By EREBIRI ZURENUOC
THE general inland communities along the Saruwaget Range are denied basic essential services due to rugged terrains, deep gorges and fast flowing rivers such as Mongi River in Pindiu, Kuat River in Mindik, Tobou and Ebabang areas, and Burum River in Ogeranang area, with inclusion of other minor river systems of the area.
This part of the Papua New Guinea lies in Finschhafen, Morobe with five local level governments – Finschhafen Urban, Kottec, Yabem/Mape, Hube and Burum/Kuat.
Burum/Kuat with the biggest administrative boundary is right next to Hube local level government. The area, before Christianity was introduced, was termed generally as “Hubeland” by the Kâte speaking tribe, as “Hu Be” or “filthy pig”, because of the fearful and not so friendly inhabitants.
The area is rezoned into major language speaking tribal groups of Kuwec in Pindiu, Siawari in Mindik, Bozart in Tobou, Borong in Ebabang and Somba in Burum areas.
The bilingual arrangement makes it more sophisticated to communicate between the five tribal groups, though living in the same environment with inter-marriages.
Even the generation today do not understand and communicate well in one dialect so Tok Pisin is the common language of communication.
The current road network in the area is generally poor because of the geographical features, and access to the area is through third level airline operators.
The high cost of air services has forced inland people to walk longer distances along most dangerous tracks using the Domandong, Manimbu and Jem treks.
Most government services set up in the 1970’s are still there with not many changes. Road transport is the answer to all their problems.
I flew to Ogeranang rural Airstrip last month accompanying Pastor Kotty Okawiong, the Morobe Provincial Government Tutumang Church representative.
We delivered a Queens Diamond Jubilee Commemorative Medal for local Chief Tingneo Mandan of Serembeng Village in Burum.
Mandan was one of the 300 recipients in Morobe for the Queens Diamond Jubilee Commemorative Medal, but could not make it for the investiture ceremony in Lae, due to his age.
He was the first politician representing Burum under the old government system, and established the Ogeranang Primary School, the Ogeranang Airstrip and Ogeranang Health Centre in the 1970’s, all of which are currently being used by the people today.
He served for five terms starting from the early 1960’s till after PNG gained Independence in 1975.
The 84-year-old was very vocal on development issues in the area when he found out that I, a journalist, was there. In fact, when I was introduced to the people on that day, he already knew who my grandfather and father was.
For him, I was the grandchild he was happy to talk to.
“PNG was still a very young nation in the late 1970’s, and it cannot help all the people in the rural areas of the country,” he said.
“As an educated person back then, it was my obligation to make sure Burum people receive development services.”
“The road was completed, the airplane landed on the airstrip and the people got the medical drugs they needed for their sickness. Children were educated to be better.”
Mandan first opened the Ogeranang Primary School in 1974. Most of its pioneer students hold leadership position in the local Burum area today, from teachers to pastors. In the same year, the Ogeranang Health Centre was also established.
The Ogeranang rural airstrip was first established in 1975, and was the basis for socio-economic development in the area. The remote Burum area flourished and many people enjoyed the economic benefits.
“It was a product of self-reliance, the third national goal and directive principle in our Constitution. When I first saw a car arrive at Burum, I was so happy,” Mandan said.
He said Burum like many other isolated places in the country needs to be connected, both by air and land.
“From the beginning (since the 1960’s), things were okay, but today, things are dwindling. Our national leaders forgot about the rural people all along.”
“Today we cannot see any development in the rural areas. What was built in the 1970’s are still being used today, and this is not a sign of progress.”
He said money is not the problem in development, “the problem is the person who is in power to bring development.”
I was really humbled to listen to him talk. We could talk more, but the helicopter cannot shutdown for more than an hour. We had to head back to Lae.
I met Gracelyn Enoko, a teacher at Ogeranang Primary School for five years, who traveled with us to Lae, just to get supplies for herself and other teachers.
She said many students left school because of the lack of money: “There are no economic activities here in Burum. There are no opportunities for people to make money, and to pay for health services or school fees.
“It is a struggle for us, because we cannot find little things like bath soap and laundry detergents. Traveling to Gagidu town is very expensive, risky and time consuming, for especially us teachers.”
She said during bad weather, not many government services can be provided to the people. I thought to myself that there has to be another way around all this.
Okawiong, originally from Mindik, believes that many good things will happen in the area when the children of Burum/Kuat and Hube understand and know their past.
He was concerned that many individuals from the area, like Chief Mandan who contributed to the development of that part of the country, were not recognised for their efforts.
Much of Finschhafen’s written history has no mention of those leaders and their contributions to development in this very remote place, Okawiong tells me.
He named a few books; “Mitic Fua Ngeing Ewec” written by a German missionary and two locals from the Kottec area, and “Sangang the Cannibal Chief” authored by Christian Keysser, does not cover fully all aspects of life the people lived.
Okawiong as an educationist for more than 30 years, wrote a 41-page pictorial book titled “Okawiong Tiweyong Romoke, father of Mindik and Development” in memory of his father, with the purpose to preserve past history.
He launched the book back in 1996 at Maram Village in Burum, during the launching of “Johojoho Dolokgni”, the New Testament of the Bible, written in the Burum and Mindik vernacular. It was translated by Finish (Finland) translators Soini and Kaiya Olkkonen of the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL).
Okawiong is currently working on three books which are nearing completion and is in desperate need to secure sponsorship for publication.
The first book is a history of the Lutheran Church and is about the silent unsung heroes of Hube and Finschhafen. The second book is like a record of traditional songs from the Mindik area, and the third is a Finschhafen Marketing Development Cooperative (FMDC) album.
Today, the inland communities of Finschhafen needs development much more than before. I recall Pastor Denis Ziviong before his opening prayer told the school children and the people who gathered at the Ogeranang rural airstrip, that God’s blessings pass on from generations to generations.
“Jeremiah 6:16 tells us to follow the footsteps of our forefathers, because through it, you will prosper. We need to realise who we really are in order to be prosperous and to bring changes in our communities.”
“Through the recognition of our local Chief, let this be a reminder to our generations to come, that we are not forgotten.”
A Queens Medal can be seen as an award for service and achievement to one’s people, but for Chief Mandan, it was more than that, it should be a sign of continuous progress and prosperity from the beginning, right through to the end. He had made a promise to live until he sees his beloved inland communities flourish once again.