PORT MORESBY – For nearly 40 years, I have been reporting about the consequences of tribal warfare which every year continues to claim hundreds of lives and destruction to property in Enga.
I never thought the threat of tribal warfare would reach me and my Aimbarep tribe. But right now, as I write, this evil scourge is knocking on my door.
I am desperately trying to repel it from here in Port Moresby, where I am seeking medical treatment.
I have reports that my property worth over a million kina at the Kandep government station was completely destroyed by Imma tribesmen at about 3pm on Monday 20 March for no apparent reason.
I didn’t know whether to cry or to cut my hands off because my lifetime investment was gone. Nothing left but the photographs in my laptop and the memory of all that hard work my family put in that will remain with us forever.
My plan to settle there in retirement is shattered. The future looks bleak.
I am an independent sort of person, not the type of public servant we see today who abuses government power, misleads people and thrives on corruption at the expense of ordinary people.
I’m from the old school – the one where elders instructed us in the hausman to accomplish things with our own two hands.
Last Monday, my wife fled to her village to ring me from there as the Imma went to destroy my property. She took nothing with her.
But my sister, who lives with us with her seven children, tried to stop the mob.
She knew who they are, the former MP Alfred Manase’s maternal cousins and political supporters.
She is married to a man from Manase’s Wasant, the major clan of the Akul tribe.
In 2022, my sister had escaped with her children from from Wage, where an election-related tribal war had flared up between supporters of Manase and another candidate during the national election.
But my sister’s pleas that the mob should desist were ignored and the Imma started their destructive work.
She walked away from the carnage choking in her own tears, her bewildered children following closely behind. They arrived at my wife’s village.
Right now, my family is in mourning.
Last Monday, the Imma people destroyed my property after they had tried to stop a team of technicians from installing a Digicel tower on the grounds of the Kandep district administrator’s official residence.
The installation site was in the same official residential area where my daughter Jacinta Roa’s vehicle was burned on the eve of the 2022 national election.
Earlier that day, Imma tribesmen had unsuccessfully applied for bail to free a second suspect in Wabag’s police cells in relation to the arson of a truck hired by the Electoral Commission for the election.
I have no connection with the Digicel tower installation or the vehicle that was burned during the election.
I am completely baffled by the actions of the Imma tribesmen who wilfully destroyed my property.
I’m not sure why they are trying to involve me and my tribe in their affairs as they try to stop development from taking place at the Kandep government station.
It makes me wonder if they destroyed my property to provoke me and my people to start a tribal war.
This would interfere with police attempts to arrest the remaining suspects in the burning of the Electoral Commission truck.
The truck belongs to Cleopas Roa, my daughter’s husband.
Roa is deputy secretary of the Department of Provincial Affairs and Local Level Government, and a well-respected veteran public servant.
He was acting Kandep district administrator when he hired the truck subsequently destroyed to the Electoral Commission.
Afterwards, he had lodged a complaint at the Wabag police station with a list of suspects. All except one were from the Kanda major clan of the Imma tribe, people who live on the edge of Kandep government station.
Roa is also married to the Imma people. He is their brother-in-law. His first wife is an Imma lady. She and his first son live among the Imma people. The son does casual work for the educated elites in the Imma tribe.
The remains of Roa’s burnt vehicle are now rusting under the new Digicel tower being installed in the grounds of the district administrator’s official residence.
I have no right to involve myself in family affairs of my married daughter.
In Engan tradition, when daughters marry they leave their father’s household for ever.
But surely the Imma leaders - the village court magistrates and educated elites – would not think be so stupid as to lead my Aimbarep tribe into a pointless tribal war that would cost the precious lives of innocent people.
As soon as I received the heartbreaking news of the destruction, I immediately contacted my two councillors – Yapi Pasul, who is president of Kandep Local Government Council, and Bus Pyaso, the nephew of late Inspector Peter Pyaso, to restrain our people from trying to take revenge.
I asked them to relay a message to our people that they must not fight.
They know that I built the property with my own hands and that I will try to rebuild it.
I reminded them that our tribal leader, the late Nenk Pasul MBE, the first member of parliament for Kandep, had brought peace to the area during colonial times.
We, his tribesman, must maintain the legacy and address disputes by utilising the laws of the land. We must not fight over material things that can be replaced.
I have seen with my own eyes the horrors of tribal war.
Bloody copra bags filled with body parts of people chopped up on the battle field, the smouldering ruins of property worth millions of kina, the hot tears running down the sad faces of widowed men, women and children now orphans.
As a journalist and a writer, I have reported on much suffering and destruction all over Enga.
I have had to stop my tribesman from getting involved in such turmoil.
The property destroyed is mine and my people had to listen to me and our two councillors.
Right now, they are making preparations to pay compensation for a man who was killed in a fight late on Monday afternoon.
My tribesmen had gone to Kandep government station to find out why the Imma were destroying my property.
Instead of trying to resolve the matter, the Imma engaged my people in a fight resulting in the death of one man.
The person killed in the fight was a Kambrip tribesman from Yanigin village.
He and six others had supported Manase during the 2022 national election.
After the election, four came to Port Moresby and three had remained in Kandep with the Imma Kanda people.
Of the three who remained, one was the first suspect arrested in connection with the burning of Roa’s vehicle. The second was killed in the fight on Monday after my property was destroyed.
Early morning on Tuesday 21 March, Kandep Local Level Government president Yapi Pasul, Cr Bus Pyaso and other leaders resolved to pay compensation for the man killed.
That afternoon, one of the four Kambirip supporters of Manase who had travelled to Port Moresby rang me.
Before he spoke, I told him straight away that my people would pay compensation. He was happy to hear that.
In fact, on Monday night he and his three brothers had also told their own people not to fight.
My people were happy to hear about the decision made by the four Kambrip Yanigin men living in Port Moresby.
They would at all times pay compensation immediately since the Kambrip Yanagin people have always been our tribal allies.
The Kambrip Yanigin man who spoke with me flew to Wapenamanda on Friday 24 March to take his brother’s body home from the Wabag hospital morgue, where it had been taken for a post mortem.
On Saturday 25 March, before they buried the body, the Kambrip Yanagin people openly announced their intention not to fight.
I felt grateful, they had kept their word. It is customary that if the relatives of a deceased declare war – fighting rages on adding more deaths and destruction to the tally.
Right now, my people are discussing the payment of compensation. The Imma tribe has already paid its bel kol of K1,000 cash and a pig.
But the fact remains that the Kambrip tribesman would not have died had the Imma leaders taken responsibility for the arson of Roa’s truck from day one in 2022. After all, we are family.
Kenneth Andrew and Roa are my in-laws and Roa is Andrew’s brother-in-law. Our families live next to each other at Premier Hill in Wabag town. I appealed to Andrew many times to resolve the arson case by either handing the culprits over to police or paying compensation to Roa.
Instead, he said he would take the matter to Governor Sir Peter Ipatas, Provincial Administrator the now decased Dr Samson Amean and former Kandep MP Manase and ask them to do something about it.
I told him he should not do that because the three leaders did not direct the culprits to burn the truck.
After nearly a year of arguing, one suspect was arrested in Wabag. When the arrest was made, the Imma Kanda tribesman fired warning shots over my property on Kandep government station.
When police recently arrested the second suspect, the Imma people descended on my property and completely destroyed it.
They destroyed it on Monday 20 March while I was here in Port Moresby.
But why destroy my property? Is it because my daughter is married to Cleopas Roa?
I’ll go back home in the next couple of days to join my people in the payment of compensation.
That’s better than encouraging my people to fight over material things that can be replaced.
The first pig for the compensation has been contributed by Enga’s champion of peace – Chief Paul Kurai of Kaiap village in Wabag.
He has been successfully stopping tribal fights everywhere in Enga Province.
He says he will continue to stop tribal fights through the Kurai Foundation, which will be officially launched next month.
“I am happy to hear that the relatives of the deceased have agreed to receive compensation instead of resorting to violence,” Councillor Kurai said.
“That’s why I’m giving you the pig with which to pay compensation.”
“God created us special and for a reason.
“People must forgive each other, respect the laws of this land, respect other people’s lives and their property.
“Try to maintain peace in our communities and help them do their best to help develop our beautiful country,” he said.
I thank Chief Paul Kurai so much for his contribution.
And I hope people adhere to his wise words. He is a leader among leaders.
I also applaud the Kambrip Yanagin people for realising that tribal war brings death and destruction.
I thank them for choosing peace instead of pain.