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50 years ago, Somare arrived from the sky

| Ples Singsing

Chopper (Microsoft Bing Image Creator)

PORT MORESBY - The unexpected buzzing of the helicopter took my attention by storm.

It was landing near Kerowil Singirok, the present base of the PNG Defence Force Engineering Battalion in the Highlands, and on board was Papua New Guinea’s first prime minister, Michael Thomas Somare.

Every Papua New Guinean has a story about their first encounter or sighting of PNG’s founding leader.

I was born sometime in 1973 and saw Somare for the first time at Kerowil when six or seven years old, 20 kilometers east of Banz in the Wahgi Valley. It was 1979 or 1980, l can't recall the exact date.

Around that time the area hosted the North and South Waghi Local Level Government Council and Kerowil Community School.

News and rumours of the visit to Kerowil by Somare and MP Kaibelt Diria had spread fast in the village a few days earlier.

Every adult was excited about the occasion and eager to see their PM and local MP.

My peers and I didn’t care so much; our minds were focused on different childhood interests and activities.

Anyway, th evening before the visit my mum encouraged me to join the greeting crowd.

Mum said to me, "It's your golden chance to see the country’s ol bigman coming to Kerowil. Your dad and everyone else are going so you must go with dad and see Michael Somare - the country boss."

Her words were interesting enough to make me excited and I repeatedly questioned dad if the two of us were certain of seeing Somare at Kerowil the next day.

Dad knew how eager and anxious l was that evening so he promised to take me along to the big occasion. That night l went to bed on my canvas and cardboard bed as excited as I’d ever been.

The mood l was in was just the same as if going to a pig killing ceremony.

In the early morning hours of the next day, the village elders and chiefs were shouting announcements, reminding every able person to abandon whatever activity they had planned for the day and be at Kerowil for Somare’s visit.

Early in the morning the people who had planned entertainments for the crowd and to welcome Somare and his delegation were congregating at Kerowil.

The day was fascinating and exciting for a schoolboy, seeing villagers in sparkling and colourful traditional attire, some acting as comedians for the occasion. So l followed dad as we walked the 10 kilometers to Kerowil.

Upon our arrival I saw a spectacle beyond my imagination. There was singing, dancing, plays and shows by different cultural and comic groups.

Big crowd attractions were a brass band and the staging of early white explorer Jim Taylor's ‘Brukim Bus’ [exploration].

While witnessing this entertainment, I thought, ‘wow what a scene and what a day’.

But I didn’t know that Somare and his entourage would travel to Kerowil in a chopper. Even my dad didn’t know that.

The sound of singing, the beating of drums, and the cheering and shouting of the crowd made the place deafening.

So much so we couldn't hear the chopper coming in to land.

All of a sudden people began to call in our vernacular, ‘Hoi wonum, wonum’ [it’s coming, its coming].

At that instant the crowd began to move and collide as it tried to make way for the chopper to land.

Dad and I were pushed around in the melee and stampede but held hands all the time.

I fell down once but dad stood firm and pulled me up. At that instant, l was confused by the behaviour of the crowd. With the stampede and everything else going on, l thought a mad man was running wild and people were trying to flee.

But it was the landing chopper that brought Somare - its swirling rotors sending sticks, leaves and other objects flying, hitting onlookers and forcing them to take cover. It was hilarious.

As the chopper touched down on the Kerowil Community School playing field, l stood in awe with my eyes wide open.

I had never before seen a chopper land.

I gazed at the chopper, my heart beating rapidly in anticipation of what would eventuate.

First to step out was a white pilot, then a man in a grey laplap and shirt followed by our MP Kaibelt Diria, and two other people.

They made their way to the grandstand to the applause and cheering of the crowd. That was the first sighting of my country pioneer and founding PM, the man in the grey laplap.

That day in the late seventies, I was an out-of-school boy at Kerowil, North Wahgi in Jiwaka Province.


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Philip Fitzpatrick

It's the Wahgi Valley, not the Waghi Valley.

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