Sir Pita, beloved big man


Maulu! Maulu, nana numandu Sir Pita Lus!

PM Marape greeting Sir Pita on the grand strant.

LOUD and boisterous is how I remember Sir Pita Lus.
I remember that watching the live Parliament sessions you would always notice the man with the zulu sitting in his usual seat and having a lively debate about some latest issue to affect the country.
He was straightforward with his words and never did he run out of words to say.
I was in Grade 7 when I had to attend a gathering for friends at Airways Hotel. I remember the day because as I was walking down to the car park from the poolside, I saw him walking up.
I remember telling my dad “is that the Maprik MP” and my dad nodded, so I smiled at him and he stopped and shook our hands and chatted awhile with dad before we went on our way.
What to do?
For Independence week I wanted to be in the outside provinces to celebrate the country’s 46th year of being Independent.
However all three trips did not work out, so I was thinking of actually sleeping in.
The chance came on the Wednesday evening, when I was told I needed to be at Independence Hill for the flag raising to be able to fly with Prime Minister James Marape to Maprik.
I was up at 4am, and was at Independence Hill by 5.30am, when the ceremony was completed, I left for the airport.
We were in the air by 9am and it was going to be a two-hour trip, so I went to sleep.
We flew in over Chambri Lakes which I didn’t get to see and we neared Maprik.
As we were flying over the great Sepik Plains, the plane started experiencing turbulence.
And all the while, the CEO of the country is recounting his trip to Lou Island in Manus a few years back, I am listening with interest, however, my mind begins to drift when I notice dark clouds.
We get lost in the clouds, our two young pilots seem to know what is happening, I drift off to sleep, and however soon my head hits the side of the plane as we experience the first of the turbulence.
I grab my seat as I admit I panicked, meanwhile the CEO relaxes in his seat, he wakes up in time to hear me give an exclamation of “Oh my God” and he turns and says “don’t worry Miriam this is just like you traveling by boat to your island in New Ireland” it was a face palm moment for me as I couldn’t believe the CEO reminds me of the waves that always seems to be higher than the boats if you are traveling in the New Guinea Islands.
Anyway it happens we experience the second turbulence, this time the plane seemed to drop for a while and my stomach drops and I can feel breakfast is slowly creeping up my neck.
I turn to look at my colleague from NBC when the third and final turbulence occurs, this time I grab the seats so hard my hand is red.
Having travelled with small planes, this should not be a problem, but my fear of heights kicks in and I think of all the survival skills I have.
We finally land at the Hayfield airstrip just outside Maprik town.
It’s a cloudy day, but it doesn’t look like it will rain soon, we get into town and the small celebration commences.

Part of the large crowd comprising people of East and West Sepik at the Indepence annicerary celebrations in Maprik last Thursday. – Nationalpic by MIRIAM ZARRIGA

Political life
Sir Pita Lus entered politics nearly 50 years ago, he had earlier told The National that it was his own initiative to push than young Michael Somare to enter politics.
On the passing of Sir Michael, Sir Pita told my colleague and boss Gynnie Kero that he had approached the young Somare who was then translator at the House of Assembly in Downtown, Port Moresby, to contest a seat in the House of Assembly.
Sir Pita was then the member representing the East Sepik districts of Wosera and Dreikikier in 1964.
The young Somare told him he was not popular and that no one knew him.
Sir Pita told him: “I will campaign for you. You will win. PNG has to gain independence.”
So he campaigned for Somare because he wanted him to become prime minister.
“I rode my motorbike up the Sepik Highway campaigning. The road wasn’t that good as now. I (sometimes) slept along the highway.”
Sir Michael was first elected into the House of Assembly in 1968. He steered the country into independence on Sept 16, 1975.
The date was special too because it was Sir Pita’s birthday.
“We were looking for a date to have independence. So I gave them my birthdate which is Sept 16. I was born on September 16, 1936.”
Over the years, Sir Pita said their bond and friendship grew, although it did not stop them arguing in Parliament over national issues.
He also recalled how he accidently punched Sir Michael one day in Parliament.
Sir Pita was throwing punches at a politician in Parliament when Sir Michael tried to stop him. Sir Pita’s elbow landed on his chest.
“Somare said: Hey, you hit me. I told him you were wrong to get in the way.”
Sir Pita said he did not mean to hit Sir Michael.
Sir Pita from Maprik worked in plantations on New Guinea Islands and Manus Island where he got his “Lus” surname.
While working as a laborer in the plantations, Sir Pita realized he was being a slave to others.
So he returned to Brugam and attended the Bible College run by the South Sea Evangelical Church.
Sir Pita started school when he was 20. After completing Standard Four, he went into politics.
He said it was his mother (a German missionary) who convinced him to join politics and to push for independence.

East Sepik farewells Sir Pita
As he sits on the stage, Sir Pita looks over the crowd from the corners of East Sepik and West Sepik who have flocked to Maprik to celebrate Independence but also farewell Sir Pita.
He is given a few moments to speak, and he tells the crowd to forgive and respect each other.
It’s the crowds turn to be quiet, in the distance you can hear the traditional singers singing and dancing, all eyes are on Sir Pita.
He tells them, “We didn’t get Independence for you to fight each other, we didn’t get Independence for you all to hate each other, and we got it because we wanted the best for this country.”
“If you have turned away from our Christian values that this country is built on, turn back to God, who remains our father of this Nation.”
Sir Pita said,” Stop the tribal fights, we became a government because we wanted you all to have a good life, a settled life.”
“To all of you who turned up to celebrate this day, my wife and I are happy to join you all, may God continue to bless and guide you,” he said.
“I want to tell you all, where ever you came from Nuku, Drekikir, Angoram or Wewak, you all have come to be one.”
“Fighting will not take you anywhere, do not fight, in the eyes of God, I am here to tell you to listen to me and sit down and respect each other, this is our country. God is constant and always faithful,” He said.
As Sir Pita spoke he lifted his hands and blessed the country.
According to the story which has been told by Sir Pita himself, Sir Michael and others were still unsure of the date of Independence, Sir Pita slapped the table and loudly exclaimed, “Let me pick the date of our Independence.”
So according to the story, Sir Pita quietly told the group of men that Sept 16, 1975 was a good date, once they all agreed to the date, Sir Pita laughingly told everyone that Sept 16 was in fact his birthday.
The story remains a favorite of many who have heard it.
Sir Pita quietly sat and looked over the crowd as gifts were presented. He quietly accepted the gifts and accolades from Maprik MP John Simon, East Sepik Governor Allan Bird and Prime Minister James Marape.
Simon told the crowd that the Maprik district hospital would now be renamed Sir Pita Lus Memorial Hospital.
“A foundation has been started and will providing education to students of Maprik District, the foundation will be called Sir Pita Lus Foundation and will allow for education to be achieved by everyone, the district has put forward K100,000.”
Marape also announced a K1 million contribution to the foundation.
The foundation will allow for students from the district to continue their education throughout the country.
Sir Pita retires from public life, with his wife, and gave a parting word to the crowd, “Independence was for you all, keep on working to making this country great.”