By ENNIO KUBLE
WAL Genepiapa, at around the age of 95, is probably the oldest living citizen of Dirima-Yani in Gumine district of Chimbu.
Her cheeks are drooped in wrinkles but her deep clear eyes and short snow-white hair toned her skin to glow radiating warmth to anyone who makes contact with her.
Genepiapa walked confidently from across the lawn to inside the lounge of the Guire Guest House where this interview was held.
She has hearing problems but when the topic of discussion was made know to her she went rattling like a machine gun, pausing only to recall details which evidently escaped her memory.
A conservative estimate of her age would be 95 years, reaching towards 100. It can be disputed but her recollections of her life, which centered around two modern historical events, attested to her story of her age.
Based on the interview she was in her teens, probably at 18 or 19 years, when the war bombers flew over her side of the mountains in Gumine in between 1943 and 1944 in the Second World War.
“I was already a woman when we sighted the planes in the sky. We were warned that those planes would throw down stones (bombs) so whenever the planes were sighted in the horizon I would lead the smaller ones to take cover,” she said in her Golin dialect.
In the latter years when the first Catholic missionary priest settled in Dirima in 1947 she was already married to a gallant young man Vitus Wai. Genepiapa and Vitus were a young couple and adopted the first priest into their household at Galmamain.
She lives on and celebrated the golden jubilee of Dirima St Anne’s Church building which her late husband Vitus Wai was the overseer in timber sourcing and sawing for the construction. Vitus earned himself a household name, Wai Palang Boy’ which is still fresh in everyone’s memory in Dirima and parts of Gumine district.
In 2018 Genepiapa together with the Catholic faithful of Dirima again celebrated the platinum jubilee (70 years) of the settlement of the first Catholic missionary in Dirima.
“I am living a long life now and the magic is, I take care in what I eat. Two of my smaller sisters who were married died from old age. Even my younger brother, the last of my siblings, died. I am the only survivor,” she exclaimed.
“Some of the younger women from Kawaleku tribe which I arranged for them to marry men from Dirima have also died,” she lamented.
Wal Genepiapa comes from the Bamingoan clan of the Kawaleku tribe of Boromil, west of Dirima. She is the eldest among three siblings and was married to Vitus Wai, a handsome Kipaku man from Dirima, which is towards the east. The mountain ranges form formidable walls to the north and south with Mt Wikauma towering over Dirima-Yani and Boromil.
She was a wife and mother when the Dirima people used digging sticks to build sections of the road, now Nilkare Highway linking Gumine to Kundiawa, the provincial headquarters of Cimbu.
She witnessed the construction of the first corrugated iron building in Dirima, which today still stands housing students as a classroom for Dirima Primary school.
“As the priest was more or less like my adopted son I was naturally enrolled into the catechism school without me realising it. Later on I was made a committee of the church and also the first female catechist of the parish,” she recalled.
Genepiapa and Vitus over the years had five children of which one died. The first child, Elizabeth Wai is now 68 years old and is married with four children and six grandchildren.
Bob Wai, the second child is now 62 years of old and has six children and two grandchildren. The third child James Wai is married with 12 children and 10 grandchildren. The fourth Edwick Wai is 48 years old and has no children.
In all, Genepiapa the living legend of Dirima has 22 grandchildren and 18 great grandchildren.
On a lighter note, Genepiapa jokes, laughs aloud and walks a few meters from within her premises with the support of a walking stick. And as usual of old age, she forgets a few details, in her story telling.
She speaks Tok Pisin with ease because she was the first person to learn the language from the missionary, and during the time of the interview she uttered some words fluently.
Genepiapa said a lot has changed in Dirima and she remains part of the history.
“Dirima was a savannah grassland. The silky tips of the grass waved with the breeze creating a dazzling pattern, but today Dirima is filled with trees, the land is producing abundant food, new schools and churches are being built, and the number of people have increased with new ways of life coming in,” she observed.
“I wish that people of Dirima can live on and on like me,” she quietly concluded.
By ENNIO KUBLE