A tribute to the founding father
The man jailed for urging PNG independence

Sukundimi: Guardian of the mighty Sepik

Sepik sunset
Sunset over the mighty Sepik

DUNCAN GABI

GOROKA - The mighty Sepik River has existed since the dawn of time, twisting and turning, forming a wide belt of active meanders and fish-populated great lakes.

This great river, its banks adorned with lianas, sago palms, and pandanus, deposits vast amounts of fresh water into the ocean.

Who put it there, I do not have the faintest clue, but I know the river was placed there for my survival.

My father navigated this great river before me, and his father before him.

I was brought into this magnificent world on the banks of the river, nature welcomed me with open arms for the river was calm that night, my first bath was in the mighty Sepik.

I cried when I was dipped into the river, my father held me and called for the spirits to protect me. He called upon the Sukundimi to watch over me so that no evil may befall me.

My early childhood and teenage years were spent on the river and, like every young Sepik boy, I learned from the great men of Sepik to fish and hunt on the river, to revere the river, not only because it provides for me but for it is also a living entity.

The river has sustained and ensured the survival of my people for centuries.

They say it holds memories. The history of my people is not written in ink on pages, the river is my history, the river holds the centuries-old history of my people.

I read the river like the scrolls. Our culture and history is intertwined with the mighty river. The river and the river God gave us our unique culture and identity. They gave my ancestors the inspiration to paint, to carve, and to build.

I went into the Haus Tambaran as a boy. I came out of the Haus Tambaran a man bearing the markings of the Pukpuk.

I know the history of my people, I learned the intricate and complex cultures and traditions of my people, I am a Sukundimi tribesman. I am the protector of the river and my people.

Of Gods and men, the river is the link between the spiritual and physical world. The river is the gateway to the afterlife.

Where the Supreme Sukundimi glides through the water, fish multiply in numbers. Where the Supreme walks on the banks, the sago palms spring forth.

I am one with the river, she takes care of me and I take care of her.

But now, I see the foreigner with his foreign ways and lifestyle on the banks of the river. He wants me to forsake the Gods of my fathers, to forsake the practices of my people.

Now I see the foreigner coming to look for minerals buried deep in the earth. He wants to dig them and take them away.

He wants to dig at the head of the river. I know the destruction this will bring. I see my people living simple lives unaware of the demise that awaits them.

What do I do?

I am the Sukundimi tribesman, I will protect the river.

I will fight to ensure the survival of my river and the survival of my people. And I know I do not fight alone, the Sukundimi walks before me.

I have his strength. I have his razor sharp teeth, I will tear the flesh of my enemies.

He is me and I am he.

I will fight with the spirit of my ancestors beside me. I have their knowledge and wisdom.

I will fight with my people behind me.

They look to me for protection. I look to them for guidance.

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