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Memories of Togoba – natural beauty & wise leadership

Togoba – looking across the Nebilyer Valley to the limestone cliffs
Togoba – looking across the Nebilyer Valley to the limestone cliffs

GARRY ROCHE

DUBLIN - A recent article by Helen Davidson in Guardian Australia included a photograph of the beautiful landscape of the Togoba area in the Western Highlands of Papua New Guinea.

In the foreground one can see clearly the neat gardens with a variety of crops and kunai-roofed houses.

In the background are the grand limestone cliffs, and hidden in the middle distance is the Nebilyer River. In more recent times the area beyond the river is referred to simply as ‘Hapwara’.

If you stand at Togoba facing the limestone cliffs and shout loudly, you will hear an echo coming back strongly. The people of this area said this was a kur (spirit) answering back. In the local language it was known as ‘Kur Wenwen’.

Councillor Ugl El of Ulka Gonamp  c 1971
Councillor Ugl El

If someone tells you they are from Togoba they are not referring to a specific village but to a large rural area at the centre of which is the junction where the Highlands Highway coming from Mt Hagen forks - one road going on through Lower Nebilyer to Ialibu and Mendi; the other traversing up through Poiyakona and Tomba to Wabag.

The Seventh Day Adventists had a leprosarium at that Togoba road junction. There is now a busy health centre and also a high school there. The Catholic Church was at Kamints on the Hagen side of Togoba, there was a Lutheran Church at Tiria on the road heading to Tomba and a government community school at Keltiga between Togoba and Hagen.

In the 1960s and 1970s there was an airstrip at Togoba near the Leprosarium. The strip ran parallel to the road heading towards Mendi. I remember a single engine Cessna landing there. The airstrip is long since closed.

Councillor Kuri of Truga  c  1971
Councillor Kuri

Togoba is in the Nebilyer valley.  Coffee, sweet potatos, sugar cane, cabbages, bananas and pineapples all flourish in the rich Nebilyer soil. Some areas of the Nebilyer - inhabited by the Ulka and Kulka tribes - saw much tribal fighting in the 1970s and 1980s. One battle involving the Ganiga tribe received prominence as it featured in the documentary film, ‘Black Harvest’.

Unlike its neighbours, the Togoba area has been relatively peaceful and has not experienced intense tribal fighting.

Various Jika clans make up the majority of the local Togoba population but there are many other clans in the vicinity - Ulga, Truga, Memeka, Yam, Daiya, Kununuga, Palga and Kinjika.

Former prime minister Paias Wingti’s homestead is at Moika, not far from Togoba. The Munjika tribe (of Andrew Ogil) is found at Kurek and Balk not far from Togoba.

Councillor Kerua of Jika Rogamp  c 1971
Councillor Kerua

Back in the 1970s, the local government councillors were well respected. They lived among the people and were quickly to hand if any disturbance arose. Council Kuri represented the Truga tribe, Council Kerua represented the Jika Rogamp clan and Council Ugl El represented the Ulka Gonamp clan.

I know that Councillor Ug El refused to let his Ulga Gonamps clan be drawn into a major tribal fight between the other Ulga clans and the Kulkas.

Councillor Kuri was able to keep his relatively small Truga tribe out of major tribal conflicts.

John Neitz and Peter Monagle
John Neitz opens some bubbly at Peter Monagle's wedding, Keltiga, 1971

Some of Councillor Kerua’s Jika Rogamp clansmen may have joined their Jika Obrump brothers in the tribal fight agains the Yamka, but generally the Togoba Jikas also did not get much involved.

Rugby league was popular in Mt Hagen in the 1970s and the Togoba area supplied several well-known players including Dos Pungal, Paddy Fagan, Nixon Koi and Michael Koi (later Lae’s deputy mayor).

The Koi brothers, Stanly Nui and Pus Nui from Togoba were also successful business personalities.

At Keltiga, not far from Togoba, there was a government run community school.

The head teacher was a Papuan, Moro Kini. Also on staff were Anthony Tsora, later a prominent public servant and Peter Monagle, an Australian.

The photo here shows John Neitz, an education official based in Hagen, at Keltiga to witness Peter Monagle’s wedding.

Comments

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Kela Kapkora Sil Bolkin

I have been to Togoba and it was a beautiful place.

Arnold Mundua

Great recounting of the 1970s in Togoba. One of the current leaders and a friend of mine from this area that I admire during my stay in Hagen for seven years is PInjiki Wak who lives just next the bridge below Konapoiya. Pinjiki was named in the Digicel Man of Honour in 2014.

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