This cannot be what God conceived
White privilege era over; but it’s dying hard

There’s a lot in a name in highlands Melpa


DUBLIN – Some people who read the article on Fr Clement Papa and his family may be wondering how it happens that six brothers came to have six different surnames.

Anthony Kunump, Thomas Webster, Paulus Ripa, Joseph Palimi, Jeffrey Pup, Clement Papa - all with different surnames and all sons of the same father, Pius Pi Kumbamung.

Traditionally, in the Mt Hagen area of the Papua New Guinea highlands, a person was identified by their given name and also by the name of their clan.

After 1934 and the coming of various missions, individuals who were baptised were given a Christian name in addition to their existing local name.

The use of the name of the father as a surname came into common use only over time.

Ninji, the son of Kama, might in Australian records be known as Ninji Kama, but his own people would never have called him Mr Kama. He was not Kama, he was Ninji.

In the same family some children may use different surnames.

Raphael Doa
Raphael Doa

Here’s a real example. A baby, the son of a man named Pamnda and a woman named Moni, was born near Mt Hagen around 1941 and at birth was given the local Hagen name ‘Doa’ (the Melpa word for ‘eagle’).

When Doa was baptised in 1955 he was given the Christian name ‘Raphael’ and in school was known as Raphael Doa.

Using that name he became a popular announcer at Radio Western Highlands and was later elected as a member  of parliament for the Western Highlands.

A younger brother of Raphael Doa, John, was commonly known as John Pamnda. Another brother of Raphael Doa also used the name Pamnda

An early classmate of Pius Pi was named Michael Mel. One of his sons, Peter Wama, was a well-known public servant in the Western Highlands.

Another son, Michael Mission, used his father’s name Mel and became an eminent businessman and politician, Michael Mel.

Another classmate of Pius Pi was Jacobus Kup, whose children tended to use Kup as a family name, and one of his sons, John Kup, as a local kiap was probably known to Phil Fitzpatrick.

In brief, some illustrious Hagen identities were genuine blood brothers but their names did not reveal this.

Some used their father’s name as a surname, others did not. Outsiders might never know that some men were genuine brothers.

So why would some people decide not to use their father’s name as a surname?

If the names on their early school and college certificates included only their own Christian name and a local name, but not their father’s name, then it was probably more convenient for them to continue using those names rather than their father’s name as a surname.

Dr Thomas Webster
Dr Thomas Webster

Clement Papa’s brothers all have traditional Melpa names, with the exception of Webster. So how did Thomas get the surname Webster?

The story I heard is that, as a student,Thomas Kuli Pi was so good in the English language, and knew so many words, that other students simply referred to him as ‘Webster’, an allusion to Webster’s Dictionary.

The name stuck. This may or may not be true. But it’s a good story.


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Arnold Mundua

I knew Anthony Kunump in Kandrian when I was living and working there. He was a teacher at Kandrian High School.

He often told of Thomas Webster as his brother, even though their names did not relate. Indeed an interesting tale.

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