THE POPULAR slogan which describes PNG as “the Land of the Unexpected” is usually fitting when it comes to the inhabitants of this island nation particularly rural folks using their local knowledge and skills to achieve best desired results.
In parts of the Ramu valley in Madang province, local people have an amazing way to find out if the big pale green egg of a cassowary has only yoke in it or an embryo inside.
Two elderly women, Angela Kuwiza and Edwick Mijamba from Kinimati in the Kurumbukari area of Usino-Bundi district of Madang who were selling cassowary eggs, when this writer caught up with them shared their fascinating story.
Edwick explained that people in her area distinguish the eggs that have embryos in them and those with only yoke inside by putting the eggs in a dish of water.
“We find out after noticing the eggs with only yoke inside sinking to the bottom of the dish, and those with embryos inside floating on the water surface.”
Angela explained that another way people distinguish that a cassowary egg has embryo inside is by using torch light at night to flash it on the egg. The egg that has embryo will show dark shadowy part when light is shone on its surface, while those without will not indicate any shadow.
Angela said the cassowary egg yoke is very delicious when boiled or fried.
“One person having a big cassowary egg will be truly satisfied because it is big compared to chicken, duck or wild fowl eggs,” she said.
Edwick, who comes from Sepu village along upper Ramu River in Usino-Bundi district, said she collected the eggs from a forest situated near the mouth of Mambu and Marum rivers, two tributaries of the bigger Ramu River.
The forest area near where Edwick comes from is a conservation area with pristine environment rich with wildlife and flora and fauna.
“Muruk na ol wail pisin pulap tru long bus bilong mipela, bikos mipela save lukautim ol na em tambu long kilim ol wail abus na pisin nating nating. (Cassowaries and other wild birds and animals are plenty in our forest, because we are into nature conservation) she said.
The community at Sepu and neighboring villages chose to conserve their forests with assistance from a non-governmental organization (NGO) resulting in wildlife roaming freely and not being disturbed or hunted for their meat.
“I got the eggs outside the conservation area,” she admitted.
She brought the eggs to sell at Danagari for K10 each to raise some money to celebrate Christmas with her family at Kinimati, a village situated about seven kilometers from the Ramu nickel project mine in cool misty mountains of Kurumbukari.
Edwick warned that anyone hunting for cassowary eggs must be extra careful, because these flight-less birds jealously guard their eggs and are fierce noticing anything advancing closer to its territory.
“Yu mas lukaut gut tru taim yu go klostu long ol mama muruk taim em slip long kiau bilong em, bikos ol gat strongpela leg na I ken kisim ‘lamb-flaps’ blong yu na kilim yu dai, (You have to be extra careful when approaching a female cassowary guarding eggs, because it can attack and kick you by your ribs and kill you,” Hedwick said.
She said since the conservation began in the area by the non-governmental organization, wildlife in the area has increased, including cuscus, possums, cassowaries roaming freely, and the flora and fauna are growing in abundance.
Cassowaries feed mainly on fruit, although all species are truly omnivorous and will take a range of other plant food, including shoots and grass seeds, in addition to fungi, invertebrates, and small vertebrates. Cassowaries are very shy, but when provoked they are capable of inflicting injuries, occasionally fatal, to dogs and people.