WABAG – That night in Wapenamanda, Mathew Kandamaine had a strange dream in which he saw his father, Joseph Kurai Tapus, come to his house and ask for a single K5 note so he could attend a party in heaven specially prepared for him.
Early next morning, Mathew woke with a start. He was glad the dream wasn’t real. But he had a sinking feeling, worrying it might turn out to be true.
He shared it with his wife, from Ialibu in the Southern Highlands.
As Mathew and his wife finished talking, they heard a car honk its horn several times from where it was parked on the highway near his home.
One of his brothers, Timothy, had driven their father down from Wabag. Mathew’s heart sank when he saw his father. But Joseph Kurai Tapus was his normal self.
Mathew’s house was owned by WASO Ltd, a company run by the Gutnius Lutheran Church. He had started working for them in 1972 after he left Form One at Mt Hagen Hagen High School because he couldn’t cope after a prolonged bout of malaria.
Joseph Kurai Tapus was a popular man in Enga Province. When people heard that he had come to see his son, they showered him with presents: cash, live chickens, store goods, soft drinks and bunches of bananas.
Everywhere he went in the small township that day, people greeted him with much respect.
“But he did not live to enjoy the presents,” Mathew recalls. “The very next morning I took him back to Wabag, half dead and lying in the back of a Toyota Stout.”
Joseph’s first day in Wapenamanda was filled with fun but that evening he fell ill. Mathew was convinced his father would die when Joseph told him to watch for some signs during his funeral at Kaiap village.
Mathew knew this wasn’t a natural reaction to a sudden sickness.
He later recalled the painful moments of his father’s last couple of days of life.
“I had this dream at about 5am. By 7am, I was telling my wife about it. Not too long afterwards, my brother Timothy drove our father to my house. It was clockwork, a sort of movie replaying before me.
“My father came up the stairs. He began removing his shoes on the verandah before entering the house exactly as I had seen in the dream.
“My father said, ‘The party in heaven is ready. I am coming to request if you can give me K5 if you have any’. Then he came inside, sat down and ate some food my wife offered. Timothy had gone back after dropping dad at my house.
“My father said he would stay with us for a while. He said he had something important to tell me. But that night he complained of feeling sick.
“My father said to me, ‘Mathew, if I die and if the day is fine and sunny during the funeral, put a rope around my neck, drag my body to the Lai River and throw my useless body to be carried away by the currents’.
“He said, ‘Fine weather would mean that my soul would end up in a place of misery, pain and suffering. I do not wish people to waste their time crying over a body that lived a useless life.
“The he said, ‘But if there is bad weather and you see my casket abandoned in the middle of kama (the common ground) on its own, know that I would end up in a good place. Remember to give me a good decent burial’.
“Next morning, his condition worsened. I asked my wife to look after him before I went to work.
“But soon somebody came to fetch me. My father was nearly dead. I was worried he might die away from his own people. So, I told him to exercise his willpower, not give up his spirit yet. He had to go home and die in Wabag.
“I hired a Toyota Stout belonging to Timinao, a Kii clansman. We struggled to fit him properly in the back tray. My dad was a very big man and hard to handle.
“A short way up the dusty road, I thought he was dead. There was no breath coming from his mouth or nostrils. But at Birip, he started to breathe again. We drove on, straight up to the hospital in Wabag.
“That was on a Friday. He had come to Wapenamanda the day before, a Thursday. My dad was in the hospital for three more days. Then on Tuesday he died. That was in 1980.”
Mathew was certain his father would die so he went back to Wapenamanda to collect his family to see him one more time.
But, as he returned with them, near Pawas, they received the sad news that Joseph Kurai Tapus, the former bosboi and the first Wabag Council president had just died.
The news quickly spread. Hundreds of people poured into town.
One of Kurai’s other sons, Paul Kiap Kurai, had been with him when he died.
“I never saw anybody die in my presence,” Paul recalled. “This was the first time to see my own father die before my very eyes. There was a sudden noise, a rush of air escaping out or pulled into his throat. And that was it. He was dead.”
Paul Kiap had come up from Jimi, where he worked as Council executive officer. He had heard his father was very sick so drove up in a Toyota open-back loaded with marita, pineapples, bananas and other fresh produce hoping his dad would eat some and recover.
But Joseph did not touch the fruit. Nor any of the presents the good people of Wapenamanda had given him. His condition worsened. Paul and his mother, Maria Tukim, continued to keep vigil beside his bed.
At one stage Joseph regained consciousness, saw Paul sitting there and said: “Paul, when I die, take me to Sari catholic mission first. After the priest conducts a funeral service, take my casket up to Kaiap and bury it.”
“I told him I would do that,” Paul said. “Then he drifted back into unconsciousness again.
“After a while he woke and said, ‘Paul, take me to Kaiap right now to where my brothers are. I want to see Erapan, Puki Pii and others. Take me there’. I said OK, I would do that.
“The next instant dad said, ‘There are many angels with wings waiting to take me away. Some are talking to me right now. They want to take me away. But first, take me to aioptenges akalyanda (the men’s house) so I can see my brothers’.
“I knew his time was near. I rushed up to Sangurap catholic mission and asked Fr Herman Raich SVD to come and bless him and perform the last rites before he died.
“When we arrived, my father confessed all his sins in the presence of the priest. He asked for forgiveness and pleaded with God to take him to heaven.
“My father had a clear mind. He knew what he was talking about. His words did not differ or waver. My dad died with peace of mind, never doubting anything.
“I made one mistake. I did not take my father’s body to Sari catholic mission as he had requested from his death bed.
“I took it straight to Kaiap on the road he had built as a bosboi, the same road he had walked down on with Michael Maki to tell people his new Christian name was ‘Joseph.’
“There was a sudden big storm when people came to Kaiap in their hundreds for the funeral. The heavy rain came from nowhere.
“Strong winds began to blow from every direction accompanied by thunder and lightning and a thick fog covered the area. The mourners who filled the kama dispersed leaving the casket alone in the open.
“Only Mathew Kandamaine stood there with an umbrella protecting the casket from the pelting rain.”
Paul Kiap thought this had happened because he did not take his father’s casket to Sari catholic mission. But Mathew knew his father’s prediction had been fulfilled.
His father had told him there would be rain, thunder and lightning and a thick fog during his funeral. It would mean his spirit would go to a fine place of rest and complete happiness.
But if the weather was fine, Mathew had to put a rope round his neck, drag his body to the Lai River and dump it there to be carried far away from his tribal lands.
It would mean that he had lived a useless deceptive life only to end up in a place of misery, pain and suffering.
Joseph Kurai Tapus didn’t want his people to cry over his body if his spirit was not going to end up in heaven – a useless vessel that was home to a sinful spirit which would only perish.
Mathew explained the last moments of his father’s funeral.
“There was a very big storm like dad said there would be. Nobody dared stand with me to protect the casket, not even one of my father’s many wives, sisters, children or grandchildren.
“But that didn’t matter. I knew my father’s spirit was travelling to a good destination. Everything happened exactly as he told me in Wapenamanda.
“The strong winds and heavy rain accompanied by thunder and lightning with thick fog engulfing the entire funeral area was something out of the ordinary. It seemed as if unseen forces were trying to take my father’s casket away undercover.
“When I was a young boy, I had seen his strange nocturnal behavior at the aioptenges akalyanda (men’s house). I had seen him speak to somebody behind bright lights in the early mornings.
“Now I conclude, my father was no ordinary man.”
Joseph Kurai Tapus wished to be near two of his sons before he died. It seems he had gone to Wapenamanda to bring Mathew back to Wabag. He forced himself to stay alive long enough to allow Paul Kiap Kurai to come all the way from the remote Jimi District.
And he seems to have died a contented man. Paul Kiap Kurai knows his father loved him, as he explained in these words:
“I know my father loved me. He probably admired me for being close to him. I was always close when people came with presents or with problems for my dad to solve and to discuss social issues of the day.
“I watched very closely how he dealt with each person, how he spoke, the type of advice he provided and how he distributed food and wealth. And I know he must have favoured me for being close to him to observe and learn.
“I was the one who went to fetch water when visitors came. Bigger boys were there but I always volunteered. I was always alert.
“I do not intend to boast but I was born special. When I came into the world, I was wearing my umbilical cord around my neck like a necklace.
“The woman, Mrs Puki Pii, who made the announcement to say whether I was an axe (boychild) or yari (wooden spade signifying a female0 described me as no ordinary child. She predicted I would make it in life.
“When I came up from Jimi to see my father on his sick bed, I could have been anywhere outside. But I sat there right beside him when he died. I know he imparted his blessings on me. And that’s why I think, I have succeeded in life.”
Paul’s only regret is that he did not take his father’s casket to Sari catholic mission first for prayers because that is where he was baptised and given the name ‘Joseph.’ But he made up for it by asking Fr Herman Raich SVD to perform the last rites.
He knows that if his father were still alive he would shrug it off and forgive him, for he never held grudges against anybody for long.
Cr Paul Kiap Kurai says his father could have lived a little longer but died prematurely from arrow wounds he sustained when he took part in a tribal war against the Timtim major clan of the Kunalin tribe in the Ambum Valley.
The cause of the fight was over a dog. It had happened many years previously.
“Our father told us not to claim compensation because the reason for the fight was not over some important issue,” Cr Kurai said.
“Dad felt it wasn’t right for us to claim compensation when the cause of fight was over a dog. And especially when he died a Christian.”