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The old custom of killing a mother to ensure the family lineage

Enga Show sceneJOHANNES KUNDAL as told to Daniel Kumbon

IF you are faint-hearted don’t read any further because this story tells of a cruel traditional custom - a tale of torture and cold blooded murder practised in olden times.

And it is all the more disgusting since it involved killing one’s own mother just to have a son who would carry on the family name.

A great desire of all men in the olden days of my tribe was to have many children, especially sons, to ensure continuity of the family line and to defend family, clan and tribal boundaries from enemy attack.

A man was satisfied only when a son was born and if the first wife was barren, gave birth only to girls or if the children were retarded, he was compelled to marry multiple wives.

But when the children in the family kept on dying, a strange and cruel custom was practised among my Miok tribesman of Wapenamanda in Enga Province.

Deceased relatives were often blamed for the continuous deaths of infants. Initially pigs would be killed to appease the spirits of relatives but, when children continued to die, somebody within the family had to die so they could journey into the spirit world to stop the malevolent spirit. My people had developed this strange custom to ensure continuity of the family line.

The last killing of a family member happened two generations ago. It was carried out by my grandfather whose name was Injo. He was the son of Konan, my great grandfather, who was married to a lady named Tutim from the Yandamau tribe.

It was Tutim that Injo killed - his own mother. Tutim was my great grandmother.

This cruel grandfather, Injo, was one of four sons and a daughter born to Konana and Tutim. The other three sons were Tia, Lale and Kumban. Injo was named after their favourite hunting ground in the jungle, Injoas.

One day, Lale killed one of his own tribesmen and fled and settled among Yakumau tribesman. Injo was afraid relatives might take revenge by killing him for his brother Lale’s wrongdoing so he also fled to the same village.

The two brothers were welcomed to live among the Yakumau because they were at war with the Waiminakun tribe and needed extra men to defend their territory. To induce them to remain permanently, each brother was given a young girl.

Mendai was given to Lale and Laream to Injo. Some years later, Injo returned to his own village. By this time, his father Konan had died but his mother Tutim was still alive. She was in poor health - frail and sickly.

None of Injo and Laream’s children survived. They kept on dying through miscarriage or in infancy. Injo killed all of his pigs to appease dead relatives, especially his dead father Konan. He confessed his sins and guilty feelings to family members and other relatives hoping the next child would survive. But the infants kept dying and he became increasingly frustrated.

The thought flashed across his mind that his children were dying because his mother was still alive. If she transitioned to the spirit world, perhaps she could argue or fight against her husband to stop him from making his son’s children sick.

So Injo decided to kill his mother to ensure the survival of other children who could be born in future.

So Injo heated a stone on a burning fire. When it was red hot he wrapped it into a parcel using a young breadfruit leaf, tokak yok. Then he said to his mother, “You know what I am going to do? I am fed up when all my children dying. You must also die and go down to the spirit world and stop your husband from killing my children.”

Then he tied his mother’s hands and feet as they do to carry a live pig. She moaned and struggled to free herself but she was too weak. Injo forced open her mouth and pushed the steaming bundle down her throat.

Then he carried her to a place called Ipalemanda where bodies were placed before burial and placed her on a tree suspended across two branches using a long pole. One of his cousin brothers, Tomo Tekepo, tried to rescue her but Injo fought him off. So Tutim, my great grandmother, was left to die.

Next morning, Injo found his mother still breathing but in a coma. He didn’t want to wait so he dug a hole and buried her alive. Then he killed several pigs to appease her spirit and for the funeral feast.

I don’t know if the killing was the magic formula or antidote needed, but after Injo buried his mother alive, he and Laream had three sons and a daughter. Two more girls were added from a second wife to the growing family.

The names of the three sons were Pyalo, Kambao and my own father Kundal. My father married Namaingi Lyapo, a Lyalakin woman. They had three daughters and a son - me – Johannes Kulimbao. My father had another son, Pyaiak, from a widow he married later.

About this time kiaps and missionaries began arriving in Wapenamanda and this cruel custom was stopped. I began going to school and now I work as Public Health Director with the Provincial Health Authority in Wabag, Enga Province.

In a later article, I will relate how my wife Rose and I nearly drowned in the mouth of the Vailala River in the Gulf of Papua when we went to fetch our two grandsons and their mother, Annie, a coastal girl after she ran away from my son, Ismael, with the children after he tried to marry a second wife.

Ismail is our only son and we love him but he can be foolish. We were aware of his intentions to marry a second wife but I didn’t think that would be possible because he was not earning enough to support two wives. Also, we hadn’t yet paid the bride price for Annie who he had impregnated when they were attending the International Training Institute.

We were heartbroken and worried to see their empty room in my house in Wabag town and concerned for their safety and desperate to bring them home.  So Rose and I decided to go down to the coast, even though we had never been to Gulf Province and did not know any of Annie’s people.

Both of us didn’t know how to swim either and we literally cried like children on that dinghy. We were certain the boat would capsize any moment in the five solid hours we fought against a rough sea. I know God answered our prayers and saved us because we were doing a most honourable thing – trying to unite a family.

I was determined to bring them home because I could not marry a second or third wife like my ancestors to ensure continuity of the family line. Nor could we approve of Ismael our son marrying a second wife because we already had two grandsons to carry on the family name.


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Daniel Kumbon

Thanks for all your comments, Stanley, Joe, Michael, Marcus and Peter. Follow this story in the next segment and the one after that.

Peter Kranz

Don't forget the ancient Indian ritual killing known as Sati (or Suttee) where a widow immolated herself on her husband's pyre, or committed suicide in another fashion shortly after her husband's death., although it wasn't until 1920 that it was banned in Nepal.

It dated back to the 4th century BC and also spread to Indonesia and Vietnam. There were claimed to be up to 600 cases per year until it was outlawed by Queen Victoria in 1861.

The Indian Sati Prevention Act from 1988 further criminalised any type of aiding, abetting, and glorifying of sati.

Also on the death of a King the ritual killing of anyone who was close to him was fairly common in ancient societies. They provided companions for the afterlife, Genghis Kahn being an example.

In fact on his burial the guards killed anyone who was even watching, and then those who buried him were killed by the guards, who were in turned killed by other guards in order to keep the location secret.

And don't think Christians get off scot free. Abraham was ordered by God to sacrifice his son Isaac to prove his faith. Explain that one!

Joe Herman

Nice article and thank you for sharing. This practice was not unique to the Miok tribe. Sacrificial killings was as old as humanity. Even today, gender preferential killings (ie boys over girls) is happening in some parts of the world even today.

Marcus Mapen

Beautifully told. Just for a moment I thought I was listening to my own old man recite one of those stories that I never got tired of listening.

Michael Dom

So, there were not many gentlemen among the ancient Mioks, I suppose...

Stanley Amben

Interesting story and thank you for the capture.

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