PETER DONIGI pays tribute to Lohia Hitolo, a pioneering civil servant who had a dream to unite his Motu-Koitabu people.
I was surprised that I did not see any senior representative of the government at his funeral service on Sat 12 Sep at Elevala village in Port Moresby.
Lohia was the second civil engineer that this country produced. His brother Raho Hitolo was an Ombudsman Commissioner at one time. He also holds a masters degree in civil engineering. Lohia started working for the colonial government in 1973 and rose in the civil service to become the Secretary for Transport and Civil Aviation and the Secretary for Works.
Lohia and I have much in common. We both completed our studies at two different universities but commenced working full time with the colonial administration in 1973.
He was the builder of roads and bridges in PNG. In that work he brought the fractious communities of this nation together. I rose in the public service to become a builder of different kinds of roads and bridges – those that link PNG to the rest of the world. I was involved in the drafting and negotiation of many international agreements that PNG is a member of.
When he left the government, Lohia became an unpaid evangelist and worked to try to bring together the fractious people of the Motu Koitabu society.
In that regard, he was a selfless man. I became intensely involved with his work when he came to my office in October 2007.
He always called me by my surname.
He said, “Donigi, I have read so much about you and everything that you write in the papers. Now I want you to help my people.”
So I asked who will pay for my services and he said simply, “Donigi, you know God works in mysterious ways and you will be abundantly blessed in Heaven”.
I said to him, “Lohia you do not know what you are saying and asking, because what I see before me is a dying man who will not live to see the projects through with me.”
I said to him that if he wanted me to help, there were three things he must promise me he would do.
The first was that he must get rid of the coke bottle he was holding in his hand, because he was slowly poisoning himself with it.
He said, “Okay, I will do that and what is the second thing?”
I said the second is very simple – lose some weight as our work will not take weeks but months or even years and I did not want him dying on me before we got at least one project off the ground.
And the third is that next time he walks into my office, I want to see that big smile on his face – no smile no meeting. He said he could agree to the first two but why the third? I said to him the answer is very simple and it is related to the other two. When I see him I see a walking contradiction – he is supposed to be an evangelist but I see that deep inside he carries with him an immense anger, hurt and problems of his people. I told him that as an evangelist, he must remove himself from the weight of his people’s problems so as to stay healthy; otherwise the problems will drive him to an early grave.
That first conversation with Lohia characterized our relationship for the following 23 months of his life. We would talk about religion, missionary work, philosophy, corruption and other subjects he would raise, not purposefully but conversationally.
He would mention something and I would immediately pick him up on his either use of the word or the philosophy of the word or phrase that he used. He would tell me that he always looked forward to our conversations, because he always learnt new things from me.
But I said to him that the other way around is also true, it is in imparting knowledge that I learn that knowledge exists. He said that statement in itself was profoundly exciting and he would use some of that knowledge in his evangelical work.
I said to him that if he must use the little that I had imparted in our conversations, he must know that knowledge already existed before time and space came into our conception and it was not difficult to seek that knowledge.
The knowledge that I have I cannot claim is my creation because that expression denies the existence of the Creator. Even the word “Creator” is immensely inappropriate and inadequate to describe that which has existed outside of our concept of time and space, which Lohia calls “God” in his evangelical work.
If he would want to use the little that I know in his evangelical work, he must never claim that knowledge to be his own and must always acknowledge the existence of that which has existed before the beginning of time and space which he calls “God”.
So we talked about religion and God. I told him that I do not really like and I avoid evangelists because they make much noise and know nothing at all about God. That put him on the spot and he wanted to know what I know about God. I told him that I come from a different society and am born into the past as well as the present because I learnt and understood many things from my grandfather and also from the university. From my grandfather I learnt that knowledge had always existed. From the university I learnt the art of refining and applying knowledge to the present to change or manifest the future of my wanting. From this, I know that I am the master of my own destiny and can create a heavenly experience or a hellish experience for myself here and now and in future. One does not need to die to find that heavenly experience and therefore I do not need to wait to reap my rewards in Heaven.
Most evangelists sell “fear of death” in order to promote themselves. Fear is an emotion and a very powerful emotion which can deny the existence of the other emotion that is known as “love”.
Love and fear are opposites and cannot co-exist in a happy union. An evangelist who sells fear is a false prophet. Love on the other hand is free and cannot be bought and sold. The disciple of fear is greed and it breeds death and destruction. Whilst ‘love’ has and needs no disciples. It manifests itself in long life and prosperity.
I told Lohia that it is all in the Bible – from the first word of the Book of Genesis to the last word of John in Revelations. I told him I can tell whether an evangelist is selling fear or promoting love and I told him how the message of the Cross (Jesus dying on the Cross) and what John says in Revelations has been so much misinterpreted by evangelists.
Lohia wanted to know what it was and I told him that John at the end of Book of Revelations challenged us all to “overcome” in order to enter the new Heaven and a new earth. However, he did not tell us what we have to overcome.
He was silent on this matter. For me however this message is the same as the message of the ‘Cross’ and the central theme that runs right through the Bible stories. They both tell us that we must overcome “fear of death” in order to create a new Heaven and earth. A new Heaven and earth is metaphoric for our experience on earth. So the message is very simple, we can create for ourselves here and now, at this moment a Heavenly experience or an earthy hellish experience. So the evangelist who sells the ‘fear of death’ makes money from people’s weaknesses and is the false prophet, as fear and love cannot co-exist.
Lohia heard me out and became very impressed with my limited knowledge.
He said he had found the answers that he had been looking for, for many years and that everything I said somehow seemed to make better sense to him.
He asked how I came to this knowledge when everyone knows that I am only a lawyer. I said, “Lohia, there are many things about me that people do not know.”
So we would talk philosophy and many things about the universe and PNG generally and the ordinary problems in the village between members of his family or between other clans.
Since our first conversation in 2007, he would walk into my office with renewed vigour and larger smiles on his face every Monday or Tuesday and share his evangelist work of the previous weekend with me.
With the consent of Michael Wilson of Warner Shand Lawyers, I began to throw myself into working with Lohia in the development of what became known as the Donigi Plan for registering customary land.
The Donigi Plan is all about manifesting the philosophy of “love” above the “fear of death and lack of abundance”
On its development, Lohia in his lay evangelist work would promote it amongst his Motu Koitabu people. I sincerely hope there will be someone out there amongst the Motu Koitabu people who can come forward to carry on his message and work as selflessly as Lohia had done before his passing on Sept 9.
I am saddened to say that he did not live to be told by me that, after 23 months of working on our first project that united 29 clans from six villages of Elevala, Tanobada, Kuriu, Araira, Tatana and Baruni, this project is beginning to bear fruit with the registration of the survey plan.
The registered survey plan was given to me the day after he died but dated 9/09/2009. The date of his death is therefore indelibly written on the survey plan for this first project. In one of our discussions we discussed life and death and I said one should never fear death as we are all born to die and the message of the ‘cross’ is about defeating the fear of death. It is natural that in death there is life. I would like to believe that Lohia’s passing was to give life to this project and other projects he and I have been working on. I ask all people of these six villages to come together to make his work a reality for your future generations.