A true PNG champion bows out with gratitude
With Sir Jacob Luke's death, a torch went out

Authentic bikman: Memories of Sir Jacob Luke

“Jacob had a rare quality for a famous person in PNG, he was famous for his humility and kindness, and not an infamous thief like many others.  He has left a true impression that transcends wealth”

The late Sir Jacob Luke


Luke - A Mapai truckNOOSA - “Did you ever run into Jacob Luke? It was sad news to hear of his passing,” the message said.

“I had the pleasure of meeting him on a trade mission to Tokyo. I didn’t realise how wealthy he was as he was so humble.

"I saw him a couple of weeks ago with a new jet and now this week’s sad news….”


By Robert Iki Leso

Luke Luwai, the young woman’s husband, was a Pendend clansman of the major Tit tribe and lived in Yakandak village in the Aumbum Kompiam district of Enga Province.

Right in front of Yakandak village is the roaring Ambum River which, joined by tributaries, surges downstream to finally unite with the mighty Sepik River.

Luke’s wife, Aipit Lyambian, was originally from a small hill village called Goropip. Her clan, Pumain, was a sub-clan of the Tit tribe but clans were allowed to intermarry. She had married Luke, a close neighbour, whose baby she was now struggling to bring into the world.

Luke Luwai by this late hour had heard of the pain his wife was enduring. He feared she might die. But he could not go near the woman’s house. He could not comfort his dying wife. He wished and prayed everything would work out right in the morning.

Anxiety and sorrow robbed him of sleep. He sat quietly in the men’s house and puffed his home-grown tobacco deeply. He felt the nicotine’s powerful grip. He breathed out mouthfuls of smoke and glanced at his clansmen fast asleep.

“It is too soon to lose my wife and unborn child,” he said to himself.

Luke had seen a lot of women die in childbirth. There were no proper health facilities in his isolated valley. He felt certain his wife and unborn child would die. He felt like crying. But he was a tough Tit-raised Engan male who did not succumb to childish emotion.

So Like Luwai withheld his tears and made a plan to save his young wife and unborn child. He had to show how much he loved Aipit Lyambian. Memories of the struggles he had gone through to marry her flooded his mind.

Luke decided that his wife had to be taken to Wabag Health Centre for immediate medical attention. There could be no waiting until dawn, and he discarded the traditional belief that men should never go near a woman in labour. This now seemed like nonsense to him.

He had to get the men sleeping in the hausman to help him carry his wife to Wabag. He had to try to save her life. He would not sit idly and have her die with their unborn child. Luke’s brother Lalyo worked at the health centre as a medical officer. Once there, they would face no problems.

So, in the dark morning, before the first rays of the sun touched the sleeping valley, the semi-conscious mother was lifted onto a stretcher. They walked the 22 kilometers to the health centre. First they climbed over the Mokokam range to Lakolam and then followed the Lai River towards Wabag.

With two bearers on each end of the stretcher, they tramped through the mud, carrying her up and over the ridges, shrugging away the numbing cold of the deep gullies. They toiled on painfully hoping against hope that she would not die on the track.

It was worth the struggle. They got there and they saved the lives of Aipit Lyambian and the baby. This baby boy who would one day become a great businessman, indeed a tycoon, who would establish a major trucking company, Mapai Transport. His name is Jacob Luke. The year was 1950.

Luke - Truck convoy in the Highlands
Mapai trucks in convoy grind up a steep hill in the Highlands


By David Meredith

Jacob Luke started as a happy-go-lucky sort of fellow, raised without a stitch of clothing in an obscure village in the Highlands. From nothing, he now operates a fleet of 75 Kenworth T650s, around 200 flat-top, drop deck and tanker trailers, three depots and employs several hundred people.

Ten more Kenworths are due to arrive in the next few weeks and, with an order for 15 or so in January, he'll be the proud owner of his 100 of the landmark US brand. There are also a dozen Japanese cab-overs in his fleet, which are restricted to town work because of the appalling conditions on the highways.

None of the test tracks I've driven hold a candle to PNG roads, despite big chunks of PNG kinas being allocated for construction, repair and maintenance. Wherever that cash goes, you can't see it on the tarmac. Jacob's repair shop regularly replaces landing legs on trailers that have been bent beyond repair when a truck drops off a 600mm trench that is completely unavoidable.

I stood beside sections of road and listened to trucks grind and groan a tortured path across holes and gullies that had trailer linkages, suspensions, and turntables at and beyond maximum travel. The holes are so extreme that trucks can easily lurch violently at crawl speed, lose stability and fall over.

That's when the second curse of local transport takes over. As locals descend to pillage the rig, the driver goes bush, and the police are nowhere to be seen. Meanwhile, the cargo is ‘redistributed’ and pops up at roadside stalls for several kilometres either side of the accident. There is also an active and vibrant secondary economy trading stolen fuel, which is ignored by authorities.

Every community along the route has rickety tables on the roadside with dirty containers of diesel, where a truck driver has pulled over, dropped 20 litres of diesel into the vendors drum and moved on, picking up a commission for the sale on the return leg. Last year alone, stolen fuel cost Mapai Transport over $3 million.

If PNG's new government got serious about fixing the appalling roads, these lifelines of the future could rapidly reduce damage and delay enough to nearly halve fuel costs, slash repair bills and, most importantly guarantee supply of essentials to industry and community alike. Then they could enliven the local business community to address the rest of the problems.

Jacob Luke, his countrymen, and this magnificent country deserve a better deal from their national government.

Luke - Jacob Luke and Sir Peter Ipatas
Sir Jacob Luke and Sir Peter Ipatas


By Phoebe Harper

With a geologically unstable mainland and a famously unreliable infrastructure of paved roads, transport in Papua New Guinea is not a simple affair. And knowing this too well is Jacob Luke, managing director of Mapai Transport; a leader in logistical and transport solutions across the country and beyond.

“PNG is a relatively small country in terms of population with less than eight million people, despite it being geographically large due to its islands and expansive seas,” he says. “This means that people in business are connected more closely than those in larger economies.

“This intimacy creates a desire to do well for people and the communities – a sense of ‘I’ve got you covered’ is evident. The service industry is therefore competitive, and reasonably efficient under difficult conditions.”

Originating with just a single vehicle in 1990, today Mapai Transport’s operations and accompanying fleet has ballooned significantly to include three bases spread across PNG, with depots with fully-equipped workshops in Goroka, Lae and Mt Hagen. At present, Mapai’s transport division comprises approximately 200 employees.

The Mapai Group operates three divisions – Mapai Transport, Mapai Logistics and Mapai Properties.

Mapai Properties owns the land on which the transport division operates its workshops and the residential units used to house employees alongside the Mt Hagen depot. With roughly 40 staff, the property division also manages the security force deployed to oversee and secure the company’s assets and people.

At present, Mapai Logisitics continues to be engaged in two major resource projects at the Porgera Gold Mine and the Ramu Nickel Mine.

“In 2018, Mapai Transport assisted the landowners of the Ramu Nickel to acquire finance to purchase 10 trucks to ensure they were able to participate in the wealth their traditional land was generating. These trucks and the company registered to run the operation continue to operate today,” Luke explains.

Situated in the remote Enga Province, along a notoriously difficult and occasionally dangerous route, the Porgera gold mine represents a challenging logistical requirement.

“Mapai Logistics holds cyanide certification allowing us to transport these dangerous goods, along with fuel, mining equipment, food and construction needs such as thousands of tonnes of cement. Close relationships have been forged with Swire Shipping to facilitate the supply chains for these mines,” Luke comments.

At the backbone of operations for the entire company is the support of an administration team of 30 people, encompassing accounts, human resources and IT. The company’s growth is born from Luke’s prevailing desire to become the preferred transport operator on the Highlands Highway.

Suited to the arduous conditions of the PNG road network, Mapai Transport’s fleet primarily consists of 100 Kenilworth trucks, each of which have been adapted to operate in a harsh environment, undertaking the route from the coastal city of Lae into the remote and mountainous Highland provinces.

“The conditions are challenging for several reasons but specifically road conditions that are affected by climate, conditions and uncontrolled, unregulated weights carried by rogue operators,” Luke explains.

The fleet is supported by a workshop team of approximately 120 highly skilled staff.

“The trucks are rebuilt from wrecks, gearboxes and transmissions are rebuilt from scratch and all vehicles and trailers are trip checked after every journey. The workshop also runs the only heavy-duty recovery trucks in the country,” he outlines.

“Corporate decisions are not always driven by profit. Instead, they are often influenced by the effects on local communities. Supply chain operations, whilst not as mature as those in more developed countries, are integral to the business,” he states.

What distinguishes Mapai Transport’s operations is the respect for the PNG culture and the communities it serves. Crucially, this extends to the people that the company employs. Indeed, Luke defines the primary quality attributing to Mapai’s ongoing success within the transport sector as “the people’s belief in the company’s theme – the Spirit to Serve.”

“Corporate decisions are not always driven by profit,” he explains. “Instead, decisions are often influenced by the effects on local communities. Sustainability, growth, value-adding, and all the traditional corporate considerations are, without doubt, always hovering. Despite this, if our actions produce a positive outcome in peoples’ lives, we will seek to be involved.”

Luke - Jacob Luke (Facebook)THE BENEFACTOR

By Henry Enomb Tanda

“Traditionally, we have a saying in Enga. If you give bilas to a person who doesn’t own any, he will not look after it. He will break the headdresses and the bilas,” Jacob Luke said. “Some of you act like cowboys in my trucks. So now I am giving you bilas which you will own and you will look after, it will be yours.

“When you come out to get the keys, I want you to bring your wives with you. I know that when you drive the trucks, many of you will misbehave. Your wives are going to get the keys because the trucks belong to them.”

Each truck was worth about K600,000. In one decision, he created 10 new Papua New Guinean-owned transport companies and passed on the ownership of more than K6 million of Mapai assets to his drivers and their families.

“I used to be a driver before and I know. The most important people in a transport company are the drivers. They make the wheels turn. The rest of us are just support staff.”

Luke top Loop PNG


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Garrett Roche

About twenty years ago I would have met Jacob Luke several times at the Hagen Club. He was indeed a humble and kind character.

Jacob was known as a successful businessman, but he never tried to dominate or monopolise conversation. He seemed to spend more time listening than talking.

A good man. May he rest in peace.

Lindsay F Bond

Giant. His life a lesson for taking to every learner in PNG schools

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