SEATTLE, USA – Many years ago when I was a small boy in the highlands of Enga, a kiap and his patrol erected tents and camped at my village for several days.
A policeman bought kaukau and greens from our women with payment made in salt and tobacco.
Fear was driven into us that the kiap and his team might hurt or take us away, so I never got close to the camp site and for hours watched all their movements from a safe distance.
When they left for Kandep, some of my uncles helped carry their patrol boxes and other paraphernalia for half of the distance. However, they returned with sad stories.
My uncles did not eat for days in fear of being poisoned by the Kandepenes, who were believed to maintain tomokai, magic poison which could be passed on through food, drink, or smoke.
They were also believed to be the source of yainanda yawege, a ritual performed once every five years to predict potential imminent natural catastrophes.
There was a sense of relief when the patrol left my village as they caused tension and anxiety with their demanding behaviour.
When we felt sufficiently safe, we approached the vacant camp site and scavenged for empty cans, lids and other refuse and tried to figure out what they might be. We used them as toys.
One of the lasting impressions the patrol team left was their offending odour.
Their bodies, clothes, soap, tents and practically everything smelled even from a considerable distance. This was unlike anything I had smelled before and is still vivid in my memory.
As they were leaving, we followed behind them from a safe distance as far as possible.
We were always on the lookout, especially around corners or the sections of the trail obscured by vegetation, to ensure none of the policemen were hiding.
We were particularly interested in the kiap’s boot prints left on the ground and compared our bare feet against them for days until the prints disappeared.