Top author loses property in clan attack blaze
01 April 2023
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.
As the eldest and only son of Daniel Kumbon, on behalf of my children, his tribe and his family, I wish to take this time to thank all of you for going through the pain of this devastating time with us.
Of course, the phone call that I received took me by surprise on that pitiful afternoon.
I was in the room after classes on a Monday afternoon when I got the call. I had a lot of assigned activities as a third-year student at Divine Word University taking Journalism.
I had a number of assignments due that week, and was looking forward to submitting them when I was called up by my village ward councillor Yapi Pasul.
I felt helpless, traumatised by thoughts of how my younger siblings, who were on the devastated property, escaped. This kept recalling in my head.
I didn't go to dinner. My joints did not give me strength to go on. My head gave way and it felt like I had gone insane.
I was looking at my phone screen every moment expecting a call from Dad, my siblings or my relatives but call-me requests from unregistered numbers kept mounting in my inbox. (I later realised these were from my relatives back in the village.) None of my immediate family members called, only my little sister in Australia was sending pictures through Facebook of the property being torched.
I believe my family members thought they were helping me to concentrate on my studies but they lacked knowledge of me already knowing from one of the two reputable people in our village who were the village councillors.
I was seriously affected by what had happened because, in our culture, sons are the defenders, but the fact remained in reality that I was the only son out of 10 siblings, four older eldest sisters and me being the fifth in the family with the six younger sisters.
I was indeed helplessly stressed out. The thought of me not being there to defend my land, my home, my food garden and my family kept ringing in my head.
But I thank God that I was strong and I’m happy my wise Dad decided to reconcile by compensating the dead and bringing forth peace.
I know he has done a very smart move and I’m in full support of it.
With that, let me conclude and say thank you from the bottom of my heart to all of you who have commented encouragingly on my Dad's post.
I'm very happy my Dad could be this strong when he was sick and seeking medical attention in Port Moresby.
I bear witness to how he converted the property from a field where goats grazed to a forest and that forest is gone and he still has the strongest will to rebuild the place.
We will rebuild it again with the hands that are required. The trees will grow since they do not require much attention and the soil will look after them.
I once again appreciate you all for your comments, especially to give strength to my Dad to endeavor through this painful time of his life.
Regards from Madang Province and may God Bless you all.
Posted by: Daniel Kumbon Jr | 25 April 2023 at 03:45 AM
Mr Bond, you are right about the international money transfer.
My daughter, who is engaged with the seasonal workers program, sent some money as her contribution towards compensation, reconciliation and rebuilding. But it has not reached me yet.
She wanted to send me more but asked her to wait until the first lot reached me. Yes, it sure can be time consuming but first we have to pay the compensation.
Then will come rebuilding. Thanks for highlighting the transfer problem.
Posted by: Daniel Kumbon | 08 April 2023 at 10:57 AM
Daniel, my guess is a walkabout sawmill can be a response from supportive people, but do it with a reputable and steadfast organisation as well credentialed as possible.
International transfers can encounter headwinds, and even if money amounts are not lost, the loss of time and energy can be dispiriting.
Posted by: Lindsay F Bond | 07 April 2023 at 06:13 PM
Wantoks, your comments warm my heart. And 110 of my Facebook friends from all over PNG and overseas have have also shared in my sorrow.
PNG is doomed if original landowners can very easily destroy property on state land across the country.
Politicians build multi-million kina projects to develop the country.
I did my bit towards change and development too. I will rebuild my property.
I have a forest of my own in the village. I only need a 'walkabout' sawmill.
Posted by: Daniel kumbon | 07 April 2023 at 07:28 AM
Sorry Daniel and family for being the victim of tribal conflict.
It's hard to comprehend but you are brave enough to forgive those who destroy your house and property worth a million kina.
Our prayers are with you at this time of Easter season.
Posted by: Philip Kai Morre | 06 April 2023 at 10:31 AM
Daniel, sori tru. We pray and hope for peace, justice and reconciliation.
May you find strength and goodness in the midst of all this trouble.
Fr Garry Roche SVD spent nearly 50 years as a Catholic priest in the PNG Highlands. You can read his fascinating story via the following link - KJ
Posted by: Garrett Roche | 06 April 2023 at 05:25 AM
Daniel - So sorry about your losses.
Posted by: Baka Bina | 05 April 2023 at 05:26 PM
Dear Daniel - As gut wrenching as you have encountered and mustered thoughts so mixed, continue to be of good courage, for those around you as much as of yourself.
Truly I share that because my house was lost to fire. Amazingly I had with me, at another location, a compact disk with data of value to me.
I sincerely urge, as of my own way forward, that there is for you a nobility in your accomplishment thus far, that is foundational for your family, clan and nation.
Posted by: Lindsay F Bond | 04 April 2023 at 06:12 PM
Sorry to have read what you have to tell us, Daniel.
It was clearly devastating to you in so many ways.
I hope the rebuilding of your home meets with good fortune.
Posted by: Robert Forster | 03 April 2023 at 06:54 PM
People have been reticent to comment on this heartbreaking story, Kevin, but what can anyone really say except to convey their deep felt sorrow for Daniel?
It seems that the inexplicable habit of Highlanders to turn to death and destruction when emotionally challenged has no logical explanation or solution.
There is something purely evil in the collective psyche of these people.
But then again how do we explain the mind of someone like Putin who has unleashed such incredible carnage and suffering in his war with Ukraine?
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 03 April 2023 at 01:05 PM
So sorry Daniel as these continuing events solve nothing. I lived in Kandep probably close to a year based at Suai (a former mission station of some sort).
We worked on forming a track - across the outlet of the big swamp - on what later became the Kandap Margarima road.
Enga Engineering was our supervisor but work petered because of compensation delays and funding restraints.
As big as Daniel's problem, Attitude published an excellent article about the late Malipu Balakau assassination and the need for a visionary leader to step up.
I have been waiting with bated breath for some comments on Daniel's recent thought provoking article to no avail.
Does the whole province just no longer care, have they become mute or to scared to speak?
It is hard to 'care' anymore. I mean really care! Amazingly many of us still do. My thoughts are with Daniel. Keep writing bud, please.
Posted by: Kevin O'Regan | 03 April 2023 at 09:55 AM
I am very sorry for Daniel who, while apparently entirely blameless, has suffered as a consequence of some sort of baffling inter-tribal disputation.
In the colonial era the kiaps largely succeeded in suppressing tribal fighting, mostly by merely being present and sometimes through honestly and fairly trying to adjudicate in tribal disputes.
However, we all knew that our interventions were unlikely to permanently resolve many of these disputes, some of which extended back a generation or more.
I am afraid that in pre-colonial times resort to violence was all too frequently the default position in any personal or tribal dispute, especially in the Highlands.
This is, of course, hardly a problem unique to PNG as witnessed by the appalling level of gun violence in the USA.
The existence of an honest, well led, well armed and determined police force in PNG would go a long way to curbing violence but the RPNGC apparently is not the force that it needs to be in order to implement effective policing.
This being so, I fear that episodes like that related by Daniel will persist.
Posted by: Chris Overland | 01 April 2023 at 09:42 PM