NORTHUMBRIA - Kunimeipa used to be home to Guari Patrol Post. In 1975 it was the most isolated government station in the Goilala.
But it has since been abandoned, and its brick buildings either gape windowless or have disintegrated into rubble.
When I discussed the reasons for, and the consequences of, this administrative desertion in a magazine, to my surprise the loudest response was criticism of my spelling of the word ‘Kunimeipa’.
I should, the critic said, have spelled it ‘Kunimaipa’ otherwise the ‘ei’ indicated the region had at one stage been under pre-1918 German administration when it very clearly had not.
Standardised spelling in Papua New Guinea. Now there’s a challenge.
So I checked out ‘Kunimeipa’. Konedobu still prefers ‘ai’ to ‘ei’. The Bereina Diocese, which only recently abandoned its mission station at nearby Kamulai, prefers ‘ei’ to ‘ai’.
And Anthony Morant, who writes the Goilala District Development Blog prefers ‘Gunimaipa’.
I too am confused and I am too confused and I cannot say who is right.
Anthony is the son of Moruana, perhaps one of the longest-serving interpreters at the Goilala sub-district headquarters at Tapini.
Moruana is someone I worked with.
Anthony, who took his father’s name for his surname, renders it as ‘Morant’.
Pronunciation moves closer if the ‘a’ at the end of Moruana is made silent and the ‘t’ at the end of Morant is also silent. But there remains a gap.
Confusion spreads further when an internet conversation with Agnes Mek reveals that her preferred spelling for the Konjiga clan which dominates a section of the Wahgi Valley near Banz is ‘Konjka’.
Then John Muke, also from that section of the Jiwaka, emails to ask if I knew his father Muke – also known as Mugo or Muka.
I did know him, and can even claim to have known him well.
But along with everyone else at Minj sub-district office I called him Muga.
And who is that can erase the many times Muke’s (or Muga-Mugo-Muka’s) name has been spelled wrongly in what are now historical government records?
Perhaps that is where some of the problems began? Is there a kiap who ever conducted a village census who cannot recall the occasional bewildered silence after he had called out a name from the census book?
There would be the tok-ples equivalent of ‘eh?’, heads would turn to the interpreter, the kiap would be asked to repeat his mutilation, there would be further discussion and then someone came up with the tok-ples equivalent of ‘got it’ and a man, at last correctly identified, would step forward with his family.
One problem was the inability of the English 26 letter alphabet to wrap itself around the phonetic demands of any number of PNG languages which either needed an additional letter, or many additional letters, to cover the twists of pronunciation.
Another problem was that a kiap’s individual ear could be kinked by his own Aussie or British accent while village people themselves were indulging their own dialectic curls.
An inevitable result is that a historian or researcher, studying old records in PNG, must be alert to shifts in contemporary spelling and pronunciation as well as misspelling and mispronunciation.
Perhaps this already adds to the fun in the same way as modern English speakers find records written in English almost 1,000 years ago almost completely indecipherable.
Footnote: The photo shows Muke (Muga-Muka-Mugo), who was a Councillor, wincing at the heat generated by a bonfire of spears and other weapons that in 1972, and with his help, was lit in Minj market place in an effort to end hostilities between his Tangilka clan and neighbouring Kambilikas. [First printed in The Northumbrian Kiap]