THE late Edward Archie Markham was from Montserrat in the Caribbean and a naturalised citizen of the United Kingdom.
Archie was also my counterpart in 1983 when we both worked as media coordinators in the Department of Enga Administration.
We had been recruited under the communication development component of an K8 million World Bank project.
Archie was a widely published poet and writer of short stories.He became familiar with the Enga culture and way of life and hisPapua New Guinea Sojourn: More Pleasures of Exile (1997) tells the story of his life in Enga Province.
It was the last of eight books he published before he died of a heart attack in March 2008.
In 1989, I met Archie again – in London. He had never expected to see me again but I surprised him with a telephone call when I was visiting Cardiff. He was writer-in-residence at the University of Ulster.
“Fantastic, fantastic, Daniel, this is unbelievable,” he said and we agreed to meet at his Iranian wife’s residence at Highgate in London during the Easter break.
He had loaded his fridge with meat and lots of drinks and asked me to help myself.
“You can eat and drink anything, anytime,” Archie said. “You can watch TV, videotapes anytime you like, Daniel. Don’t feel afraid.”
Archie had observed the Engan way of entertaining a visitor and he remembered the downside.
He said Engans regarded human life as a cheap commodity comparable with pigs and cash and they were very careless too, particularly with brand new vehicles.
He poured out his thoughts as he drove me on a sightseeing tour of the city, including Covent Garden where he had recited some of his poetry in public.
“I’m impressed with the way people drive here,” I said. “There are masses of cars but not many accidents; no smashed cars on the side of the road, very impressive.”
Archie said that, during his two years in PNG, he was alarmed at the rate at which private and government cars – some brand new - were wrecked. People never took the costs into consideration.
“Not only that,” he said. “Your people never felt tired paying compensation for deaths resulting from vehicle accidents or tribal fights. I always wondered where they got all the money and pigs.”
Tight-lipped, I listened to Archie. He wasn’t exaggerating. He was telling me, an Engan, some basic facts which I couldn’t deny.
Our drinking habits and their associated problems was another concern of Archies. “Alcohol abuse must be massively reduced, or it will destroy Enga,” he warned.
True to Archie’s expectation, people continued to die in Enga.
On a starless night in September 1992 a brand new Toyota Stout laden with liquor was approaching Mendi in the Southern Highlands.
Three people were in the front cabin. Three others were perched at the back on top of their precious cargo. They were all drunk except one elderly man.
The companions had loaded the good stuff in Kundiawa, Simbu Province, driven through Mt Hagen and were now heading south towards Mendi.
From Margarima they intended circuit back to Enga to Kandep and Laiagam before ending up at the mining township of Porgera where they expected to make a fortune selling the booze.
They drove this circuitous route under cover of darkness to avoid the 24-hour police road block on the border of Western Highlands which was enforcing a liquor ban imposed by the provincial government.
At exactly 10:30pm at Kiburu village the driver lost control as he tried to manoeuvre a bend at high speed. The fully laden truck smashed through the railing on the bridge of the Mendi River and plunged straight into the icy water.
The three men on the back were able to swim to safety and alerted villagers of their predicament. But the three men in the cabin were trapped and they drowned.
Next morning, police divers recovered the bodies as well as a substantial amount of beer and spirits worth thousands of kina on the blackmarket.
If the drink didn’t get you one way, it was certainly able to get you another.