The Old Man begins a new life
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Sana: The making of a great man

Academia Nomad | Edited

Michael Somare: Sana, An Autobiography

PORT MORESBY - Sana was first published in 1975, the year of Papua New Guinea’s independence. It traces Sir Michael Somare life from childhood to politics and his leading PNG to nationhood.

Sana (peacemaker) is a metaphor for a life lived both in upholding and fulfilling traditional obligations and enabling the transformation to modernity.

It begins with a vivid description of the author’s early childhood, the cultural and traditional practises that are customary in the Murik Lakes area of East Sepik and specifically Karau village where Somare spent his childhood

Somare was born in Rabaul on 9 April 1936. His father was a policeman who, when Somare was six, returned to Wewak to take up his chieftaincy role.

Even though so young, Somare was chosen to be the next Sana and was given to one of his uncles to learn the chief’s role.

By this time World War II had come to New Guinea and the family was fortunate to escape from Rabaul by small boat. They were also fortunate that the Japanese were in the Darapa area where they lived for only nine months.

When Somare’s father became Sana, he taught Somare the real meaning of the word and its philosophy.

Most important was what he called ‘Sana’s peace-making magic’. When an opposing clan or tribe came to fight, the warring party would first be called to come, sit down and eat.

Later, Somare’s tribe would tell them, “If you want to fight, take your spear and go stand there.” Most enemies would have a change of heart and not want to fight. Sana was also represented the strong belief in reconciliation rather than retribution.

Somare went through three initiation processes. He went through the third after he became PNG’s Chief Minister because he thought it was important for him not to separate himself from his people.

From 1946, aged 10, Somare attended Boram Primary School and then, in 1951, travelled to Dregerhafen Education Centre to complete a post-primary course. In 1954, showing signs of things to come, he won a competition run by the South Pacific Commission’s Literature Bureau.

The, after completing school in 1956, he attended the one-year teacher’s training course at Sogeri. His first appointment was teaching general subjects in New Ireland before, in 1959, being transferred to Brandi High School near Wewak. He had a further teaching appointment at Tusbab High School in Madang.

Somare explains that he was fortunate to be sent to a government school and also tells he continued to regard himself as a village man and was more closely drawn to his people when he realised how the missionaries were dismantling the people’s culture.

In 1961 he was part of a group that undertook a six-week political education course in Konedobu and by 1963, when he was teaching at Talidig Primary School in Madang, he switched jobs to join the publications section of the Department of Information and later successfully applied for a radio announcer’s position in Wewak.

He now not only had a sense of responsibility to protect his culture but was becoming more nationalistic. What he saw as the injustices of the colonial Administration stirred his interest in politics.

Sana2While at Radio Wewak he became the vice-president of the Public Service Association and secretary of the Worker’s Association. In 1965, Sir Michael applied for a scholarship to the Administrative College, which trained talented Papua New Guineans for higher office in the public service.

Here he like-minded men such as Albert Maori Kiki, Joe Nombri, Sinaka Goava, Gavera Rea, Jack Karakuru, Cromwell Burau, Bill Warren, Lucas Waka and Ebia Olewale.

These men, and some others, later formed the Bully Beef Club as a political forum which marked the beginning of Somare’s involvement in politics, which was to last for the rest of his life.

A key event flowed from the Australian Minister for Territories Charles (Ceb) Barnes announcing the freezing of all local salaries. Somare spoke out on behalf of the people affected by the decision, an action conflicting with the government policy stipulating that public servants should not engage in politics nor make public statements.

There was no support for these activities from his director at the Department of Information who was annoyed at what he saw as anti-colonial behaviour. But Somare was undeterred and out of the Bully Beef Club came the formation of Pangu Pati. Somare gave up his public service career and became more devoted to politics and the struggle for independence.

Somare became leader for Pangu Pati and, after standing successfully for the House of Assembly in 1968, leader of the opposition. This allowed Somare great freedom to be vocal about colonial injustices and racial discrimination. His time in opposition taught Somare much about parliamentary politics.

He was also able to travel to Africa, Japan and the United States. His trip to Africa was an eye opener and he was inspired to see the black people managing their own affairs and was convinced Papua New Guineans would run their own affairs equally well.

When Somare and his Pangu coalition won the 1972election and led the nation into self-government on 1 December1973, there were many challenges – especially the debate around the timing of independence. But his greatest achievement was not to be denied, and Somare led the country to independence on 16 September 1975.

Somare’s life was shaped entirely by cultural and traditional principles. His successful win in the second House of Assembly election was because of strategies that followed the advice passed down by his grandfather and father were lived with and followed.

There is a connection between his upbringing and his political life. The foreign policy that PNG would be ‘friends to all and enemies to none’ that was adopted by Somare in 1975 was partly guided by his traditional upbringing.

In his father’s words, “As a Sana you do not fight people, first you invite them, eat with them, you make friend first then you can challenge them”. Throughout the book Somare acknowledges Sana’s peacemaking magic and his father’s advice.

He acknowledges the wisdom and strength that Sana passed down to him that strengthened him to bring PNG to independence. Right through to the end of the book he acknowledges and gives credit to Sana’s wisdom that he relied on for nation-building.

We would recommend this book for every generation to read it because it provides a good account of the traditional and cultural values that contributed to, shaped and moulded Sir Michael Somare’s life.

Sana provides a guideline of how traditional principles shaped the moral characteristics of a great leader and founder of a nation.

Somare. M. (1975). ‘Sana: an autobiography of Michael Somare’. Sterling Publishers Private Limited, New Delhi. Sold for K50 at the UPNG Book Shop. Out of print elsewhere but may be available through eBay


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Peter Rhodes

Not sure if you'd like to use this. I thought it was an interesting perspective.


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