By Dennis Badi

DAGA is a pleasant Southern Highlands community in the Nipa Kutubu district.

The rural community is located near Pimaga station on a harsh landscape 850 metres above sea level in the Kutubu local level government.

Daga comprises two villages – Damayu and Fiwaga. Access to Daga is a one-and-half hour drive out of Moro, or a three hours journey from Mendi.

Daga is a model community, home of Kutubu Foi Women’s Association, the Kutubu Foi Cultural Centre and trails of community initiatives inaugurated between 2004 and 2011 that still stand the test of time.

I have been to Daga many times, but this time it’s a reconnaissance for a project appraisal – a leaf-through of its serene secrets.

To a vivid traveller, places like Daga cultivates time, and truly symbolises Kutubu’s untapped wealth, astonishingly it’s not oil and gas.

The reconnaissance

Daga’s surrounding forests are a range of lower montane structure, dominated by ancient members of the Fagaceae family.

Daga’s rainfall is between 2,700 and 4,500mm annually. The pattern of rainfall influences its mild climate, however many people claimed that it was much cooler in the past.

These days, there are trif ling variations annually affecting fruiting and harvesting seasons. Most affected are sago palms, Daga’s stable diet and a source of fibre and starch. The sago palm is now a stable crop sold along the Moro-Pimaga Highway.

There are useful trees like Kagerabo growing near healthy streams. This is a hardwood species of genera Elmerrillia. The tree is useful for making canoes. I came across Calamus palms, one called Dabe, used for tying sugarcane, pig feed and roof joists.

There are various ficus species with edible leaves and fruits. There are rare orchids in abundance near houses like Dipodium pictum, Dendrobium spectabilia and Dendrobium macrophyllum.

An interesting sighting was a large tree found growing among sago stands that had man-made hollows. It is a species of genera Campnosperma that Gurubu, Bosavi and Sembeleke people extract oil from. Daga people called it Digaso. In the past the oil was traded with Nipa people for stone axes, Huli for pigs, and salt from as far as Lake Surinki in the Opene hinterland.

Apart from trees Daga has similar bird fauna diversity with those discovered at Mt Kemenagi as per a World Wildlife Fund report. The mountain range lies south west of Lake Kutubu and west of Daga. However fauna diversity in Daga differs due to human settlement.

While trekking, a Long-tailed Buzzard flew over. These birds are widespread in Kutubu and fairly common in Daga. They soar at a moderate height and forages over the canopy.

Whistler and its allies are fairly common in the primary and secondary forests. A Tawny-Breasted Honeyeater was seen. It is fairly active and easily observable. Amongst tall regrowth was a Spangled Drongo, a species of genera Dicrurus.

The Raggiana Bird of Paradise was not sighted but was heard from about a 100m range. It is seen by people mostly in less disturbed areas.

There were also Swiftlets of Genera Collocalia and Willie Wagtails. These birds are widespread in Kutubu.

There’s a locally-owned butterf ly farm at Daga which farms Priamus and Ulysses butterflies. These butterf lies are carefully preserved and sold to the Insect Farming and Training agency in Lae.

I passed a juvenile Dorea’s tree kangaroo, the world’s largest tree kangaroo, and a Cuscus, a species of Spilocuscus. When I was about to leave the track I crossed path with an endangered Long-nosed Echidna from genera Zaglossus. This mammal is very rare and probably wanted to wish me luck.

Way forward

I went back to Moro satisfied that I was able to document all those I saw today in a report for my boss which will form the basis of a proposal to support local initiatives.

Nowadays, the Daga people are still self-reliant and conscious of their environment. In 2011 after I left they organised on behalf of the Gurubu people the inaugural Kutubu Kundu and Digaso festival.

The festivity is aimed at educating the present and future generations, that when oil and gas runs out, their land will still remain.

Kutubu festival was supported by ExxonMobil, Oil Search, Maka Investments Corporation, Kutubu Special Purpose Authority, MRDC, Bank South Pacific, WWF, CDI and local leaders.

The reconnaissance taught me a lot about Daga’s natural world. There are opportunities under the new land reforms to enlist land and its properties under new land laws to abet the preservation of its ecology.