By BETHA SOMARE
BELIEVE it or not there is a place in the Sepik where there are no mosquitoes!
Welcome to Koil Island. There are no streams or rivers on the island where mosquitoes can nest, except for a small swamp on the far eastern side of this 3km-wide island.
On June 11 my siblings and I overnighted at Saboron Beach beside the home of the chief, Tony Wobar, of Koil Island. There was no need for mosquito nets that evening or the worry of security. The night was void of any sound save the gentle crashing of waves some 20 metres away from our makeshift tent.
The chief or kukurai had invited the Somare family to unveil a plaque in memory of the late Great Grand Chief, Sir Michael Somare in the centre of the main village on the island. Three chiefs from the nearby island of Vokeo, Bernard Dale, John Bon and Peter Sabokai also came to witness the occasion.
Having another ceremony to attend to at midday on June 11, we left Wewak quite late in the afternoon. My siblings and I hopped into two banana boats and met up with two other boats of Koil islanders and crossed the Bismarck Sea for 65km to their island.
Koil island is north east of Wewak and one of six islands that make up the Schouten Group of Islands that begins at Vokeo and stretches across to Wei, Blup Blup, Kadovar and Bam (or Biem) that borders on Madang province.
We were met at the beach of the main village by the traditional chiefs who invited us in to the hausman or meeting place where Chief Wobar and his wife Jane Babob Wobar, greeted us and served specially made herbed kulau drinks.
Chief Wobar is a year younger than the late Sir Michael Somare and their connection is that they were teachers together in the late 1950s and early 1960s. They remained lifelong friends and their paths crossed many times as Sir Michael went on to national politics and Wobar served for some years as a provincial politician.
Chief Wobar explained that in 1975 at Independence, many villages in the Sepik area carved rocks and placed them in the centre of their villages to mark the transition from colonialism to self-rule.
Similarly, Koil village has a special rock that today sits just behind the new plaque commemorating the life of Sir Michael Somare. Chief Wobar initiated the idea of a special plaque in memory of Sir Michael who generations of Sepiks have proudly and freely elected for 49 years.
Like his forebears, Sir Michael, being a Murik man through ethnicity has always had ties with the Schouten Island people and this relationship is embodied and further strengthened at the unveiling of the plaque on June 12, 2021.
Traditionally the Schouten Island people including Koil islanders had trade partnerships with Murik Lakes people who exchanged food and other goods amongst each other. The banana boats today have replaced the old outrigger canoes and trips that would take an entire day are now reduced to a few hours.
Before departing the island for Wewak, we took part in the opening of the early childhood learning school named after the late Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare.
Our father’s footprint on PNG and our own East Sepik is immeasurable. As his children we have a road ahead filled with many expectations but for sure we can only try to maintain our father’s legacy of promoting peace and unity throughout our country.
The spirit of harmony and community in the people of Koil embody the kind of society our father hoped for in the creation of a unified country of many tribes almost 46 years ago when those rock sculptures were proudly carved marking our transition to nationhood.
By BETHA SOMARE