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The Arapesh leader – peace, diplomacy & mediation

Arapesh man, c 1931 (Reo Fortune & Margaret Mead)RAYMOND SIGIMET

In recognition of past leaders of the forgotten eras who safe guarded and protected their people during times of conflict and war, and worked to bring about peace and harmony in their societies

THE Arapesh people inhabit the west coast region of East Sepik, up into and over the Torricelli hinterlands.

There are three main groups based on dialectal differences: the coastal Arapesh, the mountain Arapesh and the plain (kunai) Arapesh.

In the past, the traditional Arapesh, like other societies in Papua New Guinea, solved their conflicts and disputes through the diplomacy of bikman intervention and mediation.

When a conflict arose, the village tribal chief or bikman known as the takuien of the disputing groups, would come together in the man house, smeiguh, to discuss a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

The takuien occupied the uppermost echelon of the political and social strata of the Arapesh societies. These leaders had high standards. They would not instigate conflict or embroil themselves in conflict of any sort.

As the leader, the takuien was responsible for making decisions that affected the whole group and was also responsible in maintaining peace and social order within the group.

The peace discussion would weigh out the conflict and reach resolution on how many pigs and ring shell money, kobrip, would be exchanged between disputing groups. The time for the peace ceremony will also be agreed upon.

During the peace ceremony, the leaders of the disputing groups were given time to talk. They did not talk randomly but in a structured manner; when one speaker talked, the others would listen.

The takuien mediated during the peace ceremony. He stood in the centre of the meeting place, holding a spear made from the bush limbum palm tree, wabok. This spear was a symbol of the status of the bearer.

During big events like peace ceremonies, custom talk or village politics, a speaker had the authority to talk to the people when he was holding this special spear, smugh.

The spear is decorated with cassowary feathers tied at its top, middle and bottom.

Speakers had turns holding the spear and talking. The spear symbolised the authority bestowed upon the speaker to talk. After the negotiating, the outcome was respected by the people gathered.

During mediation, a resolution was reached by the disputing groups. The settlement included the agreed number of pigs to be exchanged and the number of ring shell money to be paid with other gifts also deemed relevant.

During a peace ceremony to end fighting, the takuien would call upon the leaders of the warring groups to come forward and exchange gifts. They would also plant a palpal tree together as sign that there would be no more fighting.

These leaders were central in maintaining the Arapesh societies in the past up until the first contact with outsiders and the advent of colonisation.

Great Arapesh leaders of recorded history include the likes of war hero and politician Sir Pita Simogun and philosopher and statesman Bernard Narokobi.

Acknowledgements for this information: My father Joseph Sigimet with added information regarding vernacular words from Ignas Nabasai and Pita Hajatua Simogun (son of late Sir Pita Simogun)


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Raymond Sigimet

James, the language and culture of the Arapesh people is, unfortunately, slowly dying out.

Life today is not the same as it was during the Simogun era. Everything has changed. The Arapesh generation growing up today have lost much of their identity to the encroachment of modernity.

It is not only the Arapesh diaspora in Kimbe or Lae that are starved of their identity but those growing up in the villages are also affected. Cultural history and tradition are slowly forgotten as old people pass on.

Children are growing up speaking Tok Pisin. It's only the old people speaking the vernacular. I personally feel that the Mountain and Coastal Arapesh dialects will disappear within decades. This is despite Arapesh being a large lingual and social group in East Sepik.

What you are planning to do would be an important contribution to mitigate this or a step forward in recording and preserving something that, I believe, is inevitable based on the current trends in our society and country.

James Panny

I am a descendant of the mountain Arapesh people. My parents originated from Helishimi hamlet, Alitoa village resettled in Woginara 2 .

We migrated to West New Britain Province of Papua New Guinea in 1969 when Peter Simogun made the move to resettle our people there planting and harvesting oil palm.

I am now a teacher educator of primary school teachers and am very concerned at the fast dying culture and language of the Arapesh people living in West New Britain Province.

I am now searching the internet and making a last minute effort talking to my old mum, recording whatever she can tell me especially the language of our dialect.

I intend to compile a simple book of the language, history and culture using what I can collect from the different sources for the future descendants of Alitoa village. If there is any help out there in the world around I need that.

Raymond Sigimet

Thank you Barbara Short for your positive comments and words of encouragement. I appreciate that.

Barbara Short

Thank you, Raymond. Excellent.
I have placed copies on the Sepik Writer's Club Facebook page and the Sepik Region Development Discussion Forum Facebook page and people are enjoying reading it.
If you are not a member of these groups and would like to become a member please contact me at [email protected]
Keep up with your writing. Well done.

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