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Bernard Narokobi – leader, legislator, poet

Leadership_in_MelanesiaGREGORY BABLIS

PORT MORESBY - In 1995 when Bernard Narokobi was Papua New Guinea’s minister for agriculture, he, Bart Philemon and Jerry Nalau voted against prime minister Julius Chan’s proposed bill for an organic law on provincial and local level governments.

Given the ongoing conflict in Bougainville in its violent bid for secession, the three ministers feared the bill’s proposed centralisation of power pulling it away from local level government gave more motivation for other regions in PNG to push for autonomy.

Following the vote, prime minister Chan sacked all three ministers from his cabinet.

After his sacking, Narokobi penned this poem, ‘In Memory of My Sacking as Minister’, on a piece of scrap paper. Here’s what he wrote:

J.C. is my shepherd, I am sacked.
He maketh me to lie down on my back
He leadeth me besides the fallen kina,
He threatened me to vote against my conscience,
With demand to resign 8.30 am.
He leadeth me to the path of destruction for his Party’s sake;
Yea, though I walk in the vales of doubt and despair
I fear no evil!
Nor C.J.

Though Politicians and Profiteers may scare me,
And present me a loss of a well earned salary,
And whilst my costs
Runneth higher and higher.
My Kina Wiz Kid
Answers my Kina falleth lower and lower.
Surely unemployment and poverty will follow me,
All the days of his maladministration.
Surely expenses, corruption, greed and selfishness shall swell,

While virtue and righteousness shall dwindle.
All the days, all the days of Papa paulim pikinini’s reign.
Surely the lawyers, the costly lawyers shall ensure,
All my ancient inheritance
And all me and mine
Shall dwell in a mortgaged and remortgaged house
For ever and ever.
Thanks be to IMF & WB.

The poem was a fierce diatribe against what Narokobi perceived to be poor decision making by the Chan government.

It pointed to the leadership traits he felt were lacking in some of his colleagues and that he himself tried to adhere to, as well as airing his frustration at the consequences he faced for his uncompromising stance.

The poem showcased his wisdom and wit and also showed how Narokobi used writing in part as an emotional outlet.

Reference: Gregory Bablis (2020) ‘Which Way?’ Big Man, Road Man, Chief: Bernard Narokobi's Multifaceted Leadership Career, The Journal of Pacific History, 55:2, 291-303, DOI: 10.1080/00223344.2020.1760086. You can read the journal article in its entirety by following this link


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Gregory Bablis

I have a copy of Prof Winduo's book and will be reading it in a few month's time. I will bump it up my reading list.

Thanks for highlighting his points on the Melanesian Way. Narokobi was doing many things at once with his philosophisations - trying to inspire nationalism, as Winduo says, but also promoting PNG's cultural diversity.

For Narokobi the nation was perfectly represented in the model of the village, i.e., the nation is the village writ large and so the village should inspire the type of government model, laws, institutions etc that we put in place.

This thinking was the basis for the the Constitution's Fifth NGDP on PNG Ways. Narokobi had many critics and he deliberately shied away from ever defining what the Melanesian Way is because it should mean different things to different people.

Dr Vergil Narokobi's article in the same journal issue as mine gives further insight into this: as well as Dr Lise Dobrin's article here Other articles in the recently released JPH Special Narokobi Issue can also be found here

Michael Dom

Have you read Steven Winduo's Transitions and Transformations?

The chapters are in essay form and provide good starting point or additional information and leads for literary reading and research.

Winduo summarizes; "The Melanesian Way is a highly political concept. It is an ideology developed as a counter discourse to the discourses of colonial ideology. It works as a dual ideology: First, as an ideology of nationalism and second as an ideology of rationalism. ... The Melanesian Way has its origin in colonial discourses."

Winduo argues that the Melanesian Way, by nature of its creation as a counter to colonialism, still perpetuates a 'colonial label'.

There were Papua Niuginian critics to Narokobi's philosophy who also have some interesting perspectives.

I'm sure the academic arguments have taken place but these arguments in the foundational elements of Papua Niugini as a nation should be made known.

I hope such an endeavor can be explored by future writers.

Gregory Bablis

Thank you indeed for the story Garry!

Garry Roche

Bernard Narokobi was indeed an exceptional individual. I met him once or twice. He was visiting Mt Hagen around 1998 and met him at Rebiamul. I invited him to visit the Teacher’s College.

As we were driving towards the College I saw a middle aged man on the road and stopped the car to say hello. Narokobi seemed a bit hesitant, then I introduced the man as Donatus Karagu, a man whose mother was from Hagen but whose father was Peter Karagu a man from Wokenara not far from Boikin in East Sepik Province, and I believe not far from Narokobi’s own birth place.

Peter Karagu had come to Hagen with Fr Ross in 1934 and was the first catechist and teacher at Rebiamul in Mt Hagen. Narokobi was happy to meet his son Donatus.

Gregory Bablis

Thank you Michael!

Philip Kai Morre

I knew Bernard Narakobi as a humble person who got along with anybody. He was not afraid of anybody and he did not want a police escort when he became a judge and politician.

He was a philosopher by instinct, not in the sense of modern philosophy but as a Melanesian philosopher with his theory based on personalism and spiritualism.

The Melanesian world view is centred around his philosophy.

Lindsay F Bond

Of man, magnifico.
Of marker, magnus.
Gregory, 'malleable messages of modernity' come also in your prose.

Michael Dom

Excellent introductory article, Gregory.

Your journal article is also captivating.

Susan Conroy

What a loss for PNG politics.

He was indeed, Susan. "Upon his death in 2010 Bernard Narokobi was widely recognised as one of the fathers of PNG independence, one of the architects of its national constitution and a founding father of PNG." More here: - KJ

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