By OGIA MIAMEL
HE wore a pair of neatly ironed navy blue trousers, a pair of shiny black shoes and a dark blue jacket. On his head was a black baseball cap with the words ‘National Mining Week-2012’ knitted in yellow. A pair of reading glasses fitted perfectly on his face.
He was holding a rainbow-coloured umbrella in his right hand. There was a frown on his face as he walked towards the office.
That was the first time I met 92-year-old Waine Bagme at the NBC office in Mt Hagen during my internship in 2013. He had come to tell of the fascinating journey he had been on since the days of colonialism.
Bagme is from Kunabau in Kerowagi district of Chimbu. He was one of the first few Papua New Guineans recruited and trained as police officers. They worked closely with kiaps (white patrol officers), most times accompanying them on trips that traversed Papua New Guinea. There were no roads, airstrips or towns back then.
“We patrolled to East Sepik and I witnessed Sir Michael Somare interviewing the kiaps and that was the first time I saw a radio recorder and I was excited by the sight of it,” Bagme said.
“Sir Michael was a smart young man that time, unlike other Sepiks.”
Bagme joined the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary in 1952 and retired in 2005 after 53 years in the service. He was recognised for his services on October 22, 1998, when he received the British Empire Medal for services to the the police and the community.
When relating his experiences, Waine spoke fondly of his patrol days working with different kiaps in the highlands and his first experience of crossing the Sepik River in a canoe.
“I was scared I didn’t want to go in the canoe and the kiap scolded me to go sit in the canoe. I was very frightened my friends had to hold me while we paddled down the Sepik River.”
Bagme was born in 1921 to Waine Bagme and Degilba, of Golkane tribe, in Kerowhagi. He grew up with his mother after his father was killed by a government patrol team at Mt Wilhelm.
He was initiated early into the men’s house (haus man) and taught the responsibilities of Golkane men.
On the day that changed the course of his life, Bagme and his friends were with their girlfriends in Kundiawa station when a kiap called them to the station head office, which is the Kundiawa Police station today.
“Looking back I think we dressed really well in our malos and feathered headdress for our dates and stood out in the crowd and caught the attention of the kiap and his Finschhafen translator,” Bagme said with a loud chuckle that reflected the ever-strong memories of that day long ago.
The shout of the whiteman scared them. He shouted: Line up, stand up, shut up and sit down. They r emembered those English words forever.
The patrol to Goroka began for the new recruits and among them were Bagme and his friends from Kerowagi, Uran and Dogoba.
“We were so excited about the journey that the long distance didn’t make our feet hurt or become tired.”
Bagme left his girlfriend and mother back in Kunabau on that life-changing journey. Later, he and his girlfriend, Ogan, married but when they had their fiirst child she returned to her Dinga people at Giu village in Sinasina as was the custom.
In Goroka, Bagme’s six-month police training programme began. “Our main training was to learn how to march and respond to the commander’s marching commands,” says Bagme.
Their meals consisted mainly of kaukau, taro, yams, plantains (cooking bananas), and vegetables and greens. Once a week, they indulged in the luxury of rice and tinned fish.
After training the young men were posted to different parts of the highlands in groups of fives and sixes. Bagme’s first posting was to Kujip, in Jiwaka, where he worked for six months.
“We were not to stay long in one place because the kiaps knew we would start to become too friendly (with the locals) and lenient,” Bagme said.
While in Jiwaka Bagme met and married his second wife. They had five children.
“In a month we were paid $10 (Australlian) with tobacco, meat and a ration of rice and flour,” he said.
Bagme also met Peter O’Neill’s father, Brian, in Pangia.
“Peter O’Neill’s father, Brian O’Neill, was the kiap for Pangia and he was a good kiap who understood us very well and I enjoyed working with him,” says Waine.
Once, on a patrol to Wabag, they arrived at Lake Kopiago and found that their food supplies had run out.
“The kiap sent a radio message to Hagen for new food supplies to be brought by plane to us”, but the plane crashed at Lake Kopiago and it took a week for the pilot to walk back to Hagen. The owner of the plane, Bob Gibbs, insisted on getting his plane back and sent 100 men from Mt Hagen to carry the plane back on foot.
Retired Sergeant Bagme was part of the teams that patrolled from Wabag to Sepik, Ialibu to Chimbu and Koroba to Tabubil. He still relishes the experience.
“Now PNG is independent and we think whitemen are bad but I’ve worked with them and they’ve done a great work to help PNG and now it is independent, despite hunger, sickness, one shoe they kept going to bring people to the light,” Bagme said
He now walks around Hagen town like any other ordinary man but with many stories to tell. He lives at Gomis police barracks in Mt Hagen where he served until his retirement in 2005.
His first wife Ogan died long ago and he now lives with his second wife. His children all had university and college education and married with children.
By OGIA MIAMEL