PHILIP KAI MORRE & ARNOLD MUNDUA
KUNDIAWA - The fall of a giant or a biknem often creates sensational headlines through the towns and provinces of our country.
Politicians, business tycoons and prominent public servants top the list of who are seen as important at the time of their demise.
In this tribute, we want to mark the passing of Peter Kepa, who has died in Kundiawa aged about 68.
Behind the Unitech Satellite University Centre Building at the Twenty Toea market is a former hospital ward. It was taken over by the Education Division after the hospital was relocated and has since been converted into office space for various of Simbu’s education faculties.
In one of these, the office of the Simbu English Teachers Association, sat a simple, down-to earth man who moved with the help of a walking stick.
He assisted students, teachers, education staff and common people who sought his assistance.
But his primary job was writing, compiling, formulating, designing and producing English resource books for high schools and secondary schools in Simbu and, for that matter, the entire country.
Peter Kepa was from the Bari tribe of the Kerowagi district at the western end of Simbu Province.
In a sad twist of fate, and after a short illness, Peter passed away at 9.30 on the morning of 30 November at Kundiawa’s Sir Joseph Nombri Memorial General Hospital.
Peter was a former seminarian, a colleague of the writer and counsellor Phillip Kai Morre, and he was a member of the Simbu Writers Association.
We have written this article as a tribute to a very humble man who looked unpretentious from the outside, but was a giant inside.
He contributed immensely to the education fraternity in Simbu and Papua New Guinea through the production of the English resource books that he spearheaded with the Simbu English Teachers Association.
Friends, colleagues and students will remember him as a modest and gentle man who held no grudges against any one.
Perhaps it was his his religious and priestly DNA that contributed so much to who he was.
But like all the colonial, pre-independence children of that period, Peter Kepa came a long way in his life to the person he was at the time of his passing.
He was born in 1954 (we could not confirm the month and day) in the beautiful, isolated, mountain village of Ulwal at the base of Mt Digine in the Kubor Range.
The village was near Neregaima Catholic mission station in what was then the Kerowagi sub-district of Simbu.
His father, Arnold Kuno, and mother, Josepha Anem, were subsistence farmers and he was born into the Numaikane clan of the Bari tribe, the second born in a family of three brothers and a sister (all still living).
Like many success stories of the pre-independence era, Peter was one of the first educated young men to emerge from there and the pride of his clan.
He attended Neragaima Primary School from 1964 and, after completing Standard 6 in 1969, he went on to Rosary High School in Kondiu, completing Grade 10 in 1973.
At this time, Peter decided not to join the workforce but to continue his education through Grades 11 and 12, which was quite rare back then, at St Fidelis Catholic College.
By the time his schooling was over, he felt called to the priesthood and, in 1976, travelled to the Diocesan College in Erave, Southern Highlands, to complete a spiritual year. From there, in 1977, he entered the Holy Spirit Seminary in Bomana outside Port Moresby to study theology and philosophy.
He graduated at the end of 1981 after five years in the seminary.
No he was close to taking his priestly vows. However, a one-year deaconate program leading to ordination into the priesthood was postponed, and he as given time for discernment and spirituality.
During this period, he was engaged to do pastoral work at St Theresa Parish at Denglagu in the Upper Simbu.
From Denglagu Parish, he was sent to Holy Trinity Teachers College in the Western Highlands to teach There religious education.
During this four year stint, his desire for the priesthood waned and instead he decided to become a high school teacher and enrolled at the University of Goroka, graduating in 1994 with a Bachelor’s degree majoring in language and literature.
Peter’s first posting was to Gumine High School (now Gumine Secondary School) in South Simbu. While there, he met his wife Angela Suwa, from the Mian tribe near Gumine government station.
Typical of ex-seminarians, it was a late marriage and followed many years of abstinence but it was allowed. Peter and Angela have seven beautiful children, some still attending school, and one grandchild.
As a teacher, Peter was an avid and passionate reader and writer. He was a contributor of short stories and poetry to publishing outlets.
His short story, The Wind, was published in 1994 in the collection, Lost in The Jungle (edited by Stuart D Watson). It was based on his own experience and contrasted the old traditions with the new Papua New Guinea that had grown around him.
Peter never ventured out of Simbu in his professional career as an educationist. After many years of teaching in high and secondary schools in the province, he was called by Kundiawa Catholic Diocese to coordinate religion education in Catholic schools.
After two years in the job, he transferred to the Simbu English Teachers Association (SETA), part of the Division of Education, as provincial curriculum production supervisor.
In 2008, with Peter Kepa at the helm, he teamed up with Matilda Demo and other English teachers including the late Lawrence Gigmai to produce English resource books for lower secondary classes.
The books are still used widely in schools throughout PNG.
While working at SETA, such was his merit and standing, he was engaged as an English tutor by the University of Goroka Centre, the Flexible Open and Distance Education unit, Unitech’s Department of Distance and Learning and the Uni-Tech Satellite University.
Peter had a pleasing personality and great good humour and ease which made his students love and praise him. He showed much interest in educating and mentoring them and, with his theological and philosophical background, was also a fine counsellor.
His students would come to him for fatherly advice and guidance. His morality, confidence and counselling skills made him to an authentic and successful man.
Although not an active member of the Simbu Writers Association, Peter edited several books including Drugs and their Dangers in PNG by Philip Kai Morre along with late Francis Nii. And the Prelude to this book has all the hallmarks of his ink.
When Francis Nii passed away last year, Peter volunteered to assist the Association in editing its manuscripts and books.
The first meeting of 2021, sponsored by SWA patron and writer Herman David Tambagle, was held at Mt William Tourist Lodge. Unfortunately, with Peter gone, this service is now not possible.
Peter’s death is a great lost to both Simbu English Teachers Association and Simbu Writers Association.
Phillip Kai Morre says of his old friend:
In our seminary days, Peter was the editor of the newsletter. He typed all the articles submitted on his manual typewriter and made sure the newsletter was published in time. I recall something he wrote:
“Walking side by side
Do not lead me, I will not follow and
Do not follow me I will not lead,
Just walk side by side
and become good friends”
“Being seminarians, I also think of the sacrifices, pain and sorrow and tolerances we shared together. The rest is history. Life is not a bed of roses but we accepted suffering and pain as virtues.
Peter Kepa as a gentleman, a man of principle and integrity, and his empathetic relationships with friends and co-workers in seeing to our needs at no cost is such that we will never forget him.
I have been with him for so long, and his passing away is too difficult for me to comprehend.
I feel that part of me is gone, and I know we won’t share deep philosophical discussion and can no longer reflect on ethics or metaphysics or the existence of evil.
One thing that came into my mind is that Peter had a good memory to recall things easily. He knew by name every person he had met. He would make eloquent speeches and he could express and simplify things so common people could understand.
Often we take for granted the intellectual ability and importance of people like Peter Kepa.
But when we contemplate and reflect on what Peter Kepa did for us, we feel lost and broken.
When we shed tear drops, we will find answers and know who he is.
In the space of one year we have lost two great men, and the only recognised editors in Simbu, Francis Nii and Peter Kepa.
It’s a great lost to Simbu Writers Association and Simbu English Teachers Association.
The late Peter Kepa was never a giant in stature. But his legacy will live on through the books he mentored, assisted with, spearheaded and produced. He is survived by his wife Angela, seven children and a grandchild.
May his soul Rest In Eternal Peace until we meet again.