Heavenly match: Ramu beef & Hagen pineapple
Can we resurrect the house of wisdom

From tragic first contact to now

Daniel & Paul
Author Daniel Kumbon and the subject of his latest book, Paul Kiap Kurai with the vista of Enga below them


This is the Introduction from a new book by Daniel Kumbon which will come off the presses in a few weeks’ time. It tells of three generations of a prominent Enga family over a period of 90 years, from first contact with waitman gold prospectors in 1930 to the present day. The book features the prominent Enga businessman Paul Kiap Kurai who carries with him the knowledge that tradition is not something of the past but part of the spirit that carries his people forward into the future - KJ

PORT MORESBY - In early 2020, Paul Kiap Kurai asked me to write a short profile about the work and death of his father.  As I began my research, I soon uncovered fresh information that led to this book.

During our initial conversation, Paul remarked that his father was a man of giant frame and his mother very short. It was an unusual match but he had married her because she was a local chief’s daughter.

It tuned out that the local chief was Pingeta, who along with many tribesmen was shot dead by explorer and prospector Michael Leahy in 1934.

When Pingeta died, his young wife fled in terror, abandoning her small children – a boy Waipu and a girl Tukim. Tukim was to become Paul Kiap Kurai’s mother.

Nobody ever knew where Pingeta’s wife went or what her fate was. Maybe she was killed by enemies or drowned in the Lai or Ambum river or maybe took her own life.

Tukim was a brave girl. She could have easily panicked and run. Instead, she half carried and half dragged her small brother, Waipu, to safety.

Tukim, the daughter of Pingeta, eventually married Kurai Tapus and firmly established her position as first wife when she gave birth to a son.

Kurai’s first wife had died without giving him children and some of his relatives opposed his marriage to Tukim because she was short. But Kurai was determined to marry her.

Paul Kiap Kurai, who commissioned this book, was her third son.

The birth of their first son prompted Tukim to compose a victory song from her pulim anda (birth house). She continued to sing that song as three more sons were born to her.

When World War II came, Kurai Tapus, having been appointed a bosboi (supervisor) by the colonial Administration, went on an epic journey to rescue nuns trapped in the Sepik and guide them through the mountain ranges to Mt Hagen.

It was a dangerous mission and would have suffered a deadly fate if caught by the Japanese.

One of the kiaps he accompanied was Daniel Leahy, by now a policeman. It was his brother, Michael, who had shot dead Pingeta, Tukim’s father.

The marriage of bosboi Kurai Tapus and Tukim bore a son Paul Kiap Kurai, who brings this book to modern times.

It tells of a brutal past and of how development came to Enga. It features Paul’s own story as a sometimes reckless but always clever man who - despite coming close to ruining his life – learned his lessons well and went on to develop a large modern business conglomerate.

This book also tells the story of how, during his many years in office, the current Enga Governor, Sir Peter Ipatas, has worked to replace destruction with growth and, assisted by people like Paul Kiap Kurai, has sought to maintain the political stability required to accomplish major development for the Enga people.

Ipatas has promoted sport, culture and has been a strong advocate of education, tourism and economic growth. For the first time Enga has become an exporting province with strawberries being shipped to Singapore.  Other important developments have been a multi-million-kina provincial hospital project, the Enga Teachers College and the Enga College of Nursing.

The book also talks about the early missionaries, especially the Catholics who came almost at the same time as the kiaps, bringing a message of hope and peace to a people who wasted much of their lives in tribal warfare.

It also reveals strange stories. Such as the time when two supposedly Baptist church preachers tarnished the efforts of the early missionaries by smuggling guns into the region and storing them in private armouries in their homes in two of the most volatile provinces in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.

I also consider how foreign influences not working in the people’s interest can wreck our country, especially if politicians, bureaucrats and other compromisers cooperate with foreign criminal syndicates, particularly members of drug cartels.

Even as I concluded this book, an Italian man was caught with a load of cocaine on a yacht off Kupiano in the Central Province. Four Papua New Guineans were assisting him smuggle the drug to Australia.

So this book covers much territory but at its core it is the story of a family dynasty experiencing an era of great political and economic change.

Tole village one hour b4 attack - 1934
This old photograph shows Tole village just one hour before the massacre of 1934

And it contains a warning - that foreign influence can often be productive and benign but that it can also destroy. What we do not want it to destroy in this modern age is any hope of prime minister James Marape honouring his promise to take back Papua New Guinea for its people.

It includes many photographs too of the days of first contact at Tole in the 1930s and of many events since.

It is a story told from the inside by a man who understands how the past and the future are held together by the present and who knows that the story of the Enga people is in many respects the story of the Papua New Guinea highlands.


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Daniel Kumbon

Thanks Chris, Kenny, Mathias and Joe for your comments.

Chris, the proposed title of the book is ‘Victory Song of Pingeta’s Daughter’.
Pingeta’s daughter is the orphaned girl, Tukim. She and her brother lost both their parents on that fateful ‘First Contact’ day at Tole.

The killings were forgotten. Michael, Daniel and their other two brothers as well as Jim Taylor settled in the highlands the vast area they opened up. Some of them married local girls and contributed towards social and economic development of PNG.

You guessed it right. The two supposedly Baptist church missionaries were Americans. And there are stories about Chinese drug smugglers in the book too.

I will appreciate another comment after you’ve read the book, Chris.

Joe Herman

Excellent, Kaim! Look forward to getting my copy.

Mathias Kin

Excellent, brother Daniel. I will get a copy when it comes out. Congratulations.

Kenny Pawa

Well done


Chris Overland

It is pleasing to see this sort of book appearing in PNG. It is another step in preserving the history of PNG and the Enga people in particular

The Baptist missionaries who were obsessed with guns intrigue me. My cousin was the Moderator (equivalent to a Bishop in other faiths) of the Baptist Church here in South Australia. My recollection is that the church was essentially a pacifist organisation, so the idea of having lethal weapons close to hand seems inconsistent with this philosophy.

My guess is that the missionaries concerned were probably Americans, who have traditionally had a close association with guns and, historically speaking, were not shy about using them.

Australia never had a significant gun culture such as that in evidence in the modern USA, although there were and are plenty of guns in private hands today.

In pre-independence PNG after World War 2, the administration exercised very tight control over guns. It would fairly readily licence single barrel shot guns for hunting purposes but military style weapons and hand guns were almost never licenced for civilians.

That said, in the pre war period, it apparently was fairly easy to get a licence for a gun if you were a waitman in PNG. Presumably, this was justified on the basis of needing weapons for self defence. It seems that what constituted self defence was fairly loosely interpreted in those days otherwise the extra-judicial killings by the Leahy brothers (and others) might have been more closely scrutinised.

As I have previously observed, it is a sad fact that the initial collisions between different human societies, especially where there is a gross technological imbalance, always seem to produce conflict and bloodshed.

PNG's history is no different, although the scale of the conflict involved was much more limited than in places like Africa, South America, North America and Australia.

This is no consolation to those who were killed or to their loved ones of course, but it is important to keep a sense of perspective.

It is very fashionable at the moment to pick and choose facts from history that suit your particular narrative of victimhood and simply ignore or down play the facts that either contradict that narrative or suggest that things might have been more complicated than you would care to admit.

I do not wish to be seen as suggesting or implying that Daniel is doing this. In many ways, he is simply correcting the historic record and that is a good thing.

However, it is rather easy to fall into the victimhood trap and this would not do a good service to Papua New Guineans, who have proved marvellously adaptable in the face of an incredibly rapid change process.

They have been catapulted from the neo-lithic era into the modern world over the space of only a few decades and have managed this process without losing their essential cultural identity. This is a formidable achievement that receives less recognition than it should.

It seems that Daniel's book tells this bigger story while focussing upon one family in particular. I hope that his book attracts the readership it deserves.

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