MELBOURNE – “I still find it hard to think of kiaps caning people. Teachers yes but not kiaps.”
So pondered Peter Salmon in his commentary on Tobias Schoerer’s article, ‘Kiaps repressed warfare, they did not repress the people’ published recently in PNG Attitude.
My initial response was one of mild annoyance: Why would someone think that kiaps, those doyens of authority, would not use a cane to assert said authority while teachers would?
Nevertheless, Peter’s assumption that teachers would use a cane is eminently understandable.
Those of us who were schooled in the pre-enlightenment era remember, while grimacing, our own experience of a teacher-wielded cane or ruler striking our hands, calves or posteriors after one misdemeanour or another.
And it’s true that, in my own East Sepik chalkie days in the mid to late 1960s, a firm piece of kunda rested against my desk at the front of the classroom – a permanent reminder to my 45 plus charges of what might befall them in the event that they misbehaved.
I say ‘might’ because, as is often the case, the mere threat of a caning was sufficient to maintain compliance and conformity in the classroom and beyond – to the extent that I never did have to wield Toby (the appellation afforded to the cane by my charges).
And I did manage to resist occasional overtures from Passam and Paliama villagers to apply Toby to the posteriors of miscreant youths – including, on one occasion, a young woman accused of enjoying a dalliance with one of my teacher colleagues.
All that aside, the cruel caning of Bot of Kambot is an event that bothers me still.
Bot, a strapping post-pubescent young man, probably 18 or 19 years old, and one or two years younger than me, was a student in my Standard 5 class at the Angoram Primary T School in 1966 when he was accused of having consensual sexual relations with the wife of the local police corporal.
This matter was relayed to me by the No 2 kiap who presented me with two options for Bot: summary punishment by way of a caning or reference to the court and the probability, according to the No 2 kiap, that Bot would spend some time in the kalabus.
My initial response was to challenge the No 2 kiap’s assertion of Bot’s guilt and to insist that he receive due process via the court.
The No 2 kiap reminded me that taking the matter to court would jeopardise Bot’s education and his wish to join the police force – and that the summary justice of the cane would eradicate that risk.
Bot’s response, when I asked him if the allegation was true, was ambivalent.
He claimed that nothing untoward had occurred between him and the corporal’s wife. She had simply offered him a meal of rice and tinpis.
However, when confronted by the No 2 kiap, and out of fear, he had agreed that the meal had been followed by more unsavoury delights.
Given the circumstances and the risks to Bot’s education and future prospects, I abandoned matters of principle and agreed to the No 2’s recommendation.
Accordingly, at the end of one school day shortly thereafter, with the rest of the students, including all of the girls, sent packing, the remaining Standard 5 and 6 boys formed a hollow square on the school parade ground.
With the No 2 kiap and I looking on, Bot was led out to the middle of the square – by the police corporal, who then pulled Bot’s shorts and underpants down to his ankles and had him bend over.
The police sergeant, Mando – a big, barrel-chested man from the Chambri Lakes then administered 12 hearty strokes of a cane to Bot’s bare buttocks.
Bot uttered not a sound, and I could not bear to watch.
The punishment completed, the other boys were dismissed, Bot retrieved his dignity and then shook hands with those of us who remained: Sergeant Mando, the corporal, the No 2 kiap and me.
Bot went on to complete Standard 6 and joined the police force.
In fairness to Peter, no kiap used the cane that day. But a kiap was certainly instrumental in what I regard as a cruel if circumstantially justifiable caning.
And, from time to time, I still wonder what would have happened if I’d stood on my principled high horse and insisted that Bot undergo due process in the court.