IF THERE WAS A COMPETITION for the best arse tanget, I would have taken the prize year after year.
My arse tanget always had the best leaves, shined to perfection, with small pieces of cloth in front. That was the way it was until I received my first pair of shorts in grade 7. The shoes followed in grade 9.
You can be forgiven into thinking that this is a story set in the 1950s or 1960s. But it was between the years 1975 and 1989 when I became old enough to wear tanget just like my father and older brothers.
My childhood was spent in Mulilam Village (situated approximately 22 km north of Wabag town as the crow flies) in the Upper Ambum-Kompiam District of Enga Province.
The province was opened up to the world by the Leahy brothers in the 1930s. The Edie Creek gold rush had attracted a good number of entrepreneurs from Queensland, some of whom went further inland in search of more Edie Creeks.
But instead they became mesmerised by fertile valleys and high mountains – and warriors with their humble bows and arrows which were soon found to be of no match to the white man’s magic sticks.
I love to recount this time in my life, especially now that I have a jacket and matching trouser that I wear to work in my role as a senior manager with Telikom PNG.
I like to make the point that anything in life is possible. It is not where you came from or how you started out but what you do with what you have that makes you who you are today.
And you can be anyone you choose to be if you set your mind to it, stay clear from a herd mentality and avoid the inferiority complex so common to many Papua New Guineans.
My mother told me that I was born during the daytime – a rare event. Studies show that high proportions of births happen under cover of darkness - an evolutionary adaptation to enable the protection of the female and her offspring from enemies at the time when they are most vulnerable.
I was aptly named Korokan – a man of sunlight in Enga tokples. Perhaps it was the name, perhaps it was the warmth of the sun, but I was born with a will to survive and shine.
I am the fifth of seven children born to Aaron Alone Waion from the Sakalin tribe, Kapupin clan and Tuik sub-clan of the Kupin Local Level Government area.
My mother, Theresa Sampepon, and her people, according to Engan tales, originated from an eagle bird (yaka kambi) – a Kii Kunalin who fought with his brother, Sambe, over a dog neck collar made of dried bamboo stick, left his brother behind at Laiagam and headed to the Ambum valley.
That’s where my great-great-grandfather, Pereyap, settled, raising Enkoy, my great-grand father. Enkoy’s only son, Ipari (my grandfather), looked back to the Lai valley and married Marina Tondopale – a Magin lady from Aiyoklam village.
Ipari’s mother, Tukii (my great-grand mother), is an Ilyope -Kambale lady. Her only sister , Kakii, married into the neighbouring Kea sub-clan of Kepalipos village.
Around the time I was born, the SVD priest (the late Fr Anton Crasi from the great state of Illiois USA) from Londol Catholic Mission, was running the Londol Catholic Mission Station.
Fr Crasi extended the health extension efforts of the government to the upper Ambum Valley which came under its parish. I was named Cornelius after one of the saints when I got baptised into the Catholic faith as an infant. My uncle Mathias Miukpipae would have some clue on this as he was the local priest’s right hand man at the time.
When I was old enough, I bawled my eyes out to attend school. In retrospect, I probably was allowed to go to school even when quite small - a privilege accorded to me because my father, the late Aaron Alone, initiated the Naiepelam Community School.
Previously my elder brothers had to walk a long distance to attend Londol Community School. My father saw the need for a school closer to home.
Dad was not a big man, either in status or stature, nor was he a man of many words. He never had a clue about the alphabet either. And he had only one wife.
But he was a man with a vision bigger than the confines of the Ambum Valley. To him gaining an education was a means to a better life. He had to bring education to the village where the people were.
He made his intentions known to an educationist -- a Mr Paul Takila, a Bouganvillean married to a local Loalep lady who had been the headmaster at Londol Community since the late 1970’s.
Mr Takila liaised with the Catholic Education Agency at Sangurap (Enga’s Catholic Head office where the Bishop sits and oversees missions work in the province), and I remember well, the day my father invited Mr Takila and his whole class at Londol Community school to my village. He killed a pig and made a feast to declare our family garden the site for the community school.
About two to three years later the news came from Sangurap through Londol Catholic Mission, and the school was built at a nearby and more approachable spot – Naiepelam.
The school’s official opening day came two years later in 1982. My father killed a cow, a gift to him from his cousins (from Lyau Tukisanda) to declare the school open.
True to his vision, dad supported the school’s activities, teachers and other government workers like aid post orderlies until his dying day in December 2002.
I was in the second lot of intakes for the new primary school in 1981. I was seven years old when I sat among teenagers and a few adults to get educated. We were attempting to learn English for the first time, most of us did not even speak Tok Pisin yet.
I was the smallest boy in class but an exceptional student - taking out prizes every year from grade 1 to 6 at the Naiepelam Community School, and again from grades 7 to 10 at Anditale High School.
My first shorts and shoes in the late 1980s were given courtesy of the SVD Priest. Since my parents could not afford my school fees after grade 7 in high school, this duty was taken up by my cousin, Leonie Samben. Leonie was a haus girl for the late Fr Anton Crasi. My clothes, pocket money and school fees were from the priest via my cousin Leonie.
The beginning of the 1990s brought a lot of firsts into my life - my first plane ride, my first time to Port Moresby, my first time to sleep in a hotel, first time to use a flush toilet and my first time to go so far from the safety of home.
Keravat National High School was my home from 1991 and 1992. Initially I was nervous because I had heard so many stories about people from this part of the world and their kambang puripuri.
It was during my time at Keravat that I received Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Saviour. We attended Keravat Local Church (a member of the Association of Local Churches of PNG, started by Finnish missionary Kari Harri and others) and got baptised there as well.
Eternal thanks to my Tari brother, Mr Dickson Ango, who encouraged me to make a personal commitment for the Lord. I wrote a letter home to break the news of my new found faith and was met with an upset cousin who stated in the strongest terms that I would incur the wrath of the priest back home for losing my faith.
After that, I shortened my name from Cornelius to Corney. It was not in defiance of my Catholic roots; rather Corney was shorter and easier to spell. Plus, Cornelius reminded me of my old life, where I had to go through intermediaries to reach out to God.
It was also at Keravat that I befriended the Wartovos (Arthur and Lolo) from Navunaram village in the Gazelle district who became my spiritual parents and provided me with a home away from home during term breaks and at times when I felt sick.
Their continuing commitment (and that of all congregation members at Navunaram local church) was to take care of Pentecostal students from other parts of PNG, pray for them and send them back home as missionaries to reach their own family members and tribesmen for Jesus Christ.
The selflessness of the Wartovos showed me what Christ’s unconditional love was and deepened my newfound faith. My late father and mother both confessed Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, got baptised and passed on – the greatest satisfaction and fulfilment I cherish in my walk with the Lord. The relationship with the Wartovos and Navunaram local church is ongoing.
My parents were getting older and I felt a need to get a job that could pay so I could look after them. At the end of grade 12, while the rest of my friends were considering their three choices of tertiary institution, I only had eyes for the Telikom College in Lae.
The college was paying a very good stipend for the City & Guilds Telecommunications cadet training they had started running the previous year. In retrospect it was quite rash when I put the Telecommunications School as my first, second and third choice.
It was with great elation when I received my acceptance letter to the Telikom College. My training lasted four years. Under the disciplined and brilliant military-like training of Irish gentlemen like James O’Rourke, Bill Hurley and others, I learnt a great deal of all facets of telecommunications before I moved to Port Moresby, specialising in Data Communications & Computer Networking.
I have been here since 1997, with most weekends embracing creamed kalabua banana, fish and tulip leaves.
Together with my siblings, we threw a party for our dad two years before he passed on. My dad always insisted that his passing should be celebrated with songs and praise to God for his departure to be with his Maker and not be encumbered with traditional mortuary obligations.
We celebrated his life when we hosted his feast which he shared with his family and friends. I remember the beaming smile he wore that day.
I am sure my dad would have been impressed if I had introduced him to my wife but that did not eventuate, however, my mum did have that honour. I met Tanya Zeriga from the Zia tribe of the Morobe Patrol Post in 2007.
She impressed me so much that I had to claim her before anyone else did. I proposed to her in November 2008 and we got married April 2009 – witnessed by my church pastors and closest and best friends from the Tertiary Students Christian Fellowship days at College like Brian Sam and Yando Nimbo. Though she was brought up in a town setting unlike mine, we share similar opinions.
Together, our motto has been, if not me then who? That’s why we founded the Renbo Smile Club – a family club that collects smiles of thanksgiving as an offering to God. We do charity exclusively for health-related cases. We mostly choose people who cannot repay us so that the only thing the recipients will naturally do is to thank God for His unrequited mercy and grace.
And yes, I grew up a Catholic, converted to a Hallelujah singing Pentecostal believer and am married to a grand-daughter of one of the pioneer Morobean Lutheran Missionaries to the Highlands, the late Basawec Zeriga.
My campaign against the Outcome-Based Education system (OBE) was fuelled by my experience. I am who I am with the education that I received. It worked well for me but OBE is watering down the standard of reading, writing, problem-solving and maths. Education also needs a bend towards moral-ethical uprightness and radar for compassion and sensitivity towards community needs.
My take was that OBE was a convoluted and resource-intensive system. It lasted much longer in PNG than it deserved. Both the southern and the northern hemispheres who tried OBE were dropping it faster than hot cakes and moving on with proven and workable approaches to creating a knowledgeable and intelligent workforce to find their niche in the borderless 21st century workplace. I felt vindicated and elated when the O’Neill- Namah government decided to scrap OBE in 2011.
My life so far has been good and I am thankful to God for my success. I owe my beginnings to my parents, especially my dad and his unwavering support to education and books – even if I was reading a scrap of newspaper, dad encouraged me and my brothers.
I also owe my beginnings to countless people along the way. Mrs Maria Lakain, my grade 7 English teacher at Anditale high school –who was a brilliant and smart. My Sepik-Morobe brother and colleague at Telikom, Mr Brian Sam, who others came to realise we’re like the thunder and rain brothers – inseparable over the last 20 years.
Mr Kone Kula who injected business acumen into me and who encouraged me with continuous coaching and mentoring to become a high-flying, commercially savvy technocrat. There are also many Pastors and missionaries throughout the country who have encouraged me greatly. God be praised for these great men and women.
I acknowledge my faith in a fair and just God who still performs miracles when least expected. I live my life daily always with expectation that there is something good just around the corner if I just remain optimistic; keeping an open eye for opportunities in challenges.
In my spare time, I make use of the internet to educate myself about the world and its leaders. I am an avid supporter of soccer – an intelligent game. I root for the Gunners (Arsenal) in the English Premier League. I am interested in world politics and am an Obama fan and am even on Obama’s email list. Probably a green card is not too far off.