Joseph Kabui & his leadership of Bougainville
Intense day of activity for Martyn in Canberra

What my fathers taught me: a tribute


AT A TIME WHEN THE FOCUS of the world is upon Papua New Guinea and its attitude toward women, I have been reflecting upon the male influences in my life.

I know there are good men in PNG and we need their support and encouragement in order to create a safer more equitable society for both sexes. I want to introduce to you three such men who have impacted my life - my grandfather, uncle and father.

These men influenced me in unique ways and the lessons learned were not from longwinded lectures (although they were prone to those too) but rather from observing how they lived their lives.

What my grandfather taught me

Every individual is unique and must be accorded dignity.

My grandfather had a soft spot for the scorned and oft ignored of our clan and would strive to let them know they mattered. He had a way about him which made it seem that you were the favoured one, that you were special.

Most times upon his return from a feast, often the best meat cuts were quietly slipped to the widows, divorcees or the least favored wife of a clansman.  He would cut smaller portions, wrap them in banana leaves and hide them in various locations then give their children riddles to find them – a treasure hunt of his creation.

This was something he did regularly with his grandchildren and we thought we were the only ones with whom he played this game. At his funeral however I was overwhelmed by the amount of people (most I did not know well) who told of his generosity and recalled his treasure hunts.

He also made it a habit to every so often, visit the homes of the aforementioned women. He would ask them how they were and if there was something that needed doing. If they required assistance, appointments were made and at the set time he and his family would team up and help; fencing gardens, making new gardens, harvesting kunai to thatch roofs.

To us children he made such outings an event and would teach various chants and games turning work to play. Firewood distribution was another duty he took upon himself and would ensure that not only his own household was provided for but that of those who did not have a man to look after them. He never made any help seem like charity for he would call on those assisted to reciprocate by helping him in his garden etc.

Words cannot describe the bond I had with him and even though he has left us, his memory and the continuing of this legacy gives life a feeling of completeness.

What my uncle taught me

The most fun you will have in your life is when you take the time to make life fun for others.

My uncle Dau was always looking for ways to make life interesting and fun for the children in his family.  He didn’t need money or sophisticated gaming devices; his props were long bamboo sticks, an old trap made from a mishmash of chicken wire and wood and his own self.

I recall on twilight evenings squealing with glee as he would cut bamboo poles to our size and race around wildly with us hitting at small bats that came out just before dusk, flying low over our huts. If we were successful in catching any he made them seem like the best “snacks” we’d ever had.

Other times we “helped” prepare his trap and he would make a great ceremony out of it. We would take it to a “special” place and stand some feet back whilst he would sneak further with exaggerated caution then dramatically chant a loud rhyme (usually thought up right there) and set it.

The fun was in preparing the trap, if he caught something we all rejoiced if he didn’t we were disappointed but it was always the affair of the preparation that got us all excited.  And oh he could tell stories.

His stories engrossed us. Some were fables and rhymes, others he just thought up but it had him singing, crying and gyrating in the dim smoke filled hut grabbing our imaginations and flinging them to far of places where mythical beings and men lived, fought and died.

Sometimes his stories were epics and would be told night by night. At such times he could get us to do anything to ensure that the story would be continued in the evenings.

Like my grandfather he too has left us but the simple act of bringing fun and wonder into the lives of others is a legacy which I cherish.    

What my father taught me

Love God, Seek Justice, Pursue Peace.

There was an incident when I was about 12. We had gone into town and were driving home when we saw two women savagely fighting each other. This was not our area and there were a lot of spectators surrounding the two women - watching, cheering, jeering.

All of a sudden dad stops the car, reverses and shouts at the people to stop them; they give him a weird look and continue watching. He can be fierce when he chooses and he chose to be so at that moment shouting at the crowd, asking them where the fun was in watching two mothers bash themselves to death?

People were stunned that a stranger would stop and scream and some of them moved to stop the women. He then told them to take the two women to the nearby hospital, started the car and we drove of. I knew that he would have gone out and physically separated the two himself if people had not listened.

He never mentioned the incident and we went about our holiday pursuits but I never forgot what he did. There was a wrong, it was a choice of being passive or responding; he responded.

Another time when we were on holiday our clan got into an argument with another clan and the war cry went up around our area telling us that they were coming to fight. I recall my father racing out of our house to gather those whom he knew were short tempered and would rush out to fight and calling to our clansman to meet at our place.

In a short time all the men had assembled and most wanted to fight and I vividly remember my father announcing that he would go face them alone because our tribe knew him to be a Christian and a neutral person.

Trembling and praying fervently for his safety I watched him run unarmed to meet the approaching menace, two younger men flanking him (likewise unarmed). After an eternity he came home weary but triumphant having talked with the other clan and securing an agreement to dialogue for a peaceful solution. 

Later when we were alone I accused him of not thinking about us when he rushed off like that and what would we do without him? He replied that it was because of us that he did what he did and that sometimes the greater good of the community would push him to take risks.

Peace, he told me, was too precious a commodity to standby and let it be destroyed. I learned then that life is not always about me and my comfort but that there are some ideals that were worth striving for even if it costs us something.

My father did what he did because of his love for his God and his people. It was the right thing to do and his faith moved him to pursue it.

These life lessons (and others beside) have influenced me greatly. I saw them consult with my mothers on family and clan decisions- saw how they listened and cooperated with them to create harmony in our lives.

In doing this they were respected at home and in their community and in this was one more lesson learned; The character and qualities of each sex can be so much more enhanced when mutual respect and dignity is practiced.

My fathers are not perfect for we are all human and have our flaws, but I do see in them a sincere desire to pursue good; that is why I honour them.


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Mona Giheno

Thank you Emma!

Michael Dom

Thank you Emma, these are very good stories and we can connect with such good men.

Orovu's question is important.

Emma Wakpi

Thank you all for your comments. As Robin stated I have been given great memories and a splendid heritage that I wanted to share.

Lindsay F Bond

Orovu, I support Peter Kranz in his request of you that you might give us update on your life and experiences in Australia as a PNG woman.

Please do not underestimate the reach of words posted on this blog, nor let that cause you to be shy.

Peter Kranz

Orovu - can you give us update on your life and experiences in Australia as a PNG woman?

I think many readers would appreciate more comments from one of the foremost PNG female academics.

Meant in all good faith.

Orovu Sepoe

Excellent article by Emma. For me, the crux of Emma's story is how 3 men in her family helped shape and mold her life, and the value she places on their respective influences.

I can relate to Emma's story. So why does Melanesian big man or patrilineal culture come in the way of realising the value of women or at least giving them space to have their say?

David Kitchnoge

I think it is something worth exploring Phil.

I'd be very interested to know if anyone has a bright idea about how the "middle way" might be found.

It's hard to "succeed" individually in a society that is still very much communal in character with expectations of the fulfilment of a shared agenda as opposed to attainment of individual goals.

There are two yardsticks of success in our society and it would be worth knowing how to succeed in such a way that meets both.

Sometimes I get confused and disorientated as to which group I should belong in: my entire clan which has its expectations of me; or to forget them and be seen to be successful in the eyes of my peers who are increasingly measuring success as having plenty of money with a nice house, a nice car etc.

I want to somehow belong in both because the risk of being ostracised if you are seen as failing in one or the other is increasingly becoming real.

Phil Fitzpatrick

This 24/7 hour cycle between communism and capitalism seems like a topic worth exploring Emma and David.

A thoughtful examination might throw up some interesting ideas, especially about the apparent conflicts between capitalism and the Melanesian Way.

I wonder, rather than one or the other, whether there is a middle way?

David Kitchnoge

Thanks Emma. Your story reminds me a lot about my own upbringing in the village.

Looking back now, I learnt a majority of my life skills from back in the village and most of the things I learnt from my years of “education” has been on how not to live life as a PNGian.

I got an accounting degree while passing exams on concepts such as capitalism and individualism which are quite irrelevant and do not sit well in the greater society that I graduated into.

I wake up and come to work everyday as a capitalist and go back home as a communist. Every day, I live a life of pretentiousness for 8 hours and then retire home to my real being.

The struggle of trying to find the right balance between the two conflicting lives, needless to say, is quite stressful.

Gail Edoni

Thank you Emma for having the courage to write and to share your memories with us all. May you long continue to do so.

Harry Egimbari

Emma, that was beautiful. Well said of a carefree childhood in PNG. Who says "informal" education isn't fun and useful?

Brian Gomez

Many thanks for this wonderful bit of writing Emma. I am sure this article will strike a chord with anyone who reads it.

You are obviously a very gifted writer with a sharp intellect.

Keep conveying your views and thoughts and it will only be a matter of time before your name will be up in "lights".

This article is very insightful and throws a very positive light generally on PNG.

Corney K Alone

Emma - Wonderful article. A separate autobiography (a family treasure) about your grandfather, father and uncle would be the best gift you would give to your children.

Thanks PNG Attitude for mining brilliant writers in PNG.

Craige Brown

Thank you for sharing your family.

Mrs Barbara Short

Wonderful memories, Emma.
Your writing is inspirational, i.e. it inspires us to look at ourselves and see how we, too, can be positive and help others, especially those less fortunate than us and in need of help.
God bless you and your writing.

Robin Lillicrapp

Great memories, Emma. You have been given a splendid heritage.

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