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Galkope (except 9 lepers) celebrate 70 years in the Catholic faith

Neragaima Catholic Mission
Neragaima Catholic Mission


PORT MORESBY - Galkope men’s houses (hausman), in what is now the Simbu Province, schooled young boys of the Dom, Yuri, Bari and Erula Nauro tribes, which had colonised their territories by migrating from different lands.

The Dom evolved out of Dlekopl while the Yuri walked east through the Wahgi valley. Erula 1-4 evolved out of Monguma, while the Bari arrived at Dukul Mormapir from the Gena-Nogar.

These four tribes, now referred to as Galkope, converged and settled on either sides of the Kola-Kawa River alongside an existing tribe, the Teklau-Baimane.

The Teklau-Baimane settled at Olkaipel, Mekul, Kaluvalu and the vicinity - but fled west after killing Yuri Alaibia before the coming of the Makruai, and settled at Kerual Apane in Jiwaka Province. To this day the older people still speak the Nauro-Bari language.

Against this backdrop, the Roman Catholic Church arrived unexpectedly and settled at Mingende just after the Makruai. The church extended its influence to new lands and built a new mission station at Yopar. The Gakwane and the Erula Nauro people were excited about the opportunities the church brought to their midst.

The priest who established Yopar station saw smoke oozing from fires at Dukul Mormaphir and asked if people lived there. The Nauro men replied that the lands to the south were populated by four big tribes – the Galkope. The priest opted to ford to the other side of the Wahgi River so as to convert the Galkope to Catholicism.

The priest forded the Wahgi with a Nauro man, who tucked his stone-axe, a degaima, under his bark belt. When they arrived at Olkaipel, the priest he discovered that the land stretching north to Koknma Maule and Klma had been left vacant by the Teklau-Baimane.

The tribal leaders agreed that the Catholic Church could settle on the vacant land and the priest named it Neragaima after the Nera Wahgi River and the degaima.

By 1948 the church was established at Neragaima and Fr Vinsted SVD was the first priest to be stationed there to lay the foundation for conversion to Christianity. He also introduced formal education.

Fr Joseph Mussig
Fr Joseph Mussig

Kup had a small airstrip and cargo was unloaded there. The priest had two horses, which he named Nera and Gaima, which would take goods to and from Kup for the priest.

Fr Vinsted was followed by Fr Joseph Gibbs then Fr Woss, Fr Leo Jurger and Fr Joseph Mussig. Fr Jurger oversaw both Kup and Neragaima. He brought in catechist Peter Lari from Madang to conduct catechism classes. Years later Lari married a Kumai woman and had children. One of them is singer Thomas Lari.

The Galkope have a special appreciation of German priest Fr Mussig. He was the longest serving priest at Neragaima, serving for 27 years from 1956 to 1983, and spoke the Nauro-Bari language with fluency.

He celebrated three masses each Sunday during those days when the Galkope were intact and built the huge permanent chapel at Neragaima in 1968. He also developed modern school and health facilities with donations from Germany.

After World War II, the catechist school was moved from Mingende to Kondiu. Nauro Tine Apa Bruno was a student at Kondiu in 1954 and learnt Tok Pisin and the basic faith and traditions of the Catholic Church.

In 1956 he graduated and his first posting back to his tribal land, Neragaima, where he became a bridge between the Galkope and Catholicism.

Bruno helped Fr Mussig to learn the Nauro-Bari language and supervised the Galkope who cracked boulders with iron mallets and collected pebbles along river beds to cement the chapel’s foundation.

They carried sand from the Wahgi River and the Dipiu and Kola-Kawa Rivers to install Neragaima as a hub for the Catholic Church. The iron posts and steel were carried from Madang through Bundi.

Catechist Bruno and son Joseph Kiak at Neragaima at the golden jubilee  August 2019
Catechist Bruno and son Joseph Kiak at Neragaima,  August 2019
Catechist Bruno and son Joseph Kiak at Mormaule in 1970
Catechist Bruno and son Joseph Kiak at Mormaule, 1970

When dusk approached the Galkope men would lay down their steel and iron at Kuibre and court and sing with the girls until dawn and then continued their carrying to Neragaima. The women cooked for the menfolk and the labour was free.

Bruno took notes of the cooperation - free labour and food - and passed them to Fr Mussig, who translated them to German and sent them off to his people.

The stories were wired to different parishes in Germany which donated cash and kind for the chapel, school and the health facilities.

The Galkope villages were widespread, so Fr Mussig decided to extend Neragaima’s services by founding 10 mission outstations at Gaima, Kel, Bemal, Korilkoa, Aialunga, Mormaul, Kumnul, Minma, Ulwal and Gurual.

These outstations remain today, each with a permanent chapel and a school as originally established.

In 1974, the Yuri and the Nauro decided to settle a domestic dispute through tribal warfare. Bruno’s father, Gaprame, was the arrow-stem or kura mapir, and Bruno told Fr Mussig he must leave Neragaima for Gor.

Fr Mussig bought Bruno a shirt and farewelled him, making sure Bruno had constant food rations until his garden at Gor yielded enough crops for subsistence.

In 1984 Bruno teamed up with Fr Mussig again and served as a catechist at Mingende when Fr Mussig became parish priest there. A few years later Bruno moved back to Kondiu to serve again as the catechist.

Joseph Kiak baptised by Fr Mussig at Neragaima in 1965
Joseph Kiak is baptised by Fr Joseph Mussig at Neragaima in 1965

Other Galkope men who served as catechists and converted the Galkope were Kiak Yoseph, Apa Bruno, Waim Francis, Kiak Anton, Ungo, Dewane Andrias, Palma James, Upa Andrias, Wenap, Bolkun Vitalus, Alua Michael, Nere and Wave.

But Bruno out-served them all.

Bruno said Fr Leo paid him $6 a month whilst Fr Mussig paid $5 a fortnight plus goodies to take home as well. To him the stipend was a lot of money at the time.

Catechist Bruno eventually tied notes with a Bari Guigauma woman in 1963 and his first kid was born in 1964. He chopped yopa trees at Kiuryaur-Nildikan and carried them to Klma and made a garden to feed his family and raise his pigs. He went on to have five children with his one and only wife.

In 2016 the queen awarded catechist Bruno with a King George meritorious service medal for his service to the Galkope.

Last year was the Golden Jubilee of the chapel at Neragaima but the celebration was delayed until this month, August 2019, due to a mess up with the dates.

Exactly 108 pigs were slaughtered during the jubilee and donations in cash totalled K40,000. Fifty pigs and K19,000 were contributed by the common Catholic men and women in the Galkope.

Sharing meat at the golden jubilee
Sharing pig meat at the Neragaima golden jubilee

The labour leading to the golden jubilee was free and Neragaima had a completely polished landscape before the visitors came. To the Galkope, it was a thanksgiving whether cash, kind or free labour.

Women and men from the 10 outstations wearing traditional regalia converged on Neragaima and there was singing and dancing from 5 August through to the conclusion on 15 August.

As usual many tonnes of food were freely contributed to feed the visitors, who came from all over the country including Enga, Jiwaka, Bougainville, Sepik and Papua. They included a horde of priests and nuns as well as the newly appointed Archbishop Anton Bal.

A couple of Galkope that ventured out of Catholic schools had doctorates, six of them became national MPs, a couple were ordained Catholic priests and others competed at the international level working in foreign lands. It is a long list of achievement.

However, only a handful of educated Galkope sent money or goods. Had all those contributed who were educated in this place and worked in all parts of PNG, the padre and the altar boys would not have been able to lift the bag of cash, but the legacy of the 10 lepers as usual lived on to this day.

You might remember the story: 10 lepers were healed and quickly set off to the city but only one returned to say thank-you. The bulk of the educated Galkope followed a similar story line.

Maybe they chose to wait for another 50 years and contribute to the diamond jubilee.

Flight of Galkope
Sil Bolkin's book The Flight of Galkope tells the fascinating story of the Galkope diaspora

Catechist Bruno was around to witness the golden jubilee but Fr Mussig had returned to Germany as a very old man and died in an aged care home in 2014.

The Galkope slaughtered a few pigs and made a memorial plaque at Neragaima in memory of Fr Mussig when they heard of his death. The plaque was unveiled during the golden jubilee.

The archbishop in his sermon praised the forefathers for their bridging and bonding on development initiatives.

The forefathers sang and walked miles together with their cold kaukau and were drenched in shine and rain but persevered to build the chapel, school and health facilities.

None of the men complained or asked for a dime in return for their labour. These people believe in the public good and, through their cooperation, they established an unshakeable infrastructure at no cost that has withstood the wrinkles of time.

A sage once said that the purpose of human life is to serve and to show compassion and the will to help others.

In this golden jubilee of the chapel at Neragaima may the Galkope stand firm to emulate their forefathers’ legacy in their everyday life by becoming procreators of public good and sweep self-interest and ego under the carpet.


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Kela Kapkora Sil Bolkin

Garry, thanks for the correct spelling of the names of the priests. The old people here do not pronounce names correctly and furthermore German or Polish names are tongue twisting.

There are no official records of mission work in Simbu so we depend on the old people to recount history but their pronunciations are terrible.

A couple of our boys work overseas including Dr Ningal and Robert Muka, an engineer working in Qatar.

The health facilities and schools in the Galkope do not discriminate, therefore during the golden jubilee celebrations all other mainline churches and sects contributed in cash and kind.

Garry Roche

Kela, a very interesting account.

Personally I think that missionary work in education and health was in general a great contribution to development in the highlands, and perhaps one reason why the various missions were usually welcomed by the people.

Most missions did not insist on conversion as a pre-condition for availing of services. In other words one did not have to become Lutheran or Catholic to attend a Lutheran or Catholic school or clinic.

It is not unusual that the names of missionaries are not always recorded accurately. For example in the Hagen area there was a Fr Dowd – known by the people as Fr Douss. I hope you do not mind if I link some of the missionary names you give with official records.

Fr Vinsted may actually have been Fr Wisenthal (Francis Wisenthal). German W more like V.

Fr Joseph Gibbs was probably Fr Joseph Küppers. U with an umlaut is more like an L.

Fr Woss was Fr Clement Voss. As a hobby Voss collected butterflys when based in Kerowagi.

Fr Jurger was Fr Leo Joerger. I would have known both Joerger and Voss.

Fr Mussig was indeed Fr Joseph Müssig. I would have met him several times at Mingendi in the early seventies. He was still based in Neragaima at that time.

Before moving to Simbu, Fr Mussig had spent several years in Rebiamul parish at Mt Hagen and was well remembered by the people there especially among the Kope and Elti-Penambi tribes. They often talked to me about him.

(Fr Musig is not to be confused with an American missionary Fr Ed Misik who was based in Banz.)

You mentioned people from the area who are working overseas. If you want to know about all the trees in the Irish city of Dublin, then look up ‘An inventory of trees in Dublin City Centre’.

The main author of this research is a Mr Tine Ningal from Neragaima, PNG, a staff member of University College Dublin.

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