KUNDIAWA - Apart from a few incidents, World War II had little impact on the highlands of Papua New Guinea. However, there was one tragedy that occurred in Simbu.
This event is remembered well by the people of Elimbari, near Chuave in western Simbu.
Sometime during the war, probably in 1944, an American military aircraft encountering problems while flying over the Central Highland area jettisoned its load of bombs.
The bombs landed near Mount Elimbari in the vicinity of Wangoi village some kilometres east of Monono Lutheran mission station.
One of the bombs exploded on impact but caused no casualties. The other two bombs did not explode and remained in the area.
One morning, sometime after the war, a man of the Yagari tribe went hunting in the bush with his dog at Garmar under Mount Elimbari. As they were hunting, his dog sniffed something in the ground and barked and then began using its paws to dig into the ground.
A strange object was exposed.
The man came back to check what was happening and saw a big metallic object, mostly buried in the ground. He tried to pull it out but it was heavy and solidly stuck.
The man returned quickly to Wangoi village and then came back to the bomb site with more men whereupon they dug out the object.
It was big, heavy and as shiny as the metal roof of the mission houses and the axes the mission and kiaps had given them.
Discussing what it was, they concluded that many of the good things the white men had brought would be inside. They tried to break the object open with sticks and stones but it was too strong.
The people then carried the strange object back to the village, having strung it to a pole which was carried by two people. The story of the strange discovery travelled and many people from the Kegu and Wanogu clans came to see it.
Wanting to see what the object contained, the people made a bed of split dry casuarina wood, similar to the big fire beds they make to heat stones for their mumus.
They put the object on top and set a fire beneath. They hoped that, if there was anything inside, it would be revealed when the object broke open.
The fire raged into a huge inferno and the people sang and danced around it. After some hours the bomb exploded with a terrible noise that was heard for miles around.
It is said more than 200 people of the Kegu and Wanogu clan of the big Yagari tribe were killed. The figure could be exaggerated, but certainly there were many deaths that day.
Some of the people were blown to pieces, their bodies unrecognisable. After the blast people from a neighbouring tribe collected the pieces of flesh from the bushes and buried them.
The top of the hill near where the bomb exploded is now called Bomkop, meaning Bomb Mountain.
The American missionary at Monono Lutheran Mission was Reverend Bob Heuter but, when the bomb exploded, he was on patrol and not at his base. It is thought he could have prevented the tragedy if he had been informed about the discovery.
When a second bomb was found in the same area some years later, Reverend Heuter heard of it and quickly alerted the government officer at Chuave, Tony Keogh, who notified his superiors in Goroka.
An army bomb expert from a military base in Lae was sent to Chuave.
Together with the army officer, Patrol Officer Bob Cleland, who was supervising road construction over the Daulo Pass from his base at Watabung, walked to Monono where they met Heuter.
Heuter led them to the site of the bomb under Mount Elimbari at Garmar. There they found a huge 1,500 pound bomb stuck in a cleavage in the side of a cliff. It was 1.5 metres long and 30 centimetres wide at its base.
The officer, after ensuring his two companions were in a safe area, detonated the bomb. The massive explosion was heard by people all around the area.
When the three men came back to the village, all the people had left. Others thought they were the spirits of three white men who they believed had been killed in the explosion.
Read here Bob Cleland’s story, Tales from the Kiap Times - The Bomb of Elimbari, written about the same incident and published in PNG Attitude in November 2016