Generosity is what counts
Please report corruption, says Marape

Kurai Tapus: Tribal war refugee

Daniel Kumbon with Paul Kurai
Daniel Kumbon with Paul Kurai at the Lian Border overlooking the Waghi valley covered in Kandep's morning cloud


WABAG - In a recent article, I wrote how Pingeta’s daughter, Tukim, sang a victory song in a lonely pulim anda (birth house) at Kaiap village in Wabag, Enga Province, to celebrate the birth of her firstborn son in 1946.

Tukim celebrated but some words she used were carefully selected to mortify her husband Kurai’s relatives, who had openly declared her unfit to be first his wife.

In Enga, it is common for people to use referential symbols or ‘kongali’ in speeches and songs to communicate important messages aimed to challenge the mind and defy discovery.

Tukim knew some people had not contributed towards her bride price payment instead reserving their pigs, kina shells, axes and other forms of wealth to influence Kurai to marry a second wife immediately after Tukim was wedded to him.

Such action often provoked newlywed brides to run away to their relatives but Tukim could not do that. She was an orphan; but a smart orphan.

She did not err in using the tribal name ‘Neneo’ in the lyrics. She knew her husband was a ‘yandapae’ or tribal war refugee. And the only son in a family of four girls.

The birth of their first son was a milestone achievement for them both. Tukim probably felt her husband would one day take his family back to his tribal lands at Yambis and her newborn son go with him.

However, as the years turned to decades, Kurai’s family increased in number as did the households of the other refugees. They easily merged into the Kamainwan clan of the major Malipin tribe through intermarriage and trade.

Importantly, they had been welcomed by the Kamainwan people with open arms. They were given land on the northern slopes beside the Ambum river on the central ridge where they built homes, made gardens and raised children.

They were safe at this place called Kainakungus. It was well-fortified and isolated from the fighting at Yambis on the slopes beside the Lai river on the southern side of the central ridge.

The Kamainwan knew extra people meant more strength for the clan. Families with one son were regarded as weak, described as ‘lenge konde mendai tenge’ or person with one eye. Nobody would be at their back to support them.

Apakali Pupun and his sister Lucy during PNG independence celebrations  2019
Apakali Pupun and his sister Lucy during PNG independence celebrations, 2019

Much later when peace returned, Apakali Meokali Pindit gave the Neneo refugees new land on the top of the central ridge. He gave Kurai, his ‘kainge’ or cousin, the best parcels of land to build homes for his many wives and children.

Kurai Tapus emerged as a gifted public orator and dominated in clan and public affairs. He had seen his own father killed in battle and watched his clansman scatter and lose a whole village. He hated tribal warfare and instructed people to embrace peace.

He pointed out how foolish it was for many people to have died over just one pandanus nut tree, wasting precious life on trivialities.

By divine intervention, Kurai was given more power and influence over the people when colonial administration kiaps (patrol officers) appointed him as a bosboi in the prime of his life.

He was in charge of Ambum Valley and parts of Kompiam, spreading his power and influence.

Soon, the symbolic Neneo name was replaced with the Kamainwan clan name in the lyrics of Tukim’s victory song. And her implied meaning became crystal clear.

Kamainena Tole amboko yaklao
Sambe wuah erean
Pulukai aene lama laa

Men of Kamainwan clan chose me -
this girl from Tole and exhausted
all their wealth to pay bride price
Tell them, the baby is a boychild

Kurai Tapus was indeed a Neneo clansman of the major Yanarin tribe; the other clans being Kii, Piao, Lankep, Kokope, Yapkone and Kalepoarae. He had been 20–25 years of age when he escaped to Kaiap village with his father, uncle Pii and a handful of others.

The majority of Neneo clansman scattered to many parts of Enga after their village at Yambis (opposite present-day Sopas) was wiped out by Kala and Meraine warriors with the full backing of neighboring clans.

The Neneo people were regarded as haughty, rowdy and troublesome. If a pig was lost or food was stolen in the gardens, blame was always levelled against Neneo clan members. They were accused of causing much disharmony.

As always seems to be the case, just a few individuals were involved. But the hooligans were never singled out and punished. As a result, hatred was heaped on the whole Neneo clan.

Finally, a dispute with the Kala clan of the major Irapun tribe erupted into full scale tribal war – all over the ownership of a pandanus nut tree. The Meraine and other clans joined forces with the Kala to drive out the Neneo.

Days before the defeat, Kurai’s cousin, Apakali Taroakali Pindit, went to the battlefield assumedly as a ‘yanda lakit’ or supporter. But his intention was really to take Kurai to safety. He admired the strong, brave and tall man.

He wanted Kurai to settle at Kaiap because his own father Pindit had been killed in another fight when he, Apakali, was still in his mother Tenden’s womb. In that condition she remarried a man named Lokai.

Apakali was considered Pindit’s son when he was born. Then his mother gave birth to Kombo, his half-brother. They needed company and lots of land to spare. So Apakali took Kurai, the ‘tuk lundu mende’, or extra arrow, to Kaiap.

Today over population is a concern but then the more men there were meant power, safety and security for the weak - the handicapped, aged, womenfolk and children.

John Pake (left) with Peter Pupun  wife Roslyn and children
John Pake (left) with Peter Pupun,  wife Roslyn and children

Peter Pupun, a direct grandson of Apakali explained that Pindit was from the Aweane hausman, or family unit, when he was killed during a village dispute.

His young widow, Tenden, tried to return to her people after the funeral feast, but Lokai accosted her on the bush track at Kapumanda.

He dissuaded her from leaving Kaiap, saying: “No, you cannot return to your people. My brother paid bride price for you. You must come to my house and be my wife.” So he took her for his second wife.

When Tenden’s first son was born, she named him Apakali. Her second son with Lokai was named Kombo to remember how she transformed her life after she suffered the pain and anguish of losing her first husband a couple of months after they were married.

Violence, death and suffering were constant companions in the lives of people in those days. Together with his small daughter, Kombo was killed in adult life in an ambush.

They were returning from a ‘mali’ or singsing at Nandi village near Sakarip when they were murdered on the road and their bodies thrown into the Lai river. The killings were in error.

A man from the Mai clan yodelled from the ridge top that he himself had been killed by a Kamainwan clansman named Lyaki. He pretended to be someone else making the call.

His relatives, who lived on the Lai valley floor, believed what they heard. They did not wait to confirm if it was true but immediately lay in wait to kill anybody from Kaiap.

What happened was that a man named Lyaki had an argument resulting in a scuffle with a man from the Mai clan, who got hurt. He maliciously shouted out his name as having been killed resulting in the double murder.

Apakali Pindit fought the Mai clan for seven years in an attempt to take revenge, but without success. In frustration, he is said to have destroyed his brother Kombo’s grave by burning it. Dismayed by his action, he swore never to take revenge again.

Meanwhile, Kombo’s wife Kaenwan was pregnant before her husband was killed. She gave birth to a son and named him Pake, meaning two people killed at the same time.

Peter Pupun says he is a direct descendant of the union between his great grandparents - Pindit and Tenden. And Kaenwan remarried Apakali who was Kombo’s half-brother.

Since Peter’s great grandmother remarried while his grandfather Apakali was still in her womb, he and his six siblings now regard themselves as from both the Awaene and Lokai family units. They attend family affairs in both groups.

Soon Apakali married four wives and rose to prominence as a key figure among Kamainwan clansman. Before that, Tapus from the nearby Yambis village had married one of Pindit’s sisters who gave birth to Kurai and four girls.

When tribal war threatened Kurai’s life, Apakali went down to the battlefield as a ‘yanda lakit’ supporter to rescue his cousin. He got the attention of Kurai by signaling him with his bundle of arrows to follow him to Kaiap.

Peter Pupun believes his grandfather Apakali’s action saved Kurai’s life. After they left, Yambis village was razed to the ground and the remnants of the Neneo clansman scattered to many parts of Enga Province.  

Like the ancient Israelites, some Neneo clansman made their way to Kumblama near Papayuk village in Laiagam, others went over the mountain range past Sopas to Kepsanta, more escaped east to Waip near Yambu catholic mission in the Ambum Valley.

But unlike the Israelites who returned to establish a Jewish state, the Neneo never returned to claim their village of Yambis.

An attempt was made by a Neneo policeman named Kokaita to resettle at Yambis sometime in the 1940s but, when he was ambushed and killed, men from the Nemane and Pumane clans were mistakenly shot dead by policemen stationed in Wabag.

The colonial Administration later compensated the people killed by police after a thorough investigation.

That initial fight over the pandanus nut tree started sometime in the early 1930s before the kiaps established a patrol post in Wabag in 1941.

Tapus was happy when Apakali came down to the battlefield and rescued Kurai. He knew Kurai’s uncles and cousins would treat him and his four sisters well. 

It is said, Tapus was killed at Yambis soon after Apakali resettled them at Kaiap. His powerfully built young son, Kurai, stood back to back with him as they repelled the enemy but they were outnumbered.

Kurai saw his father fall together with their village. He escaped to Kaiap, his mother’s village.

“I saw Kurai Tapus at Kaiap in 1968 when I attended Wabag Primary School,” recalls Aino Yangala from Mambala village in Kandep.

Late Tau Liu seen here with his last wife   2007
The late Tau Liu seen here with his last wife in   2007

Aino and the late Tau Liu accompanied Liu Homapu (Tau’s father) to Kaiap who wanted to see fellow bosboi Kurai Tapus.

Liu Homapu was a bosboi in charge of all of Wage in Kandep. Nenk Pasul MBE was the other bosboi in charge of Lai and Mariant areas in Kandep.

“I remember us arriving there in the afternoon,” said Nenk Pasul. “Kurai was a very big man and tall too. He was strong and heavy set. He welcomed Liu to his ‘nai anda’ (modern kunai house). Tau and I followed the two men inside.

“I remember him give the order for a pig to be killed to welcome us, his guests. I thought he was a kind man. While the food was being prepared, the two men talked. We don’t know what they discussed but it continued into the night.

“We filled our tummies with pork and sweet potatoes and slept in Kurai’s ‘nai anda’ wrapped in a blanket. Next day we came down to Wabag station. I have always thought Kurai was a kind and generous man.”

It so happens that Aino Yangala’s second born daughter Roslyn married Peter Pupun in 2011. They named their firstborn son after Apakali to ensure the name is remembered as the man who rescued his cousin Kurai from possible harm.

Just as people continued to sing Tukim’s victory song when she gave birth to three more sons – the third being Paul Kiap Kurai who took his father’s place.


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