In the midst of the election-relation violence, nobody noticed the disappearance of Chief Jacob Luke, the owner of PNG’s largest trucking company for at least a day before he was discovered by technicians working on a telecommunications tower.
By DANIEL KUMBON
ENGAN icon Jacob Luke was found dead in the jungle near his new Mukeres mansion at Lakolam village in Wabag a few kilometres up the Highlands Highway towards Porgera.
Luke’s unexpected death was blamed on sorcery and nine women were rounded up and tortured with hot iron rods.
Four died within the hour and five were rescued by police and taken to hospital.
Nobody had noticed Jacob’s disappearance last Wednesday, July 20, until a team of Digicel PNG technicians who were there to erect a new tower found his body in the bush the next day.
Nobody in Enga knew anything about Jacob’s death or the torture of the nine women until rumour slowly spread and trickles of the sad situation began to appear on social media in the next couple of days.
Engans were deeply engrossed in the chaos of the national elections.
They lived in fear and worried for their own lives in the worst election related violence ever experienced in the province since independence.
The people were caught in a vice-like grip of terror, despair and suffering as cold-blooded killings and wholesale destruction to property worth millions of kina occurred in almost all parts of the province.
The mining township of Porgera was turned into a killing field where up to 30 people were killed within minutes, one girl abducted, raped then believed killed and her body dumped in an unknown location.
In this sad situation, Luke returned home from a business trip in America with 12 friends and family members on Tuesday, July 19.
His death and the four women killed and five survivors accused of sorcery became mere statics in the overall picture of death and destruction in the province.
Provincial Police Commander, acting Superintendent George Kakas said the women were stripped and tortured with hot iron rods.
“Their torturers shoved hot iron rods into their private parts,” he said.
“When we (police) got there, four of them had already died, five survived and we rushed them to the hospital under close police protection. They could not even walk when we rescued them,’’ Supt Kakas said adding that the women would be taken to a safe house after they were treated
Governor Sir Peter Ipatas said arrests should be made to stop this type of cruelty from continuing.
“The late Luke was a good man who touched many lives across the country,” Ipatas said.
“He did not believe in sorcery nonsense and neither do I.vIt is disappointing that these women were tortured in his name. Those responsible must be dealt with according to law.”
But immediate police action seems unlikely with the province still engrossed in the GE22 fiasco.
The first person, Jacob Luke had contacted after he had arrived from America was another iconic figure Councillor Paul Kurai, his long-time family friend, business associate and brother-in-law.
Luke rang Kurai from America to say that he and his group of 12 friends and relatives were visiting 14 states in a private jet belonging to an American business associate.
On Sunday, July 17, he called Kurai from Lae to tell him that he was back in PNG and was preparing to drive up to Wabag in Enga. But Kurai asked him to delay his trip because he needed somebody to pick him up and three friends at Nadzap Airport on Monday, July 18.
“I had to stay back because you are important to me,” Luke told Kurai as he and his friends seated themselves in Jacob s latest model V8 wagon.
“Thank you for waiting. You can be my driver today,” Paul Kurai quipped. And asked Jacob to drive him and his friends to the Lae International Hotel.
After dropping them off, he gave Kurai the keys to a 10-seater for him to use during his stay in Lae, then left them to settle down in the hotel.
Luke’s next telephone call was from Kassam Pass telling Kurai that he was now headed to Wabag.
That was on Tuesday morning. In the afternoon Luke called again, this time from Kurai’s Ribito Hotel in Wabag. He asked Kurai to go to his residence in Lae and pick up his passport which he had forgotten and take it with him to Port Moresby.
The two friends had made arrangements to travel to Manila in the Philippines on last Sunday, July 24 on another business trip.
Kurai said Luke did not ring him on Wednesday. On Thursday, he rang but there was no answer. Again, he tried several times but still there was no answer.
So, Kurai sent a text message explaining he was making his way to Port Moresby with his passport. And would wait for him there for their trip to Manila.
But his text messages remained unanswered. This was uncharacteristic of Jacob Luke.
Then Kurai got two consecutive calls from Luke’s brother Kapili. Kurai said he ignored the first but answered the second call.
Kapili broke the sad news that his late brother had been found dead in the bush by Digicel technicians.
Luke had left his phone and other personal effects in his new V8 wagon at his new mansion at Lakolam giving everybody the impression that he was in the house or with neighbours in the vicinity.
Nobody had noticed him put on his gum boots, take a bush knife and set off into the nearby forest.
He always went for a solitary walk when he was at Lakolam. He seemed to enjoy the natural beauty and surrounds of the mountain range breathing in fresh air generated by the pristine jungle.
When thirsty, he would drink from the abundance of fresh water sprouting out of the ground.
But on this sad day, he was found dead lying on the ground face up in a grey sweat shirt with his head covered in a hood. He had his gum boots on and the bush knife lay beside him.
Jacob Luke was a simple man who did not act like a multi-millionaire who owned Mapai Transport with over 200 semi-trailers.
He was one of a few Engan businessman who were beginning to come back to the province to settle among their own people in the village.
Jacob Luke would have easily settled in another part of PNG or migrate overseas given the recurring social issues in the province.
But he came home and built a million-kina mansion at Lakolam among his Tit clansman of the major Sakalin tribe.
He discouraged people from involving in tribal warfare killing each other unnecessarily.
He encouraged the people to send their children to school by building a new school at Lakolam. Soon enrolment picked up and smartly dressed children were seen going to school every morning.
Jacob Luke built the Lakolam to Monokam road utilising his own funds hoping that his people would learn to live in peace among themselves and with their neighbours.
There is so much more he has done for his Sakalin people, Enga province and PNG which would fill the pages of many books.
I came to know Jacob Luke after I had edited the first chapter of his autobiography written by Robert Iki Leso towards the end of 2016.
Robert gave me permission to publish the edited chapter in the popular blog – PNG Attitude published out of Australia.
The chapter titled ‘Brink of Death: The Birth of Trucking Tycoon Jacob Luke’ was about how his mother nearly died when she struggled to give birth to him 72 years ago.
The article attracted readers from PNG and abroad highlighting the character of Jacob Luke and how much he touched the hearts of multitudes of people.
Ian Ritchie wrote from Australia:
‘I was first shown this story by one of my Engan students from Mulitaka, a number of years ago. It is certainly a very poignant yet uplifting story that touched me then and still has the same effect today.
In fact, I was so taken with it that I took this story to show my wife, a midwife in Queensland, who now has this story as part of the reading material for her clients to ponder while they await their own joyous news.
She too was touched by the story and despite the years that have passed since the original events unfolded, she decided she would donate her much cherished midwifery handouts and textbooks to PNG.
The ideal opportunity unfolded recently, when another of my students advised me, his wife was a midwife at the newly reopened Paiam Hospital.
A perfect fit given the number of Mapai transports that roll along the Highlands Highway through Wabag, Mulitaka and Paiam.”
Vernon Wani, a first-time visitor to Monokam, Jacob’s other village in the Ambum Valley wrote:
‘This story is of a man with great passion, vision and determination to inspire everyone that life doesn’t give you what you want, it gives you what you deserve.
‘I am definitely putting my hands up for a signed autobiography from this locally owned, globally known PNG great man.
Mr. Jacob Luke – Cheers”
And this from Southern Highlander, Linus Kuruwalo:
‘I knew Luke after he sold a 15-seater bus to me when he was a salesman with PNG motors Warakum.
He built a home close by and I would visit and spend a couple of nights with the family even though I am a Southern Highlander.
He was a great guy who would joke and smile most of the time. He had a lot of energy trying out things and finally the good Lord has rewarded him for his efforts. God bless Jacob Luke.
And from Chimbu Philip Kai Morre writes:
‘I personally met Jacob Luke two years ago when there was a massive landslide at my village (Guo) west of Kundiawa that blocked the national highway for more than two months.
The highlands people on the western side suffered from a lack of basic services because vehicles never passed through.
The Works Department couldn’t do much to open the road because they were in a financial crisis. It was Jacob Luke who stepped in to pay the landowners to allow Kaiaworks Construction to clear the massive slide.
Jacob Luke is a down to earth man with an outgoing personality and good public relations. He showed a heart for his people.
Then from far away England Robert Forster, a retired patrol officer describes how another woman had struggled to give birth just as Jacob’s mother had suffered to give birth to him.
‘Deep in my retirement I often think of a young woman who walked into a patrol camp on the north side of the Wahgi River sometime in 1973.
She was in labour with a stomach that at the same time was as big as a balloon and as hard as stone – and her face betrayed a grim mixture of stoicism, desperation and fear.
She was with three men and they told me she had been in contraction for some time. What is more she had walked in from other side of a range in the Bismarcks – which placed her in a lower section of the Jimi Valley and a journey of at least two days.
I was astonished by her fortitude. She was immediately out in the front seat of a Landcruiser and driven to the Nazarene Hospital at Kudjip.
Her fear and courage stay with me still – especially as I do not know whether she was, with the aid of medical help, able overcome her problem or died as a result of it instead.’
Many other comments came from people expressing how they would love to read more of Jacob Luke’s biography.
Jacob Luwai wrote:
‘Wow! Just sudden pause, why not taking me through…very good script, well written. Yes ya!
One of our great men and a true son and pride of Enga, Jacob Luke, my name-sake.
He has a uniquely charming heart for people; a giving, sharing, helping heart.
Pray that Mother Nature will abundantly bless him so he may continue the good work.”
Indeed, Jacob Luke had been blessed in the last 72 years he has lived on this earth.
He commenced operations of his Mapai Transport company in 1985 with a single vehicle. Now, there are depots in Lae, Mt Hagen and Goroka running a fleet of 70 prime movers and 200 trailers, 20-tonne delivery trucks and nearly 700 containers.
His loss will be greatly felt for a long time by his large family, friends and relatives, the Sakalin tribe, the people of Enga and countless other people whose hearts he touched.
Remember, Jacob Luke’s death ought to be a good lesson that the struggle for power – death and destruction as evident in this year’s national elections, is not worth it if a man can die anytime, anywhere without saying goodbye.
Jacob Luke was indeed a selfless, humble and peace-loving man, a true role model.
• Daniel Kumbon is a freelance writer.