WABAG - Imagine how brave it was for local women to marry complete strangers – whether other Papua New Guineans or expatriates: men who dressed differently, spoke strange languages, ate weird foods and bore different skin colours.
This was the time when the PNG highlands were opening to the outside world of explorers, gold prospectors and kiaps (patrol officers), strange men who seemed to have appeared in their midst at the blink of an eye.
And at a time when people believed that those who lived beyond the mountain ranges were keoakali, beings who ate people.
The women had no time to find out who these strangers were or where they came from or what they ate or what they were doing in their valleys.
The beautiful young girls were sold off to planters, prospectors, kiaps, police, missionaries, catechists, carriers, cooks, interpreters, bosbois, tultuls and others in exchange for knives, axes, salt, cowrie shells and tasty things to eat and drink like tinned meat, tea, sugar, fish and rice.
One man in Mt Hagen even forced his own wife into marriage as was revealed in the documentary film First Contact, about the Leahy brothers who came prospecting for gold in 1934.
One of the first girls to be sold to the Leahy brothers, police and carriers said: “My people gave me to the strangers for their wealth. I was just a young girl. My breasts were still small.
“The strangers paid for me and the other girls with shells and steel axes. They were very wealthy and bought many more girls.
“I was the first. We were terrified. We cried, mother, father. We thought they would eat us. We had sex together then we knew they were men. Not spirits, just man.”
Today many children of such unions hold high office in government, public service, the private sector and excel in sports, music and other occupations.
Two have been prime ministers, Peter O’Neill and Bill Skate, and there have been deputy prime ministers, senior ministers, party leaders, provincial governors and members of parliament.
Former member for Wabag, Robert Ganim, is the son of a Sepik policeman who married a local girl from Teremanda village in Wabag district.
Sir John Pundari, member for Kompiam-Ambum, who since being elected to parliament in 1992 has served as deputy prime minister, minister under four different prime ministers and speaker of parliament is the son of a former missionary from Europe.
The missionary had an affair with a local lady from Kompiam-Ambum but Sir John was raised by a man from Kandep who worked at the Meraimanda sawmill.
Here’s a story of another young girl from that area, who married a much older man so her uncle could maintain his relationship with a powerful local leader who the kiaps appointed as a bosboi to help them in their work.
Kipaukwan of Ambelane village in the Ambum Valley married Kurai Tapus from Kaiap village in Wabag to become his eighth and final wife. Her uncle, Karapen Kalum, worked as an interpreter when Kurai Tapus was bosboi in charge of the Ambum Valley extending to Meraimanda and Keman in Kompiam district.
Kipaukwan was a small girl when her family moved to Wabag patrol post. They stayed in the home of her uncle, Karapen Kalum, her mother’s blood brother.
A couple of years later, her older sister, Palion Paron, married a policeman from Morobe Province. Kipaukwan followed them to Wapenamanda where the policeman was stationed.
Not long afterwards, the marriage broke up, so Kipaukwan moved to Sirunki in Laiagam to stay with her second born sister, who was by then married to Liongop Kis (Big Thumb).
Kis was very popular because of his diligent work as an interpreter and because of his nickname. He had an enlarged thumb on one of his hands.
Meanwhile, Kipaukwan’s third sister had married a man from Teremanda village. And the divorced Palion Paron married Cr Puio of Papayuku village in Laiagam.
Palion was probably the first female village court magistrate to be appointed in Enga province in the early 1980s.
Kipaukwan revealed how she had to marry Kurai in an interview I published in the second edition of Enga Nius in December 1983.
She began by telling me she had quit Sirunki Lutheran Primary School after completing Standard Four. She didn’t understand the importance of education.
“Now, everybody is clear about the importance of education,” she said. “But, before, we had no clue. We just went to school with no clue at all of its significance. I didn’t know what I would do after finishing school.
“I think the teachers did not teach us much. They were not trained properly. They used three languages of instruction – Enga, Tok Pisin and English - to teach us anything they had learnt somewhere.”
“Who were your teachers?” I asked.
“They were from this province – Enga. They themselves must have gone to school somewhere. After they were finished, they came to Sirunki to teach us. At that time ‘going to school’ was something new to us. We just enrolled even if they did not teach us properly.”
“What did you do next?” I asked.
“I did a lot of work for the missionaries. I helped the sisters at the hospital. I cooked food for them and learned to use a duplicating machine. I loved playing sports. I captained both the soccer and volleyball teams.”
“Who did you play against?”
“We from Sirunki played against teams from Lutheran Missions at Papayuku, Yaibos, Yaramanda, and other places. We played to win the ‘Poko Ita’ or Cross as the ultimate trophy. I don’t want to boast, but our team from Sirunki won most times.
“I stayed at Sirunki and helped the missionaries and played sports for some time until I decided to leave. I said goodbye to the missionaries and my sister and her young family and moved over to Tsikiro in the Ambum Valley.
“There I stayed with my uncle Karapen Kalum who was still actively involved in government work. At the time I was already a big girl. Shortly after I moved to Tsikiro, my husband Kurai Tapus asked me to marry him.”
“Was he married?”
“Of course he was. He had seven wives and I became his eighth. He was a tall man and powerful. He supported the government with all his energy. He told people to give up fighting and live in peace and harmony. The people listened to him with much respect.”
“You say he was aging. And you had the advantage of going to school. Why then did you decide to marry him?”
Kipaukwan laughed: “I don’t know why, but I can say this. He regularly came to my uncle Karapen’s house and gave me food and presents. In my young mind, I thought he was giving me those things for free. I was too young to understand this crafty old man. He used tactics to win my heart. I even thought he had given me some love potion or ‘posin’.
“Something else too, he was a very close friend of my uncle Karapen. They both worked for the government, very close friends and respected each other. When Kurai proposed to marry, I asked Uncle Karapen for his advice. He just told me to accept which I did as a sign of respect.
“I supported my husband fully and respected him too. He had been given a chain to put on his hand by the kiaps. He was given other titles like tultul, luluaia and councillor. I married him when he was a bosboi.
‘His work was recognised by the government and the Queen of England. He got many medals but everything was destroyed at Kaiap village when our house got burnt down. My references were destroyed too. I only have one medal that was given to him by the queen.”
“After you married Kurai, did you go up to Kaiap to live among his other wives?” I asked.
“No, I didn’t go up there to mark gardens. I helped the Wabag Council executive officer Mr David Sup to establish woman’s clubs in Enga Province. I was with him for three years. Then I worked with Suzie Bonnell for another three years. At that time, I was sent to Mt Hagen to do a short course with other women from the highlands who were involved in similar work.”
“Were there any other Engan women working with you?” I asked.
“Yes, I worked with a lady from Par whose name was Agnes as well as Peam Tindiwi of Pauwas who now works as a nurse aid at Wabag Health Centre. When Suzie Bonnell left Enga, the assistant district commissioner, Mr Hook, asked me to end my tenure because nobody came to take Suzie’s place.
“I did not go up to Kaiap,” Kipaukwan continued, “but instead went to Lapalama in Kompiam district to look after pigs for DPI (Department of Primary Industry). I was there for about one year and six months. Then I operated a small trade store in the village until the first Enga Provincial Government elections were conducted in 1980.
“I stood against many male candidates for the Ambum constituency seat. I lost to Kapus Kipongi but got my money back. I had scored a lot of ballots. Danely Tindiwi was elected the first premier of Enga Province in that election. He appointed Peter Amean of Amala as his deputy. I plan to stand for the seat again in the next provincial government elections.”
“Do you have any children?” I asked.
“Yes I gave birth to eight children of whom four died. Of the remaining four, my eldest daughter discontinued her primary education. Two are still in primary while the last child is at home.”
“Of your late husband’s large extended family are any of the other children in school or at work?”
“Yes, there are many who work. Timothy Kurai works as a youth coordinator with the government, Paul Kiap Kurai is working with Ok Tedi gold mine. Before that he worked as a council executive officer. He got some training in Australia too.
“And Joseph Kurai is a correctional officer at Baisu in the Western Highlands. Others are still in school or are working as teachers, some mechanics. Many more are in the village.”
“You were born when the kiaps were already here. You have worked for the government and missions. You even stood for public office. Do you see Enga Province changing?”
“No, not much has changed. We in Enga Province are lazy, humbugs and bigheads. We do not seem to appreciate all the good work the waitman did and introduced for us. I am not sure what is happening and where we are headed.
“When the Australian government was in charge, we the little people who worked with them listened to their instructions properly and accomplished what was required of us. Now, I see a lot of things going wrong.
“Public servants are not following and listening to instructions from their bosses. They think everybody including their bosses are there just to get paid. That’s the wrong attitude. Nobody seems to love their province and country. They are not patriotic. People must do their best and serve their country with pride.
“Now, there are many educated people working for the government but there is no cooperation. Nobody seems to be upright. They don’t seem to respect each other. They are envious of each other’s achievements. If we continue on this path Enga will never change. We will have no name in the country.”
“How about economic development, is Enga advancing?”
“Many of our people want to do business,” Kipaukwan replied. “They want to run PMVs, trade stores, plant coffee, tea and pyrethrum but they feel reluctant because of widespread lawlessness. There is too much tribal war.
“Something else, men are not listening to the silent voices of us women. They do not respect us. If there was respect for the womenfolk, they beat us. Enga will change if they continue to mistreat women. Enga needs the women to be actively involved in its development aspirations.
“Look at this. There is no woman representative in the Enga Provincial Assembly. The decisions and resolutions passed are the views and ideas of men only. Look at it this way. Have you gone to a singsing? You will enjoy watching it if women are taking part in it. The singsing will be complete when both men and women are taking part.
“l strongly feel that both men and women must work side by side to implement government policies, formulate new ideas to develop our province.”
“What are you doing right now?” I asked.
“I am involved in helping some expatriates recruited under the provincial development program, EYL - Enga Yakaa Laseamanna (Enga Awake), who are doing research to find the causes of tribal warfare and how best to eradicate it. I am working closely with Nancy Lutnius making arrangements for her to conduct interviews with people.”
“To conclude, how would you like to see Enga Province to be from now on?”
“I would like to see a trouble free province. During the time of our ancestors there was tribal war but not as intense as today. They fought with bows and arrows. But now, with the use of guns, so many are killed, it’s hard to count. People are constantly living in fear. It’s unsafe to walk long distances.
“We must learn to accept new things and take ownership of government projects. We must learn to respect each other. We must always think of our children’s future. If we keep destroying our province, we will destroy the future of our children,
“People must not destroyed what the kiaps established for us. We must respect and appreciate the work of people like my husband, my uncle, Karapen Kalum and others who helped bring change to this province from our primitive back ground.”