MUGUA Katekis Gergl believes that he is more than 100 years old.
Around the time he was born, there was no system or official to officially register births at his Yagle village in the Kerowagi district of Chimbu.
Today Mugua still walks around the village albeit with the aid of a walking stick. But he has no problems with his eyes, ears or teeth. He can still identify people 20 meters away.
He puts it all down to self-discipline, good character and adhering to Christian teachings.
“There are certain things I do and follow since I was small. I never eat cooked food left overnight. I seldom get angry or ask people to repay money or goods which I give them. I never take anyone to court.”
Mugua is a member of the Waugla Kamakane tribe. He is the only boy in a family of mostly sisters born to Gergl Simon and Magen Maria.
He married wife Ninmogo and had four sons and four daughters. They have many grandchildren.
“ If you want to live long on this earth, eat garden food. Kaukau is very good. There is no secret. You simply get the small things right.”
He remembers as a teenager the day colonial administrator Jim Taylor and the first Catholic church missionary arrived in Chimbu from Madang in the 1920s.
They established their first camp at Dimbi, about three kilometers from his village.
The first Catholic priest known as Father Sefer was based in Madang. He was brought to Chimbu by Kawage Kumugl, a leader from the neighboring Sambugla tribe who had relatives in Bundi district.
After some years, the mission moved its station to the current location at Mingende.
“When I heard about the Ten Commandments, it sounded familiar, just like what my father and other old people used to tell us inside the men’s haus. They told us not to steal, swear, commit adultery, lie, or kill someone. So I have been trying to uphold God’s laws up to today.”
He refers to God as Andeyage in the Kuman dialect.
When the Second World War broke out in 1942, he was attending the Bible School run by the missionaries.
He remembers Japanese warplanes dropping bombs at the Mingende station killing cows and sheep owned by the mission. Two women – one from the Gena Tokaku tribe and one from the Sambugla tribe – also died.
The missionaries came back to Chimbu after the war to develop the station further.
Mugua worked as a gardener for the missionaries and used cattle to plough the land and plant crops for the missionaries and students attending the Bible school at Kumbo, south of Mingendi station.
The school was later moved to Kondiu beside the Waghi River. It later became the Kondiu Rosary Secondary School.
“I was paid a pound or sometimes shillings. Later the mission paid us dollars and cents – two dollars a fortnight.”
Mugua met his wife Ninmogo from the Sambugla tribe when she was attending the mission school with two other girls.
He decided to leave his job as a gardener and return to his village to start a new life.
The mission priest, as a farewell gift to Mugua, gave him two 20 dollar notes and a cow. But Mugua took only the money.
He raised his family at the village of his wife who died eight years ago.
Mugua expects to live for some more years.
“If you want to live long on this earth, eat garden food. Kaukau is very good. And follow simple things like what I have been doing and you will last long. There is no secret. You simply get the small things right.”
- Pictures and story from JAMES APA GUMUNO