NORTHUMBRIA - Back in 1972, Erico Aufe, a former government interpreter on Bereina station in the Kairuku Sub-District, refused to pay his local government tax.
This triggered a chain of events, some farcical, which highlighted the difference between the consensual approach to village administration favoured by the majority of kiaps and the less flexible tactics employed by most Australian police officers of the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary.
Erico was convicted of tax evasion by his local court but the following morning strolled casually out of Bereina’s flimsy calaboose.
He was then able to so successfully evade recapture he became a village hero.
After a number of fruitless visits to Erico’s village, all conducted with the subtlety of a ram raid, Bereina’s police inspector took a riot squad to encircle his house – but Erico again escaped, swimming in dramatic style across the Angabunga River.
It all came to an end when Erico emerged from his home early one morning and found himself looking down the barrel of a .38 pistol.
Was he cowed? Not a bit. He raised the bush knife he was holding, swatted the pistol with the flat of its blade, whereupon the startled inspector shot himself in the thigh.
There was a melee and Erico was arrested. But for many weeks laughter engulfed the Mekeo villages because he had made a monkey of the police.
Nor was it a surprise that his story was carried by the Australian press which paraded it as evidence of further pre-self-government turbulence in an already troubled PNG.
In the following year, 1973, a similar break-out from Bereina’s corrective institution underlined these sentiments when one of the escapees, Nicholas Ain’au Okua, decided to model himself on Erico.
Nicholas was determinedly toting his machete when a kiap and two policemen arrived to arrest him.
But he turned out to be a poor reflection of his hero because, although Nicholas raised the machete into the attack position, he backed blindly into the wall of a house, turned around to see what he had hit and was immediately handcuffed.
It was a job well done, conducted in silence and took less than two minutes from the arrival of the government LandCruiser and its return to Bereina.
Six months later the kiap who had arrested Nicholas needed to cross the Angabunga River on the ferry and was dismayed to see that the only available seat was alongside Erico, who had just completed his jail term.
Fearing mockery, even castigation, the kiap cautiously took his place and was immediately greeted by an elbow in the ribs.
Fearing the worst he turned to find Erico grinning widely and was told in the loudest of stage whispers that he, Erico, was going to make sure his next round of council tax would be paid on time.
This statement ended with a huge laugh from Erico himself and grins all round from the other passengers.
The kiap later asked a senior colleague why he thought Erico had decided to make a joke against himself.
The senior kiap said “because the most effective from of policing is by consent.
“Kiaps regularly engage village people on a multitude of issues who tend to prefer kiaps to the more distant blue uniforms of the police.
“Kiaps are usually ready to deal with them on a person to person basis and Papua New Guineans have always been astute observers of an individual’s personality.”
He added that Erico was not a “bad lad” and the damaging confrontation he had with Bereina’s police inspector had been “unnecessary”.
Robert Forster is author of ‘The Northumbrian Kiap’. Further information at https://rforster.com/shop/northumbrian-kiap/