Wampar’s gentle giant peace maker

The late Big Joe

HIS humility and peace of mind in reasoning with human nature before speaking to find amicable solutions during critical situations portrayed him as a beacon amidst the kunai valley of Ngaen-Wampar in Morobe.
He was a six-footer physically. And that brings to mind that he may be the last living testimony of those giants from the southwest Miaru River that conquered the Wampar valley in Morobe.
He stood the test of time as the only ‘kwila tree’ in Ngaen-Wampar in the last 40 years withstanding all odds for a better Wampar in future.
Not only in Wampar but also elsewhere. He stepped in during various situations in different times to ensure a peaceful Huon Gulf and Morobe.
Despite his lofty features, he wa a straight shooter using sharp words to inspire peace and unity for all.
Wampar has lost a great icon in the late Joe Tetang Sabut, 62, from Wampet village. He died of coronavirus infection on Oct18, 2021, seven days shy of his 63rd birthday.
As soon as Big Joe (as he was called by those who knew him) stepped into a tense situation, many in Wampar would say ngaeng azob-anof eyama. In Tok Pisin that meant man blong kapsaitim kol wara kam (The peace maker is here).
There is no other charismatic person like late Big Joe in Ngaen-Wampar that this writer knew.
His untimely departure left many hearts shattered – his circle of friends, school mates and the private sector in Morobe.
Soon after returning from Port Moresby on a short business trip as the chairman of Wampar Pipeline Landowners Association (WPLA), he was diagnosed with Covid-19 symptoms and admitted at Sir Ignatius Kilage Stadium open isolation centre. Unfortunately, Big Joe passed on at midday on Oct 18.
Many Ngaen Wampars are unable to comprehend the untimely passing of their gigantic kwila at the early stage of Wafi-Golpu project while he was chairman of WPLA.
To many, he was a beacon of peace who mastered his language skills to restore harmony amongst rival parties during heated situations.
Big Joe has endured all odds and even the status quo in his leadership capacity as the chairman of WPLA.
He sowed and nurtured many seeds and mentored many, some of which are still in uncertainty, wondering who would stand tall again to emulate his person and carry on the legacy left behind, because his footprints and shoes are so huge.
No indigenous Ngaen Wampar resembles the physical features of this gentle giant who wore XXXL-sized clothes. Not even a shop in the country sells the exact shoe size that fits his 12-plus size feet.
This lofty man stood towering right at the centre of the entry gate into Markham Farm, when a the cattle purchase issue arose in 2009. This writer first came to know him personally then.
He was preventing then Agriculture Secretary, the late Anthon Benjamin to escape from stock yard after warning Benjamin.
The drama occurred after the Government bought whole herds (8,000 heads in all) to free-up the land for an oil palm project to proceed.
Before the late Benjamin’s visit, the previous night, ‘Wampar Texas Rangers’ mobilised and dragged all 4,000 cattle over to nearby Ganef and hid them there.
When Benjamin was locked in a stockyard, Big Joe looked around and saw this reporter with a camera and waved him over.
As he reached and shook hands and introduce himself and the situation, in my mind I went “gosh, this man is so gigantic and the hand is so huge covering all my hand!”
Big Joe then whispered saying, son, the Government has bought all 8,000 cattle heads in Markham Farm to free the land for an palm oil project to begin. The first 4,000 were shipped to Southern region and the remaining 4,000 are supposed to be distributed in Momase and the Highlands region. However, Agriculture Minister and Bogia MP John Hicky (former) instructed to ship the herd to Bogia.
“That is why I am standing here to ensure Mr Benjamin makes the right decision for equitable distribution of the remaining herd or we’ll roast him alive here.”
The late Benjamin remained hungry in the stockyard until at 5pm, Tararan ward councilor arrived and rescued him.
Police arrested Big Joe and detained him. He was later bailed by Dr Keith Galgal and appeared in court, represented by a private lawyer arranged for by Dr Galgal. Big Joe won the case and fortunately too, no bulumakau was taken away from Wampar.
Big Joe and Dr Keith Galgal were the pillars behind a lot of work in cattle research, breeding and extension in Wampar plains since 1986.
They initiated various cattle grazing associations like Wampar Cattlemen’s Association and Coastal Solutions among others, encouraging local participation. This was purposely to ensure government recognition to support local ownership and participation in the cattle industry.
And yet the Government was blind enough and decided to remove all the herds in Markham Farm which was the hub of cattle grazing to further enhance the work of already established local farmers and the industry generally.
Many in Morobe came to know Big Joe at the Eriku basketball courts as well as through his involvement in various public and private leadership capacities.
Others knew from his school days at Bugandi High School from 1975 to 1978. For some, it was at the University of Papua New Guinea where he studied agriculture between 1979 and1981.
He was a refuge during all odds, wise and a peace maker when it came to land disputes and other social issues in communities. He seemed to have a remedy for all situations.
Others described him as selfless, courageous and dedicated. Some defined him as a beacon who is a warrior and a straight shooter that never minced words during critical situations. But actually, he never fights physically.
Big Joe’s untimely death, however, left his dreams unfulfilled, especially to set a pathway to unite 12 clans in Ngaen Wampar through WPLA into the future.
He is the pioneer chairman of WPLA who courageously took the post soon after Huon Gulf MP Ross Seymour asked him.
The WPLA was set up purposely to ensure the pipeline of Wafi-Golpu project runs through Wampar land down to Lae, across to Butibum and down to north-east downfall in Wagang village.
Seymour verbally offered to Big Joe the initials WPLA in 2018 to ensure over 63km land for pipeline to pass through is aptly demarcated and registered to benefit all.
Joe’s vast know-how skills played the pivotal role to craft the skeletal WPLA and give it life.
Finally, the WPLA skeletal rose up from nothing and walked without fear and favour representing 27 wards comprising the 80,000 people in Wampar LLG.
When Big Joe instilled sufficient confidence and trust in Seymour, the Huon Gulf district allocated a new vehicle and capital to progress the functions of WPLA, besides the initial support.
MP Seymour and the DDA were behind the functions of WPLA from time to time whenever they needed help as Seymour respected Big Joe as a mentor and father.
Big Joe’s departure along with with Seymour’s own son Koi, 25, and Wampar female health worker, Tuzi Amakua in the same week left Seymour ’s heart shattered.
Big Joe’s huge footprints have been left far and wide in Wampar’s 27 wards, Salamaua’s 18 and Morobe’s 20 wards during his political campaigns between 1997 and 2017.
Well-known by many
He is well-known elsewhere in Morobe’s nine districts, the provincial and national government offices and the private sector.
Among others who had known him is naturalised Lae citizen and principal of Lae Builders and Contractors, Sir Bob Sinclair .
Out of respect, and as a token of friendship, Sir Bob built a special coffin out of kwila timber harvested from the Erengrofon forests. No other coffin built and sold in and around Lae were of the required size to sleep Big Joe comfortably in it for a decent burial.
Besides, Sir Bob engaged his machinery to construct a driveway up to the top of the Erengrofon hill, cleared the shrubs, constructed a tomb and the body was laid to rest in peace.
The Erengrofon hill provides a magnificent million dollar view.
Hence, Erengrofon is the location Big Joe planned to build his dream home to settle. However, according to God’s plan, the hill turned out to become the site of his tomb, a gateway to his lasting eternal peace.
From here, overlooking northeast is Wampet village along the Bulolo highway upwards to Mare Market, Afiniberan Creek (Ramambra Sangin) and further to Wara Bung Bridge, Apele into Timini in Mumeng LLG.
Looking eastward is the bravura sight along the canyon of Wara Mare meandering down into Markham river. The Nadzab airport control tower dwarf amidst the Ngawampog, Durung and Mongkeng kunai’s in a blue backdrop of Wain-Erap misty mountains withstanding on Sarawaget Range.

  • Childhood
    Big Joe was born of father Tetang Sabut and mother Ampat on Oct 25, 1959, at Gabwampet. He was the fifth of 12 siblings (six males and six females). They include Fusi, Philip, Gibson, Efuampe, Big Joe, Apollo, Salome, Yande, Jobanof, Gamol, Miti and Aruf.
    He was baptised at Gabmazung mission station by Bingsu Brown. He confirmation wasat Wampet by Pastor Kikalem Sanga.
    As a childre he was obedient and selfless. He was slim and tall and had grille.
  • Education
    1969: Attended Wampet Territorial School (first intake).
    1974: Completed Grade 6, was the dux of Wampet. Seven males (including Big Joe) to attend Bugandi High School and the only female went Busu High School.
    1975: Form 1 (grade 7) at Bugandi High School
    1976: In Form 2 (grade 8), selected for a scholarship to study in Australia, but age limitation prevented him to travel abroad.
    1978: Completed Form 4 (grade 10), was the dux of Bugandi. Selected to attend University of Papua New Guinea.
    1979-1982: UPNG-studied Agriculture Science. Withdrew from study in 1981 after sustaining hand injury from playing basketball. According to colleague, Dr Keith Galgal, Big Joe was very humble, selfless and risked his life for friends he loved sincerely.

Actually, he never fought physically. He did not drink alcoholic nor smoke. He was a refuge of Momase students.
His better known classmates were was Andrew Kumbakor (former Nuku MP), James Yali (former Madang Governor), Dr Miok Komolong and Dr Galgal.
Since the day I frist met him in 2009, Big Joe always waved upon sighting me to share buai and chat over thelatest news updates.
Each time he kept remindingsaying “Son, my motto is the sky is the limit.”
Yei, omar gwangom anoferan.
May your soul rest in eternal peace.

Pisai Gumar is a freelance jounalist