The missionary and five seeds of coffee


HOPE for German Lutheran missionary Karl Mailender to evangelise Ilahalai inhabitants of Biaru in Morobe’s Bulolo district was challenged by human nature during first contact in Dec 10, 1922
Mailender had no gold, silver, salt or mirror in his possession to lure the natives.
Instead, his only assets were five coffee cherries (seeds), the Holy Bible and power of language to proclaim Gods’ salvation, loving grace and mercy to convert humanity.
Mailender’s arrival was predicted by villager Sou Kapet, a great hunter and gatherer of olden times on one of his hunting excursions into the bush. It was an uncommon human figure in long white clothes that predicted Mailenders’ arrival to enlighten the Ilahalais as it appeared to Kapet.
A pigeon hole upon a tree in the forest which was believed to nestle cuscus tempted Kapet to climb. He stood on the branches pushing kunai leaf into the opening to entice the cuscus out.
When he blinked, an unusual friend in long white clothes appeared and stood under the tree signaling him to climb down.
The visitors’ aura overshadowed Kapets’ bravery and confidence as he stood motionless on a branch.
Kapet finally had to slide down the tree and faced the strange figure.
The visitor approached Kapet, held out his hand to the frightened man and gently whispered, “in future, great things will occur here.”
The visitor disappeared and Kapet ran home to tell of his strange experience. A few days later on Dec 10 1922, Mailender arrived.
Ilahalai in the local dialect means ‘middle-people.’
It is believed that the ancestors arrived from both ends of Waria from Garaina, Morobe and Kakoro, upstream Miaru River in Malalaua, Gulf.
They inter-married and occupied the ranges from Kol Maunten bordering Kasangare of Garaina, Upper Waria to a range between Wara Bung and Cooper Range bordering seven Biangai villages.
There are generations of Ilahalai people nestled in Wisini, Ilaubu, Kasangare, Taurings, Kembaga, Tori, Nako and Korua villages in the headwaters of Biaru River.
Initially, Mailender settled at Oga, among the coastal Suena tribe in 1910 and later relocated to Zaka (Zia-Yekora tribe), Morobe patrol post in 1911.
The presence of Holy Spirit foiled the essence of eka-isika and se’eningane (spirits) within the Bui-Ibu, the core governance structure of Zia, Suena, Yekora and Binadere, the fierce warriors of Waria.
Except for Mou-Gomi villages, male warriors were reluctant to forsake the belief systems and strapped their right hands to prevent Mailender shaking their hands. Mailender further explored the richness of the culture further into the hinterland as far as Bia-Waria, Garaina and Biaru.
Maisngan Mountain was where he set up tent and this later became a mission station.
Through evangelism, the light of life, salvation, love and respect penetrated the gloomy plateau and the dark caves of Ilahalai.
Mailender transited at Simbang, Finschhafen which was earlier visited by Seniorl Johannes Flierl.
After his arrival and settlement at Simbang on July 12, 1886, Flierl sailed the Huon Gulf coast to Morobe patrol post as far as Mambare Bay.
Along the voyage, Flierl noticed smokes rising from the hinterlands of Waria River.
In his report, Flierl surmised that more natives were living hinterland in fear of tribal fights thus more missionaries were needed to explore and evangelise the inhabitants and that resulted in Mailenders’ arrival.
Mailender followed Waria River tributaries and reached Maisngan Mountain overlooking Wisini and Ilaubu villages.
In 1924 he held the first baptism followed by the second in 1927. He retired back to Zaka and two locals, Ishmael and Biriofa replaced him.
The main focus was on the Holy Bible as their daily food for thought and the Ilahalai gave little attention to the coffee seeds brought by the missionary.
Coffee’s economic potential was recognised in the 1980’s when maverick Morobe premier the late Utula Samana spread his wings to link remote Morobe, Menyamya, Nawaeb, Leron-Wantoat, Wau-Garaina and Tekadu with roads and airstrips.
Despite the road links, production and marketing was limited due to the treacherous road conditions.
A privileged few engaged with established businesses in Wau managed to use tractors to shift out coffee bags.
Mailender’s five coffee seedlings bore an abundance after 94 years on Dec 29, 2016 when the locals fetched K200,000 from their crop.
That success resulted in the formation of a local company-Ilahalai Organic Coffee (IOC) Ltd.
It was a result of the Bulolo District Coffee Rehabilitation Programme (BDCRP) through a partnership with the Coffee Industry Corporation. It was launched on April 20, 2014 with the aim of planting five million coffee trees in next 10 years.
According to programme manager John Kabuba, 210,000 coffee seedlings were distributed to six LLGs.
IOC Ltd chairman Kowari Karong honored the Bulolo DDA chairman and MP Sam Basil who presented the money to the farmers on Dec 29, 2016.
Basil, together with Kabuba, presented a vehicle at Wisini village to Ilahalai on March 11 for farmers to transport coffee bags to Lae and seedlings to Biaru.
IOC Ltd will manage local production and exports which 5-10 per cent of its earnings factored into the sustenance and operations of the company.
With CIC’s technical aid, cooperative groups were formed and IOC Ltd was registered with Investment Promotion Authority (IPA).
“All farmers need to work together under IOC Ltd and increase production figures.
“With the new vehicle on this road, I expect an increase in volume to fill three 20 foot containers and generate over K400,000 this year,” Basil said.
Basil is adamant to link Biaru with rural electrification in 2019 to boost farmers with a coffee processing machine in village to produce green beans for direct export.
The organic taste of Ilahalai coffee will make its presence felt at this year’s PNG Coffee Cupping competition and the company is optimistic of winning one of the top five awards.

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