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Maintaining the Kurai legacy

Paul beside yar tree
The lineage is strong - Paul Kurai in front of the yar tree at Ela Beach in Port Moresby which his father is said to have planted during colonial times

DANIEL KUMBON

WABAG - Paul Kiap Kurai is probably among just a few Highlands businessman, if not the only one, who has given away a successful business entity to a clansman on a golden platter.

He gave the Neneo Construction company to his Kamainwan people of Kaiap as a gift so they too would benefit from the proceeds of his blessings.

It was an action rarely seen in competitive Highlands society.

He gave away the company he had started from scratch, his original source of success and as he built his businesses and his fame.

Paul Kurai felt obliged to honour the people who so many years before had rescued his father from the battlefield at Yambis, his original village. Neneo bears the name of the clan.

The old man Kurai’s uncles and cousins took him to Kaiap, gave him land, appointed him as their councillor and he had worked with the kiaps until he retired and died in 1980. Forty years later Paul Kurai was repaying the respect and the trust.

“There was no better gift than to offer my people the first company I started to show them how much they were dear to my heart,” Paul said.

“I am who I am because of these people. I gave away this company as my lasting commitment to them. I have to do it to thank them for the respect they accorded me and my late father. We have to share the profits.”

Paul retained his other business arms and continues to manage Neneo Construction and pays the profits to his people every year. So far he has paid more than K300,000.

As their councillor, like his father, Paul literally knows the names of each man, woman and child in his ward. He hopes his children will also respect the people and understand the reason why he gave away his business to them.

Paul also wishes his children to be aware of his belief in God who rescued him from near disaster in business. God had also protected his mother Tukim and uncle Waiep when they lost both their parents on the same day during that First Contact clash with the white men at Tole in 1934.

Paul Kurai hopes his children will turn out to be God-fearing citizens of Papua New Guinea who live humble, honest lives.

All nieces and nephews of the extended Kurai family are also expected to maintain the good name of Kurai the ‘Bosboi’ who helped the government and who was converted to Christianity.

Paul kurai and Br jerry at the end of the service where Br Jerry made his final vows
Paul and Brother Jerry at the end of the service where Jerry made his final vows to become a priest in the Catholic Church

He is delighted that one of his nephews, Jerry James Kurai, is training to be a priest. He wishes that more of Kurai’s offspring will take up God’s call, go to far reaches of the world and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Paul has always made sure he applies these same rules to his business dealings: to spend project funds in an honest manner and to properly complete projects awarded to his companies.

“I don’t steal people’s money. I am a straight shooter,” he said.

“I try to disburse all the funds given to my company. I believe God blesses me for my honesty. And I give a portion of God’s blessings back to the church.”

Paul assists not only his Catholic church but the Lutherans, Apostolics, Seventh Day Adventists and even the Lorniu Evangelical Church in the far flung province of Manus.

“I do not wish to boast about how much I give to the church and the needy. That’s nothing to boast about. It’s a matter between me and the Heavenly Father who created everything.”

At one presentation, he thanked the Catholic church for bringing not only the Good News but services like health and education to the people. He mentioned how the church gave him a second chance to continue his education.

In 1965 at age seven, he enrolled at Tsikiro primary school run by the Catholic mission but he was not selected to proceed to high school in 1970.

According to Paul, the school policy at that time limited a certain number of children from each tribe to continue on to high school.

Given his young age and being a bit of a humbug, rowdy and always arguing over marbles with fellow students, the board and teachers decided he should not proceed. It seemed that the well-behaved older children were preferred.

But Paul Kurai had a burning desire for education. He thought the teachers were wrong but he could not oppose them. So he decided the best thing he could do was to trek south across the mountain ranges to Wanepap Catholic mission in Laiagam.

It was a long walk and he had to spend the night at Tambus village before proceeding on to Wanepap. There he told the school authorities that he was transferring from Tsikiro and that he wanted to be placed in Standard 6.

The resident priest and headmaster were suspicious. They wanted confirmation from Fr Scubbe and the headmaster at Tsikiro.

But when they wrote a letter, Fr Scubbe did not respond. Nor did he reply to enquiries made on the radio transceivers used by the church in those days. Meanwhile, Paul lived with strangers and undertook Standard 6 at Wanepap primary school.

When he easily passed the exams to go onto high school in 1972, Fr Scubbe showed him a letter that had been sent from Wanepap. It told the story of Paul’s departure from Tsikiro.

This embarrassed Paul but he had felt forced to invent a lie, a habit he hates but did so because he really wanted to go to school.

Ribito Hotel  Wabag
Ribito Hotel, Wabag

Today he relaxes in the comfort of his cosy home on the premises of Ribito Hotel in Wabag and declares that it was God who guided him along.

When he was accepted, he eagerly attended Pausa high school but after only three weeks, was transferred to Fatima high school, also run by the Catholics.

He didn’t mind going to Fatima where he renewed contact with former schoolmates like Kenneth Korokali, who like Paul is now a successful businessman. He also met Bishop Arnold Orowei, these days the Head Bishop of the Catholic church in Enga.

Paul became head-boy and a student leader at Fatima. He was active in sports taking up Australian Rules and Rugby League.

But he quit them both after a punch-up with students from Mt Hagen Technical College during an inter-school match that turned into a brawl.

His established as his number one priority to make sure the many children from his six wives received a good education and be responsible citizens.

In 2012, Paul made a firm statement that he would not give free handouts to his own children. He wanted them to seek God’s guidance and work hard to succeed.

“I do not want to give free handouts. As their father, I must enrol them in the best schools. That is where I must invest in – education. Not free handouts and make them lazy.”

Paul makes sure his children attend school each day and he supports them. He wants them to know that his father was not educated but accomplished much by helping the kiaps bring peace and development to Wabag.

He had always hoped to send his children to the best schools overseas. That break came in 2007.

An Engan, Kandaleo Ene, a senior geologist working and living in Perth, Australia, took Samantha, Fedilma and Delcie to continue their education down south.

The Kurai girls stayed in Perth for two years with Ene, his wife and six daughters.

Paul and Ene (right) with their wives at North Lakes in Brisbane
Paul and Kandaleo Ene (at right) with their wives at North Lakes in Brisbane

In 2009, Ene realised that Paul would have to visit his girls. But the distance from Wabag to Perth in Western Australia was a long distance.

After some thought, he decided to relocate his family somewhere closer to PNG – preferring one of the Queensland cities of Townsville, Cairns or Brisbane.

Ene spotted a property at North Lakes in Brisbane and relocated his family and the Kurai girls.

He persuaded Paul to purchase an adjacent property so the rest of his family could go down and live there whenever they wanted to.

Paul bought the property with no hesitation and relocated the rest of his children with their mother, Assumtha, to North Lakes. Paul remained in PNG to run his many businesses.

The children enrolled at North Lakes State College. Paul is eternally thankful to Ene for identifying such a rare opportunity and making it possible for his family to migrate to Australia.

The Enes are permanent residents of Australia and the Kurais are also into the process of acquiring dual citizenship. But the first thing Paul wants to see is for his children to emulate him in every aspect of life.

He believes that one day, once his children are properly educated, they will appreciate his efforts to establish many businesses with limited capital and minimal education.

He does not want to start distributing his businesses to his children as that would make them lazy and not realise their own potential. Since he is a hard worker, he wants his children to be the same.

Like his father, and like every other Engan bikman, Paul Kurai married multiple times although that is against the teachings of the church. He has up to 20 children. But only two wives remain in his harem.

Paul would like to see at least one of his children maintain the status quo - to inherit his skills as a businessman, attend to village affairs, appreciate traditional heritage and maintain peace among the people.

And Paul wants all his children to come home regularly from wherever they are located.

Of his eldest children, Melinda is a successful businesswoman, Fedilma and Samantha are married, Delcie is a pilot and Camilla is in law school. All his boys from Assumtha and children from his other wives are still in high school.

As is typical of Enga’s patrilineal society, a girl does not take her father’s place. However, that practise and perception could change in the modern era.

Boards and established management structures and systems are run by women. The Kurai girls can very easily run and direct business operations in the future.

Paul has never been more happy than when he brought smiles to the faces of his own Kamainwan people when he gave them Neneo Construction in 2011.

Not many people give away or share their riches in such a way, but Paul Kurai possesses the spirit of sharing. He gives without prejudice, building his character and popularity as an avid donor.

Building the Ribito Hotel
Cr Paul Kiap supervises the building of the Ribito Hotel in Wabag which his father Kurai Tapus - the bosboi - worked hard to develop

He has given to churches, schools, women’s groups, youth groups, sporting clubs, missionaries, tribesman and individuals. All he wants to see in return is a progressive society where people learn to share and live in peace.

To show his appreciation to people who offered him shelter for the night when he walked across the mountain to find a new school, Paul built a staff house and a classroom at Tambus community school.

At Wanepap catholic mission, he built a classroom, maintained the church building and made K40,000 worth of benches.

As the son of a tribal chief, sharing has been part of his inheritance. His Engan forefathers had shared their possessions generously to maintain respect and harmony in their communities.

Respect was earned, not demanded.

Paul hopes his children will also share, contribute to the church, respect the laws of the country and maintain the good name of Kurai Tapus the ‘bosboi’.

He wants them to also remember his mother Tukim, the orphaned girl who composed that victory song in the birth house on the central ridge which he wants to continue resonating through the ages.

Paul Kurai has brought the ancient tradition of chiefly thought and behaviour with him.

He has blended this with the beliefs and ideals of the church and modern life. It is a formula that has brought him success.

And he is determined that it will continue.

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