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’.