This article is the result of a three-year research on the arrival of the Gospel to the Nakanai people conducted by Rev Sione Kami Memorial Church elder and Secretary of the Department of Transport, Roy Mumu. Elder Roy and Rev Sir Samson Lowa (former Moderator of the United Church), are among prominent sons of Galilo Village in the Nakanai area. Nakanai is one of the eight tribes in the Talasea District of West New Britain and covers the area from Hoskins to the border of East New Britain. The story will be told in two parts.
By ROY MUMU
THE PNG Covenant/Repentance Day coincides with the day God’s Word was first preached on Galilo land.
On Sunday, Aug 26, 1918, Samoan pastor/teacher, Samoa Tai and his Samoan helper, Ulia, preached the Gospel for the first time at Galilo. As PNG celebrated the solemn day on Monday, Aug 26, 2019, the Galilo United Church Circuit in the Hoskins LLG of West New Britain held a low key celebration to commemorate 101 years of this important day in their history. (Their centennial celebration was held last year. The event will be covered in Part 2).
Hunger for the Gospel
The Nakanai tribe at that time were considered so remote for any contact with other tribes of New Britain and were thus not accorded any considerations for contact by the early European traders and expatriates. However, it was the desire of the pioneer Methodist missionaries to advance the Gospel to this part of the New Britain Island. They decided to make use of the frequent visits by Tolais of East New Britain who were in search of the famous shell money, tabu, which was available in large quantities along the shores of several Nakanai Villages. The coordination of such Tolai shell money expeditions by Kabakada villagers to Nakanai was made in 1885 by Rev Benjamin Danks, then the principal of the Kabakada Christian Leaders Training Centre. These expeditions opened the local people up to the future advent of the Gospel.
The events of the German colonisation of German New Guinea, with the initial proclamation in 1884 and final annexation in 1888, and the establishment of the New Britain District Headquarters of German New Guinea in Kokopo, provided the catalyst for launching of the Lotu to Nakanai.
Strategic approach to advance the Gospel to Nakanai
In 1897, based on a request from the Methodist Mission, the first German Methodist Missionary, Rev. Henrich Fellmann arrived and was posted to Raluana Methodist Mission. This is so he would be near the German headquarters in Kokopo to continue the work of the Lotu under the German colony, as well as to strategise its advance to Nakanai.
In 1899, two very important events took place that provided the launching pad for advancing the Lotu to Nakanai. First, the New Britain Methodist Church Circuit was divided into Kabakada and Raluana Circuits, headed by superintendents, under the oversight of the Kabakada Methodist District. Second, some of the Nakanai people who were impressed by the character of these Tolai Christians (from the shell money trips) decided that they wanted to have a Christian missionary sent to live among them and teach them the Gospel.
In that year, Malai and Ulalu of the Uge Uge Clan of Apupul village, Bialla, travelled by canoe all the way to Kabakada, carrying a live pig with them. They presented the pig to Rev William Chambers, the Chairman of the District (Patuana), who was stationed at Kabakada, and asked him to send mission workers to their people. Rev Chambers was moved by their request, but could not promise to send workers immediately.
The reaction from Malai and Ulalu to Rev William Chamber’s response was a mixture of disappointment and anxiety. They wondered how long they would have to wait for the decision by the Methodist Church Leaders in Raluana and Kabakada.
During the Church Synod in Kabakada in the year 1900, the members were depressed with the lack of support to advance the Lotu to Nakanai and New Ireland, especially after the unfruitful initiative of Malai and Ulalu. But in 1901, changes took place when Rev Fellmann replaced Rev Chambers as the new Chairman of the Kabakada District.
In 1903, Fellmann requested Rev Charles Doley and Fijian missionary Rev Emosi Verebesanga to travel along the Nakanai coast to buy land in several villages as a preparation for placing workers there. Some of the land purchased was at Bubu, Apupul, Ewase, Galilo, Karapi, Moe and Kalu villages. But nothing more happened for 15 years, during which time some of the overseas missionaries were forced to leave because of malaria (Doley, for example, was sent home very ill in 1903). There was now a shortage of leaders for the work.
At the 1917 Kivung na Talatala (Synod), the indigenous misinares and catechists spoke up and said, “If there is no minister free to go to Nakanai, send some of us. God will look after us”. They were supported by the principal of the George Brown College, Ps Samoa Tai, which led to the following 1917 Kabakada Synod resolutions:
1. Raluana Circuit will provide pastor/teachers for Gasmata/Amblingi (on the South Coast of West New Britain, and,
2. Kabakada Circuit will provide pastor/teachers for Nakanai. The allocations are:
2.1 Kabili (Galilo Village), Ps Samoa Tai and Helper Ulia,
2.2 Karapi Village, Ps Sanibalat ToKalulu.
2.3 Katuvase (Ewasse Village), Kepas ToKapeo, and,
2.4 Bubu Village, SakiusTo Malan.
July 1918: First missionary journey
This first missionary journey was to place pastor/teachers from Raluana Circuit at Gasmata/Amblingi area, however due to bad weather, they had to return to Rabaul along the north coast and workers were dropped off at Raluana.
August 1918: Second missionary journey:
On this second journey a month later, Samoan pastor-teachers Tai and Ulia were sent with three Kabakada pastor-teachers: Sanibalat ToKalulu, Kepas To Kapeo and Sakius ToMalan. The Samoans were placed at Galilo village, and at first, the people would not listen to them. However, Boas Kulei, who was then a young man, befriended them and helped them do their ministry successfully among the people.
There was also a request from villages on the south-west coast of New Britain, in the Abilingi-Gasmata region for Christian workers, but the Church decided instead to focus on Nakanai.
1919: Third Missionary Journey
In 1919, the Chairman Rev Chambers, took some misinares to this area, but the village leaders had changed their minds (possibly under the influence of Catholic missionaries who were working nearby) and refused to have the Methodist workers. Chambers sailed on in the mission ship Litia, around the western end of New Britain and back along the north coast. He visited the misinares working in the Nakanai villages, and placed two more there: Savenat ToBai and Iosatek ToValuta. In 1920-21, more workers were sent to the Nakanai coast, including Epineri Titimur, William ToRongmule, Samison ToVurkikia, and Rupen ToGiliau.
Financial support and decision to establish Malalia
In 1923, a generous gift of money from Mr F.J. Cato of Sydney, made it possible to establish a head station at Malalia. Known as the Nakanai Outreach Centre for the Methodist Church, it was under the oversight of the Kabakada Circuit and looked after all the Methodist Church villages from Gavuvu to East Nakanai/border with ENBP. The first expatriate pastor to Malalia was Ps Edgar Anderson and his wife. In 1924, he baptised the first three Nakanai Christians: Boas Kulei and Esau from Galilo, and Golias from Gavuvu village. Daniel August also came from Kabakada to teach in the Circuit Training Institution (Vartovo Ikilik) at Malalia.
The Andersons were succeeded in 1927 by another lay missionary, Ron Wayne. Nakanai became a sub crcuit in 1928, and minister, Rev Herbert Williams and his wife followed the Waynes in 1929. More Tolai and Duke of York misinares came to Nakanai in those years: Ioel ToVata, Isikel ToKaumata, Ereman ToGuan, Samison ToVulpitia, Eliuda ToUlur, Daniel ToMare, Misikaram ToVoivoi, Pita Teu, Isimel ToNaita, Eron ToPuak and Ulaias ToVulia.
Thanks to the Tolais, Duke of York islanders, Pacific Islanders and European missionaries, my people have the Gospel today. It’s more than a coincidence that on the same day 89 years after the Gospel was first preached in my village of Galilo, PNG entered into a covenant with the God of Israel.
In Part 2, I will share about the medical staff, and of meeting some of the children of missionaries, some with Nakanai names, I met in Australia. Their sacrifice and selfless service among the Nakanai people cannot be forgotten.
- Rev. Neville Threlfall (Extracts from the “Methodist/United Church 100 Years in the Islands, 1875-1975” Book,
- Roy Ranney (Membership Officer of PNG/Australia Association-PNGAA Una Voce Newsletters),
- New Britain Missionary Children-( George Oakes and Enda Oakes) and their family contributions in the “Journey to Nakanai 1932-1935” Book.