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How to marry a Chief’s daughter

Chief Lapakio with Rose
Chief Lapakio Kambu with Rose (left)


WABAG – I was delighted when an extract from my book, I Can See My Country Clearly Now, was used in the recent English comprehension test for the Grade 12 Papua New Guinea national examinations.

At the time, I wondered if any Enga students noticed they were being examined on an extract from my book.

I’m sure most of them didn’t because they don’t know the book exists.

The provincial government has a long-running and popular education policy, but lack of funding from the PNG government continues to be a hindrance and these books rarely see the selves of Enga’s school libraries.

Sometimes I wonder what exactly students do read in the schools these days.

BookThat my writing was recognised enough to be used in the national examinations encouraged me back to the keyboard, and I’m now completing my ninth book, Legend of the Miok Egg.

It’s about Johannes Korimbao Kundal, a senior public servant in the health division of the Enga Provincial Administration. It’s a story that will inspire generations for many years to come.

Here’s an extract from the book which is expected to be released before the end of this year.


The story of Chief Lapakio Kambu

WHEN I think of it, Sharon would have been the perfect partner for Ismael, my only son. She was a clear-headed intelligent girl, but how that struggle with the pocket knife ended up in chaos, I fail to understand even now. But perhaps they were never meant to be together.

It is the same with Eileen Aku. She was intelligent and from a good family too. Her father was a senior government bureaucrat in Daru, Western Province. But what crossed Ismael’s mind to mistreat her defies logic. His actions forced her departure. This hurt me so much after I had done all I could to support their family. 

All his other relationships with women have failed too. But the children he has produced keep coming to my house adding to the six children whom I adopted. I give them all equal treatment because they are all God’s creation.

But I never thought I would look after many children nor did I want to marry multiple wives because I didn’t want to cause problems between wives. But my father had two wives, my mother and my brother Bon’s mum.

As a small boy growing up, I moved freely and ate from both my two mother’s hands. I disliked them only when they started arguments with my father. I saw them clash with each other too but never to hurt each other seriously. I felt sorry for them both and decided I should have only one wife.

My son Ismael was clearly not following traditional ways of choosing a partner. He never discussed with me who his girlfriends were.

If he had, I could have at least played a part to recommending one of them for him. My father and my close relatives did that for me. I accepted the girl because I liked her. She is Rose my wife of 42 years now.

Her father was Lapakio Kambu. He was a paramount chief from the Tinalapin tribe in Kompiam District. He was popularly known for his wealth, influence and a key player in the tee or moka exchange system. 

I never knew or heard of him until I met Rose at Kudjip Nursing College in July 1978 during my two weeks study break from Port Moresby College of Allied Health Science. I spent a couple of days with her but didn’t know much about her background.

One morning, I was alone with my father in the house. He asked me if I had any girlfriends. It is normal for parents to ask such questions when they reached maturity. I told him about Rose from Kompiam.

I told him she was training as a nurse at the Kudjip Nursing College. My adopted parents were courting her for me but I hadn’t made up my mind just yet.

He asked which tribe in Kompiam she was from. I told him she is from the Tinalapin tribe. He asked if she had told me the name of her father.

“Yes, she had. Her father’s name is Lapakio Kambu,” I told him.

“That’s fine. Keep befriending her and we will marry her for you,” he said.

“But dad, we don’t know anything about her yet.”

“Lapakio is a paramount chief in the Sau area. You will do well to marry his daughter.”

My father too is a chief in my clan and he knew Lapakio well through indirect trading through three or four of his trading partners and connections.

My father wanted us to have direct contact with Chief Lapakio through marriage to gain more wealth.

“But I haven’t yet decided who to choose because I have other girlfriends too,” I complained.

But my father’s mind was already set. He wanted me to marry Rose, the chief’s daughter. And Rose was my adopted parent’s choice too.

My adopted parents - Kerek Karea, his wife Meku and their three daughters, Elis, Merlyn and Anna - were courting her for me at Kudjip. They liked her working hard on the weekends - doing domestic chores, working in the garden, feeding pigs and cooked as well.

Before I went back to school after my break, they all persuaded me to plan to marry Rose and not anybody else. When I was back at school in Port Moresby, my adopted parents took Rose to Kanamanda village to meet my parents.

My grandmother, Ipim had previously married one of Lapakio’s relations and she knew him growing up as a teenage boy. They all agreed in principal that I should marry Rose.

The time slipped by fast. Before my graduation my adopted mother, Meku rang me to say that they were going to Kompiam to give life pigs as advance payment for Rose’ bride price.

“When you complete your schooling and come home, we will take the sides of slaughtered pigs and other wealth to complete the payment,” she said.

They gave me no chance. I told her to wait for me but their response was not of my liking. My adopted mother is a strong woman. She was the force behind me marrying Rose. She had influence over my adopted father and my parents to arrange part payment first, in case I refused Rose.

Johannes Kundal's wedding cake
Johannes Kundal's wedding cake

My adopted parents, Kerek and his wife Meku transported all my pigs they looked after for me at Kudjip to my village. Then they waited for my parents and relatives to contribute before taking them all down to Kompiam in the second week of December 1978.

I had no choice when I came home after my graduation. Everybody heard as well as my other girlfriends that bride prices had already been paid for my marriage to a girl from Kompiam.

Soon after arriving home, I was a little shy but still went with my people on the second trip to Kompiam with slaughtered pigs, cash contributions and other wealth – the last part of the bride price payment.

I learnt that Chief Lapakio had reformed during a revival in 1973. He had given up the tee or moka trade. Instead, he travelled around the Sau area to witness to his trading partners about the salvation of Jesus Christ.

I realised this when Rose and I visited him in 1981 when Ismael was four months old. When we were there, Lapakio asked me to take all his traditional attire he always used to perform the tee trading dances and other special events. He said he had changed and he couldn’t wear them anymore.

Lapakio was a great orator and did most of the talking in the house or at public gatherings. Many people liked listening to him because he spoke wisdom. When he converted to Christianity, he told people about the word of God.

He talked about the welfare of Papua New Guinea and the world as if he was an educated person. He was a good listener too and grasped the meanings of what other people implied and responded well.

His prayers in the house were long and sometimes you would fall asleep. No matter where he was - in the forest or in the garden, his prayers were always long and loud. People walking on the road would easily recognise his voice.

At first, I didn’t like him because I don’t talk much but as time went by, I got to know him and admired his quality and the messages he was conveying to us.

Lapakio had three sons, one of whom is the Enga Provincial Treasurer Nathan Lapakio. And he fathered nine daughters from his three wives. They gave him many grandchildren and great grandchildren. He treated all of us equally.

He organised family repentance and dedication prayer meetings every Christmas and invited all of us to be with him. Some members of the family asked him to bless them before he died but he rebuked them. He said one person alone gives blessings and that is God our father in heaven. People should go to Him for more blessings.

He visited all of us regularly and encouraged us to live positive lives and how to be fruitful and draw more people to the kingdom of God.

Sometime in 2015, I noticed that he wasn’t coming to Wabag anymore. So, I went to see him. I found him sitting in his cook house where I spent most of the evenings with him.

He said: ‘I am too weak to walk now and cannot move around anymore. Now, all of you, my grandchildren and great grandchildren are old enough to look after yourselves. Always stay focused and live healthy godly lives. Tell your children to follow the right path too.”

Lapakio died on Thursday 21st July 2016. He was estimated to be about 102 years of age.

Before his death, Lapakio prepared his own graveyard and bought his own coffin box. Upon his insistence, we contributed materials and he himself supervised the construction of his graveyard and build it with bricks. He wished to lie where two of his children were already buried where the hausman used to stand.

Chief Lapakio had lived a very healthy life. His eyesight was still good, he had full teeth and his conscious was clear till the last breath. Just minutes before he died, he told people in the house to bring down his coffin box from the ceiling.

They thought he wanted to see it so they lowered it down and placed it beside him. Then he told them to lift him up and put him inside the coffin. He said he wanted to rest there. His youngest daughter, Mary, asked him why he wanted to sleep there when he was not yet dead.

He replied that his body and bones were arching and the pain was intense and couldn’t sit up anymore.

Then he said: “Why do you want to keep me here for I have told you everything already. There is nothing more I can say or do. If you listened to everything I said and follow my advice then you will come to where I will be. But if you don’t, you will not see me,” he said.

Those were his last words. And then he lay down on the floor. They saw his body appearance changing. They knew he would die so they cleaned him and changed his clothes.

At 2pm he breathed no more.  He had told his sons and daughters not to keep his body long so we buried him the very next day immediately after the funeral service.

Chief Lapakio had been a unique man. He knew the moment he would die and knew where he was going. He did not lose memory like most other men his age. I liked his wisdom and direction he followed to ensure he accomplished anything he planned in his mind.

He was very strong in all departments - physically, mentally and spiritually. He never lied or cheated. He was a straight forward leader. He set a good example for his children and grandchildren to follow.

I refused to take his traditional attire he had used during the tee or moka exchanges but I believe I inherited some of his blessings. I am practically practicing family restoration and dedication in mine and families in the wider community under Friends of Mission programs.

Chief Lapakio Kambu was truly a wise man of influence and his legacy shall live on.

After I married Rose in 1979, my dream to have many children did not come to fruition. Ismael remained the only child born to us. But then, I decided to adopt the six children I have mentioned.

Into this big family came Eileen Aku with the infant Archie. She brought us happiness and hope for the future. I hoped that Ismael would settle down with her and raise a stable family.

But again, his marriage fell apart due mainly to his lack of understanding, acceptance and respect for each other’s cultural norms, values, backgrounds and their own personalities.


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Kindin Ongugo

A nice story. I believe he was shaped by the good old cultural initiations: a moment in the lives of early teenage boys and girls when they make the transition to adulthood knowing exactly what their roles were in society.

Unfortunately, cultural initiations have become largely extinct across PNG and we now see a general state of moral decay across the country.

That is a perceptive comment, Kindin. I would be interested in the views of readers about whether the collapse of the hausman, and its failure to be replaced by compensatory social structures, struck a grievous blow to Highlands male behaviour in particular - KJ

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