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Opisa Pokep – a career tracking the modern history of PNG


Opisa Pokep, OBE: Laip bilong wanpela polisman by Bernard Minol, UniBooks, Port Moresby, 2011, 110 pages, ISBN 9789980945310.  I bought my copy from Masalai Press via Abe Books for US$24 plus postage.

THIS delightful book is probably the first Tok Pisin book-length text published by UPNG Press (UniBooks). But I’m not sure about that and neither is the author, Bernard Minol.

Opisa Pokep is the author’s tubuna and the book celebrates his life, and in doing so, the lives of all the past members of the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary.

It begins in 1957 when Pokep left school after completing grade six and joins the police force.  He trained at the Sogeri Police Depot and then spent six months at Tufi Patrol Post before being transferred to his first long-time posting at Mumeng in Kukukuku country.  In those days Mumeng had one kiap and ten policemen.

His days were spent in hard patrolling trying to bring the message of peace to the intractable Kukukuku.  He was there for about 20 years rising in the ranks to sergeant.

During his time at Mumeng there were two kiaps with whom he formed lasting freindships.  They were a kiap called Brown and another called Walter Maina.  I did a quick check through Jim Sinclair’s Kiap but couldn’t accurately place them.

Brown, I suspect, was Bill Brown.  Maina (Minor?) was a raw patrol officer when he arrived at Mumeng and Sergeant Pokep took him under his care.  Together they worked to set up a new patrol post deeper in Kukukuku territory.  Lloyd Hurrell established Menyamya so I’m guessing this one was Wonenara.

This is the part of the book I enjoyed the most because it explores the complex symbiotic relationship between kiap and policeman.  For some reason reading it In Tok Pisin resonated really well.

While he was at Mumeng, Pokep’s parents in Manus lined up a marriage partner for him.  Napikuwop went with him back to Mumeng after he returned from leave.  The birth of their first son, Amos Brown Pokep, is told with beguiling candour as Pokep rushed back from an arduous patrol to be with her in hospital in Lae.

Later, when he took his three children, Amos, brother Gawi and sister, Katrina, back to Manus on leave they pestered him about when they were going to return “home” to Mumeng.

In 1974 Pokep was awarded a Distinguished Service Medal followed shortly thereafter by an OBE.

In 1979 he was promoted to Sergeant Major and transferred to Madang.  From working with the kiaps in the bush he became involved in town police work and chasing raskols.  While in Madang he got involved in civil organisations and was president of a soccer club and the local police association.

His next promotion was to Major and shortly after he was transferred to the Bomana Police Training College as an instructor.

Because Pokep had only completed standard six schooling that seemed like the end of his promotion opportunities.  At the time, however, there were moves by the Police Association, ably supported by police wives, to recognise men like Pokep and promote them into the officer corps.

In 1985 he went to Sydney spending three months with the NSW Police Community Relations Branch.  This is an amusing episode as he navigated the streets of Kings Cross and the scantily clad denizens of Bondi beach.

When he returned to PNG, changes to promotion rules had been made and he was promoted to Inspector.

In 1990 Inspector Pokep was transferred to his home province of Manus.  He did good work there but Lorengau was only a small town and the brass in Moresby thought he was being wasted so two years later he was promoted to Assistant Commissioner and brought back to Port Moresby. 

This was a difficult decision for Pokep and his wife because they had reconnected with their families and were enjoying themselves.  What made them decide to go back to Port Moresby was the increased pension that he would receive when he retired,which he did in 2009, even though the Commissioner tried to talk him out of it.

He was in his fifties when he finally came home.  His children were grown up and leading their own lives; Amos having followed his father into the police force.

Pokep and Napikuwop moved to Makol, a village in the centre of the island with a view of the sea to north and south.  They thought about planting vanilla but decided against it and instead planted betel nut.  Pokep also built a haus win and tourists from Lorengau began to visit and sample both the views and Napikuwop’s scones and coffee.

The book ends with a happy Pokep wondering how he can talk his eldest son, Amos, into coming home to take over the business.

Pokep’s story makes you wonder about the stories of all those other old policemen, many of which are now lost to time. 

In presenting this précis in English I am also made aware that the change of language has taken a lot away from the story; it sounds much better in Tok Pisin.

The Tok Pisin that Bernard Minol uses is what I would call the “classic” version, there is no creative spelling or fractured English involved.  As such I found it easy to read.  A bit like the way you get into the style of an author who likes to play around with words.


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Bill Brown

The "kiap called Brown" may have been G H (Gordon) Brown (seniority 17 April 1953), or R C Browne (6 February 1956).

I think that Ken Brown (seniority 24 June 1947) was on the Papuan side (at Kairuku and Bereina around about those dates) and it was certainly not me; I never served at Mumeng, or anywhere in the Morobe District.

As to "the new patrol post deeper in Kukukuku territory" I agree that it was not Menyamya, but neither was it Wonenara. The latter was established from Kainantu, in the Eastern Highlands, by Gus Botrill and Otto Alder in June 1960. It was thence part of the Kainantu Sub-District.

Chris Overland

This sounds like a terrific book.

As a very junior kiap, my first patrol was in the Kukukuku country lying between Kerema and Kiantiba, which lay some 100 kilometres to the north.

My ADC of the time, John Quinn, pointed to the Police Sergeant who was accompany me.

"You will see that Sergeant X has four service stars on his uniform. He was patrolling long before you were born, so don't do anything he doesn't think you should".

He instructed the Sergeant along the following lines: "Yu mas lukautim dispella liklik kiap bilong wonem i save nating." ['Look after this junior kiap, he knows nothing']

We both followed John's instructions and the patrol was a success.

Like most kiaps, I developed a great respect for the police who accompanied me on patrol.

I have especially fond memories of Constable Roy Gaiwina, a Milne Bay man, who accompanied me on several long and arduous patrols through the Gulf Provinces seemingly endless maze of rivers. I sincerely hope Roy did well in his career.

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