The night the lights went out
The Crocodile goes to schools in National Capital District

My Story: I can see my country clearly now

Daniel Kumbon18  -  DANIEL KUMBON

IN 1960 a government patrol post was established in Kandep.

The people were rounded up to clear land and build the new government station and the Kandep-Laiagam road.

My father arose early every morning to walk several kilometres to help build bush material houses for the patrol officer, his servants, policemen, teachers and health workers.

The people also worked on the road and the building of a new primary school and clinic.

The government had ordered that this be done and every man had to obey. Those who did not turn up were rounded up and beaten or put in jail.

From time to time I joined my mother, who went to barter bags of sweet potatoes for salt, cooking oil, bars of soap, beads and other goodies at the government station.

At about this time I became very sick. My parents, and relatives who came to see the progress of my illness, were alarmed as my condition worsened.

I could hardly move and my breathing became difficult. Eating was impossible.

My relatives agreed this was no ordinary illness and they were fearful I might die. The village magician, Yambauo Piui, was summoned to determine the cause.

First, he had me sit up. Then he spat and breathed into some special leaves called kapaon yoko that he had brought with him.

This was followed by the chanting of some magical words. After a few seconds, he yawned hard and seemed to be in a trance.

Some time later, the magician came to his senses and delivered the diagnosis. He said the cause of my illness was an uncle, Peruwa, who had been killed in tribal warfare.

The magician said my uncle wanted my father to sacrifice our pregnant sow. The pig was to be killed at the mouth of a small spring that had been discovered in the middle of a new garden my father was clearing.

“If the pig is not offered by the spring as Peruwa wants, then the child will surely die,” the magician said grimly. Terror gripped me when I heard those words. I felt already paralysed.

“Okay, we will kill the pig my brother wants,” mt father said. “I just hope Peruwa stops making my son ill.”

His words relieved me and a sudden peace descended on me. My mother had miscarried a son before me and my father was understandably worried he might lose me as well.

Meanwhile the pig was untied and brought from the pen into the living room. The final part of the magician’s ceremony was to begin.

The magician cut some hair off the pig with a bamboo knife and tied it into a bundle. Then he burned one end of the bundle. It gave off a terrible smell. The magician looked me in the eye and gave me the bundle of smouldering stinking hair. I took it in my hands.

“There that’s it. That’s the signal. Peruwa is satisfied,” the magician said. “The child will be all right if the pig is killed now.”

The pig was immediately led to the new garden, where the spring had sprouted from the ground.

Stones, ferns called tambo and vegetables were hastily collected on the way.

When the ingredients were ready, the poor animal was slaughtered. The blood oozing from its nose was allowed to drip into the mouth of the spring. This was the offering to the spirit.

The head and organs like the liver of the pig were cooked in a mumu near the mouth of the spring to further appease my late uncle. The rest of the meat was cooked in a bigger mumu nearby.

When the two mumu pits were uncovered, I was encouraged to eat some of the pork. This I did, to the obvious delight of my father. This was an indication that the spirit had let go of me and that I would recover fully in the next few days.

After recovering, I began school, enrolling in Preparatory class at Kandep Primary ‘T’ School in 1964.

When a primary school was established by Fr Gerald Jerry Theis SVD at Mariant Catholic Mission near my village, I transferred there for convenience sake.

One day in 1967, my Grade 2 teacher told us to dress smartly the following morning. He said a Radio Man from the state-run National Broadcasting Commission station, Radio Western Highlands, would be coming to record our songs.

I was at the front and singing with much enthusiasm into the microphone. I watched the Radio Man’s every move as he turned knobs and flicked switches, changed batteries and tape reels and signalled us when to sing and when to stop.

It was awesome to watch the two tape spools spinning round and round. With a primitive background, I could not possibly comprehend the operations of the portable recording machine.

Before he departed, the Radio Man told us to listen to our songs in a special children’s program transmitted over Radio Western Highlands. I never heard the songs because there was no radio in my village in those days.

Twelve years later, I met the Radio Man when I signed up as a broadcast officer with Radio Western Highlands. It was mid-1979 and he was the late Paul Lare, who became my best friend and an inspiration as I began my career in the media.

I never dreamt that one day I would be a broadcaster and a journalist. . I grew up with the understanding that, when they left school, people only worked as policeman, aid post orderlies, interpreters, drivers and perhaps kiaps.

I was among the first people from my area to complete Grade 10 in 1975 and then I found myself finishing my education at Idubada Technical College in Port Moresby, so very far from Kandep

I had been selected to study chemical technology, electrical engineering and communications engineering at the University of Technology. The Education Department made a mistake in offering me three courses instead of one. But I didn’t have a clue what any of them was about.

Except I knew the word ‘communication’ and thought that maybe communications engineering involved people talking on the radio, so I chose to do the course.

Radio played a huge role in those days and impacted very much on the lives of rural Papua New Guineans. Many members of parliament were former radio personalities including Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare himself.

In my third year at the University of Technology, I performed poorly as the course became more technical. I could repeat subjects at my own expense but could not raise the funds. My parents were poor and lived a subsistence life in the village.

But,  luckily, I had been sponsored by the National Broadcasting Commission to study Communications Engineering to qualify to work as a technical officer when I graduated.

At the time, it was Sam Piniau, chairman of the NBC, who kindly allowed my request to work as a broadcast officer to raise funds and then return to my studies. Other broadcasters like Ian Dunn and Don Penias provided the guidance I needed.

I was posted to Radio Western Highlands where I met Paul Lare – the announcer who had recorded our songs many years before. I worked under William Kundin, who was the station manager and other radio personalities like Michael Namba, Paul Piel, Paul Ray, Jennifer Pahun, Anna Pundia, Paul Yane, Mathew Tena, Michael Mekela, Michael Mel and others.

Two former radio announcers, Kindi Lawi and Raphael Doa, were now members of parliament.

Very soon I was popular, particularly among crazy girls who came to the studio door when they heard me on air asking me to play their favourite song during the Laik bilong Wanwan late night music show.

A colleague, George Kagle, was my partner in crime during that time. I did not think to go back to complete my studies.

After about three years in Mt Hagen, I joined the staff of Danely Tindiwi from Kandep. He was the first person to be elected Premier of Enga Province under the new provincial government system and I was his press officer.

But soon I realised I had no future working for a politician who could easily be voted out of office at the next election.

So, in 1983, I joined a World Bank sponsored provincial development project, called Enga Yakaa Lasemana or EYL for short, as an Information Officer.

Communication development was one of the project components. Of five staff recruited to the new Media Unit, I was understudy to a British VSO volunteer, Archie Markham.

Archie and I started the Enga Newsletter produced on several sheets of typewritten A4 paper folded together. We sat at a light table with glue, scissors, Letraset, rulers and rubber to prepare our news pages.

That was the beginning of the now popular provincial news magazine, Enga Nius. But I had no proper training in journalism so I asked to be released to study Journalism and Media Studies at the University of PNG. This was the beginning of my exciting career in journalism.

The UK-based Thomson Foundation, the US-based Alfred Friendly Press Foundation and the National Press Foundation offered me scholarships in 1989, 1991 and 2008 respectively in recognition of my efforts to remain in my province and publish a worthwhile newspaper.

I also contributed – and continue to contribute - news and feature stories to the Post Courier, The National, Sunday Chronicle and Paradise Magazine.

Papua New Guinea has a free press, much like in America, Great Britain and other free democracies. There is no government control over what is published or broadcast. But many people in PNG do not have the capacity to run their own media outlets.

In reality, it is only Port Moresby which has a fully functional press. Consequently, almost all journalists live and work in the city – one of the few capitals in the world cut off from the rest of the country and accessible by air or sea only at huge cost.

Our two dailies, two weeklies, two commercial TV stations, one commercial FM station and the National Broadcasting Commission are all Port Moresby based. Almost all are foreign owned.

Except for the NBC, few of these organisations have regional or provincial representation. Only recently has the Post Courier and The National begun to establish regional bureaus in Lae, Mt Hagen and Rabaul.

Given this scenario, I have been privileged to enjoy support from the Enga Provincial Government to publish a newspaper that is as free as any other. I am sure it is the only publication of its kind produced outside Port Moresby at provincial or regional level.

Cold-blooded murders, pack rapes, violence against women, tribal warfare, corruption, nepotism, HIV/AIDS, drug and child abuse – the type of stories that make headline news anywhere - happen here.

I have reported on these issues without fear or favour in the hope that, one day, my province and country will struggle free from these social woes.

Perhaps, the biggest accomplishment in my career has been to live and work among my own 300,000 people opening their eyes and ears to the outside world. And alerting them to dangers like HIV/AIDS that threaten their very existence.

The crowning achievements have been the scholarships I won which gave me the chance to travel around the world.

And I thank PNG Attitude for showing me the way to publish my travel experiences in my book ‘I Can See My Country Clearly Now’ published through CreateSpace.


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Leo Maso Malala

Great personality, easy going & soft spoken person to admire. A great writer, promoter & contributor in the literacy world of Enga & PNG.

It was through his promotion that I have been hooked up with PNG Attitude. without knowing him & his motivation in me I would have not come this far in comments & poetry contribution in PNG Attitude.

I acknowledge him greatly for his tireless efforts to revive the writers association in Enga,in which I am one of the executives. Through him I am promoting literacy writing in the schools.

Arnold Mundua

I like this story, Daniel. Infact, when you write on any subjects of the past I find it hard to put it away because your stories always take me back to my. Wonderful early days in the 1960s and 70s. Those were the great moments of my life.

Good one, bro....

Robert Leso

This is an awesome account of your life and this truely reveals that you were born for a purpose and that is for a change. Keep making an impact and go miles for the benefit of your growing nation.

Emmanuel Yopo

Daniel you have been the voice of all of Enga. You are the truest patriotic Engan I have ever seen, sharing our cultures and beliefs with the rest of Papua New Guinea. I am waiting to read the full book. Thanks.

John P. Moore

Thank you for your story and in particular fo mentioning Fr. Jerry Theis. Fr.Theis were friends in the seminary at Techny, I was in Techny in June, but missed Fr. Theis. I then came to Mt Hagen and Kiripia with Fr. Joe Bisson, to teach English for two months, but came down with a dibilitating ear infection for a month and a half. I didn' have a witch doctor to cure me. I spent the last two weeks teaching English to the 9th graders, who are ill equipped to sit for the national exam. There is a huge need for brave writers to keep before the public those politicians who take money earmarked for schools, teachers, hospitals and nurses to line their own pockets. You know how difficult it is to get a credible education when teachers are no being paid. Their have to eat and take care of their families. While in Kiripia, many children were fainting in class for lack of food. Many of the schools closed early because the fraught and frost wrecked havoc on the garden food supply. During this crisis, government officials were spending much needed resources building rugby stadiums, which are still not completed. Can you get pictures of those stadiums.. PNG has so many problems that needs politicians who are unselfish and are willing to take care of the country's resources and spend them on much needed infrastructure, education and the health system.
I hope you will continue to use your voice to encourage the government to have prostitutes examined monthly, or even more frequently and when found infected, taken off the market. Otherwise the country is going to implode from this most dangerous, incurable health hazard. I saw too many cry- cries, victims of HIV, in the short time I was in PNG.
Keep up the good work and share your knowledge and expertise with them school children and college students coming behind you.
John P. Moore

Daniel Kumbon

Thank you for all your comments.

Sikin R, Thomas. Its good to hear that you've made it in life. I helped a dozen others too including final year journalism students from UPNG and Divine Word University. Two of them worked with EMTV for a while. I was very proud when I saw them on my TV screen. One of them moved to Australia. A fourth female student I helped was the niece of late Paul Lare, the 'Radio Man' who came to record our songs many years ago.

Martin, I take your point. Radio was indeed a powerful tool. But the book is in the final stages of preperation for publication. I will try and add some bits in a revised edition later.

Fr Roche thanks. Fr Theis is still going strong. And so is Jim Fenton the first kiap who established Kandep Patrol Post. And I ask a pertinent question in my book - 'Why is it that they (kiaps, planters, traders) are still living when many of our young educated elites are dying young?
I met Fr Theis in front of the Mt Hagen Post Office a couple of months before he left for the US and I felt his hands were thick, rough and strong.

Israel Ipatas, I am glad you read it. The point you make about the mobile phones, the internet and social media is important. I mention it in my book in another chapter dealing with action movies and violence. I hope you will read the book.
But social media to me is like the tabloid newspapers which speculate to much and blow stories out of proportion. So I concern myself with mainstream media only.

Joe Herman. Yes our paths crossed once. I begin to enjoy your stories on PNG Attitude. Keep writing and share your experiences with us as a successful Engan who lives in the states for a long time. I took a glimpsing shot of your dad, Herman at the Wapenamanda airport with Jacob last year. I will email the picture to you.

Aimos Joe Akem, thats a bit too much but thanks anyway. You are entittled to your opinion about me and those of us you mention. The late Kundapen Talyanga was a proud Engan. He was thickly involved in our provincial development program - Enga Yakaa Lasemanda. Enga misses him.

Angra John and Awi Raymond, As we move away from home we see ourselves as different and begin to compare with thse we meet. You tell yourself that your country is not all that bad after all. And a sense of longing, a sense of pride takes over your inner most being - thus national pride. You want to protect your country from harm so we as writers try to expose corruption, child abuse etc to ensure our country remains strong and healthy as God intended it to be for all citizens to enjoy.

Michael Dom, thanks. I showed leadership in developing and promoting literature a long time ago starting when I was a student at UPNG. The evidence was 'Remember Me' and other stories from Enga province published last year. I hope to publish a collection of poems soon written at that time. I am withholding the manuscript because I do not wish to load up Phil. I also have a draft copy of a book written by one of our senior health official here. Like many writers in PNG, he was looking for a publisher. I will publish extracts of it in PNG Attitude soon. And Iam working towards reviving the Enga Writers Assciatin again.

Yes, I hope my country will see me through my book 'I Can See My Country Clearly Now' - not only me but those of us born to 'kanaka' parents and grew up in primitive conditions.

Michael Dom

Thank you, Daniel, for this fascinating glimpse of your life story.

It seems that radiomen and journalists always have exciting backgrounds.

I believe that your country can now see you clearly too.

Your experience in the media industry is an added skill to managing and motivating literary activities in PNG, like the Crocodile Prize.

There's no need to look too far for that leadership then.

Aimos Joseph Akem

Daniel Kumdon is synonymous with Enga News. His beards, the highlands cap and those handsome smiles will be remembered well by all those who know him. He is a great orator, village leader, educated elite, renowned journalist and a writer. We the young Engans adore you Daniel Kumbon. Others i admire are Aki Tumu, Gamar Iki, Geoffrey Apakali and Late Kundapen Talyaga. These are strong Educated Engans

Joe Herman

We crossed paths early on. Nice to read this piece. Look forward to reading the rest of your story.

Israel Ipatas

Daniel, I enjoyed reading your piece but I would enjoy more if you had added a paragraph or two on how mobiled internet & social media is affecting the mainstream media from your perspective.

Sikin Rex Thomas

In 1986, I was doing my year 9 at Wabag Provincial High School. I went to seek for Christmas Holiday Job in the Media unit where Daniel Kumbon was running this Enga Nius in Wabag. Without any hesitation, I recall he call me "Kamio meaning brother" He engaged me to assist in the printing, getting those glue, scissors, letraset etc to get the printing down.

That was my foremost job experience in my life as a student and well appreciated his assistance.

Now I enjoy working aboard in another foreign Land with the World Health Organisation (SSA) in Vanuatu. By reading his life story reminds me of my part-time working with him. Thanks Daniel. From Sikin Rex Thomas.

Garry Roche

Jerry Theis still alive at 84 in Chicago. I remember many of the Radio Western Highlands Radio personnel, Anna Pundia, like Raphael Doa, has passed away. As far as I know Paul Piel and Paul Rey still going strong, - but I no longer live in Hagen and am out of touch.

Martin Hadlow

Thank you, Daniel,

I've not accessed your book and perhaps you talk of your broader Radio Western Highlands experiences there? I hope so.

Come what may, I urge you to ensure that your experiences with the NBC in its early days are recorded for future generations.

I was with the DIES at Radio Kerema, Radio Morobe, Radio Bougainville and with the NBC at HQ in Port Moresby. William Kundin (whom you mention) was, of course, a distinguished colleague, as was Philip Kapal, who took over from me as Station Manager of Radio Morobe.

Please jot down your memories of the early days of radio. As a media historian, I can assure you that every recollection counts. I especially enjoyed your memories from school days!

John K Kamasua

Thank Daniel for your story. Keep lighting that fire...and hold fast to the the noble vision you have. All is not entirely lost yet.

Raymond Sigimet

Thank you Daniel for your story. I've always been interested reading about your experiences in your travels to those far off lands.

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