Eivo Torau: reconciliation & development
Toroama & Marape get down to business

From grass houses to those PNG McMansions

Apeke Taso
Apeke Taso built his house in his village in the war torn Tsak Valley. Many educated elites from the Tsak Valley have also built country homes in their villages


TUMBY BAY - Daniel Kumbon’s upcoming book, Victory Song of Pingeta’s Daughter, is full of interesting information and photographs.

I was particularly intrigued by the photographs of veritable mansions built by highlanders in remote places.

Some of them even put to shame the McMansions that dot Touaguba Hill in Port Moresby.

Building over-large houses is a trend that has existed in Australia for several decades. In some places there are streets and streets of the things, all presumably chock full of the owner’s ‘stuff’.

In Papua New Guinea I was one of the curious onlookers who drove up the hill in Wewak to inspect the incomplete mansion that the Chinese started building for Michael Somare and then abandoned for some reason.

Gordon Akipia
Innovative Engan Gordon Akipia in front of his village-style home in the Tsak Valley

At the time it stood out as an absurd white elephant and I never did find out whether it was ever finished.  Maybe they departed mid-build after they got what wanted from The Chief.

A few years ago I went to a village on the Kikori River to talk to a local businessman about a social mapping study I was doing. He had built himself a very large house and invited me inside.

What was curious about it was that it was built entirely of unpainted corrugated iron. Not only was the roof made of iron but so too were the walls. It was, in effect, a gigantic oven but he seemed very happy with it.

On another social mapping sortie, this time in Central Province, I had the house of the local member of parliament pointed out to me.

This one was sitting off the Magi Highway on the road into Hula and was surrounded by a three or four metre high tin fence with razor wire strung along the top.

It was a big house but his views to the sea were marred by the fence. He must have had a lot of stuff inside it.

Just like the thumping great black Toyota Land Cruisers these people drive, their houses also seem to be all about status rather than practicality, just as they are in Australia.

Jacob Mukure
'Jacob Mukure's Home' reads the billboard at Lakolam. It is his retirement home

There’s a ghastly monstrosity replete with Doric columns and full of shiny marble and gold taps overlooking the bay in Port Lincoln where I go to do my weekly shopping.

The owner has been trying to sell it for over a year now. Presumably someone with more money than sense will eventually snap it up.

What induced whoever built it is probably the same thing that motivates the status seeking highlanders and others in PNG.

Status and ‘big’ seem to go together, even if it means just two people rattling around in an absurdly impractical and gigantic dwelling that has its own microclimate. 

I think we learned ‘big’ from the Americans. It probably started with those 1950s Yank tanks with their enormous tailfins that seem to have all ended up in Cuba.

Councillor Lai Michael Kamurai and Mrs Dian Warep at the Dian Ministeries' house in the Tsak Valley_
Councillor Lai, Michael Kambao, Paul Kurai and Mrs Dian Warep at the Dian Ministeries' house in the Tsak Valley

And of course there are the Texans who seem to think that everything in their state is enormous. I suppose they have a point – Texas is about 250,000 square kilometres bigger than PNG.

One of the things I learnt in PNG as a kiap was how to live out of a patrol box. In all my kiap years I never had more cargo than what could be squeezed into a couple of patrol boxes.

That minimalist approach has carried me right through to the present time, although the two patrol boxes have probably grown to a fair sized shipping container.

It’s all the books and my wife’s wardrobe that have done it, I’m afraid. I like ditching unnecessary junk but those precious things have defeated me.

But back to those highland mansions. The old line about coming from the stone-age to modernity in one generation needs to be modified.

It’s now all about coming from a thatched roundhouse to a three story McMansion in one generation.

That’s one hell of a leap and I guess it’s good luck to those who have done it.


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