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.