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Bloodshed & suffering: A chronicle of the Yuri people

Joe KumanJOE KUMAN

By way of introduction, I am Joe Kuman, a primary school teacher and a volunteer working towards peace building and conflict resolution among the remote Yuri Alaiku tribe of the Gumine District in the Simbu Province. As a social worker, I've interviewed elderly citizens in the area and have collected a substantial amount of information regarding the history of the tribe, including cultural ceremonies and rituals, the entrance of the colonial masters and the Yuris’ contribution towards nation building.

YURI Alaiku is one of the major tribes in Digine Local Level Government. It is located south-west of Kundiawa, the provincial capital.

It is the third most populous tribe after the Yongomugl tribe of Sinasina and the Gena tribe of Kerowagi and inhabits the rugged topography of the Mounts Digine and Wikauma of the Kubor Range.

The tribal names Yuri means Spirit and Alaiku refers to the name of the great ancestor Alai from whom the tribe originates.

Alai was the human who lived and cultivated the land now known as Yuri, including some parts of Dom and Bari.  The suffix ku as in Alai-ku denotes possession of the great ancestor, Alai. Hence, the progenies inhabiting the land are known as Yuris, Alais or Yuri Alaikus.

There is also another household name, Kaupa Sipa, used when referring to the Yuri. It refers to a gigantic New Guinea eagle believed to be their guardian and sometime forefather.

The Yuri Alaiku tribe has two sub-tribes, Nombri and Kepa, named after the sons of Alai. From the two sub-tribes have emerged 12 clans from which 30 sub-clans are derived.

The Yuri tribe was renowned for its solidarity and unity before the colonial era when they were fragmented through political boundaries created by the so-called colonial masters or ‘kiaps’.

All clan members were once a nuclear clan and there was no intermarriage nor feuds and warfare.

However, when the kiaps entered Yuri’s common ground (Omdara) to register people for the census, they advised the village leaders to group people and create boundaries so they could be allocated local level government wards for administrative convenience.

The kiaps then allocated each clan a luluai and tultul to manage the clan in consultation and collaboration with the kiaps and leaders of other clans.

Years after, the Yuri people dispensed with this political separation and formed new groups.

The population of Yuri is now approximately 17,000 but this has not been recognised by the authorities for unknown reasons.

From only one council ward during the era of luluais and tultuls, there are now eight wards across two Local Level Governments (Kumai-Bomai and Digine).

The political boundaries were created for political and administrative convenience but this resulted in demographic and geographic disparity among people of common cultural heritage. Now they are inclined to keep apart in terms of communal social gatherings and cultural ceremonies or rites.

The more people become estranged, the more they see themselves as separate units and one of the negative effects is tribal fighting.

Then there was the invasion by police, which led to rape, brutality and manslaughter.

The first and most unforgettable battle between Administration police and the Alaikus occurred when a force invaded the terrains of 17 villages with modern .303 firearms.

Alais were slaughtered indiscriminately. Recruits from Endugla, Kamaneku, Narkus, Nauris (now Naur-Gor United) and others on the northern side of Simbu flooded in with state-issued firearms to shoot the Yuri Alaikus.

A Yuri man from Elakane clan committed adultery with a woman who was married to an Ela-Nauri whose husband and his tribe complained to police in Kundiawa.

Police, especially locals from Narku, Kamaneku and Endugla Tongiaku, were sent to solve the problem but instead raided Yuri land without giving any warning. Men, women, children and animals fled, vacating their villages.

Here is an account by Toya Wambre of Wamilgauma clan:

“We thought the policemen pointed billysticks to caution us but they turned out to be rifles being fired at us, wounding and killing our fathers, brothers and any human figure in their sights. We fled into the bush and even to foreign lands without looking back to get hold of our belongings.”

Most ran away to the neighbouring land of the Bari tribe in fear of the police guns that sprayed to kill. Most domesticated animals were raided, women and young girls were raped and houses burned to ashes.

Some of the victims were Daniel Dama (wounded), Toya Wambre (shot dead),  Nime Gumabil (shot dead), Graibia (wounded in the stomach) and Sine Gainnule (shot dead).

Several others were killed and wounded. Graibia’s stomach was wounded so badly he had his intestines hanging loose to his thighs and he had to shove back the drooping bowels, covering the open abdomen with his hands and continued running for life to the other side of the village.

Here Toya-Bia of Ahngale clan (known widely in Yuri as the only traditional doctor) used his traditional therapeutic skills to nurse the victim. Toya-bia was well known for treating such critical wounds. He drained blood from the internal organs by piping the blood and fluid using the young cotyledons of cordilyne (tanget) through the open wound.

He would then warm banana leaves and stroke them around the wounded part of the body and boil the aipa (akba in Kuman), a soft, edible green and yellow spotted plant, to extract the sap and clean the dirt from the wound.

It would take only few days to heal. Poor Graibia’s open abdomen was treated using this method: pressing the ends together and strapping it with bush leaves. He recovered soon after and died naturally some time later.

Anyway, the miserable thing about this was that the Yuri Alaikus could not claim any form of compensation for the manslaughter and wilful damage as they knew nothing about laws or claims at this time.

Even today, the descendants may not claim as there was no evidence of the barbaric killing and destruction. So, for the sake of only one person from that land and his good wife, many people were killed and wounded, pigs and properties were destroyed and many young girls were raped.

Some years after that raid by the police, the colonial government made a decision to build the Gumine road through Alai land. The Yuri leaders disputed the decision having construed it as unbolting the way for further invasion and destruction as everyone remained traumatised by the previous incident.

The luluais and tultuls such as Wai Singa, Kun Alai, Dama Daniel Drua and Balbia decided that the government’s decision to construct the road to Gumine should be redirected towards the other side of Mt Wikauma towards Munmagaima, Morimaule and Omkolai.

To make it happen, these leaders led the Alaikus to provide free labour to construct the road. During the time, metal tools were rare so they had to use wooden tools made of yopa (a native tree species as hard as kwila) and their naturally physical strength.

Every strong young man would use the hard flat timber to scrape the soil and rock into baskets made of wicker or hard creepy cane which would be carried to the side of the road to fill holes and make drains.

Discovering the natural stamina and civil engineering potency of Yuri men, the colonial masters would always ask them to undertake the toughest part of construction especially the rocky sections as well as watercourses.

It was all cliff and crag that the colonial masters, through the luluais and tultuls, commanded the Yuris to build in exchange for not allowing the road to come through their land where it would have been much easier to build.

The tultuls and luluais went around with their royal baton (billystick) to chase every household member, especially male adults, to actively participate in the construction of the road.

When the Minegone bridge was being built, a Yuri man, Tala Deko, was crushed by a log and bled to death. His corpse was carried from Dirima to Kundiawa for the authorities to respond but all they did was to bury the body at Anigl on the soil of the Endugla tribe.

I guess the colonial masters saw our men as second class or intentionally used them as cheap labour to fulfil the administrative duties assigned by their authorities.

The aggrieved Alais returned home leaving Deko on foreign land. The newly married wife (Koia Kristina) from Golin tribe who was pregnant at the time was unable to see her husband. She decided not to return to her parents and got married to another man of the same clan in memory of her late husband.  She was still mourning today in her late 70s when I collected her story.

Again, no compensation was claimed. The Yuri had sacrificed a lot in connecting Gumine to Kundiawa through road and bridge construction. They died in the process of development. They were shot to death, wounded, lost property and fled fro/m their own land in fear of people who were supposed to be catalysts of change and civilisation.

So, these things happened and will remain a sore in the hearts and minds of the Alais as they are told from generation to generation.

The Yuris have made a great contribution to the nation’s development and some highlights have been the construction of Kunidawa town, building the first airstrip in Goroka and assisting allied troops in World War II.

I will relate more of the story of the Yuris in future.

Comments

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Bernard Yegiora

Joe interesting piece.

Thank you.

Bomai D Witne

Yalkuna, Joe. Great account. Keep reading into the past and write.

Joe, Sil has laid the foundation of the history of our people in his book The Flight of Galkope. Your account provides additional insights.

I recall our conversation with Steven Gari on the 'kalkane' and the invisible battlefield. You may want to capture that in your next article.

Mathias Kin

Joe Kuman, this is an extremely great story and very well written. Sad that a lot of atrocities took place.

Admittedly there was a period after the war between 1946 and 1948 when the kiap and his policemen were searching for tribal fights and other law breakers and shooting people at will.

A lot of these incidents took place in the southern part of Simbu, known than as uncontrolled area until 1950. In the north, they could not have done this things because the area had many missions stations and was the main route of the all patrols from east to west and from over the Bismarck Range into Simbu.

They would have been caught.

They shot 21 people at Bagege in Dirima in early 1947 and shot 38 people at Suanule (my place) a few months later.
These shootings were never written down, the people in charge never reported it.

Joe, keep on writing of these incidents before it is all forgotten. Our children have a right to know of them.

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