Epic story of Enga’s clash of civilisations
14 November 2020
Victory Song of Pingeta’s Daughter by Daniel Kumbon, Independently Published, 2020, 406 pages, colour illustrations, ISBN: 9798562831323. Available from Amazon Australia, AU$74.65 plus AU$3.90 postage (in Australia)
TUMBY BAY - In 1934, at a place called Tole in what is now Enga Province, a man named Pingeta took up his spear and charged down a hill towards the camp of explorer and prospector Michael Leahy and his brother Daniel.
What prompted Pingeta’s action remains unclear. Some people believe that he wanted to launch an attack on the prospectors’ camp to pillage it while other people believe Pingeta was enraged by the apparent invasion of his lands by white men.
But, back in 1934, Michael Leahy believed Pingeta was intent upon death and destruction and decided to take drastic action.
Before Pingeta could plunge his spear, Michael Leahy had picked up his rifle, strode across to a roped boundary line and, in his own words, “put a soft-nosed bullet through his guts”, killing Pingeta instantly.
In the ensuing confusion other members of Leahy’s party opened fire on members of Pingeta’s group, killing and injuring an unknown number of what were just interested spectators.
Among those who fled the scene in panic was Pingeta’s wife. In her desperate attempt to escape the carnage she abandoned her two children, brother and sister Waipu and Tukim.
No one knows what happened to Pingeta’s wife. She was never seen again.
Tukim was a brave girl. She easily could have panicked and run like her mother. Instead, she half carried and half dragged her small brother, Waipu, to safety.
Fast forward to 2020 and Tukim’s son and Pingeta’s grandson, Paul Kurai Kiap, is a successful businessman and philanthropist contributing to the economic and social advancement of Enga Province.
Between those two points in history, 1934 and 2020, a mere 86 years apart, Daniel Kumbon has written a fascinating story involving a vast array of characters including local people, kiaps, missionaries and politicians, some of whom were good and some of whom were clearly villainous.
Reverberating through the entire story are the continuing echoes of that precipitous clash at Tole one bright morning in 1934, the dreadful collision of a lone Engan chief and an Australian prospector.
Daniel’s story, in every respect, is what might be termed blockbuster in its context.
But beyond that it is also a study of the amazingly complex impact of colonisation on an indigenous society that was to be thrust at warp speed from stone-age to modernity over the course of what was a single human generation.
Intertwined throughout the book is the personal story of one individual and his family.
Tukim, the daughter of Pingeta, eventually married Kurai Tapus and firmly established her position as his number one wife when she gave birth to a son.
The birth of their first son prompted Tukim to compose a victory song from her ‘pulim anda’ or birth house. She continued to sing that song as three more sons were born to her.
Kurai Tapus was appointed a bosboi, a position of considerable authority, by the kiaps and went on to contribute to the development of what became Enga Province. His legacy was added to by his son Paul Kurai Kiap.
The book that Daniel Kumbon has compiled from the disparate and multifarious components of this family story also tells the story of Enga Province.
It is a monster of a book, running to over 400 pages, 85,000 words and a huge collection of photographs, all rendered wherever possible in colour.
It is an epic story told from the inside by an author 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 Papua New Guinea.
It is a remarkable achievement by Daniel Kumbon that stands proudly alongside Mathias Kin’s history of the Simbu Province, ‘My Simbu’.
Daniel Kumbon, you are a national treasure. Thank you for immortalising these lives for us all in the pages of this book, and more importantly for posterity. I’m getting a copy.
Thank you Phil Fitzpatrick for putting the word out there with this wonderful review.
And Corney Alone, how come you never told me you were Tit! Monokam by the Ambum Doo is where it’s at, brother ;-)
Posted by: Nickson Piakal | 06 March 2021 at 10:35 AM
Thank you dear wantok Daniel for keeping in regular email contact with me ,in spite of your preoccupation with the writing this epic history of your own homeland. I take pride in your use of some of my humble contributions . I also treasure the memories of my years in the service of PNG, and The Enga at the time of 1975 independence.
Posted by: John Gordon-Kirkby | 18 November 2020 at 07:41 PM
Congratulations Daniel! This is quite a compelling history of Enga Province and this exceptional figure, Mr Paul Kurai. One of his daughters (Melinda) was my school mate and best friend at high school ( Notre Dame High School).
Looking forward to ordering a copy soon.
Posted by: Dominica Are | 18 November 2020 at 01:02 PM
Phil and Daniel - I appreciate Daniel’s hard work in recording such interesting and important historical data.
I have met some of the characters involved in some of the incidents. I was familiar with the accounts of Pingketa’s death in both the video and the book ‘First Contact’.
In the seventies and eighties I frequently met Danny Leahy, and knew many of the Leahy clan. I only met Michael Leahy once, that was when he came to Hagen for funeral of Fr Ross.
I recognised Paul Kurai in the photo as I used meet him regularly in Hagen when I was based in the town parish (St Paul’s) around 1999-2005.
Paul Kurai was always helpful in many ways. At that time I did not know that Paul was a grandson of Pingketa. Again, thanks for the reporting and writing.
Posted by: Garrett Roche | 18 November 2020 at 08:07 AM
Thank you Daniel,
I will be happy to read and remind myself of Tit sub-clan councilor, late Alois Alapyala, a renowned orator whose lines are usually quoted across the entire Ambum valley.
Your contribution adds more finer details into the brilliant works of Akii Tumu (Director of Enga Take Anda), Professor Polly Weisner and others who brought "Historical Vines - Enga networks of exchange, ritual, and warfare in Papua New Guinea" into countless bookshops around the country and the world at large.
I can recall my own councilor, Karapen Kalum going toe to toe with him on many tee ceremonies, sing sing places and dispute settlements.
Both are from the Sakalin tribe, by the way so the Tit and the Kapupins are brothers.
Fr George Schubbe was also instrumental in inducting and guiding Fr Tony Krajci turn Landor Catholic Mission into the flourishing hub it is today.
Posted by: Corney Korokan Alone | 18 November 2020 at 06:56 AM
Philip thanks for the kind words. Francis is gone and I wish that more writers from our region will emerge - take our places and keep the literary flame burning.
I have just ordered Dominica Are's book of poems 'Prized Possessions' which is her story. I hope many more of our female writers will follow her example.
Francis Nii has definitely left a vacuum in publishing. We have many writers in the region but not many publishers. Francis published several books before he passed on.
I have designed my book myself and have seen how easy it is but it's just that I am 'wayback' when issues with the internet and power outages at times drag my work to a snail's pace.
Corney thanks. The story of one of the influential leaders of your valley, Cr Alois Alapyala, is carried in the book. But sadly, he died a few weeks later after I interviewed him.
I am glad I extracted valuable information before he passed on. He told me how Fr George Schubbe influenced the people to get him elected as councillor of the Tit tribe.
Fr Schubbe had noticed his open generous nature when Alapyala had give him land to build a church at Monokam.
I was able to see the church Fr Schubbe built on land Cr Alapyala had given when I went to attend his funeral.
Bro, I am saddened to see Enga losing so much history with the passing of our elders. I hope more material is recorded before we lose everything. I am glad to have saved a tiny fraction of it.
And concerning purchase of the books - I hope to place some copies at the UPNG Bookshop. They have sold copies of all my books.
I will notify you when the books arrive in the next few weeks. We might even meet at Vision City like last time, from where you can get a signed copy.
Another way to purchase your copy would be to send money to a friend in Australia and have him order the book and forward it to you. I have done just that.
Posted by: Daniel Kumbon | 17 November 2020 at 10:20 AM
Amazon in Australia, the US and the UK plus it's other international outlets say they won't ship to PNG because too many of its orders go missing.
PNG is among a number of countries that Amazon won't ship to because of this problem.
Publicly they say its related to Covid-19 but when you question them about individual shipments they admit its about the loss or theft of their shipments.
The only option for people in PNG is to have the book shipped to someone in Australia who can onforward it to PNG. This adds more cost to purchases of course.
There are shipping agents in both the US, where books from Amazon Australia are actually shipped from, and in Australia who will tranship stuff but they usually do it through shipping agents like DHL and charge exorbitant rates.
What is really required is bookshops in PNG, like the UPNG Bookshop, that can purchase wholesale copies but none of them seem interested.
Other independent publishers, including those based in Australia, do the same thing as Amazon and refuse to ship to PNG.
Independent publishing now accounts for a sizeable market share and is used by many well-known writers who prefer to have editorial and retail control over their books.
Unfortunately PNG misses out because of its shipping security problems.
This is just another reason why PNG writers need government support.
I might also add that Australia Post charges ridiculous rates to post books to PNG.
As I discovered with 'Man Bilong Buk', it costs about $35 to have it delivered to an address in PNG, which is about 5 times what it costs for postage from the US to Australia.
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 16 November 2020 at 08:04 AM
Thank you Daniel Kumbon for your hard work in recording history.
This stuff matters.
We must own our own history where we can. Yours is a noble journey of a Melanesian son telling our own story with photos and actual accounts.
Noticed Amazon Australia is not able to ship that book to Papua New Guinea. Could you let us know where we can obtain copies from in PNG?
Posted by: Corney Korokan Alone | 16 November 2020 at 06:53 AM
Congratulations Daniel for your tremendous effort.
You are a gifted writer. After Francis Nii is gone we are looking at you as our icon in the highlands of PNG.
Posted by: Philip Kai Morre | 15 November 2020 at 09:38 PM
Thanks Phil for the article and Joe and Dom for your heart-warming comments.
I love my province despite all the domestic problems, especially tribal warfare.
I have worked and lived all my life in Enga province. I have seen much change and destruction too. I’ve had uncles and tribesman killed in tribal fights. I have seen government systems fail, leaders ending up in jail, fined, suspended or dismissed.
I have seen and experienced pain and experienced loss. I have seen landmark accomplishments - permanent institutions like the Enga Teachers College, Enga College of Nursing, Enga Provincial Hospital, PHQ office complex and such other infrastructure.
There is much more to cover, I know… But this much I have been able to record which is my contribution to Enga history. I hope future generations will enjoy and source of inspiration for them.
If I didn’t write this book, who would have known that Daniel Leahy became a policeman. And ‘bosboi’ Kurai Tapus married Pingeta’s Daughter Tukim, the orphan. Daniel and Kurai went on an epic journey to Wewak and rescued nuns who were asked to wear army trousers. The rescue team safely walked over the mountains into Enga and onto Mt Hagen during WWII.
If the Japanese had caught them, Daniel Leahy and Kurai Tapus would have died side by side.
Posted by: Daniel Kumbon | 15 November 2020 at 07:02 PM
A heroic effort and an excellent accomplishment.
Posted by: Michael Dom | 15 November 2020 at 01:35 PM
Kaim, congratulations! This book, the result of your hard work is a priceless gift to the future generation of Enga people. I am looking forward to reading my copy.
Posted by: Joe Herman | 15 November 2020 at 02:56 AM