PORT MORESBY - When his daughter-in-law Annie ran away from her family for the fourth time, Johannes Kundal felt that was enough.
He just wanted Annie to be free. He did not know that Archie, his grandson, had also urged his mother to go and not return.
Johannes was frustrated and disappointed with his son Ismael for mistreating Annie.
Did Ismael not respect him and his wife Rose?
Did he not appreciate everything they had done for him, their only son?
They had given him a good education, paid bride price for Annie and generously helped Ismael and his family with regular contributions from their hard-earned public service salaries.
When Annie and the children ran away the first time, Johannes and Rose had gone all the way to Kerema to bring them back to Wabag.
On that trip, they had nearly drowned when their boat ran into trouble at the mouth of the Viala river.
Then they had wasted their money and precious time to bring Annie back twice more.
But all while the Ismael continued to abuse her.
So, when she ran away for the fourth time, Johannes wanted her to be free forever.
Johannes Kundal is a church leader, a senior public servant and a chief.
His faith, his status and his authority were such that there was a belief that Ismael must respect him, Rose, his wife Annie and the children – respect them as human beings with feelings and limitations.
Johannes had spent his own savings, pigs and contributions from relatives and friends to pay bride price for Annie.
Her people had come all the way from the coast to receive the payment in Wabag.
Why couldn’t his only son listen to him and look after Annie who gave him three beautiful children?
After Annie left for the fourth time, Johannes waited for a full year to see if she would come home. But she didn’t.
So in 2017 he told Annie of his decision to set her free from the obligations of bride price.
It had been a doubly sad moment because she had been in mourning for the death of her father, Jimmy Aku.
Annie’s father had died on the Papua New Guinean - Indonesian border during a routine patrol conducted by the Western Province Administration.
His body had been flown to Port Moresby for the haus krai and funeral.
“I had loved Jimmy Aku like a brother and I had to fly down to attend his funeral,” Johannes told me. “That was my chance to tell Annie to go free.”
The hauskrai was in the Port Moresby suburb of Sabama.
It hurt Johannes to tell Annie in front of her relatives that it was acceptable for her to live on her own. She had suffered enough.
“I told her we still loved her,” Johannes told me. “I said the door was always open in our house. She was always free to visit her three children anytime she wished.
“They are her children. She could talk to them on the phone too. And if she needed help, she only had to contact me or Rose.”
The first time Annie ran away was in 2007. That was when Rose and Johannes nearly drowned in the Viala River.
In 2010, she ran away a second time. The family completely lost contact with her for three years until they found her in Port Moresby in 2013.
Once more, Johannes did a lot of persuading to get Annie back home to Wabag. A year later in 2014, she conceived a beautiful little girl, Melisa.
Archie and Victor were very happy to have a small sister. They came home from school, put their books on the table and played with her every afternoon.
Johannes thought the problems were over, but two years later, when Melisa was older, Annie ran away for the fourth and final time in 2016.
“This was a little too much to bear,” Johannes told me. “I could not do anything about my son. I decided that Annie had to go free. I didn’t want her to get hurt.
“Then I heard that Jimmy had died, and I flew down to attend his funeral. I found Annie at the hauskrai where I expected her to be.”
But before Johannes could formally set Annie free, in front of her people he presented K1,000 cash and some food items. If it had been in Enga Province, his Miok tribesmen and Wabag neighbours would have come with him in numbers to contribute and share the sorrow with Annie’s people. As is custom, they would have contributed firewood, garden produce, live pigs and cash.
Even though, Annie had run away, she was still the mother of three lovely children. Formal bride price had been paid. The three children were the family link between the two different cultures.
“I said I was happy to formally tell Annie of my decision to let her go free in the presence of her people at the hauskrai,” Johannes said.
“I said I had done everything possible to unite and stabilise their young family, as any responsible father would do. I had paid bride price, tried to show them how to live Christian lives and raise good healthy children. But my son had failed me. He had abused Annie.
“I mean, what more does a woman do than to give me three grandchildren? I and my wife Rose were growing older. Soon we would retire from the public service.
“We would not have the energy to keep attending to Annie and Ismael’s problems. It was better for her to stay away and live her own free life.”
As he had delivered the short speech at the hauskrai, from the corner of one eye Johannes could see Ismael standing like a statue. He carried Melisa in his arms. He did not seem embarrassed. Only the three of them had gone to the funeral.
“I had brought the small girl with us hoping her mum would follow us back to Wabag.”
Annie followed them when they excused themselves to leave the funeral home.
“I must have touched her heart. I could sense that she did not want to lose me too, a father figure in her life after her own dad had just died. And then, there was Melisa, the small girl, her own daughter,” Johannes said.
Annie didn’t seem to want to see her daughter go and she had followed them to their accommodation in the city. But she did not travel to Wabag.
“My son had started another disgusting argument. Annie ran away in the morning. That was the last time I ever saw her,” Johannes told me.
When he arrived home in Wabag, it hurt him to see Archie and Victor run excitedly towards him, their happy smiles quickly disappear when he came only with little Melisa in his arms. Their mother was not with them.
“I could see the hurt in their eyes,” Johannes said.
The two boys were old enough now to express their feelings. And they did so in poetry.
The first poem was written when they were younger and Annie had run away for the second time.
Our Saddest Days
By Archie and Victor
Our saddest days were from the day
Our mother left us
The dawn of a bright day darkened
The light in the house was switched off
There was confusion in our minds
There was mourning in the house
We saw tears run down mama’s sweet face,
Mama hugged our bubus
She hugged and kissed us too
Her sad face remains vivid in our minds
But we didn’t know what was happening
We stood there watching beside the road
As she slowly walked towards the highway
head bent to the ground never once looking back
disappear over the horizon like the setting sun
Mama didn’t tell us when she would come back
We thought she would come back on a Tuesday
But Tuesday came and went
We waited the next Tuesday and the next
We keep waiting by the roadside
Expecting she would come today
Every Tuesday we look up in the sky
We see planes fly from the north to the south
Tuesdays come and go
We see no sign of mum on the horizon
But we keep waiting still
We hold our hopes high
Mama will appear on the horizon
On a Tuesday she will come
To hug us, nourish us, love us again
Come home mama Annie, we need you
The boys wrote the second poem with more boldness after Annie ran away for the fourth time.
They were bigger and felt they could provide the protection their mother needed. They want her to visit them because they would be ready to protect her.
Do not fear anybody, but God
By Archie and Victor
Mama Ani, why have you deserted us?
Why are you so far away from us?
Can you not listen to our call?
and come home to us?
We are thinking of you day and night
The woman who brought us into this world –
was it not you?
Tell us: Did we sprout like seeds from the soil?
Or were we hatched from eggs?
No mama Ani, it was you who suffered pain
Yet smiled to put us on your chest
From the time of our birth,
we have been in your care
You alone is our mother
Come home and nourish us,
groom us to grow strong
When we were babies,
you were defenceless
But now, we are strong and aggressive
Do not fear anybody, except God
who protects all of us
But we will protect you only
We will make sure you walk high
Trust us, you will be safe from harm
No more will you live in pain
No more will you feel hot tears
flow down your sweet face
Mum come home; we need you.
Johannes Kundal hopes his son Ismael will digest those poems properly. He should know that children do not remain small. They grow up and they observe and learn everything life throws at them.
If these two poems mean anything, Ismael should know that the boys are protective of their mother, the woman who fed, protected and comforted them when they were small.
It is obvious from their poem that they will protect Annie from Ismael if ever Annie should return.