2004 Umboi Island Expedition by Jonathan D. Whitcomb
Early in 2004, Paul Nation, who had been to Umboi Island twice, advised me where to go and who to meet. After finding an interpreter, we were to take a small ship from Lae to Umboi. While waiting for the ship, we were to meet Umboi villagers and make friends, relying on those from the Gomlongon and Opai villages for directions and advice. After arriving at Lab Lab, my interpreter and I were to take a banana boat to Opai Beach. These instructions I followed, with only a few minor problems from Lae to the southern coast of Umboi. But it was a challenge for me to hike up into the interior of that island; I often had to stop and catch my breath.
The best surprise, however, was on that trail up to Gomlongon Village. Mark Kau (a local leader) and several other villagers came down the trail to meet me. Mark already had received a letter from Paul Nation and warmly welcomed me and my interpreter, Luke. Mark and his family let Luke and I stay in their house for the two weeks that we were in that part of Umboi.
Within a few days, several village men took me and Luke out into the "bush" (jungle) to search for a ropen. I went to this remote tropical island under the assumption that "ten or twenty" ropens, at least, live here. How I was disappointed! That idea came from a communication problem with one of the interviews on a previous expedition. Really there is only one large ropen living in the interior of Umboi Island. Running out of food and money, I had to be satisfied with interviewing eyewitnesses; I could not find and videotape a lone nocturnal creature that could sleep, in the daytime, on any of a number of remote mountains in the jungle.
My Expedition to Umboi
I interviewed several villagers of Opai (near Gomlongon), finding that many of them had seen the ropen light. The creature seems to be bioluminescent as it flies from one mountain to another or between a mountain and the sea. The most significant interviews, however, were not in Opai or Gomlongon: I went on another excursion to the west, where I interviewed four young men who had seen not just a flying glow but a pterosaur shape. Three men (Gideon, Wesley, and Mesa) had seen a gigantic ropen flying over Lake Pung. Gideon Koro described its appearance: "mouth like a crocodile . . . no feathers." He estimated the tail length at seven meters--obviously not a fruit bat. An hour later I interviewed Jonah Jim, who saw the glowing ropen as it flew overhead. (Read much more about my expedition in my book Searching for Ropens, second edition.)
Near Gomlongon Village
Mark Kau and his two sons - Kau is a government leader and community leader in this part of Umboi
Copyright 2009 Jonathan Whitcomb