By KURONA BALA
THIS story is the sequel to the Schlencker homecoming story, and is about Schlencker’s “Boku Bell”.
From November 18 last year The National carried a five-part story about the homecoming of Australians Rod and Tony Schlencker to GOKATA United Church of Boku Circuit where their grandfather served in one of the early churches in PNG.
Rod and Tony are the grandsons of Reverend Henry Percy Schlencker who served with the London Missionary Society (LMS) in British Papua from 1895 to 1926.
In 1901 Reverend Henry Percy Schlencker was the first missionary to bring the light of the gospel to Boku in Rigo In-land, Central province. The LMS first established Boku Circuit and were later superseded by Papua Ekalesia, which in turn became the United Church of PNG.
I had previously established contact with Rod Schlencker on Oct 18, 2016 and had invited him to do a reconnaissance visit to prepare the wider Schlencker family for our new church opening. Our Church when completed will continue the legacy of Reverend Schlencker.
During the homecoming visit, we stopped by on Nov 19 to visit the “Boku Bell” at Kwikila which is currently in the care of Roger Pusili of Dobi Komana. The historic bell was in another village, but Roger retrieved it in the hope that we might, in future, repair it, to remember Reverend Schlencker.
Roger’s ancestors had fearfully relayed the message up to Boku that there approached a pale white man with googly eyes (glasses) and webbed feet (boots), as he passed through Dobi Komana.
It was quite fitting that in line with history last year, we visited Roger, a descendent of Dobi Komana, before traveling home to Boku.
At Kwikila, Rod and Tony had their picture taken beside the Boku Bell, which they only heard stories about while growing up.
Sometime in 1903 or 1904, (the exact date is not known), Rev Schlencker in his communication to the headquarters of the LMS, requested a bell to call the faithful to worship in Boku. The price and the dimensions of a bell were suggested to the Reverend who refused it saying the bell was much too small. He explained that he needed a very large bell that would be heard when rung for many miles around as the place was mountainous and people lived in scattered clusters. He was told he did not need such a large bell since the suggested bell would call the faithful who did not live far from the mission station. Rev Schlencker stood his ground and insisted that the sound of a large bell might intrigue other natives from surrounding villages to investigate the curious sound. He intended to befriend the curious visitors and introduce to them the word of God.
We are not sure how Rev Schlencker managed to raise the funds, but the largest bell practical was eventually procured and cast by John Warner and Sons in London in 1908. This bell is the original Boku Bell which although cracked, is a treasured icon of the GOKATA Church of Boku circuit.
The Boku Bell is estimated to weigh close to 200kg and is made of bell metal. It would have been brought to Kapa Kapa (Gabagaba) by the missionary boat the “John Williams” towards the end of 1910, and hence is probably the first church bell to have been brought to British Papua.
From the coast, the Boku Bell was manhandled along jungle tracks by teams of eight men, for a distance of 80km up steep mountains and down slippery slopes. There were other Boku men who accompanied Schlencker to carry the Boku Bell from Kalaigolo to help the original eight who set out from the coast.
The Boku elders were recorded as Venigo and Gumuna Orona, Keke Kulo (aka) Dagele Bolana, Kurona Gagoni, Bubuga Orona’s husband, and Dobi (thought to be his nickname and possibly a man from Dobi Komana). Kurona Gagoni’s son; Vetari Kurona later became GOKATA’s first ordained pastor. The names of the other Boku youths were not recorded, simply because Rev Schlencker coordinated all activities through the elders.
The Boku Bell was initially installed on Mama Komana and its peals could be heard from 10 miles away. Rev Schlenckers strategy worked, and the Boku Bell attracted natives who later became Christian converts. Songs were inspired by the bell, which are still sung today.
The Boku Bell was originally housed in an open structure for many years at Mama Komana around the end of 1910. Eventually after fifty years or so the structure became fragile and brittle and so the bell was relocated to a mango tree. In the 1960’s the mango tree was struck by lightning and a large chunk broke off when the bell fell to the ground. An attempt was made to weld the pieces together but it was impossible to repair in Port Moresby. I made contact with a company in Melbourne who said they could repair it by making a cast and then melting down the broken part and recasting it back to the main portion.
During our communication with the Schlencker family last year I shared with them our plans to repair the Boku Bell. We later learned that this was not possible due to the shape of the cracked piece and the non-availability of the metal (bell metal) which it was originally cast from.
Rod Schlencker suggested that the Schlencker family cast a replacement bell as a gift to GOKATA Church. Hence a replacement bell has been cast by the Schlencker family to replace the original one at Boku.
The new Boku Bell will be briefly displayed at GOKATA Port Moresby Church in the near future and then packed away for when it will eventually be handed over for blessing and dedication. The new bell will be first rung by the Schlencker family’s nominee, at the opening of our new church building in Boku, when it is completed.
The original Boku Bell will be housed in a clear Perspex box with a story board somewhere close to the new one so that future generations can read its history.
Our praise to God Almighty who has inspired the Schlencker family to continue Rev Schlencker’s legacy in Boku. We thank also The National who covered the story about the “Boku Bell” which has resulted in its replacement. Our sincere thanks also to Brian Bell and Co who allowed the new Boku Bell to be shipped to Port Moresby at no charge to our church.
To God be the Glory, great things he has done!
- The writer is a regular contributer to Weekender.