PORT MORESBY - Cr Paul Kiap Kurai has travelled to many parts of the world, but none left as strong an impression on his mind than his visit to Ethiopia in 2014.
He discovered that Ethiopians, a tall handsome people who love peace, were the humblest people he had ever come across.
Kurai didn’t know much about Ethiopia before his visit, but after he landed in the capital Addis Ababa and began to travel to other parts of the country, he realised it was very advanced and its history rich and deep.
The climax of his journey to that ancient land came early one morning when he was given a new name by an orthodox priest inside a church hewn from solid rock.
Kurai travelled for two weeks through Ethiopia’s highlands, the ‘cradle of humanity’ where evidence of the appearance of the first humans has been found.
He visited ancient castles, crawled through caves and was invited to eat in the homes of local people and enjoy their hospitality as he tried to understand their cultural heritage and traditions.
He found that Ethiopians had been an integral part of Bible history and Christianity itself.
Then Kurai returned home to Papua New Guinea and his tribal war-torn province of Enga.
When Cr Paul Kurai’s father, Kurai Tapus, was baptised in the Catholic church, he adopted the name Joseph after the Biblical story of the young boy who had been sold into slavery by his jealous brothers.
God took pity on Joseph and blessed him with the gift of accurately interpreting the Pharaoh’s dreams. The monarch trusted him and appointed him as vizier, the second most powerful man in the land.
Kurai Tapus had been rescued by his cousin Apakali during a tribal war in which his clan was defeated at Yambis village.
Like the biblical Joseph, Kurai Tapus rose to prominence following his appointment as a ‘bosboi’ by the kiaps during the colonial period. Later, he was elected the first president of Wabag Council.
And ‘Kiap’ was the name Kurai Tapus gave to his third son by Tukim, Pingeta’s daughter.
So Paul Kiap Kurai was named after the kiaps with whom Kurai Tapus worked in Wabag.
In the family tradition of service, Kurai grew up to serve God through charity work, giving the church and the needy unconditional amounts of cash and kind running into thousands of kina. He didn’t count how much he gave because he felt it was an obligation to God to give back.
Then in Ethiopia, the surprise of all surprises came when a new name ‘Gabrei Yesu’ was given to him by the priest inside the solid rock church at Lalibella. How strange it was. It seemed to Kurai that the main reason he had come to Ethiopia was to receive the new name.
This unique experience was witnessed by Nelson Porokali, his nephew whom he had invited to accompany him on the trip.
Nelson related his experience to me.
A trip of a lifetime for me. When my uncle Paul Kurai (aka PK) asked me to go on the trip, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. I was excited and yet uncertain about what was to come. But as soon as we left Brisbane, I knew that I was going on an awesome trip.
Uncle PK just seemed to enjoy every moment of the trip. This was odd considering he has travelled to many parts of the world. That was when I began to understand the real PK, a man who is related to me.
I have known him since I was a child, But, it was still a mystery to me why he seemed to go out of his way to make someone else feel at ease. I started wondering what kind of a man would donate gifts of cash and kind to churches and schools and to just about anyone he comes across who needed help.
Little did I know that I would find out who this man really was from a holy city in Lalibella inside one of the holiest churches by a priest who had never met him in his lifetime.
As we walked into this ancient rock hewn church built in the 12th century, a priest stood up to greet us and straight away asked PK for his name. When PK told him, he gestured for him to go closer and said, “Gabrei Yesu. That is the name I am giving you.”
Because, the priest had spoken in Amharic, the tour guide translated and said it meant ‘Servant of Jesus’. I was lost for words. I had to fly all the way around the world to find out who really this man was – A Servant of Jesus, he really is.
The priest gave Paul Kiap Kurai the name at about 5:30 am inside the rock church. There were 15 other people inside. Many others waited their turn outside in a long queue stretching to a courtyard. They had started lining up at two in the early morning.
The priest singled out Paul Kurai to bestow on him the new name.
“When I told him my name was Paul Kurai, the priest said he was giving me a new name ‘Gabrei Yesu’,” Kurai recalled. “Of course, I didn’t know what he was saying or understood its meaning. He spoke to me in a strange language.”
The priest did not explain but let him go on his way. As they walked outside into the early morning sunrise, the tour guide explained that his new name meant ‘Servant of God’ in Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia.
This hit him like a ton of bricks. He realised this was the crux of his travel to Ethiopia. It hadn’t taken long, perhaps less than two minutes with the priest, but the experience was far reaching.
What mystified him was that visiting Ethiopia was never in his mind. He had always helped the Catholic church in his province from the proceeds of his many businesses he successfully managed in the last 20 years. He had also helped the needy irrespective of who they were or where they came from.
But when he did go to Ethiopia, he was bestowed with the new name which perfectly suited his charity work in Enga Province. His nephew was with him to witness the strange event.
Two years previously, in 2012, David Muri had cited his generous charity work in a book ‘Paul Kurai: His political, business, philanthropic and family life’.
Kurai said at the time that giving from his heart with no strings attached was not going to dry up his well of riches but rather serve God’s will and more blessings would flow back to him.
“Giving is like opening the flood gates of heaven for more blessings to flow,” he said. “God abundantly blessed me for a purpose and that is to serve his people.”
The statement endured. Kurai started in business with only K200. He knew this little amount was the mustard seed God blessed him with. Eight years ago his businesses were worth over K30 million. They kept growing and he continued with his charity work, always giving a portion of that income to the church.
It was easy for sceptics to suspect he gave away these gifts to gain popularity to perhaps stand for election. But he had been sharing his blessings with people for over 20 years.
“I will continue to give as long as I live because, to me one cannot enjoy life if he or she cannot share the fruits of their blessings with others,” Kurai said.
“And people die you know. They do not take a single toea with them. Why heap it up when you cannot take any of it with you? The right thing to do is to share and use it wisely to glorify God’s name.”
He did stand for election twice but did not pay much money and perhaps that was one of the reasons he lost. He didn’t like to get involved in corrupt practises.
But, as a Christian, he thinks it was not God’s plan for him to stand for public office. He knows that God has his own timing. Man’s plans will always fail.
It was better to wait for God’ direction than to push human aims and desires breeding greed and corruption and bringing disharmony to village people.
Kurai has succeeded in business and hundreds of people depend on him. He continues to share the proceeds with the church, friends and the needy. That was his benchmark. Everywhere he goes, when he comes across people he knows, they shout ‘PK, PK’.
Perhaps this attribute was what the Ethiopian orthodox priest detected radiating from within him as a true Gabrei Yesu, a Servant of God.
How glad Kurai was to be in the land ruled by the legendary Queen of Sheba and where the Ark of the Covenant is believed to have been brought to from Jerusalem.
The Queen of Sheba’s name was Makeba. She pursued knowledge and wisdom. She journeyed to Jerusalem to experience the wisdom of King Solomon taking with her lavish gifts for him. Before she returned home, she praised his wisdom and kingdom.
And later, the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Ethiopia.
Legend has it that Makeba’s son with King Solomon was Menelik I, the first emperor of Ethiopia. At age 20 he is said to have gone to Jerusalem to see his father. One of the men he went with is said to have stolen the Ark of the Covenant and brought it back to Ethiopia.
Now, the Ark of the Covenant is said to be kept at the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in the holy city of Axum. This account might well be true because certainly the Ark of the Covenant vanished. Jewish tradition holds that it disappeared before or while the Babylonians sacked the temple in Jerusalem in 586 BC.
When Paul Kiap Kurai came back to Enga he told people of his experiences in Ethiopia. On one occasion, he told people in the Tsak Valley in Wapenamanda that Simon the Cyrene, the black man who was ordered by the Roman soldiers to carry the cross when Jesus fell for the third time on his way to be crucified, was from Ethiopia.
He told people it was wrong to fight and kill each other because there were more intelligent people in the world who humbled themselves because they knew Jesus lived on this very earth we now live on. The place names we read about are all physically here on earth.
Ethiopia was the only other country influenced by Christianity outside Italy during the time of the Apostles. This was the time the Good News began to spread after Jesus ascended into heaven.
Another person from Ethiopia also mentioned in the New Testament is the Ethiopian eunuch whose conversion to Christianity is recounted in Acts 8.
The Nile river is another iconic name mentioned in the Holy Bible. Kurai was at the headwaters of one of the major tributaries of the great river known as the Blue Nile. It starts from the mountains of Ethiopia. Its main source was Lake Tana.
Paul Kurai went for a boat ride on this lake to see one of the ancient churches on an island in the middle of the lake.
“The lake was as big as the area covering from Mt Hagen to Kompiam up to Porgera down to Mendi and back to Hagen again. This is how big the lake was. It is the source of the Nile River,” he said.
He compared the Nile with the Lai river in Wabag which feeds from Lake Ivae and teams up with the Karawari River in the north to join forces with the Mighty Sepik and quietly flows through the plains to the Bismarck Sea.
On Lake Tana, Kurai gazed at fisherman who paddled around on rafts made of papyrus reeds. In the Old Testament story, Joseph was placed in a basket made of reeds and placed on the Nile River. He was found by Pharaoh’s daughter who adopted him.
Kurai took some photos in front of a beautiful waterfall plunging over a wall of solid rock. It is the excess water from Lake Tana which formed the headwaters of the Blue Nile. It wound its way for 1,400 kilometres to Sudan to merge as one with the White Nile, the other major tributary.
The White Nile flows north through Tanzania, Lake Victoria, Uganda and South Sudan and meets the Blue Nile at Khartoum and continues on its long journey to Egypt running in parallel to the Red Sea all the way to the Mediterranean Sea.
A question that may have formed as to how a person from a remote province situated in the central highlands in PNG ever draw up a travel itinerary to visit Ethiopia, far from his own country.
Short answer. He went at the invitation of his adopted son, Solomon Kurai who is from Ethiopia.
Kiap adopted Solomon when he came to PNG seven years ago to work for an Israeli company called AnyWay Solid Environmental Solutions. There was no construction project going on in Port Moresby so he was sent to Wabag.
Some people in Port Moresby warned Solomon to be careful because people up there were bad. He was new in the country, young and believed the advice he was given. So, when he went to Wabag, he kept to himself.
But he was lucky, he was booked into Paul Kurai’s Ribito Motel. Soon Paul and Solomon met. Kurai told him Engans were not savages. It was true they fought tribal wars, but they didn’t just attack anybody. And Solomon need not fear.
To give him that extra security, he adopted Solomon as one of his sons. And Kurai’s Kamainwan tribe accepted him as one of them.
Kurai was interested in the cement-like white powder Solomon’s Israeli company produced. It was described as a natural soil stabiliser that could convert poor quality soil into a strong impermeable layer. He wanted to test it and ordered large quantities.
His K Star Construction Company had just won a contract to build the Wabag – Wapenamanda section of the Highlands Highway and it was on this project he wanted to test this new product.
A civil engineer, Solomon helped K-Star construction company build the Wabag – Wapenamanda road, showing the workers how to apply the product. The road has remained stable over the last couple of years without showing wear and tear even though heavy equipment was moved along this road to the Porgera gold mine.
Former prime minister Peter O’Neill described it in parliament as one of two well-constructed roads in the country. The other being a road in New Ireland.
As he worked and lived among the Enga people, Solomon Kurai found that the rumours he heard about Engans were false. They were in fact some of the most generous people he had come across. Their only weakness was election violence and tribal warfare.
Solomon invited his ‘papa’ to visit Ethiopia as a way of saying thank you for adopting and accepting him into his family and tribe for seven years.
At one stage, Paul Kurai asked Solomon to marry one of the many young Engan girls who were making passes.
He wanted to contribute K10,000 and 10 pigs towards the bride price. And his tribesman were ready to support him as is the custom. But Solomon declined.
“I respected my adopted son’s decision. I will go and attend his marriage ceremony in Ethiopia when he decides to marry a girl of his choice” Paul Kurai said. “And I hope to visit Lalibella again and meet the priest.”