NORTHUMBRIA, UK – I look at the two images accompanying this essay and ponder upon how rare it is that photographs in a random collection show the same man in such contrasting postures.
Luluai Tsike of the Tsengelap clan, which has its seat at Talu near Banz on the north side of the Wahgi Valley, is deeply troubled in the image at right and smiling and joyful in the one below.
This joyful photograph at left was taken at a compensation ceremony staged near Banz in early 1972.
Tsike, his grey beard hidden by shells and shadow, is cheerful in traditional dress – perhaps because he was comfortable with what he was doing and reassured by its predictability.
I can’t remember whether the dollar notes on display were his personal contribution to a group effort or part of a package that had been assembled by his clan.
What can be seen is a man, still tightly muscled for his age, who was almost certainly old enough to have been carrying a kulang (spear) when Jim Taylor appeared out of nowhere on his 1933 patrol.
In the photo, Tsike continues to be able to handle his kulang confidently. He knows exactly what a camera is too.
The picture that leads this story was taken when I was sitting on the step of the haus kiap at Talu somewhere around October in the same year, 1972.
The patrol had been long and difficult, because it was reinforcing the inevitability of approaching self-government and, to underline this, we carried the new PNG flag as well - to introduce it to an often reluctant people.
Older men like Tsike were confused. They knew better than anyone just how much fortunes had improved over the 1960s because under Australian Administration inter-clan fighting had subsided.
Life expectancy had also lifted on the back of improved diet and medical help while living standards were soaring because many Tsengelaps grew their own coffee. Some owned utility vehicles.
But three expatriate run plantations were occupying land previously claimed by the clan and this nagged at Tsike because he was disappointed with developments since the land had been handed over.
Adding to his woes was pressure from younger clan members, some of whom may have already been saying he was old fashioned, to re-acquire this land by still to be determined means if, as expected, self-government triggered a fresh approach to expatriate land control.
Only a day later, in the same haus kiap, Tsike made this statement:
“I let the land go because I wanted to encourage the white man to live next door. I wanted him to teach is how to become wealthy and to show us how to grow crops of our own.
“I love this land, My people have owned it for generations. I know the names of the small hills, the swamps and the streams. I know where my ancestors are buried and where their villages stood.
“The white man has built a fence around it. It is a high fence and has barbed wire that will cut our skins if we go inside. I go to talk to this white man.
“I wait for him to come out and sit with me in the sun, but he shouts at me and if I do not go his dogs chase me.
“I do not want his money back but I do want him to know that I would like to learn things from him. One day I took him a chicken but he did not return the gift.
“I want my land back. I have no wish to be treated as a wild pig by a man who lives on my land. The only time I see him is when he comes to complain that pigs have rooted up his trees.
“If he can come to complain why can’t he come to sit with me in my hut? I want him to go and leave the land to us but he is stubborn and will not listen.”
No wonder Tsike appears to be carrying a heavy weight.
I left the Wahgi Valley six months later to take up another posting so I do not know how his dilemma was resolved.
My understanding is that, not long after independence, most of the Wahgi plantations were either taken over by a local government council or came under the direct management of traditional landowners in the form of cooperatives.
I write about this important patrol and the predicament faced by Tsike and other Waghi leaders in my book The Northumbrian Kiap. If you would like to find out more about the book, just follow this link or Google the title.