We want you to tell us: Have you read any good books lately?
Making peace with my past

Murder & lifestyle disease depletes PNG’s shining stars

The Kitavans have little incidence of heart disease or strokeDANIEL KUMBON

THIS is a sad tale, In fact, it’s a complete nightmare. A family line ending with the death of its last surviving male.

This is the story of how young professionals in Enga Province and, indeed, all of Papua New Guinea, die as a result of lifestyle disease and cold blooded murder.

Rocky Neokuli was a well-known young businessman who died soon after admission to Port Moresby General Hospital. A relative said he had been nursing the wounds for three or four days at his home in the suburb of Morata, thinking it was minor.

Rocky had sustained the injuries during a fight at Nine Mile. He was taken too late to the hospital and died there as soon as he was admitted.

Two men and two women were arrested by police and detained. Rocky Neokuli’s last act had been to identify them.

Rocky was about 30 and from Birip village in Kompiam, Enga Province. He was single, the only child of a family which broke up when he was very young.

He grew up under his father’s care and attended Wabag Secondary School. But his father was killed in a tribal war before Rocky completed his education.

He was the only boy who could carry on the family name. But there was no hope for that now, as he was dead. Wabag residents would remember him as a busy enterprising young man who operated the upstairs Pokies House in the town.

People wept openly when Rocky’s body was driven around the closed Pokies House for a few minutes. People chanted ‘mendaiakali, mendaiakali’ meaning only child, as the funeral procession proceeded to Birip village in Kompiam for burial.

Engans in Port Moresby contributed a substantial amount of money to transport the body home. People from Laiagam who lived in Port Moresby contributed K2,000 and, when the body arrived at Kagamuga Airport, a further K1,000 was given by Laiagam people who lived in Mt Hagen.

The untimely death of Rocky Neokuli added to a long list of young educated Enga people who die in the prime of their lives. This depletion of young professionals puts a huge strain on the workforce of Enga and PNG.

Leading female lawyer, Susan Balen, a young mother of two children from Irelya village in Wabag, died recently after a long illness. Her husband, Roy Kisau, also a lawyer, had died a couple of years earlier.

At about the time Susan died, businessman Martin Tokapae of Birip passed away. And before he died, Londati Minapi, a well-known rugby player who represented the country in the Kumuls national rugby league team  died suddenly in Port Moresby.

He died just as his Yakale clan of Keas village was in mourning for the death of local businessman, Mas Puli. They were preparing the funeral feast when late Londati Minapi’s body was flown home from Port Moresby for burial.

Another Engan Kumul legend to die was James Tengen of Irelya, who was stricken by a heart attack at the home of American Christian friends. He was in America to seek treatment for a hip problem sustained in a vehicle accident. He was treated and able to walk freely but died when he was about to return home.

These deaths add to a long list of other young Engan lawyers, civil servants, businessman and other professionals who have died in the prime of their lives.

The first Engan lawyer and PNG Ambassador to Fiji, Kopi Kepore died in Suva following a heart attack while playing golf.

Private lawyer Jerry Maeokali died of a heart attack after suffering chest pains on a routine trip to Wabag from Port Moresby.

“When a man is alive on this earth, you can fight with him, argue with him, hate him but when he is dead, all is gone,” is how former governor Jeffery Balakau responded after he heard about the death of Mr Maeokali.

Jeffery’s brother, Malipu Balakau, also a lawyer, had been brutally killed 10 years previously and his story is told separately here.


Many other lawyers have also died: Joseph Pakau and Ale Kipalan both from Teremanda, Simili Alonke from Alowaip in Kandep,and  Reme Rea from Kusi village in Laiagam.

Businessman Seth Timanao was killed at a road block on the Hagen-Enga border. Also killed at a roadblock was Leo Kende, PNG weightlifter and businessman from the Ambum Valley and his Pacific Island wife. They were killed in revenge after the murder of two university students in a drunken brawl in Lae.

Policemen have also been targets of murderers. Inspector Peter Pyaso was murdered in the remote Lapalama area of Kompiam when he and his mobile squad went to stop a tribal fight.

UPNG commerce graduate, Ami Liu, the mother of three children was killed after allegations she was having an affair with the husband of the coastal woman who knifed her.

In another murder after a twisted love affair, Lundutta Betoma of Yaibos was killed by his wife on the veranda of their Aipus home in Wabag. Lundutta, a UPNG graduate, was accused by his wife of extramarital affairs and knifed him.

Philip Kipakali, yet another UPNG graduate from Teremanda village, was killed in Port Moresby during an argument in his own house.

Also killed in Port Moresby was Peter Tum, a senior business development officer from Kepelam in Laiagam district. He was killed by raskols when he went to buy buai at a roadside market in Kaugere.

Roman Catholic priests Fr Lawrence Kambao and Fr Paul Langer died from heart attacks. Fr Kambao. Alo, a helicopter pilot from Kompiam district, also perished as a result of a heart attack.

People can avoid heart attacks by looking after themselves, says the Mt Hagen-based private surgeon, Dr Kulunga.

“We are thinking about other people and not looking after ourselves,” Dr Kulunga says. “We are eating anything. People should avoid eating greasy foods and must start to eat lots of fresh market produce.”

The doctor is right. Lifestyle diseases are claiming a lot of young Papua New Guineans and a breakdown in law and order has also seen many of the country’s young people mercilessly killed. 


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Adolf Phi

Hi Tuman - You can email me if you want to know the full story of the tragic killing. I remember you as a little boy in your mum's palm buying fruit and stuff at the Wabag market with your late dad before heading to Mt Hagen.

Twenty minutes later we heard the news of your parents murdered at a road block at Double Bridge. The news shook Wabag town. It was really a shocking news not only for Enga but PNG.

You can email me if you would want to know more. My email is: adolfphi@gmail.com

Daniel Kumbon

Hi. My name is Daniel Kumbon. Iam a journalist, now the grandfather of seven young children one of whom is a seven month old baby boy. I can understand your story. It is very sad indeed and do not wish to hurt you more by discussing openly.

But please if you wish contact me on my email address so I can answer specific questions from you. My email address is kondowaon@gmail.com

You might like to know that this story is taken from my book 'I can see my country clearly now' available on Amazon.com The book will appear on your screen if you log in my name and the title of the book.

I know you have Enga blood to remain strong.

Tuman Kende Apulu

Hi there, My name is Tuman Kende Apulu. I am the daughter of The Late Leo Kende and Fa'ala'ula'u Apulu. I have been searching to know more about my father and his death, and to find out about it over your article has seriously just had me in tears, I would love to make contact with you in regards to his death. I just want to know, who you are and how you know about his death. I live in NZ, 22 years young lol and I was in the car when both my parents were murdered. long story short, my nana (mums mum) flew to PnG to pick me up and live in nz. I was only 9 months old. please please get back to me.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)