By SIL BOLKIN
GALKOPE men houses in what is now Chimbu, schooled young boys of the Dom, Yuri, Bari and Erula Nauro tribes, which had colonised their territories by migrating from different lands.
The Dom evolved out of Dlekopl while the Yuri walked east through the Wahgi Valley. The Erula evolved out of Monguma, while the Bari arrived at Dukul Mormapir from the Gena-Nogar.
These four tribes, now referred to as Galkope, converged and settled on either side of the Kola-Kawa River alongside an existing tribe, the Teklau-Baimane.
The Teklau-Baimane settled at Olkaipel, Mekul, Kaluvalu and its vicinity – but fled west after killing Chief uri Alaibia before the coming of Makruai, and settled at Kerual-Apane in the Jiwaka Province. To this day the older ones still speak the Nauro-Bari language.
Against this backdrop, the Catholic Church arrived unexpectedly and settled at Mingende just after the Makruai. The church extended its influence to new lands and built a mission station at Yopar. The Gakwane and the Erula Nauro people where excited about the opportunities the church brought to them.
The priest who established the Yopar station saw smoke from fires at Dukul Mormaphir and asked if people lived there. The Nauro men replied that the lands to the south were populated by four big tribes – the Galkope. The priest opted to ford over to the other side of the Wahgi River to convert the Galkope to Catholicism.
The priest forded the Wahgi with a Nauro man who tucked his stone-axe, degaima, under his bark belt. When they arrived at Olkaipel, the priest discovered that the land stretching north to Koknma Maule and Klma had been left vacant by the Teklau-Baimane.
The tribal leaders agreed that the church could settle on the vacant land and the priest named it Neragaima after the Nera Wahgi River and the degaima.
By 1948 the church was established at Neragaima and Fr Francis Wisenthal of the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) was the first priest to be stationed there to lay the foundation for conversion to Christianity. He also introduced formal education.
Kup had a small airstrip and cargo was unloaded there. The priest had two horses, which he named Nera and Gaima, which would take goods to and from Kup for the priest.
Fr Wisenthal was followed by Fr Joseph Kuppers then Fr Clement Voss, Fr Leo Joerger and Fr Joseph Mussig. Fr Joerger oversaw both Kup and Neragaima.
He brought in Catechist Peter Lari from Madang to conduct catechism classes. Years’ later Lari married a Kumai woman and had children. One of them is singer Thomas Lari.
The Galkope have a special appreciation of German priest Fr Mussig. He was the longest serving priest at Neragaima, serving 27 years from 1956 to 1983, and spoke the Nauro-Bari language fluently.
He celebrated three Masses each Sunday during those days when the Galkope were intact and built the huge permanent chapel at Neragaima in 1968. He also developed modern school and health facilities with donations from Germany.
From Mingende to Kondiu
After World War II, the catechist school was moved from Mingende to Kondiu. Nauro Tine Apa Bruno was a student at Kondiu in 1954 and learnt Tok Pisin and the basic faith and traditions of the Catholic Church. In 1956 he graduated and his first posting was back to his tribal land, Neragaima, where he became a bridge between the Galkope and Catholicism.
Bruno helped Fr Mussig to learn the Nauro-Bari language and supervised the Galkope who cracked boulders with iron mallets and collected pebbles along river-beds to cement the chapel’s foundation.
They carried sand from the Wahgi, Dipiu and Kola-Kawa rivers to install Neragaima as a hub for the Catholic Church.
The iron posts and steel were carried from Madang through Bundi.
When dusk approached the Galkope men would lay down their steel and iron at Kuibre and court and sing with the girls until dawn and then continued their carrying to Neragaima. The women cooked for the menfolk and the labour was free.
Bruno took notes of the cooperation – free labour and food – and passed them to Fr Mussig, who translated them to German and sent them off to his people. The stories were wired to different parishes in Germany which donated cash and kind for the chapel, school and the health facilities.
The Galkope villages were distances apart, so Fr Mussig decided to extend Neragaima’s services by founding 10 mission outstations at Gaima, Kel, Bemal, Korilkoa, Aialunga, Mormaul, Kumnul, Minma, Ulwal and Gurual.
These outstations remain today, each with a permanent chapel and a school as originally established.
Some sages in the Galkope said the chapel at Neragaima was built on the grave of Chief Alaibia who was murdered by the Teklau-Baimane at Olkaipel.
In 1974, the Yuri and the Nauro decided to settle a domestic dispute through tribal warfare. Bruno’s father, Gaprame, was the arrow-stem or kura mapir, and Bruno told Fr Mussig he must leave Neragama for Gor.
Fr Mussig bought Bruno a shirt and farewelled him, making sure Bruno had constant food rations until his garden at Gor yielded enough crops for subsistence.
In 1984 Bruno teamed up with Fr Mussig again and served as a catechist at Mingende when Fr Mussig became the parish priest there. A few years later Bruno moved back to Kondiu to serve again as the catechist.
Other Galkope men also served as catechists and converted the Galkope but Bruno out-served them all.
Bruno said Fr Leo paid him $6 a month whilst Fr Mussig paid $5 a fortnight plus goodies to take home as well. To him the stipend was a lot of money at the time.
Catechist Bruno eventually married a Bari Guigauma woman in 1963 and his first child was born in 1964. He chopped yopa trees at Kiuryaur-Nildikan and carried them to Klma and made gardens to feed his family and raise pigs. He went on to have five children with his one and only wife.
In 2016 the Queen awarded Catechist Bruno with a King George meritorious service medal for his service to the Galkope.
Last year was the golden jubilee of the chapel at Neragaima but the celebration was delayed until this month due to a mess up with the dates.
For the big jubilee feast 108 pigs were slaughtered and donations in cash totalled K40,000. Fifty pigs and K19,000 were contributed by the common Galkope Catholic men and women.
The labour was free and Neragaima had a completely polished landscape before the visitors came. To the Galkope, it was a thanksgiving whether cash, kind or free labour.
Women and men from the 10 outstations wearing traditional regalia converged on Neragaima and there was singing and dancing from the Aug 5 through to the conclusion on Aug 15.
As usual tonnes of food were freely contributed to feed the visitors who came from all over the country including Enga, Jiwaka, Bougainville, East Sepik, Southern Region and other parishes in the Kundiawa Diocese. They included priests and nuns as well as the newly appointed Archbishop Anton Bal.
A couple of Galkope that had ventured out of Catholic schools had doctorates, six of them became national MPs, two were ordained Catholic priests and others competed at the international level working in foreign lands. It is a long list of achievements.
Memorial to Fr Mussig
Catechist Bruno was around to witness the golden jubilee but Fr Mussig had returned to Germany as a very old man and died in a care home in 2014. The Galkope erected a memorial at Neragaima to honour Fr Mussig when they heard of his death. The plaque was unveiled during the golden jubilee.
Archbishop Bal in his sermon praised the forefathers for their bridging and bonding or tribes and the resulting development initiatives.
The forefathers sang and walked miles together with their cold kaukau and were drenched in rain but persevered to build the chapel, school and health facilities.
None of the men complained or asked for a dime in return for their labour. These people believed in public good and through their cooperation, they established an unshakeable infrastructure at no cost that has withstood the wrinkles of time.
A sage once said that the purpose of human life is to serve and to show compassion and the will to help others.
In this golden jubilee of the chapel at Neragaima may the Galkope stand firm to emulate their forefathers’ legacy in their everyday life by becoming pro-creators of public good and sweep self-interest and ego into the Nera Wahgi River.
- Sil Bolkin is a freelance writer.