By Rev SEIK PITOI
BLENDED families are families where one or both partners enter into marriage bringing with them a child or children from a previous marriage. This was a common occurrence among our people in years gone by.
Apart from the usual polygamy where it is usually a man (the ‘big man’) having multiple wives to show his status, blended families often resulted from the death of a spouse. Widows and widowers would remarry and raise blended families.
Today’s blended families usually happen due to divorce. A man leaves his wife and kids and marries another woman. The wife waits and after a while, she too enters a new relationship with another man, usually a divorcee with kids. They both now raise a blended family.
Such relationships, while not the ideal, do quite well in the end as both sets of kids see each other as brothers and sisters and enjoy a pleasant relationship.
However, that is not always the case. In fact, the opposite can be true when it comes to the issue of land ownership and property rights, depending on the prevailing custom of the people involved. While the ‘nuclear family’ is the norm today, blended families are still an accepted part of life.
Many people in my parents’ era grew up in blended or extended families. My mother was one such person. As a child growing up, I knew my grandparents on mum’s side.
I grew up under their care and was very fond of them. I didn’t have the chance to meet my paternal grandparents as they had passed on when my father was quite young. We did however get to know dad’s family on both his mother and father’s sides as we grew up. I will now share a bit about my parents’ families the way a blended family works in my experience.
My mother’s mother was widowed when her first husband from Baniara, Milne Bay, died in tragic circumstances. They had a son called Stephen Mamadeni. A few years later, grandmother married a man from Gomore village, Rigo. They had one daughter, my mother. Some time later, her husband went back to his village for some reason and ended up marrying a lady there and raising another family.
Mum was left alone to be raised by her mother. Again, a few years passed and grandmother married yet again, this time, to a gentleman from Hula village. They had two kids and grandad Leva Airupana stepped in to become father to a little girl who looked forward to having a father figure in her life. Grandad lavished his love upon mum and took her as his own, treating her special from childhood until she married my father.
We as her kids grew up knowing only him as our grandfather. It was when I was in my late teens that I first learnt about my roots in Rigo.
Meanwhile, Grandad Leva also had a family in Hula whom he left behind in the village during the war years. His travels took him to other provinces before coming back to Port Moresby. We are told he had some friends from Gabagaba who took him to our village. While there, he met and married our grandmother. He raised his two children, Rabona and Kwapena, as well as mum and Uncle Steven.
Grandad Leva was an excellent father to all. Meanwhile, his younger sister, Pouna, travelled from Hula to be with her brother and she too ended up marrying a man from Gabagaba, Daure.
They also raised a large family. It was some years later that grandad’s only surviving child in Hula, his son Kila, would make acquaintance with the Gabagaba family. We as a family travelled many times to Hula to be with granddad’s family members. We got to know Uncle Kila and all his kids, as well as other Hula relatives whom we are close to today.
My father’s father died while he and his younger sister, Dibura, were still very young. Dad’s mother, Laka Orira, was from Gaire village. They lived in a common family house in Gabagaba with other family members. For a young widow from another village with two young kids living with in-laws, life was pretty tough.
Petty squabbles and bickering was the usual occurrence, as one would expect in large families living together. One night, the widow couldn’t take it any more so she took her two kids and their meagre belongings and made off in a canoe.
Using a bed sheet as a sail, she steered the canoe from Gabagaba to Gaire, arriving at her family home.
Hence, dad grew up among his relatives at Gaire. Some time later, his uncle Gulu Sere from Gabagaba went to take him back from his mother’s people. Then, when he began schooling at Sogeri, dad got to know his other relatives on his father’s side, especially the children of his aunty, Simoi, who was married to Isaiah, a man from Kemaea village, Rigo.
Dad and mum married and settled on his family land at Gabagaba. However, the strong connections to his Gaire family continued, as it does through us his children today.
My parents’ situations differ in many ways. Mum grew up in a blended family; dad grew up in an extended family. Mum experienced rejection when her biological father left; dad’s father died, leaving him to grow up like an orphan. In mum’s blended family, she has a number of half brothers and sisters, and they have the same biological father.
Dad has no half siblings, but has lots of first cousins on both sides whom we as children got to know when growing up.
Getting to know mum’s family
I was a student at Port Moresby International School when dad left the public service and bought a shop at 6-Mile. It was a popular shopping centre for those commuting to the village. People from all over Rigo would stop over and shop there.
One day a group of men came into our shop and became quite rowdy when buying the amber fluid! (We actually had a bottle shop there, too). They spoke in the Rigo language to dad who could reply because he spoke the lingo quite fluently. After the group left, I asked dad who they were. He said, “That was your Uncle Jimmy, your mum’s half-brother.”
I was shocked! Half-brother? Then, dad explained about mum’s situation. It really felt strange because we had known only one grandfather all our lives! I did get to know Uncle Jimmy a bit more years later when I became pastor at Gordons United Church and he was an elder there.
As the years went by, we got to know other children of mum’s biological father, Veneo. It was largely because of Veneo’s younger brother, Tola, who reached out to our family.
Bubu Tola liked fishing and he would walk to Gabagaba to fish. But he always called in at our house to say hello to mum. Sometimes, when we had a good catch of fish, dad would get the kids to take the fish to the old man and he would in return give us vegetables from his garden. It was through him that we got to know our other relatives in Gomore.
Just recently, Uncle Jimmy Veneo passed away. He was a former senior manager at the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) and was senior lecturer in journalism at UPNG when he died. At his hauskrai, my wife and I attended and made a contribution. However, the highlight for me was to meet other family members from Gomore, particularly another of mum’s half-brothers who is a Four Square pastor in Madang. I only heard about him over the years but had never met him so it was an honour to do so then. I also met mum’s half-sisters and one of them had an uncanny resemblance to my own mum!
Thank God for blended families. As a Christian, I thank God for how He planned our lives. Mum had a painful start to life but God had a wonderful gentleman to come into her life to play the part that only a father can play. When she did meet her biological father in later years, she showed him great respect as an elderly gentleman, but the part Grandad Leva played in her life would remain appreciated forever.
Mum encouraged us to get to know our Rigo side of the family and to respect them.
They too have been open to us. While at the same time, of course, we will always relate to and love our Hula family of Bubu Leva.
Regardless of whether we are raised in a blended, extended or nuclear families, we must make God the centre of our lives.
For someone who may have experienced rejection, suffering from parents’ separation, or other unpleasant situations in life, remember God’s love is sufficient for you. God can take any undesirable situation and turn it around for good, if you allow Him.
Despite your past, through the love and grace of God, your family and home can become a place of blessing!
- Rev Seik Pitoi is a freelance writer.