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.
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.