Peter Kepa - philosopher & educationist
We need a new entity to administer customary land

Kastom & Kristen can be a perfect match

Johannes & his wife Rose with grandson Victor at the 30th wedding anniversary in 2009
Johannes Kundal and Rose with grandson Victor at their 30th wedding anniversary in 2009


TUMBY BAY – In between finishing my latest novel and starting a new one I’ve been proofreading a fascinating autobiography by Johannes Kundal.

Johannes is a member of Enga Writers Association and his book, The Legend of the Miok Egg, is being edited and readied for publication by author Daniel Kumbon, who founded the group.

A few extracts have been published in PNG Attitude over the last year or so.

I’m also writing a foreword for it in which I’m attempting to contrast observed experience with lived experience, and the value of the latter.

This is the difference between a story written by an outside observer and one written by a person who has lived through the events or the period described.

A simple analogy is to think of an anthropologist’s account of a society and compare it to one written by a member who was living in that society at the same time.

The lived experience might lack the detached analysis of an outsider but it can provide familiarity, realism, detail and explanation which the anthropologist might miss.

An insider’s account is often a great pleasure to read. In one sense, it’s similar to an oral history that can embrace the reader who feels much closer to the people and events described.

Johannes’ autobiography is remarkably frank; unlike with many autobiographies there is absolutely no attempt to boost his ego.

Towards the end of the book he says, “I have held back nothing.”

Enga village court magistrates after returning from negotiating a ceasefire. In one 20-year period of fighting, 4,816 people were killed (Polly Wiessner | University of Utah)

One of the most striking themes in the book is the way Johannes has – in real life - used his Christian faith to combat the deadly scourge of tribal fighting in Enga Province, where tribal and clan warfare can extend for many decades.

By first taking people to an understanding and belief in Christianity, he has been able to bring about agreements as a result of which the traditional cycles of revenge and compensation have been abandoned in favour of adopting Christian values.

I’m not a great fan of religion and I was surprised at the effectiveness of this approach.

In the absence of viable law enforcement, building a commitment to Christian principles is one of very few strategies available to Highlands’ societies stricken and impaired by violence.

And, as Johannes demonstrates, this does not necessarily mean abandoning the many positive elements of traditional culture.

By carefully melding Christian values with community-based traditional values a remarkable hybrid can be established.

For example, in his marriage Johannes resolutely adheres to the modern Christian ideal of monogamy because he is aware of the many problems caused by the practice of taking on multiple wives.

This is despite the sadness that he and his wife Rose could only have one child.

Johannes solved this loss by adopting another six children using the customary practice of sharing children with relatives.

However, much to his annoyance, his own son reverted to the old practice of seeking many partners within and outside marriage.

Draft cover for Legend of the Miok Egg
The proposed cover for The Legend of the Miok Egg

The conflict and unhappiness arising from this is dealt with thoroughly and frankly in his book.

The Legend of the Miok Egg is a fascinating autobiography which I believe tells the reader much more about Enga society than a typical anthropological account.

It also caused me to reconsider the value of religion, when properly effected, in Papua New Guinea, particularly in the war-ravaged Highlands.

And I think the book will do exactly the same for any reader.

When the book becomes available, it will be recommended reading for Papua New Guinean and expatriate readers alike.


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Philip Fitzpatrick

Just to clarify, Johannes' autobiography is a joint effort between him and author Daniel Kumbon.

Like many Papua New Guineans whose command of written English is not perfect Johannes placed his trust in Daniel to rewrite and add material from their conversations to his original manuscript to produce the version that now appears in this book.

Johannes was pleased with the final outcome because it accurately reflects all that he wanted to include in his autobiography.

As Daniel says, there are many great stories from Papua New Guinea that need to be written but because many people find written English (and Tok Pisin) difficult they will never see the light of day.

This is a great shame.

Perhaps they should consider doing what Johannes did and seek out a professional like Daniel to help them.

Lindsay F Bond

Less regarding 'religion', let's have more uplifting simple 'sustainability', such as "platform for sharing".

That any and each community was able to exist and to increase numerically, some things were of positive 'worth', even if also with shortfalls. Shortfalls consume much effort, and it might be that sustainability is an outcome simply of more efficient lifestyle.

That 'worth' in most communities preceded an introduced 'systematology' which also had its worth and its shortfalls. The shortfalls are in the doings, the applications by humans, some of whom have scant regard for humanity.

Introduced 'systematology' (if the word 'religion' doesn't measure up) is shortcut obviously where the practices do not match the preaching, and less obviously where humanity itself is squandered in concealment.

As for the 'scourge of tribal fighting', in Torres Strait communities is celebrated "the coming of the light" and similarly at communities of northern coast at Milne Bay Province.

Yeah, love your neighbour.

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