The Life and Contribution of Sinake Giregire to PNG, circa 1937 – 4 January 2012

By   Wilson Thompson Orlegge, ML

Sinake Giregire CSM, KBE, CBE, MBE (Jubilee and Independence medals)

Photo by Malum Nalu: Sir GIregire (L) with Malum Nalu (C) and Wilson Orlegge (R)

The life and contribution of the late Sir Sinake Giregire has been documented in many books, articles and newspapers. Even the National Library and National Archives of Australia have a separate file of many official documents and policies he was involved in.

Today, I stand here because I am from a son and relative from Goroka, who was marvelled by his many exploits which intrigued me from High School. He was not living far from Kabiufa and was regularly seen around Goroka and I was fortunate to fill in many of his other achievements in several of my newspaper articles and other publications. Another person I can recall is Malum Nalu, who also had that feeling as he grew up near Sir Sinake at Iufi Iufa and later in Goroka and wrote many articles about him.

From what I gathered in many books, he says that he was at Gimisive village, Asaro in 1937. I am not sure of that date but you can minus 3-4 years from that year. I am sure because the Asaroka Lutheran Station was established in 1937, this date is mentioned.

Sir Sinake was one of the first young boys from the vicinity of Asaroka who attended Asaroka Lutheran Mission School. Those who learnt Kote and Pidgin and converted to Lutheran were sent to train as pastors etc. Being young and bright, he was sent to Heldbasch, Finschhafen to learn English and to train as a teacher. Due to illness he returned to Goroka to work as a mechanic and later as an Agriculture Assistant at Aiyura. Giregire set up a pit sawmill operation in Kainantu.

While in Kainantu, expatriates were busy with gold and trading business to the new Highlands. He started panning and other gardening at Avinakeno, near Yonki and was encouraged in his earnings. To withstand competition from expatriates, he employed 10 labourers and prospected for gold. By 1958, Giregire was in his twenties, but got recognition for already having savings of $18,000. He acquired 40 acres of land. With paid labourers and free clan labour and support it was cleared for vegetable farming and coffee planting. It was the biggest coffee plantation and largest plantation owned by any Papua New Guinean cash cropper (Finney, 1973:98; Sinclair, 1995, Finney, 1987, 1993; Donaldson & Good, 1988).

In 1958, Giregire was elected Councillor and the first President of Asaro Watabung Local Government Council. Giregire was among the first indigenous persons to apply for and convert customary land for commercial purposes. This provides for their children to be heirs to the land and the improvements and the land can be used as collateral for obtaining bank loans (Finney, 1973:111).

With 40 acres of coffee (17,000 trees), Giregire was the biggest indigenous farmer. By 1960 Giregire had purchased several trucks, built and operated a trade store and a garage at Asaro Government Station and acquired a tractor for his commercial vegetable production.

            Further, indigenous entrepreneurs were recognised and accepted by the expatriates into their social or economic organisations. In 1958, Giregire, Azanifa, Aravaki, Yeharigie, Subi and Bepe Moha were the first indigenous planters admitted as full members of the all-expatriate Highlands Farmers and Settlers Association (Sinclair, 1995:199). The Highlands Farmers and Settlers Association (HFSA) advocated that credit be advanced to those promising indigenes to buy up smaller European plantations and integrate them into the larger recognised plantation system (Donaldson & Good, 1988:73).

            This was due to embargo on acquisition of customary land for further expatriate expansion or development and also the fact that in PNG, land is customarily and clan owned and so it is difficult for any one person to own a large tract of land for plantations. In 1967, Sinake Giregire utilised the Land (Tenure Conversion) Ordinance, 1963 to convert his 23.58 hectares of customary land into individual freehold title to become a plantation owner (Donaldson & Good, 1988:83).

Giregire had the largest indigenous coffee holding in PNG and from his enterprise he distributed seedlings and became a model to others. The neighbouring villages including Asaroka Secondary School are connected to road access and electricity through the plantation. Giregire also contributes to payment of school fees, clothes and books for village children.

            In 1961, during the Tariff Board Inquiry into the Coffee Industry, many people gave evidence in support of a form of protection for the industry. The HFSA argued for leading indigenous farmers to establish plantations for the supply of coffee to expatriate processors and also to establish a Coffee Marketing Board. The Enquiry ensured Tariff protection and recognition of the Territory as a coffee producer by the International Coffee Agreement through Australia (Sinclair, 1995:238). In March 1964, the Coffee Marketing Ordinance was enacted to establish the Coffee Marketing Board (Sinclair, 1995:354). This become the Coffee Industry Board and now the CIC Ltd.

The Bigmen of Business of the Highlands

In 1967 Benjamin Finney did a study into emerging entrepreneurs where he rated 10 Gorokan’s as the leading New Guinea Highlands entrepreneurs. There was no standard whereby their commercial assets could be compared to those of their followers or to any average. In the Highlands (Goroka , generally) , per capita income was in the vicinity of $125 per annum whereas most business leaders were earning more then $4500 and several probably over $10,000 (Finney, 1973:85).

By owning such assets in that period, the financial position of these persons was outstanding and no doubt they were well among the ranks of all leading entrepreneurs of the early Highlands.

The Expatriates and Indigenes Business Partnership in EHP

The late Sir Sinake was prominent in encouraging and promoting the formation and expansion of public company’s and populist development organisations (Orlegge (2008:93-104). In Goroka, some expatriate planters formed Goroka Coffee Producers (GCP), a central processing factory. As a prominent business leader, Sinake Giregire joined up with John Akunai and formed the Goroka Coffee Fermentary to supply indigenous grown and processed coffee to GCP. This did not succeed due to lack of enthusiasm by GCP Board of Directors; all were expatriates (Sinclair, 1995:291).).

In 1961, John Wells (expatriate) needed the support and finance of Sinake Giregire and formed Highlands Commodity Exchange (HCE) Ltd, the first national company in the Highlands, with a large number of indigenous subscribers. The shareholders are from EHP and some of you here would recall dividend cheques from Collins & Leahy, then it was Sinake’s doing.

By 1962 HCE had a title to a land and purchased a stone crushing concern for $2,500.  However, the expectation of the indigenous shareholders was unrealistically very high.  By February 1964 HCE had titles to 3 blocks of land, acquired land for its fermentaries, quarrying and coffee buying operations and paid its first dividends that partially satisfied the indigenous subscribers.  Some of the cements are still evident at Asaro Station, Seigu and Kafuku etc.

HCE Ltd competed vigorously with other expatriate companies to buy process and market coffee.  Giregire, Bepe Moha, Soso Subi and Akepa Miakwe were Directors on the Board of HCE Ltd and later Asaro Coffee Estates Ltd (Sinclair, 1995:342). All the indigenous Directors in HCE Ltd had no voting power except for Giregire.

At departure of John Wells (1968) and Ian Downs (1973), the UACC Ltd and HCE Ltd joined to form the HCE Holdings Ltd. The HCE Holdings (HCE and UACC) and HCE Ltd with its 83,000 shares in Asaro Coffee Estates Ltd (Collins & Leahy family) acquired further shares with majority interest in Asaro Coffee Estates Ltd (ACE Ltd). Asaro Coffee Estates and Collins & Leahy Ltd went on to form New Guinea Coffee Brokers Ltd, Kainantu Coffee Factory Ltd and Clarence Estate (Sinclair, 1995).  By 1974, it had a weaving operation (Highlands Weavers), investment in Asaro Coffee Estates Ltd, cattle, copra and peanut plantations in Central Province.

The HCE Holdings Ltd has expanded to own Bobiufa Plantations (coffee in EHP), Kokebagu Plantations (Rigo Development Corporation Ltd) and Poligolo Plantations (Kemp Welch Development Corporation Ltd) at Rigo that had coconut and rubber growing, cattle farming and peanut growing and processing. The Manager was Harry Lewis who also under HCE Ltd and the HFSA Inc formed the Papuan Agriculture, Commerce and Culture Society Ltd, or the famous Port Moresby Show.

In 1974, HCE Ltd acquired enough shares on Brisbane and Sydney Stock Exchange to avert takeover bid of Collins & Leahy Holdings Ltd by a Rabaul firm. Eventually, C&L Holdings Ltd acquired more than 50 percent of Steamships Ltd and which was recently acquired by John Swire & Sons Ltd.

In 1974, Giregire was the first plantation owner, factory and agriculture processor and first national millionaire (Woolford).

HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY AND PARLIAMENT ELECTIONS: 1964 -1977

The Goroka Open Electorate in the 1964 Elections comprised what are now the Unggai Bena, Daulo and Goroka Electorates. In the 1964 Elections, 7 of the 10 leading entrepreneurs contested (Azanifa in Henganofi-Lufa Open) whilst the other four for Goroka Open were drawn from former Administration interpreters, domestic servants and an expatriate (J. Wells).

By 1964, he had by all indications won the Goroka Open seat. In the ensuing years, Sinake Giregire established coffee, vegetable and tea nursery and distributed to interested farmers.  He promoted HCE Ltd to ensure that village coffee was sold without transportation difficulties.  This eventuated and is now part of the successful Collins and Leahy venture.

 Giregire tasked the government to introduce inland fish farming and to plant tea on an estate basis and to established a central tea-processing factory in EHP.  In the 1960’s, Giregire requested the government to establish a Grain Industry Board, similar to commodity statutory boards.  If implemented, consider the self-sufficiency, PNG could have and a broader knowledge of the grain industry and actual commercial production than the current research.

In 1967, Giregire was the leading entrepreneur and his economic success and leadership in agriculture was acknowledged and was accepted as `big man’ despite his youth and was able to gather a considerable following in then Goroka District.

Giregire as member of the expatriate dominated Highlands Farmers and Settlers Association encouraged local membership and participation and assisted in the formation HCE Ltd. This was no ordinary feat. His wealth then equalled that of any expatriate planter or trader or even surpassed theirs, and Giregire was now considered one of them.

 Further, he was instrumental and involved in the establishment of Farmers & Settlers Cooperative Ltd, in which indigenous members of HFSA acquired shares and was proving to be successful. It is now the leading farm supply company called Farmset Ltd.

He was very much involved in the Constitutional Planning Committee as Leader of the Country Party and the bi-partisan Nationalist Pressure Group and as a vocal participant in the events leading towards Independence.

Today, Sir Sinake holds the record as the only MP or Papua New Guinean who served on all three Constitutional Planning Committee from 1964-1975 and as Leader of Compass (United ) Party and Country Party.

 In the Daulo Electorate, Giregire had intended to contest for the Prime Minister’s position. In 1975 he was beaten by three votes to the position of first Governor General by Sir John Guise. When Sir John Guise resigned to contest the 1977 National Elections, Sir Sinake nominated the Country Party MP for Kerema, Sir Tore Lokoloko to be the second Governor General.

His political party, Country Party, was instrumental in the Independence debates and before the issue of Writs had 10 sitting Members of Parliament. In 1977, Country Party had endorsed the highest number of candidates for any political party. Assuming that his seat was secure and confident in his roles as party leader and vocal parliamentarian, Giregire did not realise the threat at hand. He was defeated with his dream of being the first Governor General and the Prime Minister.

Finney’s Second Generation Entrepreneurs, 1986

Ben Finney returned after twenty years to Goroka in May 1986 to explore the impact of change over those years and to study if the local entrepreneurs in this era were contributing to the general development of then-contemporary Goroka (Finney: 1987: viii). In his published work Finney revisited two business leaders, identified four Gorokan entrepreneurs and posed a question whether a third generation of business leaders was forming.

The two old entrepreneurs were Giregire, the wealthiest and Gotaha in the tenth position. Giregire, who was the country’s wealthiest man at that time, had his share of personal and business problems and faltered in his advancement but his pioneering role in business, is still acknowledged. Likewise, his political career is a history of its own, even today. Finney (1987:36) stated that Sinake seems to be more motivated by political and social concerns then by narrow economic ones. 

His political style involves donation of money for local wealth exchange ceremonies, payment of school fees for relatives and supports and contributes to tribal feasts and activities to maintain his leadership role and status in the contemporary society (Finney, 1987:35-36).

Sinake still holds the air of authority when he talks about economic development and rural progress and inspires others because of the fact that he receives a pension for his political services, and because he is known to enjoy a regular and steady cashflow.  A description of Sinake’s lifestyle is simple living, walking shoeless and living in small house on his estate like most rural Gorokans (Finney, 1987:37).

Being out of active politics and was engaged in his coffee farming and processing business and subsistence gardening and raising of livestock. Sinake concentrates on his clan and local politics and their traditional obligations and social concerns.

Also as President of PNG Country Party (1974 – 2012) and Chairman of HFSA , EH Agriculture Society (Goroka Show) (1984 – 2012), he advocated that land is money and one can achieve his dreams by working on and using the land. With earnings, a person can expand his income earning opportunities. He continued to talk and promote coffee, general farming and rural development to underpin prosperity of PNG.

I recall when people ask, lapun, you wok we, he says, “Mi mangi yet giraun givim me mani and mi wok long miyet inap nau. Yu go na wok lon giraun”.

He held the following positions since 1956, until his death on 4th January 2012.

  • 1958 to 1964, Councilor and first President of the Asaro Watabung LLG
  • 1964 to 1968, Member for Goroka , Minister for Public Utilities and Member of the Constitutional Development Committee
  • 1968-1972, Member for Daulo, Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Member of Constitutional Development Committee, Minister for Post & Telegraphs, Leader and later Deputy Leader of Compass or United Party
  • 1972-1977, Member for Daulo, Member of Constitutional Planning Committee, Leader of Country Party and Leader of Nationalist Pressure Group
  •  1982 to 2012, Director of Clarens Coffee Estate Ltd, HCE Holdings Ltd,  Gire Plantation
  • 1982-2012 , President of Highlands Farmers & Settlers Association, PNG Country Party, President of EH Agriculture Society Inc that runs the famous Goroka Show

In 1982, he was awarded MBE for services to politics, and in 2000, he was awarded the CBE (Commander of the British Empire) for services to politics, business and community.

In 2002, Giregire contested the Daulo Open for the last time as the Leader of the PNG Country Party under new Organic Law on Integrity of Political Parties and Candidates. He came third within 200 vote’s difference with the winning candidate.

In 2009, he was awarded the second highest Logohu Award as the Companion of the Star of Melanesia for services to business, agriculture and community. In 2010, during the Independence Celebrations, Giregire was personally invited by Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare from Goroka and was knighted for services to PNG.

A conclusion of what the late Sir Sinake was, despite all his achievements and success and having travelled the world over, the best description that he lived up to the day he died was what Finney described him in 1987.

“Sinake concentrates on his clan and local politics and their traditional obligations and social concerns, apart from national issues he raised in his capacity as the President of PNG Country Party and the HFSA”.

Sinake still holds the air of authority when he talks about economic development and rural progress and inspires others.  A description of Sinake’s lifestyle is simple living, walking shoeless and living in small house on his estate like most rural Gorokans (Finney, 1987:37).

That is the brief story of the man we are here to farewell today.

Thank you….

Published by Ples Singsing

Ples Singsing is envisioned to be a new platform for Papua Niuginian expressions of creativity, ingenuity and originality in art and culture. We deliberately highlight these two very broad themes as they can encompass the diverse subjects, from technology, medicine and architecture to linguistics, music, fishing, gardening et cetera. Papua Niuginian ways of thinking, living, believing, communicating, dying and so on can cover the gamut of academic, journalistic or opinionated writing and we believe that unless we give ourselves a platform to talk about and discuss these things in an open, free and non-exclusively academic space that they may remain the fodder for academics, journalists and other types of writers alone. New social media platforms have given every individual a personal space to share their feelings and ideas openly, sometimes without immediate censure. The Ples Singsing writer’s blog would like to provide another more structured platform for Papua Niuginian expressions in written, visual and audio formats while also providing some regulation of the type and content of materials to be shared publicly.

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