NOOSA – The eminent Papua New Guinea businessman and chairman of the National Broadcasting Corporation, Pius Tikili, died early last Saturday morning at Pacific International Hospital in Port Moresby at the age of 64.
A member of the Mogi Komunka KomKui tribe of the Western Highlands, Pius studied at the University of Papua New Guinea and the University of New England in Australia before becoming an announcer with the NBC.
His early decision to move from radio broadcasting into business proved to be a great success and he thrived in a range of businesses including transport, trading, engineering, tourism, security, aviation and much more besides.
“My father was an exceptional man,” said son Lancelot Neri. “He was very honest, faithful and with principles. I have lost a good man.”
Paying tribute to Pius, NBC deputy chairman Emile Tenoa said, “I was shocked to hear of his untimely passing.Pius was a pioneer businessman in the Western Highlands, a great, humble and God-fearing man.”
“He was an amazing man,” said contributor Phil Dunn. “A story of his life would be good news for your readers.” It was a suggestion to be adopted, because Pius Tikili was also a peacemaker.
Pius had been appointed to chair the NBC in 2020 with a promise to ensure media freedom in the country and, despite the challenges faced by the ailing organisation, “deliver vital news and information to the masses.”
In 2013 Ben Jackson wrote in PNG Attitude of how, in 1980, Pius and fellow KomKui tribesman Andrew Dokta were central in the restitution, stabilisation and continuity of their tribe which had been consumed by warfare for 80 years.
“Tikili is a highly educated KomKui businessman who brought western capitalism to the tribe,” Jackson added.
Tikili’s role as a peacemaker was written about extensively by Br Patrick Howley in 2008 in a paper ‘KomKui – A Christian Community Makes a Covenant with God,’ published in the research journal, Contemporary PNG Studies, from which the following extracts have been taken.
Tikili told Howley in 2007:
“I was born in 1957. My father was polygamous and had two wives. I was the last born son of the second wife. My father migrated out of the district and so I was left to be cared for by my mother.
“As the second wife, and not a very assertive one, my mother was neglected in any distribution of my father's goods, because there was a vicious family feud going on. And so I had to go to my other mother who was my grandmother.
“We were poor. Our house was small but we had to share it with the pigs. The pigs slept on one side of the room and we slept on the other. We had no money, no plates, cups or saucepans, not even a lamp, and I did not have a blanket to keep me warm during the night.
“We had almost nothing in the house except ourselves and the pigs. We had an old bully beef tin from the government rations store. Sometimes we used it for boiling water and sometimes we used it for boiling our food but most of food was roasted in the fire.”
Pius Tikili began school at Holy Trinity Primary School in 1966. He was a good student and quickly learned to keep his social class among the Komonka students. After Grade 6 he was selected to attend Divine Word High School in Madang.
His relatives provided him with his school fee at £5, his plane fare at £6 and as he was about to get on the plane his mother came to him with £2 which she had saved for him.
At Divine Word, among his peers, he experienced feelings of unworthiness and rejection, not that other students spurned him, but that his own self image was almost non existent. He compared his lack of essentials in clothing and personal belongings with those of other students and found himself lacking.
For weeks he sat under the stars at night and confronted God with the unfairness of his condition. Then in typical fashion he took his future into his own hands. His decision was to gain the respect and be looked upon as a leader by the other boys.
He says: “That night I made a decision that I was going to become a person of importance. I made a decision that I would not be satisfied until I had become a rich man.”
The first step was to earn money to relieve his shameful poverty. One source of funds was bottle collecting, but he rejected this out of hand, because he saw it as scavenging and a job unfit for him even in his impoverished state.
So, with some friends he planted a garden. As a garden it was a success but as a source of cash it failed because he could not market his goods. In desperation he overcame his shame and became a bottle collector.
That first day he sold his bottles and collected $1.72 and on the next weekend he made almost two dollars.“I looked at my money as I said to myself: In just two weekends I have made almost four dollars.”
He had begun to fulfil the promise he had made to himself.
“I discovered that money is a very good cure for shame. My self image was improved vastly. The first thing that I bought was a blanket and after that a suitcase. The blanket was a very good one and I paid three dollars for it.
“My proudest moment was when I bought my new big suitcase. I spent five dollars on it because it looked such superior quality. Then I bought the things that I had seen other students using – a pillow and a spare towel.”
The year finished and his thoughts turned to business. He invested all his money to buy two copra bags of buai (betel nut), to take back home to sell. He tells how he felt.
“As soon as we landed, I came out with my suitcase and my two bags of buai. All the families were there to meet us. My mother and my uncles were there too. When the other boys picked up their luggage, I still had my suitcase and these two huge bags of buai sitting on the tarmac.
“We stood there and looked. My family didn't know what to do and neither did I.”
In those days buai was a status symbol of the foreigners (coastal people in government jobs). Highlanders had not begun to chew betel nut. So first of all he had to study the Government workers, to find out prices and involve his relatives in the selling procedures.
“We were amazed. We made enough to pay my school fees for the next three years. And there even was money left over. For my uncles who had helped me, I bought each of them a good blanket and a saucepan. And for my mother, all the things that she had never had when we were so poor.
“In later years I made a great deal of money, but none brought me the satisfaction that I obtained from selling two bags of buai and handing out favours to my uncles and my mother who had helped me when I needed it most."
Pius completed his university studies in the significant year of 1980, with a first degree in Economics and a second degree in Financial Management. He was at once offered a job with Coopers & Lybrand.
He used his salary to buy real estate and remembering his roots, he joined with Barnabas Pareka, another Divine Word graduate, to initiate a business venture – the KomKui company.
Their first venture was to purchase a large six-storey building in the heart of Mount Hagen township and later on they would buy the nearby ACJ building as well.
At meetings with the KomKui village people, they explained the idea of running a KomKui business, and the need for funds to start it up. The people themselves were required to bring in what money they could afford.
After that they had to obtain a loan from the ANZ bank. Collateral for the loan was provided by the properties owned by Pius Tikili and other business people.
Business prospered, until in 1993, the prime minister Sir Julius Chan floated the Papua New Guinea kina and it fell to half of its former value. KomKui could not service its loans and the KomKui building and all the real estate were claimed by the bank.
“I was in Wollongong (Australia) in the middle of a course to become a chartered accountant and had to continue my studies. I was burning the candle at both ends and sometimes I had as little as two hours of sleep at night.
“Then, for the first time in my life I failed an examination in the tax module. Up to that time, I had never failed in anything that I set myself to do. This had never happened to me before and I was psychologically devastated.
“I needed a break and for the break I came back to Hagen. I thought I would be able to get everything fixed up in six months and then I would go back to my studies. There were so many things that I had to consider that I did not know which way to turn.
“We had to get our money from the bank and make arrangements to recover the KomKui business. I had to see the KomKui project through to fruition. Coopers and Lybrand were calling on me to return to the company.
“There were people who believed that the failure of the company was due to my own incompetence, and there were others who believed that I had stolen their money. My clan needed my presence to rescue their business.
“My family were crying for my presence and my private life and spiritual condition were in tatters. It was time for me to take stock of my life and what I wanted from it.
“I retired from Coopers and Lybrand and I chose a new direction for my life. It included the village, the Covenant with God that had been sworn on 18th December 1980, and the KomKui business venture that had grown up with the assistance of myself and other men with business skills.”