Remember the good times, laughter and fun, the Grand Chief said. We united PNG into one nation of diversity and cultural heritage. Make me proud of what you will become
WABAG - This year’s national election has been a disaster in Enga, and for Enga. It is one of the worst since independence. Perhaps the worst.
For the first time in my life – and in the lives of many town residents, educated elites and senior citizens in this country – we did not cast our votes on that gloomy Friday 8th of July.
Nor did hundreds of voters from many parts of this volatile province cast their vote.
A violent, lawless young generation seems to have taken over the whole election process and was dictating what people must do.
They did not even listen to or respect the candidates they were supporting.
Likewise was their treatment of the disciplined forces. The police and other uniformed personnel.
And they thought nothing of the innocent citizens gathered around polling booths to fulfil their democratic right.
Rambos appeared everywhere in the province.
They stoned helicopters, blocked national highways, hijacked ballot boxes, set fire to property and triggered tribal wars in the Kandep, Laiagam and Kompiam districts.
The result was many deaths. So much loss. So much misery.
Citizens stood by helplessly and watched events beyond their control. There was no opportunity to reason, question or argue.
People were forced to keep quiet and accept the situation as it played out before them.
Sadly, I got information from Kandep that a family Toyota LandCruiser had been set on fire by a candidate’s supporters. There was no apparent reason.
It was on hire to the PNG Electoral Commission and was parked outside the district manager’s residence in the small Kandep township.
“Yes, that’s what I was told. It happened in broad daylight,” a senior public servant told me in a rare text message.
“We will take ownership and take on the burden. I am already talking with people.”
I say ‘rare’ because there few people were admitting guilt over such incidents, a silence that usually led to arguments over responsibility and more violent conflict.
I also found the text message comforting because it eased a potential flare-up over the torched vehicle between my people and the public servant’s clan.
He did the right thing to admit his people’s involvement. And we did the right thing to make a complaint at the police station.
This is the first national election we have had without Papua New Guinea’s founding father, Grand Chief Sir Michael Thomas Somare.
And in the calmer context of history, I want to discuss a letter written by Bishop Leo Arkfeld SVD (1912-1999) when he was in charge of the Wewak vicariate of which Enga was then a part.
I recently found the letter tucked away in an album at Tskiro Catholic Mission in the Kompiam-Ambum electorate.
Arkfeld was appointed bishop of Wewak in 1948, and then archbishop of Madang in 1975. He retired in 1987.
There was also a 1957 map showing the border of the then Wewak and Madang vicariates and also the population centres of Sikir (Tsikiro), Par, Sari, Pina, Wanepap, Pumakos and Laiagam.
Bishop Arkfeld’s letter reminded me of how missionaries from Europe and other parts of the world kept coming here to help a backward people in the 20th century.
They worked really hard to stamp out the illnesses which claimed many lives and to bring education and peace to us.
But right now, just a few kilometres away, the high school at Yumbilyam is burning and so is the Kaipore sub-district office because of election-related violence.
Fortunately Tskiro Catholic mission will not be affected as the community there are strong and faithful and will not allow anything to happen to it.
Anyway, here is what Bishop Arkfeld wrote in 1973:
Dear friends of Wewak,
I have now been in New Guinea for 25 years. That’s no real great achievement in these days of modern medicine.
There is however, a priest still living in Germany who spent 25 years here in New Guinea from about 1900 to 1925.
That was really something, because in those days, the average missionary only lasted about 15 years.
The average age at death of the first 80 missionaries to this part of New Guinea was 43 years.
I found him in his room reading his office. One would think that a priest born in 1878 would consider himself excused from reading the office, but not so Father Averberg.
He was very enthusiastic in telling me all about the early days in New Guinea.
It seems they had the same problems we have now. With some extra ones thrown in for good measure.
He still rides a bicycle and insisted that I go with him to the family farm to see their cattle.
All I could think of was ‘what a man, what a priest, what a missionary.”
He still writes to us, and sends offerings when he can. His heart is still in New Guinea.
Father Theodore Averberg SVD is probably the eldest member of that group called ‘friends of Wewak.’
He is 93 years of age.
Yours in Corde Mariae,
Leo Arkfeld, SVD
I was impressed that, although so many missionaries died of illness relatively young, they kept coming to help our people find a new way of life free from disease and hardship.
One of the products of these early Catholic missionaries was former PNG Governor-General, Sir Ignatius Kilage of Simbu, who also became a published writer and author.
Sir Ignatius studied Christian philosophy and theology under the Divine Word fathers at the Holy Spirit Seminary near Madang and was ordained as a priest on 17 December 1968.
Other Catholic church priests who entered politics included Fr John Momis and Fr Robert Lak, both have been outspoken senior statesman.
They included Michael Somare, Tei Abal, Josephine Abaijah, Albert Maori Kiki, Paulias Matane, Ebia Olewale, Ted Diro, Zurewe K Zurenuo, Paulias Matane, Robin Kumaina and others, of whom some are still alive.
These men and women expressed their views in this book published 48 years ago by Kristen Press in Madang.
They had clear visions for their young country and knew what their role was and what every citizen should do to help develop their country to full nationhood.
Sir Ignatius was of the opinion that leaders had to understand that development meant liberation of human beings from oppression, hunger, injustice, exploitation, economic servitude and fear.
He believed this form of development would ensure the country was headed peacefully in the right direction.
“Our leaders should know right from the beginning that economic, political, social and technological progress are means to an end, and not an end in themselves,” he said.
“Progress is there to liberate man, not the other way round.”
Whether the conduct of this year’s national elections is a sign of progress or regress is for every citizen of PNG to ponder over, seriously assess and draw their own conclusions.
Another book I’m reading to pass time while anxiously waiting for this election fiasco to end is, ‘See Australia and Die’, by Wendy Lewis.
It contains gripping tales of misadventure experienced by both tourists and locals down under.
But if the book was about PNG’s 10th Parliament and this general election, the title could easily be rewritten as, ‘Enter Parliament and Die’.
The title would be fitting because an unprecedented 10 serving members of the 10th parliament died before completing their full terms in office.
Some died after recently nominating with hopes of winning back their seats.
Some aspiring new candidates also died soon after paying their nomination fees.
On top of that, election-related deaths kept rising due to violence or accidents.
There have been a number of cases of truckloads of supporters plunging to their deaths while campaigning.
The media reports that more than 40 people have died so far but the figure could be more as every election-related incident is not reported from the all the corners of our country.
And from past experience, there will be many more deaths during counting.
But the most critical time comes soon after the winner is declared.
It’s also likely that revenge killings will continue among people related to those who have already died in election-related violence.
The cycle of death and destruction during national elections is a nightmare for many citizens in this resource rich country.
The situation seems to get worse at every election and raises questions about whether PNG will be able to experience free, fair and peaceful elections in the future.
I quoted the great man in my recent novel, ‘The Old Man’s Dilemma’, which is a story about love, grief, happiness, rebellion and restoration.
“Remember the good times, laughter and fun,” Somare had said.
“Together with your fathers and forefathers, we united Papua New Guinea into one nation. A nation of diversity and multicultural heritage.
“Share the happy memories we’ve made. Do not let them wither or fade.
“Live on now, make me proud of what you will become.”