristine water, white beaches and tropical beauty! However, it had not rained for over 8 weeks, which is not common and everything was unusually dry!

We visited old Japanese war relics, an old hospital that was sued through what is locally called the ‘crisis’ and returned to our guest house, tried and elated with connecting with the beauty, simplicity and gift of this part of the world.

The town was on its daily power black out, and the hotels generator wasn’t working, so life slowed down beautifully! Dinner was fried local fish and vegetables. The fish is incredible! Caught daily and in abundance.

I was kindly delivered a bag of clothes from Julie, and we went jandals shopping so was calm about my bag. What would be would be!

The power did not return and so with no lights, living means moving with the natural rhythm! Settle down at sunset and arise with the dawn! My body loved it, and I thought I am in rhythm with the moon and the day, but this was the next level! I adored that evening and morning of no power. I woke at 2am as was still on NZ time and because there was no power, I told my body to go back asleep and it did. It was the deepest most restful night for a long time. Moving in tune with nature!

Through the night I communed with Mama Cacao asking what she wanted of me. It was nearly three years since I had walked amongst her trees and being with cacao farming communities. Her answer was clear! ‘It is simple’, She said ‘you have the steps’. ‘Don’t complicate, just do what you do. That is all that’s needed’! I was questioning, looking for something bigger, but her wisdom was revealed a few days later!

The next morning the power had come back on and so I was able to make my cacao brew. No matter where one is, and how remote, one can always have a cacao brew if they can access boiling water! So what you need is:

-Boiling water

-100% Cacao paste

-And for me a little sweetener(I always travel with a bottle of maple syrup)

And I bring with me this little blender that I can charge off my computer.

METHOD: I pouring the boiling water over the paste in a cup, allow to dissolve and then whizz it. Sometimes when there is no power and my computer is flat, I will just drink my brew with the paste dissolved and well stirred. No matter how remote I never go without my daily brew!

On this trip, I also had a flask, so I would make a second batch with extra goodies such as Hemp seeds, chia seeds, maca and nut butter (all of which I carried with me). And this would sustain me through the day. We often didn’t eat through the day.

Our first stop was the local mini Cacao Lab with Julie for some training. This was right up my alley – local simple equipment and many questions from Julie!

She shared how the chocolate she makes goes off after about 12 hours. I asked what she did and to show me. It was of course not gone off, rather had gone out of temper. We had an awesome conversation about tempered and untempered chocolate. I had brought some untempered chocolate with me, through intuition, and was able to show her how chocolate matures untempered and then does not need to be in the fridge and is perfect for her local communities. We both got very excited at the possibility for local. And of course I get super excited by the possibility of untempered chocolate in NZ, where we honour what is possible in the villages where there is n power or fridges and enjoy the same style of chocolate as they. This opened a whole new door for Julie and local chocolate!! Note: Tempered chocolate is what makes it shiny, but melts easily in the tropics and is a modern invention. Untempered chocolate, when matured in the heat, becomes robust and does not melt, but does not look pretty!

James then came with the good news, that my bag was taken off in error when the plan had landed in Rhaul and his colleague was traveling that day and would collect the bag and bring it with him. We waited for that flight and there was the missing bag! YEAH!! It had all my samples for the farmers, so was happy to see the bag for that more then for the clothes.

Now began the journey from Bukka to Arawa where the mini chocolate festival was being held. A ferry crossing and a 4 hours dusty bumpy 4-wheel drive journey. I was excited

We all loaded into a Land Cruiser, crossed on the ferry as per photos, and started our journey. 10 minutes into the journey, Cacao trees appeared on either side of the road, and continued for the entire journey. Most over grown, amongst native tropical bush.

It was wonderful to have Her accompany us all the way south but also heart breaking to experience, such an abundance of Cacao and the disconnect in how She can truly support this community!

We arrived into Arawa at dusk, dusty, tired, bumped around for sure but also happy to be closer to meeting the farmers.

The morning next morning was spent preparing for the festival, and right beside our guest house was an exporter of Cacao. I got to see first hand the kind of volume of Cacao being exported from Bougainville. Container after container, all to factories in Asia, and to the bulk market somewhere out in the world. Here quality is not considered, rather volume, and of course in this, the farmers is paid a low price, and has no connection to their crop. Bougainville no longer has the reputation for quality Cacao, and all of this I had experienced in the drive the day before. There is no incentive to truly care for plantations and the disconnect to this master plant is huge.The farmers who do produce high quality, have to sell into the same bulk market for the same shockingly low price, determind by the world stock market!

In the afternoon, the magic started to weave and the healing!

We visited a beautiful Cacao farm owned by George, and many of the farmers who had entered the Cacao competition and who come especially for the mini festival from all over Bougainville, joined us.

We were standing under the Cacao trees, and I was invited to introduce myself. Everyone speaks pigeon, amongst many local dialects, and schooling is done through English. So all in all we were able to get the gist of each other. But ultimately, we were talking Cacao language so all was understood!

I shared how I used to work in and be an owner in a chocolate company, but when I saw the imbalance, the injustice of how Cacao farmers are not fully included, I left my company to be their voice. I thanked them for the work they do. I thanked them on behalf of all of you and how we could not have the profound gift of Cacao and chocolate without them. How I could not have supported my family in making and selling chocolate without their hard work. I asked them if they knew what an Ambassador was, and they did and I shared how I am a Cacao Ambassador, their Ambassador, and am here to help change everything first and foremost for them, by giving them back their power and putting it back into their hands.

I shared that as part of the core values of the Cacao Ambassador, we will not purchase Cacao unless first they are having cacao for themselves. There was a curious look amongst the faces. I asked:

‘How many of you eat your own Cacao’. No-one. ‘How many of you drink Milo’, everyone puts up their hand. In the local shops they will pay the equivalent of $1.30 for 30gs of milo, which is what a cacao brew here in NZ costs from the Cacao Ambassador.

I asked them what is the Cacao that they grow for? The answer ‘for big factories that makes chocolate’. And I with my whole loving heart and all the Cacao trees around us, I share that Cacao is first for them. How Cacao was grown for thousands of years, in villages like theirs, without power, or special equipment or big factories, and how the villagers enjoyed Cacao daily. I shared how healthy it is, how it balances their diet. How instead of drinking milo, they could drink their own Cacao, and sell it locally so their community can enjoy it too, and they can make a local income from their Cacao and not what the exported pays based on the world stock exchange. There is a look of incredulousness on their faces, confusion, as this invitation follows the growing of cacao for over 100 years and never in anyway tasting it, not only in the form of chocolate, but as a bean, as a food, as their own Cacao.

And I continue, that in this they will also start to know what is good Cacao, because they know good mangoes because they eat them. They will understand their trees better, listen more deeply to their own connection with their Cacao plantation and will naturally want quality for their families.

There is a ripple, there is a change as over 100 years of history, of disconnect to this sacred tree is changed for ever!

Thibault, who is part of the team, then gives some technical training and I walk amongst the Cacao trees for a few minutes to let everything settle.

Then the farmers come back and start to ask questions. How. There is a new level of keenness. Many of them express gratitude, that their grandfather harvested Cacao, and their fathers, and no one told them or showed them how to have their own cacao, and to sell it. In those moments its impossible to integrate the emotions that burst in this heart. The injustice, the heart break, the in-pouring of gratitude, the overwhelming change this is occurring…Its hard for anyone outside of this to grasp just how big the disconnect has been. Imagine farming a crop for over 100 years, through your family’s generations, and never even seeing a final product from it, or ever putting it in your mouth. A food so rich in iron, magnesium, anti-oxidants, minerals, vitamins and immediately balancing the local diet.

I sleep little that night as the energetics were strong, as the change started its journey. The next day the festival begins, and we set up the demo, so I can show the farmers and everyone and anyone how to use their own cacao daily. It was meant to be an hour’s demonstrations, but we actually started at 12.00 and went for two days straight! Roasting beans over a gas cooker, which can be done over a fire in the village, peeling the beans, we had many amazing volunteers, making Cacao tea, eating the peeled beans, a first for everyone, making Cacao nibs and dipping bananas into the nibs, so so amazing, the crunch, the balance with the sweetness, sprinkled over pineapple and so much more. And then we got their local wooden pounders that are pretty impressive, that are used to make special banana and cassava puddings, and we put the roasted peeled beans into the pounder, and within 10 minutes we had local village level cacao paste, that we brewed up with coconut water and fresh coconut cream and everyone was drinking local milo without sugar.

And then we added into the pounder, banana, pawpaw and coconut water and we had a local smoothie, that at the beginning of the day would sustain anyone for hours.

We were swarmed. When I did the official presentation, I had a mic and we must have had at least three hundred people around the stall, like 360 degrees around the stall. And I kept having to spin around to include everyone, but we literally had a cacao revolution, with laughter, joy, discover, healing and connection finally to this beautiful crop!!

What always touches me so deeply, is that despite Cacao farmers never consuming their own Cacao, or having the gift of Mama Cacao in their lives on that level, there is always a deep reverence and respect that goes so deep. A natural knowing and awe of Her….

So many connections, so many hugs, so many conversations followed, but one of the happiest moments, was when I had to leave the stand for something and when I came back everything was more then in full swing as the local team had taken over and were demonstrating and sharing about cacao as if they had been with her their whole life!

I could step back for now and enjoy the wonder as the magic of Cacao enter the lives of Bougainville Cacao farming communities in a whole new way. But this is just the beginning.

Whilst there I wrote a proposal of what is next, how we need to continue this work. And I gave the farmers a blue print to work by for the future which included continuing to sell to the bulk market as a ground of income, focus on their farms, productivity, and quality and the best quality beans, don’t sell them to the bulk market who does not care about quality, they keep the best quality for their family to make into cacao products, and in that they also start to sell locally, and increase their income. In time they will become know once more for their quality of Cacao, but this time it will be different. The buyer won’t have all the power, because, they are putting their families and communities first in providing local cacao, they will have the health benefits of eating Her and they will have their own voice.

They cannot have natural empowerment when they do not consume the crop. Its a fundamental change taht must take place across the world.

I wanted to stay longer. I wanted to just have a back pack and go from village to village, showing everyone how to have their own cacao. But this was a beautiful beginning to be celebrated.

And a big should out here to the Kiwi Police in Awra. Tony was a gem and took us out for an early morning swim (the only time we got into the water). Have to say it was my first time in a police car!

A very inspiring documentary to watch is ‘Soldiers without guns’ and the part Aotearoa NZ had in helping Bougainville find peace!

An 8 hours’ dusty bumpy range rover drive back and already I could feel the change with the connection with the cacao trees. The code had changed. We do not have to be every where for the impact of change to pour out wide. The ripple effect is extraordinary. And of course the trees commune in ways we cannot imagine! And the they were whispering and swaying and rejoicing in the full circle coming home finally. In their Cacao farming communities now knowing truly what the Cacao trees wanted more then anything, which is to serve them fully, to be for their families, for their communities and from that earn a true income and include export of course, but having what is first first. Cacao for them.

I will be back, I am placing the paper on real change from the ground up I wrote in front of many so the further I see and know for greater change can be funded. It will take place.

My heart had to grow so much wider, and broader as the beautiful Beings of Bougainville claimed so much of it. I will be with you always, and Mama Cacao is there for you fully, to help heal on so many levels. Those of you I had the honour of spending time with, know just how deeply I love you! I am and I hope all who read this are forever changed, and carry you in our hearts, in loving arms of connection, with honouring and gratitude for your work with Cacao, and truly wanting you to have your own cacao first.

I want to leave you with this one image of this beautiful Cacao farmer, who's father and grandfather harvested cacao, and he joined us on the stand and for the first time ever, roasted and peeled his own Cacao. This is their birth right, this is what is true and the joy and wonderment that ensues, has to be shared because we are in the beauty of this change! Lets celebrate it!

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1 Comment

Manasi Gupta
Manasi Gupta
May 08, 2023

I loved reading this blog journal.

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