FICTION – The three-vehicle convoy slowly wended its way through the crush of angry demonstrators, their bodies painted in black charcoal and burnt car tyres mixed with oil.
Some beat the sides of the cars, but the white flags did their job of displaying peaceful intent.
When they reached the precinct of Parliament House and could no longer drive safely through the mob, Simon Kerowa stopped in the middle of Independence Drive, climbed onto the open back of the Landrover and began to address the people using the public address system.
“Good people of Papua New Guinea. We must not destroy our country. Please stay in place and listen to these two important men. They are here to help.”
The crowd gradually settled. Everybody stood transfixed, unsure of what was happening. Unarmed people and rebels with bows and arrows, spears, clubs and high-powered guns stared inquisitively at the vehicle.
Not far away, the security forces stood in aggressive posture, their backs to Parliament House: police in full riot gear; troops in camouflaged military garb. The high-powered guns and grenade launchers made it clear they were ready for action.
The government forces and the rebels were set for a major showdown. One trigger-happy, drug-crazed individual could spark a disaster. But the tension that had been so electric a moment ago had given way to wonderment.
Both sides had been taken by surprise as the three vehicles appeared, stopped amidst the disarray and a man with a microphone stood pleading for them to listen. Now two older men, who many in the crowd recognised, were climbing on the back of the Landrover.
“You may like my words or you may not,” Simon Kerowa shouted. “If you don’t, you can go ahead and shoot each other. But where will that lead? Can you see where our beloved country is headed right now?
“We want you to listen for a short time. Just as our ancestors listened. Can we do that today?”
Calls for silence reverberated through the mob. “Larem displa lain i toktok. Harim oli tok. Mas harim. Pssh, pssh. Let them talk. Listen to them. We must listen.”
They had been anxious and angry. Some bent on violence, some bent on crime, but most wanting to force change upon their elected leaders; leaders who never appeared. Now these two old men, whose faces they knew, were looking calmly at them.
These two men had immediately evoked admiration. They were displayed bravery, kinship and concern. The Sepik governor was known as a fine leader. And The Old Man, Akali Wakane, known for his business expertise, his wisdom and his generosity.
Yes, the mob wanted to hear what these two men had to say. They wanted to know if there was a solution on offer.
Before Simon Kerowa could continue, a tall man from the Gulf walked to the three cars. He carried a long spear and a shield. He asked Simon to give him the microphone then turned around and raised a hand to signal that people should to sit.
“Nem bilong mi Fredric Farapo. Mi bilong Orokolo, klostu long Kerema. Mi bin kam long Mosbi taim mi liklik mangi iet. Dispela em ples bilong mi nao. Mi lukim ol papa graun gipim Old Dairy Farm compound giraon igo long papa bilong mi, samplea ankol na ol wantok bilong mi. Mipela igat ol pepa stap.
[My name is Fredric Farapo. I am from Orokolo, near Kerema. I came to Port Moresby as a small boy. I saw original landowners give the Old Dairy Farm land to my father, my uncles and wantoks. We have the documents to prove it.]
“Mi gat bikpela hevi nao. Klostu mi dai taim Gavaman rausim famili bilong mi na pipol bilong mi long giraon bilong mipela. Ol stilim gut tru na gipim igo long ol China. Na mi wari stap. Mi sapotim ol pikinini long toktok wantaim gavaman long gipim bek giraon bilong mipela. Tasol gavaman ino kam toktok wantaim mipela. Mipela belhat na bagarapim sampela samting pinis.”
[We have a big problem. I nearly died when the government removed me and my people from our land and gave it to the Chinese. I am deeply angered. I encouraged my children to talk to the government to get our land back. But the government representatives never came. They ignored us. We became upset and burnt down a few properties.]
“Mi amamas olsem mipela kukim opis bilong dispela China kampani kisim graun bilong mipela. Larem em paia. Ol China, em ol man bilong grisim ol man. Ol peim memba bilong mipela gut tru. Na ol memba kamap liklik pikinini bilong ol.”
[It felt good when we destroyed the property of the person who destroyed our settlement. That serves them right. They are good at bribing people. Our members and public servants are bought off. They are like puppets.]
“Na taim mipela tokim ol long kam toktok wantaim miplea ol ino kam. Miplea belhat. Klostu Mosbi i dai pinis tasol yupela tripela man kam long rait taim stret. Na mi kisim gutpela tingting ken. Mi tok tenkyu long kam. Na ol kaikai yupela salim bilong mipela aste. Mipela redi pinis long harim toktok.”
[When we asked them to talk with us, they would not. It wasn’t until Moresby was on the verge of destruction that you three came. We can hear your advice. I now feel relieved you have come. Thank you for coming. And for the food you sent yesterday. We are ready to listen to you now.]
Fredric Farapo handed the microphone to Simon, shook his hands with him and the two leaders and disappeared into the crowd.
There was a thunderous roar and applause, even from the security forces. They were ready. They wanted to hear the men speak.
“You know these men standing with me,” Simon Kerewa said. “The governor of East Sepik, Allan Bird, the man who took the place of our father, Grand Chief Sir Michael Thomas Somare.
“The other man here is not a politician. I’m sure many of you know him by his law firm and his charity. He is a lawyer, a diplomat and businessman - Ambassador Akali Wakane.”
There was a mighty roar. The applause lasted for nearly a minute. These two men were known to have concern for the people. Now they were here in the people’s hour of need. The Old Man, Akali Wakane, took the microphone and the cowd hushed.
“Thank you for allowing me to speak today. I know how you feel. Our land is our spirit. Land is the source of our strength. It provides for us. We are buried in it when we die. It is our lifeblood.
“The Old Dairy Farm settlement was wrongly destroyed. I will fight for you in the Supreme Court. Do not despair. I will lodge an appeal with the court immediately. We will prepare the papers this day.”
The crowd cheered. Here was a man of action, a man who understood how people felt. He was prepared to fight for them in true Melanesian spirit. He was willing to share food, to help, to be there at times of need, sorrow or loss.
“Our ancestors built houses on the land their fathers gave them,” he continued. “They didn’t seek permission from anybody. The land was in the family from the beginning. If a person gave another person land, nobody objected. Every member of the family understood. It was law.
“But the Whiteman brought new laws. We follow those laws today. But I believe the Old Dairy Farm settlement was taken illegally. I will get to the bottom of the matter. The culprits will be exposed.”
The Old Man directed his gaze to where Fredric Farapo sat.
“Fredric, the documents you have will be shown to the court. We will prove that the government stole your land and illegally gave it to the Chinese company. The high court will hear us. I believe we will win. Do you want me to fight on behalf of your people?”
Fredric stood up. He broke the spear and shield into pieces. The crowds knew what this meant. They had to discard their weapons and fight this battle in a different way. The weapons they held would bring only more suffering and uncertainty.
Fredric looked at The Old Man with admiration: “Thank you brother for speaking to us today. Please fight the court battle. We took to the streets because we had nowhere else to turn to.”
“Fredric, don’t worry,” The Old Man said. “I will do what I can in court and I will also draft a proposal for parliament to make a law that will forbid foreigners from buying and owning land in Papua New Guinea.”
Again there was a thunderous roar of approval. Governor Bird was amazed by the reaction. How understanding Papua New Guineans were. How cruel the government was to neglect them for so long and, worse, steal from them.
“Ol memba bilong yumi slek,” yelled someone in the crowd. “Ol nogat het long kamap wantaim kain gutpela tingting olsem long helpim mipela ol pipol. Mobeta yu yet kamap memba na yu yet go wokim loa long haus palimen. Mipela bai sapotim yu.”
[Our members are slack. They have no brains to come up with new legislation to safeguard us. You go to parliament and make the new law. We will support you.]
The Old Man raised his hands for calm and ignored the call to stand for election. “We must continue to own our land. We must build on our land and grow on our land. We can allow foreign companies to rent. But we must never sell land to foreigners. We must stand on our own soil and build this country with our own two hands.”
There was more applause.
“I will talk with Fredric and the settlers later today. I will now ask the Governor to say something.”
“I will support Ambassador Akali Wakane in all that he does,” said Governor Bird. “I have seen the rebellion come to an end. It’s obvious to me that most people do not want violence. They want their land back. And they want a government that is not blind to the corruption which is destroying our people and our beautiful country. I know that the Ambassador wants to say more about that.”
The Old Man stepped forward again. “We must not allow corruption to break apart our country. We must respect the founding fathers that made us one nation and the forefathers preceding them who stood united to bring peace and prosperity to PNG.
“I am happy we became independent with our natural resources intact –gold, oil, gas, copper, fish, timber, coffee and the rest. These things make us a rich country and they belong to us all. We have so much. We could be so much more.
“But some of our leaders have been foolish. They have been greedy. The overseas companies have bought them. Our politicians must not be bought. They must not allow our people to be exploited. They must not allow our country to be sucked dry.”
The crowd cheered again. They shouted that they wanted more.
The Old Man knew that as well as including some men who were corrupt, the government lacked good management skills. It was not converting the wealth of the land to develop the country and improve the lives of our people.
“The truth is,” The Old Man continued, “our leaders are not managing this country on behalf of its people. Too many are managing it on behalf of themselves. I am not an elected leader. I do not want to be an elected leader. But I am happy to work with our leaders, especially those like the Governor, to bring about the changes I know you want, the changes I know you need, the changes I know you deserve.
“I believe the politicians will listen to us,” The Old Man said. “Your anger has shaken them. I thank you for listening to us and resting your arms. And I thank members of the security forces for doing your duty to protect lives and property.
“But now it is time to go to your homes and let the police deal with criminal elements and me and others deal with the courts and the politicians. Before I finish, I want to recite some words our great Somare left behind:
“Remember the good times, laughter and fun. Together with your fathers and forefathers, we united Papua New Guinea into one nation. A nation of diversity and multicultural heritage. Share the happy memories we’ve made. Do not let them wither or fade. Live on now, make me proud of what you will become.”
There was a mighty roar of approval and celebration and a few rounds fired into the air by both sides. The people were happy and relieved. A bloodbath had been averted.
It seemed that great change may lie ahead.
It seemed that peace, unity and prosperity would prevail in the land.