Lessons from the past


THIS year’s national election has been a disaster in Enga province, one of the worst since independence.
For the first time in my life, many of us town residents, educated elites and senior citizens of PNG did not cast our votes on that gloomy day on July 8, 2022.
Hundreds of voters from many other parts of this volatile province did not vote either.
A violent, lawless young generation seemed to have taken over the whole election process and dictated to people what to do.
They did not seem to even listen or respected the candidates whom they supported, let alone the disciplined forces or innocent citizens who gathered around polling booths to fulfill their democratic right.
Man trying to be Rambo seemed to have appeared everywhere in the province. They stoned helicopters, blocked national highways, hijacked ballot boxes, set on fire both public and private property triggering tribal wars in three districts – Kandep, Laiagam and Kompiam which resulted in many deaths.
Citizens helplessly stood and watched as the circumstances were beyond their control to even argue or do anything about it. They were forced to keep quiet and accept the situation as it played out before their very eyes.
Sadly, I got information from Kandep that a family Toyota Land Cruiser had been set on fire by some supporters for no apparent reason. It was on hire to the PNG Electoral Commission and was parked outside the district manager’s residence in the small township.
“Yes, that’s what I was told. It happened in broad daylight. We will take ownership and take on the burden. I am already talking with people,” a senior public servant told me in a rare text message.
Rare because, there were few people in the province who wanted to admit guilt but ignored them which usually led to more violent conflict.
The text message was comforting and eased a potential flare-up between my people and his clan. He did the right thing to admit his people’s involvement. And we did the right thing to make a complaint at the police station.
If need be, a more thorough report on the outcome of this incident and general conduct of the GE22 in Enga province will be published after counting was completed and winners declared.
But for now, it is worth sharing some information on the work and visions of former missionaries and prominent citizens who were really committed to their work under difficult conditions to build this nation to where it is today.
And since this was the very first national election without Founding Father Grand Chief Sir Michael Thomas Somare, I will reproduce a letter written in Wewak by Bishop Leo Arkfeld, SVD who was in charge when Enga was considered part of the Wewak ‘Vicariate’ (diocese) many years ago.
A 1957 map shows a line dividing the Wewak and Madang areas on which Sikir (Tsikiro), Par, Sari, Pina, Wanepap, Pumakos, and Laiagam are marked on the map. Bishop Leo Arkfeld’s letter illustrates how missionaries from Europe and other parts of the world kept coming here to help a backward people in the 19th century to work really hard against illness which claimed many lives.
I recently found the letter safely tucked away in an album at Tskiro Catholic Mission in the Kompiam-Ambum electorate where right now, a few kilometres away, Yumbilyam High School and Kaipores sub-district office were burning due to election-related violence.
Tskiro Catholic mission will not be affected as the community there will not allow anything to happen to it but anyway, here is a reproduction of the letter by Bishop Leo Arkfeld.

Dear friends of Wewak,
I have now been in New Guinea for 25 years. That’s no real great achievement in these days of modern medicine.
There is however, a priest still living in Germany who spent 25 years here in New Guinea from about 1900 to 1925. That was really something, because in those days, the average missionary only lasted about 15 years. The average age at death of the first 80 missionaries to this part of New Guinea was 43 years.
I had the privilege of meeting this remarkable priest, Fr Jackle T Averberg, SVD a few years ago.
I found him in his room reading his office. One would think that a priest born in 1878 would consider himself excused from reading the office, but not so, Father Averberg. He was very enthusiastic in telling me all about the early days in New Guinea.
It seems they had the same problems we have now. With some extra ones thrown in for good measure. He still rides a bicycle and insisted that I go with him to the family farm to see their cattle.
All I could think of was ‘what a man, what a priest, what a missionary.”
He still writes to us, and sends offerings when he can. His heart is still in New Guinea. Father Theodore Averberg, SVD is probably the eldest member of that group called ‘friends of Wewak.’
He is 93 years of age.
Yours in Corde Mariae, Leo Arkfeld, SVD.

The writer’s family vehicle, which was hired out for election-related work was burnt down in Kandep, Enga.

Bishop Arkfeld probably shared the letter sometime in the 1950s or 60s which shows that although many missionaries died of illness, they kept coming to help our people find a new way of life free from disease and hardship.
One of the products of these early Catholic missionaries was former Governor-General of Papua New Guinea Sir Ignatius Kilage of Chimbu,
He studied Christian philosophy and theology under the Divine Word Fathers at the Holy Spirit Seminary near Madang and was ordained a priest on Dec 17, 1968.
Sir Ignatius Kilage was a published writer and author. Other Catholic priests who entered politics include Fr John Momis and Fr Robert Lak who were outspoken senior statesmen.
Sir Ignatius is featured with other great men and women in a 1974 book titled ‘Shaping the Future’ who include Michael Somare, Tei Abal, Joesphine Abaijah, Albert Moari Kiki, Paulias Matane, Ebia Olewale, Ted Diro, Zurewe K Zurenuo, Robin Kumaina and many others, some of whom still alive today.
They expressed their views in the book published 47 years ago by Kristen Press in Madang. These men and women had clear visions for their young country and knew what their role was and what every citizen should do to help develop their country to full nationhood.
Sir Ignatius was of the opinion that leaders had to understand that development meant liberation of human beings from oppression. hunger, injustice, exploitation, economic servitude, and fear, which he believed would ensure the country was headed in the right direction in peace.
“Our leaders should know right from the beginning that economic, political, social, and technological progress are means to an end, and not an end in themselves. Progress is there to liberate man, not the other way round,” he said.
Whether, the conduct of this year’s national election is a sign of progress or regress is for every citizen of this country to ponder and seriously assess and draw their own conclusions.
Reading to pass time
Another book I am reading to pass time while anxiously waiting for this election fiasco to end quickly is ‘See Australia and Die’ by Wendy Lewis. It contains griping tales of misadventure experienced by both tourists and locals down under.

SVD and Holy Spirit missionaries gathering at a recent anniversary event in Madang. Their forerunners had laid down their lives to change Enga.

But if the book was about PNG’s 10th Parliament and NGE22, the title could easily be rewritten thus: ‘Enter Parliament and Die’
The title would be fitting because an unprecedented 10 serving members of the 10th parliament have died before they completed their full terms in office or after a couple had nominated with hopes of winning back their seats.
Even some aspiring new candidates have died too, soon after they had paid their nomination fees. On top of that election-related deaths kept rising due to violence or when truck-loads of supporters plunged to their deaths during campaigning.
Over 40 people have died so far nation-wide as reported by the media but the figures could be more as every election-related incident is not reported from many corners of the country.
From past experience, many more people will die during counting, soon after a winner was declared or in revenge killings for those who have already died in election-related violence.
The cycle of death and destruction during national elections is a nightmare for many citizens of this resource-rich country.
The situation seemed to get worse in every election and raises the question whether people will ever experience free elections in the future?
One wonders what was going through the mind of Founding Father, Grand Chief Sir Michael Thomas Somare, if it were possible for the dead to look back from the grave at what was happening to his beloved country right now.
I quoted the great man in my recent novel ‘The Old Man’s Dilemma’ which is about love, grief, happiness, rebellion and restoration.
“Remember the good times, laughter and fun. Together with your fathers and forefathers, we united Papua New Guinea into one nation. A nation of diversity and multicultural heritage.
“Share the happy memories we’ve made. Do not let them wither or fade. Live on now, make me proud of what you will become.”

  • Daniel Kumbon is a freelance writer