Freelance writer PAUL MINGA recalls his reactions to the murder of foreigners who had left the comfort and security of their homes to serve us.
WHAT sets Western Highlands apart from the other highlands provinces is its very fertile soil that enables small and large scale farming for both subsistence and commercial purpose.
The province is a host to some major tea and coffee estates with Gumanch Coffee plantation being touted as one of the biggest estates in the whole of Pacific region.
There are also abundant virgin forests that are ideal for use- provides other needs and wants to the province population of human inhabitants. For a blessed province like Western Highlands, local young men and women are of course fortunate to toil such rich soil and vast land to do gardening for either their own consumption or for commercial purpose.
Hard working Western Highlanders always have surpluses of fresh garden food to eat and sell. But that is so for whoever believes in him or her-self by taking up subsistence farming life as an honest living. The blessed province had enough to offer for its people to be fed and to generate income.
Therefore there shouldn’t be any excuse for a Western Highlander to involve in illicit and unlawful activities to earn a living.
The murder of four expatriates that took place at different times in my truly blessed province had tarnished my province of its good reputation and standing. In fact, the murder of the expatriates had brought a big shame and a sense of guilt to us Western Highlanders (I am from Jiwaka which was until recently part of Western Highlands).
The instant I heard of the murder of an expatriate I imagined the state of shock and agony the victim`s loved ones had gone through. I knew the pain was far worse and devastating.
Law student slain
I had gone through such a painful experience with the loss of a relative, a law student in in 1989.
My family and tribe lost my father`s namesake, a second year law student from the University of Papua New Guinea. It was believed he was murdered by fellow students at the university’s Waigani campus in Port Moresby.
The pain I went through in losing my father`s namesake was too much to bear. It was a pain that nearly tore my heart into pieces. At times I thought my father`s namesake would by be a prominent lawyer and he would have been a pride of my tribe. If he had been alive he would have been the first lawyer to emerge from our Senglap tribe.
I recall the first expatriate’s murder took place in Western Highlands was in 1989. That was at a time when I was as a grade eight student at Fatima High School. It was during a library lesson that I found out about the murder incident from a newspaper article.
It was reported that the victim was an Australian telecommunication engineer employed by the PNG Post and Telecommunication Corporation (PTC) Mt Hagen branch. I found out that the engineer’s home was broken into by a gunman and his accomplice. They tried to rob the engineer and his family of their valuables and while executing the robbery, they shot dead the engineer.
It was indeed a most heartbreaking news I had come across. The murder incident took place at the victim’s home in Warakum, a suburb on the outskirts of Mt Hagen city. The saddest part of the news that made me shed tears was that “the engineer was shot dead in front of his wife and children.”
I had imagined the distraught family members and what they had gone through. I questioned God why He let this happen. The expat had come this far only to lose his life in such a dreadful manner. He was recruited by our government to serve in an important organisation. He had occupied a job that few PNG nationals were capable of doing then.
A few years later, another Australian was brutally murdered. This time it happened right in the heart of Mt Hagen town. From stories I received from villagers who had been to town that day the victim was approached by a gang who demanded money from him soon after he came out from a bank. In order to save himself, the victim offered the gunman an undisclosed amount of money but the gunman grabbed the money off his hand and then shot him to death point blank.
The two daily newspapers reported that the murdered expatriate was a senior pilot of a third level airline.
The persons who had pulled the trigger on an expatriate professionals must have been born without a normal human reasoning and a sense of what is good and what is bad. It was of course an inhuman act.
Again such an incident must not happen in a blessed province. A province that has vast fertile land that is still untouched and has an abundance of garden produce.
I could only imagine the situation the victim’s immediate family members went through. It must have been a most difficult moment of their lives. Their loved one had not lost his life in a reasonable and usual way such as through sickness, accident or in war. Therefore, the extent of pain and agony the victim’s loved ones had gone through after such a murder situation was painful indeed.
Loss of a loving servant
Many years had gone by and then in 2010, there was another brutal murder of an expatriate. This time it was a pioneer Dutch Catholic priest who chose to serve in my home province. This murder incident took place at Fatima, a church establishment in the plains of Waghi Valley near the small township of Banz.
The Dutch priest took up his call in my home province at a very young age. He came to settle, work and live among the Waghi communities for over 50 years since his arrival to PNG.
He had his life taken away in a most cruel manner. I came to know that Dutch priest as a teenager from the church service occasionally conducted by him at our local church in the late 70s. He was such a handsome man, tall and stocky. His approach towards the people and communities had made much impact both physically and spiritually.
He was at the helm of Fatima station, a set-up which he had been a pillar since its humble beginning. The determined efforts of Fr Peter have led Fatima into what it is today.
Upon arrival in PNG, he decided to settle in the Waghi Valley as his new home. Fr Peter van Adrichem – his name had become a household name in the Waghi area and also in other parts of Western Highlands since 1960s.
According to stories from villagers living near Fatima station where the priest’s murder incident took place, his home was broken into by criminals who wanted valuables. It is believed the criminals got what they wanted from but then decided to murder the priest before they left.
The priest’s lifeless body was covered with a sheet and left on his bed and was found the next day.
The breaking news of Fr Peter’s murder sent shockwaves to the whole of the Western Highlands Catholic community. It had also shocked friends and ex-students. The different schools which the late priest had initiated are Fatima High School, Fatima Vocational Centre, Fatima Community School and Fatima Good Shepherd Seminary. The murdered priest who had been the pillar behind the humble beginnings of Fatima saw what he initiated developed gradually into a station over several decades.
For over 60 years the priest worked his guts out in setting up all those valuable institutions that saw countless generations of students being educated.
What I heard from my parents and old folks several decades ago was that Fr Peter took a brave stance with his courageous heart in brushing aside speculations and frightening stories of PNG as a country being infested with cannibals.
Those stories didn`t deter him from making his way into the Highlands of PNG. Upon arrival, he preferred to settle in the plains of Waghi Valley. He arrived as a young Society of Divine Word (SVD) priest with an agricultural background, leaving behind his beloved mum, dad and siblings and the country of Netherlands, his beloved birth country of origin. He was following his heart’s desire to serve in an unknown Pacific island country of over 800 languages with diverse cultures and traditions.
He took up priesthood at a very young age which I confirmed from some of his photos with the locals placed in albums. This pioneer priest had made a tremendous impact on the lives of many people and students.
The news of his murder saddened many who knew him. Former students who left behind their parents and came to Fatima for studies looked up to him as their adopted father. For ex-Fatima students, it had been a real heart-break for them when learning of Father Peter`s murder.
His spiritual approach to Christians and students had moulded and shaped many into becoming good citizens of this country. His word of advice and encouragement- both spiritually and physically during sermons were inspirational and instilled confidence in students who then went on to accomplish their dreams successfully. FrPeter was a pillar and guide behind the prosperity of thousands of students passing out of the different institutions he initiated at Fatima.
The murder of the handsome, smart and hardworking priest was strongly condemned by many. As soon as I heard of his murder, my mind became numb and I was lost for words. I couldn’t think of a suitable reason to justify his death.
Did he deserve a very cruel treatment like this from the very community he had given his entire life to? Did he cause the death of someone from the nearby community where his life was taken away as revenge? Or did he steal from someone?
How on earth can certain people do such an unpleasant and dreadful things by taking away a person’s life?
Then another dreadful murder of another expatriate took place about seven years after the murder of the pioneer Dutch priest. I found out about that murder incident from a newspaper article while away in Port Moresby. It was sometimes in April, 2013.
According to the news, the murder victim was a young Australian man who was on holiday in Mt Hagen with his girlfriend. It was revealed that the victim and his girlfriend had resided at the house of a relative had gone away to Australia for holidays.
The incident happened at the home of the victim’s relatives at Hagen Kopi – a place not far from Mt Hagen’s Kagamuga airport. Several bandits broke into the house and raped the victim’s girlfriend and then shot him dead and escaped.
The news of the young Australian man`s murder and the pack-rape of his girlfriend hit headlines in PNG’s two daily papers. I felt very ashamed of myself as being from that part of the country where the killing and pack-rape incident took place.
I had no idea who did such a terrible and dreadful thing but as I was from the same province as the bandits, I was ashamed of the bandits’ action.
Why would someone from a blessed province do such a terrible thing to tarnish our reputation? I had imagined the pain and ordeal the victim’s girlfriend had gone through. I also thought about the emotional breakdown and the pain the victim`s loved ones had gone through when receiving the bad news. To lose a loved one in a most cruel and unacceptable manner leaves behind shattered lives for a prolonged period. It is of course sad and awful for the relatives.
There would be a lot of unanswered questions asked by distraught family members: Why did they take away the life of my loved one? Why did this happen to me? How am I going to cope with this pain? When will this pain end?
Those are some of the most likely questions asked by the grieving family members. The degree of pain resulted from death in situations such as war, accident, sickness and other natural means is not that tormenting and emotional as in losing someone in a murder.
It’s a pain that leaves behind lasting scars and memories.
- This is one of 10 short stories written by Paul Minga which will soon be published in book form.