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Archie Markham's view of Enga - & dying for a drink

EA (Archie) MarkhamDANIEL KUMBON

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.

Comments

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Philip G Kaupa

Daniel a beautiful read and great assessment from your friend Archie.

Bessielah David

An unfortunate repercussion that is now out of proportion. Thanks Chris for the input...it is indeed a sad truth.

Perhaps this UN prohibition should be invoked again? One can only hope that the pollies can help deviate funds for alcohol abuse campaign among authorities and redress the farce that never seemed to have an end in sight.

Chris Overland

When I was a junior kiap, I very soon became aware that alcohol consumption was a source of major problems within PNG, amongst both Europeans and Papua New Guineans alike.

My senior colleagues expressed the greatest regret that, under pressure from the UN about denying people their "human rights", the Australian Government had caved in and revoked the prohibition on alcohol for Papua New Guineans.

We all knew that European countries, despite over 10,000 years experience in consuming alcohol in one form or another, still had significant problems with its misuse and abuse.

The litany of problems attributable to alcohol is long: it is routinely implicated in car crashes, violence of all types, family dysfunction, crime and very significant health problems.

Unhappily, it seems that its pernicious effects are disproportionately severe amongst people who have no tradition of alcohol consumption.

This was why my senior colleagues were so unhappy about the removal of the prohibition on its consumption: they knew that it would inevitably generate very serious sociological and economic problems within PNG and so it has proved.

It is very sad indeed that, in the name of supporting "human rights", the well intentioned but unwise promoters of such rights have ensured that they include the right to become hopelessly addicted to what may reasonably be described as the world's most widely consumed and damaging drug.

With the alcoholic genie now well and truly out of the bottle, PNG finds itself blighted with a colonial legacy of which none of us can be proud.

Bessielah David

There is an amounting number of liquor related accidents still to this day even though countless lives have been lost, and many are victimized by this stark carelessness of drunken driver and the likes, PNG still is a long way from alcohol abuse.

The late Archie Markham was right in saying alcohol abuse and carelessness are the top cause of preventable deaths not only in Enga Province but throughout PNG.

The daily media of information nowadays are streaming alarming statistics and disturbing cruel and nasty pictorials of accidents, the road authorities are advertising their awareness to "be cool and don't drink like a fool," simply put, this does not alleviate the realities.

Perhaps there should be far more stringent laws imposed against offenders with higher penalties?

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