Coffee is a commodity that has, in its production, distribution,
and consumption, shaped people’s social and sensorial worlds for
a very long time. In the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea
women carry 60-kilogram bags of green beans up and down the
high mountains to airstrips. Over the years this bends their backs,
flattens their feet, and crushes their ankles. Kobe, whom I called
grandmother, once told me that coffee had made her old. She
contrasted the strong body of her youth with the fragile body of
her later years, and told me stories about walking all the way to
Goroka with her parents to sell their coffee when she was a girl.
Kobe’s mother’s brother’s son, Ebule, whom I called grandfather,
told me about the first coffee buyer to come to Maimafu when he
was a boy, and how he had marveled at his shiny shoes. Later, he
said, when he went to Goroka as a young man, he bought shiny
shoes with money he had made from his own coffee sales. Kobe’s
and Ebule’s life histories were interwoven with the growth of cof-
fee production in the Gimi-speaking world. Today the commod-
ity is the way that their children and grandchildren make a living.
Goroka came into being as a town and regional center in the
1940s and 1950s because of coffee. Today the whole city smells
of drying and roasting coffee from the beginning of May until
the end of November, and the smell literally permeates every
aspect of Highland life. During the Goroka Show, the national
cultural festival held yearly in September on Independence Day
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