PORT MORESBY – People using the Okuk highway that ploughs through the New Guinea highlands know only too well the frequent tribal skirmishes that have caused fear to the travelling public this past 20 years.
The fighting has erupted violently and unpredictably at Ganigle in the Kerowagi district of the Simbu Province.
Last week the Member for Kerowagi, Bari Palma, brought the warlords together to bury their machetes and enrich unity in an effort to rebuild the economic hub that they had destroyed and left idle for decades.
The Muglwaku have the Okuk Highway running through their tribal land whilst the Moruma-Demagl road in the north and the Kup-Gamar road in the south both meet at their tribal land at Ganigle junction.
The Muglwaku, who have customary rights over Ganigle junction, are well placed to thrive from economic activities because of the large numbers of people transiting every day.
In the 1980s, when peace abounded, everyone had lots of cash and the Muglwaku ventured into business. But they destroyed all that through internal tribal warfare in the late 1990s.
In the midst of this irrationality instigated by the Muglwaku, the Bari people (aka Muglwaku Kor) were caught in between and served as war slaves to the Muglwaku Kar.
The Bari lost their first men in Kulame Domyal in 1981 and they continued to die supporting the crazy warfare in which the Muglwaku entangled them until 2012.
The Bari people are sandwiched between the Kundiawa-Gembogl, Gumine and Kerowagi districts of Simbu but are politically constituents of the Kerowagi district.
However, since civilisation’s arrival, the Bari have ventured everywhere in Papua New Guinea. They left, and they still leave, because of economic aspiration but also because of tribal warfare and sorcery related killing.
In colonial times, the Bari men heard stories of the Leahy brothers who operated stores in Mount Hagen and Goroka and how there was a big road connecting the two places.
In these stories it was said one could buy, with money made from paper and stones (koble), all the white men’s wonderful goods. But to get this money, one had to work for the white men.
The trade stores they heard about eventually reached their doorstep courtesy of the Catholic Church in the 1960s.
After two decades of rumours about money and western goods they finally saw both. A few years’ later coffee trees were introduced into Bari territory.
The Bari watched these developments with envy and could see no reason why they could not venture out and make a fortune for themselves.
Many of the clans reasoned that, if they bought land along the Highlands Highway, they would be able to tap into economic activities and buy the white men’s goods.
In the late 1930s, Mata, the daughter of a Enkumul of Kumai Dikaku married a Gulgarin of Bari Nimaikane and bore a daughter and two sons.
Years later Gulgarin took his kids and moved to Kup to live on his wife’s land. His daughter, Mol, was betrothed to a man from the neighbouring tribe but Mol’s paternal uncle, Mor Blanonga, coerced her to marry Apa from the Muglwaku.
She took heed of Mor’s advise and married Apa and lived with her husband at Moruma-Awagle and had children.
Mor Blanonga, who was one of the Bari chiefs by then, followed Mol to Moruma-Awagle and lived at Armar.
In the 1960s there was a pig killing festival on the Bari lands and Mor rounded up all the pigs he had raised at Armar and took them to the festival.
He reached the Bari lands along the Kup-Gurumul-Konmil road. The fattest of his was named Moruma Nem.
Mor wore a white cotton loincloth and had a steel axe swung over his right shoulder as he arrived at Bari-Ulwal with his pigs. The Bari wore traditional garments and their axes were of stone.
When Mor killed the pigs during the festival, the Bari admired his pig’s fat and his white men’s goods. Mor told the men he had raised the pigs at Moruma-Awagle.
Sighting Mor’s cargo, many men considered leaving their lands to follow him. Pigs were the only item of wealth among the Bari and there was much prestige attached to owning fat ones.
In 1964, Councillor Tei, a Muglwaku chief went to Bari Gurual to collect taxes for the government.
The Bari welcome Tei and confessed that as they lived amongst cliffs and limestone they had nothing good to give him.
Councillor Tei, knowing Mor Blanonga, said he could migrate some of the men to Moruma-Awagle where he lived. The Bari men, remembering Mor’s fat pigs, agreed to move.
So a number of Bari men followed Councillor Tei in 1965 and took up blocks of land at Moruma-Awagle.
Some of the land given to the Bari was swamp, traditionally believed to be the home of evil spirits. The Muglwaku had always avoided it for this reason and settled at the peaks around Moruma-Awagle.
If they came close to the swamp when nature called, they were careful to carry their waste home to dispose of it. They believed that if the spirits fed on it they would succumb to sickness and die.
However, the Bari who took portions of the swamp at Gunape, Goglmugl, Alau Kul and Nil Tawa, were convinced they could drain the swamp and convert it into arable land.
As the Bari laboured on the creation of arable land for planting, the Highlands Highway was shifting from its original curse, abandoning the Banz-Kerowagi link. This change tactically positioned the Bari at Ganigle on the new route.
As the populations of Muglwaku and Bari burgeoned, they called themselves Muglwaku Kar (Councillor Tei’s flock) and Muglwaku Kor (Mor Blanonga’s Bari) and the men shared stubbies, women folk shared garden plots and the children ran to the Ganigle headwaters and floated down on inflated tubes.
There was no discrimination or animosity between them.
Other Galkope tribes also migrated for economic reasons and ended up in the vicinity of the Ganigle area.
The Yuri Berigale had originally moved to live with the Teminku (Bonmaku) but, due to the recourse of the Wahgi River, were now strategically aligned to the Muglwaku at Miunde.
The Yuri Kumaikane were also part of the Muglwaku though they initially migrated to be with the Dagle Dukane at Kontaya.
The Bari Sipai Gauma were now an integral part of the Kumga and are on the other side of the Wahgi River at Kimemb.
Inter-marriage occurred and people now bearing both Muglwaku Kor and Kar blood lines abounded. All seemed great and they were an alliance well on their way to achieving success in business and politics.
Then a surprise event erupted during the 1998 council election.
A skirmish broke out between different factions within the Muglwaku which brought a scourge on the once thriving group.
Between 1998 and 2012 different factions and warlords rose within the Muglwaku and many men died and property worth millions of kina went up in flames.
The people fled for refuge in foreign parts and the once sprouting economic hub at Ganigle became no more than a den for birds.
And so on the threshold of the new year 2020, the Member for Kerowagi decided to bring the different factions to get them to see eye to eye and eat together at the same table.
In the weeks leading up to the peace ceremony, every Christian sect was invited to Ganigle to preach the word of God in the morning and evenings.
On the day of the ceremony, the warlords and their henchmen converged at Ganigle from different locations with money hanging on bamboo sticks.
The MP came in with a group of Bari who represented the Muglwaku Kor and the original Bari.
Leaders from Wards 5 and 19 were given the opportunity to make speeches. Most admitted that every five years they sponsored fights, contributing guns and bullets that brought blight and misery to the community.
The warlords were remorseful and promised to be agents of change and embrace peace and economic development.
They admitted that many people died, property set ablaze, coffee trees peeled, schools closed and businesses plundered through their doing.
A couple cried openly when making their speeches, thereby showing great remorse.
Every leader and warlord by now knew that nobody wins a tribal fight. Both sides lose lives and livelihoods.
All who took the podium pledged in the eyes of community leaders, Simbu leaders, the police commander, the MP and God to end tribal fights for ever.
The MP said forgiveness and peace are important to advance human welfare. Peace provides the fertile space for development to take place and be sustained.
He asked the Muglwaku tribe to start forgiving and embrace peace as the key foundation in the rebuilding of the economic hub at Ganigle.
Each leader wrote what evil they had done during the fighting and placed the papers in a box and handed it to the pastor to burn as a sign of remorse and repentance.
Pastor Wakai, a Bari, then prayed and cut the ribbon of the peace monument that the people built.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, the Muglwaku Kor, Kar, Kumai and the other Dagle tribes feasted on 10 cows supplied by the MP, who is also a Muglwaku Kor.
So peace has sprung again in the new year 2020, and citizens of the Muglwaku are optimistic of a bright future.
Ganigle will get a facelift with a new market construction promised by the MP.
People want to live, prosper and leave a legacy of wellbeing and die in peace. Their descendants can learn from bedtime stories that tribal fights were part of a bygone era.
The people hold the leaders and warlords’ words of peace in their hearts, and will hold them accountable if they decide to act otherwise and do not live up to their words.