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Bernard Narokobi, constitutional architect


THE ONLY fierce part of Bernard Narokobi was his intellect.

Bernard, one of the fathers of PNG independence, was serving as high commissioner to New Zealand when he died yesterday after a short illness. He was 72.

From 1987-97 he was Member for Wewak in the national parliament, serving as Minister for Justice (1988-92), Agriculture Minister (1992-94) and Opposition Leader from 1998 until he lost his seat in the 2002 elections.

He was probably the most talented Papua New Guinean never to have become prime minister. In April last year the UK Guardian newspaper described him as one of PNG’s "living national icons".

Bernard was born in Wautogik village in the Sepik. His father Anton was one of the early catechists, working in the Boiken and Dagua areas. Bernard was educated at Dagua Catholic Mission and Brandi High, where he was taught by Michael Somare.

Narokobi_Bernard Later, Bernard completed a law degree at the University of Sydney and, soon after, in the early seventies, was appointed as adviser to the Constitutional Planning Committee, in which role I came into frequent contact with him and quickly grew to admire his sharp intellect and quietly-spoken manner.

Bernard had a large stake in writing the constitution adopted when PNG achieved independence in 1975. Later he worked as a private lawyer, a law lecturer at UPNG and had a stint as an acting judge in the National and Supreme Courts before embarking on a political career.

His wife, Regina, died of breast cancer in 2007. Bernard leaves seven children: Vergil, Daniel, Anna, Justina, Ottonia, and twins Benedine and Regina. Vergil is a Cambridge-educated lawyer and Anna recently completed her degree in law in Australia.

Bernard Narokobi’s death is a huge loss to PNG.

Photo: Bernard Narokobi greeting a Chinese diplomat


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John Varey

I heard of late Bernard Narakobi in my high school days. I read the first chapter of his book "The Melanesian Way" yesterday.

I am deeply compelled to say that the late Bernard Narakobi is the greatest Melanesian philosopher to date.

I hope Melanesians and especially political parties visit his writings and learn from his deep insights and intellect to extract Melanesian values and principles to develop our ideologies to chart the development path of our beautiful country.

Father Bill Liebert, SVD, JCL

I wish to express my sincere condolences to the children and brother, Camillus, of the late Bernard Narakobi.

He was a great man and contributed very much to the development of Papua New Guinea. He was most gentle and willling and able to help anyone who came to him.

I knew him very well. When he was Minister of Justice we were able to establish the National Narcotics Bureau. I knew his mother and father and, in fact ,presided at the funeral of both of them.

He will be great missed but I assure the family he and they are in my prayers.

Abdul Paliwala

I had the privilege of working with Bernard as secretary of the Law Reform Commission, of which he was the first chair.

He was a wonderful person to work with! His considerable intellect and enthusiasm were all channeled through a consciousness which put human beings first, whether they were the people he worked with or the ordinary people of Papua New Guinea whom he served with such distinction.

What he could not achieve through the Law Reform Commission, he tried to achieve as a judge. However, he was working in an unsupportive political and legal environment.

Yet, many of the principles of social justice he advocated are current today.

Joe Wasia

Bernard Narakobi was one of great leaders who was instrumental in shaping the future of this nation constitutionally, politically and economicaly. The nation will miss him but his legacy will remain.

His death adds to a number of great leaders such as Sir Albert Kipalan, Sir Buri Kidu, Sir Silas Atupate, Sir Tei Abal, Sir Mari Kapi and others.

It is sad to lose such instrumental leaders of the nation but we must accept it because we will not avoid it. May his soul rest in eternal peace.

Meredith Kiraly

I was a friend of Bernard when I was in PNG in 1972-3.

While Bernard's date of birth is often cited as 1937, it is in doubt as births were of course not registered back then, and has been variously attributed as 1943 and 1948. He spoke of being born during the war, when his parents hid "in the bush".

In his last months, he also spoke of being in the process of writing the history of his village, Wautogig. We can hope that this will be completed and published.

A little more information about Bernard's writing from Wikepedia:
"He has published a number of papers and articles which are scattered in various journals and several books including The Melanesian Way; Life and Leadership in Melanesia and Lo Bilong Yumi Yet and a short book of fiction entitled Two Seasons."

Bernard was an exceptional person in public life, and a man of great integrity and warmth.

Jean Zorn

Thank you for a wonderful obituary. It was good to be reminded of Bernard Narakobi's brilliance, talent, kindness and humility.

You didn't mention a couple of his accomplishments. Right after independence, he served as chair of the Law Reform Commission. During his tenure in that position, the Commission produced a raft of bills, all aimed at changing the imported legal system so that it would respect human rights and reflect Papua New Guinean custom.

Had even half of those bills been turned into law, PNG would have been a very different place from what it has become.

Second, he himself wrote extensively on law, politics and culture - and the need to take all three into account in fashioning an independent nation that would mirror what he called "the Melanesian Way".

These works have influenced scholars, politicians, lawyers, legislators and judges, and, I expect, will go on doing so.

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