Sweet misdirection – a short story
Still today, the rituals of Engan tribal warfare prevail

Wewak – a once glorious town reduced to wrack & ruin


THERE are increasingly disturbing reports emanating from the Sepik region that the once peaceful and prosperous town of Wewak on Papua New Guinea’s north coast is falling into a state of decay and anarchy.

Peter Johnson CBE, a 50-year resident of Wewak for 50 years and member of parliament for Angoram from 1968 to Independence knows the town as well as anyone.

“Sadly it doesn’t get any better,” he has written. “Our local police chief told a resident reporting a crime – ‘I can’t do anything; two-thirds of my police don’t even turn up for duty.’ Happy days here, I fear, are gone forever.”

“I knew things were getting bad in Wewak,” commented veteran Sepik resident, Rob Parer who now lives in Brisbane, “but got a shock to see how terrible they really are.”

Long-standing traders like the Tjoeng family’s Garamut Enterprise have experienced so many hold-ups they have closed some of their cash operations.

While others, like their onetime competitors Tank Mow Ltd, sold up and gone for good.

“I was in Wewak last week,” wrote another Sepik resident. “The main street is scary. If you have any cargo aboard even a five-door Cruiser like mine, you must leave security with the car even though all the doors are locked. These are no problem for the street boys. And Police patrol in vehicles at 4pm and tell you to go to your house.”

Prominent Papua New Guinean writer and academic, Dr Steven Winduo, wrote in 2014 about his own return to Wewak:

I returned home after many years at the age of 50 to be with my family. This is a dilemma, that most of our educated members have, that I am part of. We left our homes in search of education and employment, but failed to return home until we are very old.

I don’t blame anybody for the dilemma, but to accept it as a process of life that some of us have to go through.

The regret I have is that things are no longer the same. Life is no longer the same as I expect it to be. Communities are no longer what they were. People are no longer the same people when you left to go to those faraway places that your relatives only can wonder about. It is an experience that separates them from you.

I came home to find that the freedom I used to have is now tested against the new social disorder that has every man, woman, and children live in fear of being harassed by a band of druggies, ‘steam’ induced youths, and knife-wielding gangs along the road that I used to enjoy walking to school every day of my childhood years.

I am a local from Ularina village in Wewak. I remember the days when I used to walk without fear of rascals and intimidating youths to Mongniol Primary School and to the Wirui church. We used to walk in the night up and down the Nuigo Saure road without fear of any one.

Now that freedom is something of the past. Women and children, mothers and daughters and innocent people are threatened with a knife if they don’t give money or whatever they want to the youths stationed along the road from Nuigo settlement down all the way to Tangugo….

From the local’s perspective the settlers have encroached into the traditional land areas without our permission. Gangs from the settlements are harassing and threatening our women, children, and innocent men. Police did what they could during the Christmas and New Year period to keep the festive season free and safe for most of us. After the police left the youths continued their same activities…..

The social fabric of the local community in Wewak has fragmented to a point where one cannot trust one’s own community youths. Many of the people in my communities of Ularina, Niumuigen, Saure live in fear. Some of the youths are involved in drinking ‘steam’ that it is impossible to trust them as right-minded people.

I contribute to development at the national level and to come home to witness the total neglect of Wewak local villagers is a heart wrenching experience. Not one single national leader from Wewak has done anything to help the Wewak Local villagers that I am affiliated to.


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Don Walker

If the reports regarding the lawless atmosphere in Wewak are true this would be the saddest news I have ever heard.

From our time in Wewak we remember it as a paradise on earth. We lived the Moem Barracks from 1967 to late 1970 while, earlier, from 1966 to 1967 I lived at the CDW [Commonwealth Department of Works] single men's quarters.

My wife, we were married in Wewak, worked for the police in the police station on top of the hill and I played rugby league in Wewak for the Police team.

We were considering travelling to Wewak soon but these reports have put my wife off completely. From photographs we have seen the old Wewak town has changed completely and not for the better, a real pity.

One wonders if they should consider having the Army police the law breakers as from all reports the police are ineffectual now days.

Rick Larsen

I have very fond memories of Wewak, Vanimo and the interior from 1966-1967 in particular.

At that time I was in the first group of Australian National Servicemen posted to 2PIR as teachers.

I returned to PNG as a young married man and as a regional psychologist from 1970-1972. During these years I was based in Lae, Madang and Moresby but got to visit Wewak a number of times.

Our second son was born in Lae and I maintain a great interest in the country still.

Lesley Lewis (née Wills)

I lived in Wewak from 1964 to the end of 66 as an A School teacher, it was a great place for all of us young govt employees. The footy charters in and out were memorable. I nay left PNG a few years ago, but never got back to Wewak. Guess it is a good thing. Some of the comments brought back memories.

Barbara Short

Bill Hunt... would you be able to contact me, Barbara Short, on cbshort@bigpond.com I would like to put you in touch with some of the Wewak people who are very interested in your ideas on how they can give the tourists a better time when they come to visit Wewak on these cruise ships.

We appreciate your helpful comments.

Bill Hunt

I worked in Wewak from March 1963 to June 1966, starting with Burns Philp, then Wewak Timbers then with Emil Glaus the stevedoring company.

For years I longed to return for a visit and did so recently on a P&O ship, Eden Pacific.

I was very sad and disappointed by the condition of Wewak. Perhaps arriving on a Sunday did not help but the town looked sad and run down.

In my day there would have been 80 to 100 Europeans living in the area.

The Boram hospital had been recently opened and functioned well. The airport although small was used by TAA and other groups.

I was President of the Wewak Rugby League and we chartered DC3s to fly to Goroka and Madang for matches.

The Catholic Mission had its own airstrip for small planes as did MAF. There was a vibrant PIR camp nearby. At least two building firms, bank, hotel and club.

During my visit this year I did not encounter one European other than those from the Eden Pacific.

I visited Mission Hill and spoke to Father Francis who remembered some of the people I mentioned - Eddie Fitzgerald, Snow O'Shannessy, Brother Romold,
Frank Martin, Jimmy Crawford etc - but I could not find the old Wewak Club or the Catholic Mission.

One suggestion is that to encourage P&O to continue to visit Wewak there must be more activities and interesting places for the cruise passengers to enjoy.

Start with the wharf. Open it up more. Take down some fences surrounding the wharf and make that a place for vehicles to park. The local dancers welcoming visitors can be accommodated down the street near the market place.

There is a wide open space there where buses can carry passengers to photograph the dancers. The market can be opened and stall holders sell their wares in this area.

The wharf was too small on this occasion with 1,500 passengers plus dancers plus vehicles plus hawkers.

And surely there is a vacant building that can be done up and photos of old Wewak hung up. Old time residents, photos of previous buildings and the WW2 landing craft used to ferry goods from ship to shore.

Show the beautiful scenery of the bay, tidy up the streets.

I enjoyed my time there but doubt if I would encourage people to visit it now.

Terry Cowland OL

I recall Peter Johnson when I was teaching at Wewak International School and then principal of Wewak Community College and later Sir Michael Somare's speech writer and researcher (1978-1992).

I too recall the pleasantness of the Wewak communities. Yes, rascals existed then (I have a machete scar on my back to prove it).

However it was safe to walk the track to Nuigo as well as to Saure village, to swim and surf in the late afternoon and BBQ too. Though I have been back to PNG several times since, I have not had the opportunity to re-visit Wewak.

Narinder Parmar

Greetings from Australia! My name is Narinder and I am son of Major Chint Singh, who was held as POW for over 2 years along with other Indian Army officers, by the Japanese, during WW2.

During his days being POW, he built a close relationship with local residents in Wewak.

I am planning to visit Wewak, however, the information about the crime is raising a concern and feeling sad about it, as my father regarded Wewak as his second birth place. I send my best wishes and prayers to all the people in Wewak.

Barbara Short

I placed Chris Overland's article on The Pursuit of Wealth on the Sepik Forum and have just had this response from Preston Karu.

"True indeed Barbara, its amazing that people who have amassed more than sufficient resources sit back and expect someone else to resolve community issues although they have the resources to make so much difference.

Last night, while discussing my rural development projects with some of Wewak towns biggest Marijuana dealers, I figured out how to employ all the settlement youths in Wewak and resolve the petty crime issue and I'll soon run a leadership and planning seminar for all the settlement youth leaders where we will discuss the issues of the youths and draw up a plan which we can agree on to implement.

We will generate revenue and use the influence of our numbers then to redirect public spending away from businesses which only profit from our people and give nothing in return.

There is enough money in our economy to improve the lives and by perspective, insight and action we will redirect it into the hands of the people and change their lives and in so doing the town.

All it takes is a different way of looking at the economy."

So I shall keep you posted. Sounds interesting! Huh!

Barbara Short

Jack Klomes if you want cocoa seedlings resistant to CPB tell your people to contact Isaiah Mathew Sanduma Jnr. - Yangoru-Saussia cocoa development project. on 70752689. He may have some seedlings to spare.

Ludwic Sunny in Rabaul has some good tips on what fertilizer to use to combat CPB. and Brian Takoboy , ESPG research at PNG Unitech should have some good results some time this year.

They can all be contacted on the Sepik Region Development Discussion Forum on Facebook.

Barbara Short

Here is something I wrote on the Facebook site ...Sepik Capital - Wewak


I foresee a healthy future in the Sepik if the educated ones can "go home" and help develop the villages, help develop the farming, help develop the Tourist industry, help develop the marketing of agricultural produce, handicrafts etc, set up shops owned and run by PNG people, help develop small secondary industries in places like Wewak and Vanimo e.g. food processing industries, a drink factory, a copra oil factory, a chocolate factory, a bakery, an abattoir, restaurants with Sepik food, fast food outlets with healthy Sepik food, vehicle repair workshops, timber mills, furniture factories, tank making industry, plumbing business, carpentry business, electrical business, accountants, lawyers, a clothing factory, ..... I could go on and on.

University graduates without a job should think about trying to start up their own business. The MPs must concentrate on TVET education. If the word university is a status symbol and they will suicide if they don't get into a uni. then call the TVET college TVET universities.

Evidently this School belong Storekeeper has not produced the necessary people able to run their own shops. Sepiks are clever people . They can run their own stores. They just have to stop "sounding off" at each other, mind their own business, and concentrate on what they are doing, and if a few can do that and set the example then the Sepik can Take Off!

Philip Fitzpatrick

Yeah Jack, beautiful Madang is starting to look a bit tatty. Big problem with highland squatters. They're bloody messy people, wonder why?

Jack Klomes

Went to Wewak for the Christmas Holidays and was quite impressed really with how the town looked, compared to Madang.

Generally it was quite neat though a bit crowded, less street sellers and all the roads in town were sealed thus the experience of pot holes is a thing unknown....Had to agree with Phil it still quite a pretty town...

Taking an afternoon drive from Boram Airport to town town past Windjammer along the "nambis rot" was quite pleasant and sunsets from Wewak Hill with all those colonial type houses was beautiful...

But I am not a townie so I went home to Peles.The West Coast Road was sealed all the way to Banak with promises that it would be sealed to Sowom in the near future.

This is a development which my Baps and Wawens, Yamos and Yai'ens and Babos found very promising because part of the journey to town would be in comfort...

However the only thing I felt sad about was that cash flow in the village was very low compared to the pre Cocoa Pod Borer Days.

The Cocoa Board and DAL in Wewak seem to be doing nothing about it. My people rely on Cocoa which is their main cash crop.

My Wawen told me..."Kandre sapos Gavman helpim mipla lo rausim disla sik em ba yumi orait ya". Compounded to that problem Wewak seem to be a very expensive town!

But apart from that there are other if not many problems with service delivery which I hope the provincial government will look into.

Barbara Short

Tang Mow recently sold out to some Chinese man who lives in Wewak. A large new supermarket was opened by Papindo company in Wewak September 2015.

I read this recently on a chat site...

Few people realize that the name Papindo is a contraction of two words. Papua and Indonesia put together makes Papindo = another of life's small mysteries explained.

Papindo has made its money by stocking supermarkets with relatively cheaply made Indonesian goods.

While there is nothing wrong with this very successful business strategy, the trading arrangements are totally biased in favour of PNG's western neighbour.

While Papindo imports large quantities of Indonesian made goods into PNG, a national law passed by the Indonesian parliament prohibits any PNG made goods from being shipped directly into either Papua or West Papau !!

The company is said to be fully nationally owned as Sir Tjandra has taken out citizenship.

Ed Brumby

What? No Tang Mow? What of the various Seeto family-owned trade stores? These used to be the heart and soul (apart from the ubiquitous BP of course) of Wewak retail commerce at a time when we could safely leave the keys in our unattended motor bikes and unlocked cars and the only residential security fencing of any note was around the PNG nurses quarters - and we wondered whether it was to keep the nurses in, or the Moem PIR chaps out.

Barbara Short

Vikki, this idea of the car factory,... I was quoting one of the local leaders who wrote this suggestion on the private Sepik Region Development Discussion Forum on Facebook. It was not really my idea.

Alois Mateos has just reported ....Tonight I am at Maur Village to witness a reconciliation ceremony.The elder who was the leader of the traditional Singsing last year has past on. This year they will perform the same Singsing to entertain the visiting tourists from the tourist ship Pacific Aria,but, the village has to reconcile with the spirit of the elder who has passed on and the other elders who were leaders of the Singsing who also have past on and their family members to seek their authority to release the Singsing to the Village people so they can perform the Singsing to Welcome and entertain the tourists in their village.

Maur Village have set up a Theme Park for the tourists in their village.

If you can come up with a better idea than a car factory I will tell them all! Ha!

Vikki John

Oh Barbara,
As stated, "So if any readers are looking for a very beautiful place to set up a factory with plenty of cheap labour, maybe a car factory, then Wewak is your place. I'm not joking!"
I am not joking either, I will pay you a really cheap wage!

Philip Fitzpatrick

I was in Wewak not so long ago and I didn't find it too bad. It's still a pretty little town and people are friendly. No problems shopping in the main street or at the nice new market.

I last stayed in the Boutique Hotel and it's beautiful, up on the hill overlooking the town. There's a nice place opposite the airport built out of shipping containers and right on the beach.

The half finished Somare mansion, paid for by the Chinese, is now a tourist attraction and is one of the few eyesores. Magnificent stadium there too (Chinese again) but the fish factory is a bit on the nose.

Barbara Short

Wewak is still a very beautiful town. There are still many fine hard-working people living in Wewak.

I think the fact that Boram Hospital is in need of much renovation may have led many people to move away from the town. The hospital is lacking in equipment e.g. an x-ray machine. It is the only hospital for over 500 000 people who are helped by the wonderful work of Samaritan Aviation which is based in Wewak.

A large tuna loining factory was set up in Wewak to employ well over 1000 people but they appear to be mainly young women. The young unskilled men of the town find it hard to get employment. Some find it on various mines around the country but there are still many left trying to work out a way to make a living in Wewak.

Sadly there has been corruption going on involving people from the East Sepik Provincial Government. It appears that the law has not yet been able to prove these people were guilty. It may happen one day.

There are a lot of caring LLG members who are trying to solve problems in their local areas. The Wewak District is setting up a web page where you can read about what they are doing. See www.wewakdistrict.com

On 22 February 2016 the P&O liner Pacific Aria will call into Wewak for one day and the 1400 passengers will spend the day being shown around the various historical sites e.g. Wom Memorial Park, where the Japanese signed the end of the war and the Japanese memorials on Mission Hill.

There will be people selling Sepik artefacts and the local ladies will have plenty of Sepik bilums and baskets for sale. Visit the lovely new well-kept Wewak Town Market.

Hopefully they will have some traditional dancing displays.

They prepared all this for the Pacific Dawn in February last year but it was too rough for the ship to land the passengers and there were a lot of disappointed people, both in Wewak and on the ship.

There are a lot of good positive things going on in Wewak. You can see them on the Facebook site Sepik Capital PNG Wewak Urban LLG.

There is a Wewak Mayor, Charles Malenki, and efforts are made to keep the town clean. See recent photos on the Facebook site taken by Will Tekwie with the help of a drone.

There are a number of good places to stay in Wewak e.g. the Boutique Hotel, the Village Inn Hotel and Talio Lodge.

If you want help with finding out about Wewak tourism, contact Mateos Alois, who also has a web page and is mentioned on the PNG Tourism page.

There are people in Wewak who understand the problem that it is facing. Some are inviting these young men back to their homes and discussing their problems with them. Some have involved them in a local triathlon club.

It is easy to understand the root cause.... young unemployed men, in their own village which is part of Wewak town or in a squatter settlement in the Wewak town area. They are idle and the devil makes work for idle hands.

Many new roads have been built in recent times throughout the East Sepik and all roads lead to Wewak. So it is understandable that young men from all over the East Sepik love to come to visit Wewak. Many have had some education and hope to enter paid employment in Wewak. Sadly there is very little.

There is a new Head of Police and he has stated that he will come down hard on policemen who do not turn up for duty in the Sepik where they are supposed to be.

So if any readers are looking for a very beautiful place to set up a factory with plenty of cheap labour, maybe a car factory, then Wewak is your place. I'm not joking!

Vikki John

I found this article which was originally from the PNG Act Now site by 'Red Soil' dated 9 January 2015 titled "Building PNG on Destruction" which seems to relate to the story written by Dr Steven Winduo in 2014 about his own return to Wewak.

Building PNG on Destruction, 9 January 2015

“Is the government’s building our country by destroying it?” That’s the question posed by Sambun, an elderly man in the middle of the Wewak town market, which heated up a discussion that broke out between customers and the venders about what type of development mining bring to our country.

The discussion was sparked after a mother of 5, who was selling greens and tomatoes, questioned what was said on the news she was listening to on a wireless radio phone about the Frieda mine in the East Sepik Province. She asked out loud why the news is always about ‘development’ and yet nothing real happens to improve her peoples’ way of life. I’m tired of listening to all these news people who never come here and find out!” she said in a rather pissed off tone.

This caused another seller to ask why the prices are getting higher in the stores, causing PMV owners as well as everyone else to increase everything else’s fares and prices, while they (fresh produce vendors) are expected to keep the market at an affordable price. Then a customer, another woman called out from one of the market shelters saying;

“They say we will benefit from that Frieda Mine, but I doubt that very much. Do you know what happened in OK Tedi? Their Fly river is dead!”

By now the group had gotten bigger, forming a crowd of elderly people asking questions and trying to make connections while a handful of youths looked on and joined in where they could.

“The thing is, do we accept the consequences of living like this if nothing’s improving our lives?” a youth, another female, called out.

At that moment old Sambun who had walked into the group to be part of the discussion posed that very critical question, of ‘How the government is going to build our country by destroying it’, with regards to mining activities. His talk led to what the Frieda Mine would mean to the Province.

In his own way he explained what he meant, that our forests, our rivers, our seas and everything that we need is just right.

“Why do we have to mess up our land to get money when an industry consisting of the likes of you (fresh food producers) can easily benefit all parties involved both locally and Internationally including yourselves? Too many mines, and Frieda mine is now here!” he said.

“Our Government today is willing to throw our country away for the good of other countries instead of ours. How can all the 109 or maybe more, so called educated members of parliament not see the obvious?” added another woman.

The forum that was heating up by the minutes was suddenly dismissed by a police officer coming into the market from the Police Station that’s located just outside the market gate. The police officer ordered everyone to move and make way for other customers to pass through and do their marketing.

Something’s definitely in the air but hanging, because the people of East Sepik Province can’t really put their fingers on the root cause of all these problems, but from what just happened it seems, they (the people) do know the obvious that involves their day to day livelihoods from A to Z. With more information, confirmation and support, they will see the big picture and not let any false development mess with them and theirs."

See https://ramumine.wordpress.com/tag/east-sepik/

Paul Oates

If police do not turn up for duty they should be sacked. Why isn't this happening?

Isn't this just another case of abrogating responsibility?

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