We must rebuild a Hela worthy of forebears

The murdered Tari student and his grieving schoolmates


ADELAIDE – We have joined in grief with students of Tari Secondary School to mourn the loss of a young man, inspired to be educated and become a leader, whose life was cut short – slaughtered in the name of tribal revenge.

Hela proudly became a separate province of Papua New Guinea in May 2012 and we hold in the highest respect the founding fathers for giving back to our generation the true Hela identity.

We hold the values in which they believed; the values that justified Hela becoming a province, an entity of its own. A place not only of the world but of space and time.

Then we saw one of our very own leaders rise to the top job in the land. We held our heads high. We stood tall. We walked tall.

But was this built underwater? Did we go wrong? What happened to the values of our forefathers who founded the province?

As I reflect on the lawless slaughter of this student of Tari Secondary School, I call on the public to stand up against this form of violence. This innocent child needs justice.

And many more children, women and innocent lives deserve peace, security and wholeness. There should be no need to live in fear with threats, intimidation and violence where one calls home.

The historical dreams of our founding forefathers such like Sir Albert Mokai, Aruru Matiabe, Hon Alfred Aluago Kaiabe, Sir Matiabe Yuwi, Sir Andrew Wabiria OBE, Handape Tiahape and Damian Arabagali came to reality when the national parliament declared Hela a province on 17 May 2012.

The population in 2020 has risen to 400,000 and we the people have embraced and are proud of this landmark achievement.

I look at Sir Matiabe Yuwi who worked with Sir Michael Somare and others to create the Constitution of PNG, which is one of the best in the Commonwealth.

Our national constitution enshrines human dignity, participation, equality and respect for one another and our beliefs.

These strong human moral, ethical and human rights values should form the basic framework of our thoughts, actions, interactions and deeds.

And they should form the foundation of all our work, including development work.

I also reflect on the work of Hon Alfred Aluago Kaiabe. He fought diligently for Hela to come into being as a separate province. He believed in Hela not only as a place in the world but as a place in rel time and space.

He saw it as a place which had its own unique cosmology, culture, creed, colour and calibre.

Then there was Sir Andrew Wabiria OBE, this chief of Hela who was the pioneer member representing Kutubu-Komo-Koorba in the first House of Assembly in 1964 and remained in parliament until 1977.

When he established the PNG Chambers of Mines and Petroleum, he knew what he was doing.

And the uniqueness of Handape Tiahape was extraordinary. His illiteracy didn’t stop him having a say on the floor of parliament. He had substance and his wisdom was clear in English as it was interpreted from his own Huli dialect.

There is our colourful contemporary leader, who also built on the early foundations of our forefathers, Damian Arabagali. He reiterated their values and beliefs and strongly acclaimed the Dadagaliwabe, the supernatural in whom our values originated.

My list of course can extend to many others who share these Hela values and who contributed in their own way to make us stand out and be independent.

I have found little anthropological record of the fabric of society during the time of our founding fathers and little discourse about how we have come to the time of today’s generation.

There are few studies that focus on the behaviour, attitude, interaction and relationships of people, especially in relation to leadership, conflict resolution, peace-making, justice and equality.

I search vainly for answers to questions of why these tribal fights, revenge behaviour and lawlessness.

I presume the majority of our people of the past would have been less educated compared to our time.

Did these people interpret morality, ethics and human rights in a discourse which was more effective and fairer than we do in our time?

Did people share the values of our forefathers more spontaneously than in our time? Where have we gone astray, if we have?

We need to find the answers to these and other important questions in our own quest to contribute to building the Hela society we desire and to realise the historical dream of our forefathers.

We need to foresee how to create a society worthy of our children and their children to come.

So let us return to our national Constitution, the initial lines of which declare homage to our forefathers, the source of our wisdom and heritage.

It follows to assert that power and authority belong to the people through their elected leaders:

“…. respect for the dignity of the individual and community interdependence are basic principles of our society that we guard with our lives our national identity, integrity and self-respect that we reject violence and seek consensus as a means of solving our common problems, that our national wealth, won by honest, hard work be equitably shared by all”

If I were to choose a summarising phrase from our Constitution, it would be that society is built on dignity and respect for each other, in peace and harmony rejecting violence of all forms, and to work hard and equally share our wealth.

In Hela we believe in hard work. We use our natural resources, we build the houses that identify us as a people, we cultivate the land where we were born and where we are buried, and we produce sustenance and livelihood.

We give respect to and value our neighbours and we share what we have with them and others who cross our paths. We have no strangers, we warmly welcome anyone into our homes and our lives and we embrace them as people worthy of our hospitality.

These are acts of generosity and we should hold our heads high.

I believe such values and morals were reflected in the Hela genealogy.

We are told we generated from Hela, our father, who had four sons and a daughter. The sons include the Huli, Opene, Yuna and Tuguba with their sister, the Hewa.

These peoples not only share geographical boundaries. They share language, culture, values and stories passed down from generations and carried forward.

We also have our own unique way of viewing equality. Between man and woman, young and old, rich and poor, elite and ignorant, leader and led.

We seek to blend the customs of our forefathers with the contemporary world we are confronted with.

And then we also have the wealth of the resources under the ground like the Hides gas field discovered in 1987 which expanded to the Juha, Angore, Mananda, Kutubu, Moro and Moran fields supplying the PNG LNG Project operated by Exxon Mobil subsidiary, Esso Highlands Ltd.

There is also the Mt Kare gold project in the lands of the Pujaro and Heli tribes in the Tagali River area. There have been recent explorations of Mt Tundaka gold prospect in the upper Wage in Magarima.

Then there is the Agogo Production Facility from which liquids are piped to a central production facility for further processing, storage and export.

We have the South-East Manada oil project discovered in 1991 and the Kutubu oil project covering Iagifu-Hedinia, Usano and Agogo fields in the Southern Highlands Province.

Hela has been identified as one province that is contributing through these natural resource developments a big share of Papua New Guinea’s economic prosperity.

But there is sadness. Most schools in Hela have either been burned down as a result of tribal warfare or closed due to a lack of teachers and school resources.

Most health centres and community health posts located in remote communities to provide basic health care services lack health workers and resources.

The highlands highway which runs through Tari township to Lake Kopiago is dysfunctional in terms of providing transit for ordinary cars. Only people who own LandCruisers and other four-wheel drives manage to negotiate huge potholes, large rocks, deteriorating bridges and blocked waterways.  

Ordinary people lack access to markets for generating cash income to build small businesses. On a larger scale, local participation in natural resource development is absent.

With the education system restructure allowing children to become school leavers at year eight, ten and twelve, we have seen a crack in the most basic fabric of society. We force children to drop out of formal education at the age of 15.

These children return home and to their community and accept the label of failures. Psychologically, we have made our children accept rejection and failure.

In the village they are conscious of what their families and community make of them as failures after all the school fees paid with an expectation of success.

Research show that to be labelled as a failure stagnates the further development of individual potential. A low sense of self-worth and self-rejection leads to involvement in anti-social behaviour.

Aggression, rebellion and bitterness become emotional extremes. Then we see abuse of drugs and alcohol, violence and lawlessness. We then blame our children for not being good. We blame and shame.

We need to revisit the vision and the values of our founding forefathers. We need to unearth the key principles of our Constitution to build the Hela society they envisioned: a society of hope, peace, justice and fairness.

We need to build on our uniqueness to work hard and share with others. We need leadership – a kind of leadership that does nothing more than this. Leadership is not politics. Leadership does not gain power by greed or violence. Leadership is not selfish to gain power for personal gain. Leadership does not accept exploitation of vulnerability and ignorance in sharing power and wealth.

Leadership is selfless, collaborative and respectful – sensitive to the needs and dignity of all, including the voiceless and vulnerable.

We the people of Hela must call for effective leadership as a matter of urgency.

We need leadership that unites us to fight the system that is failing us and our children. We need a leadership that can capitalise on our natural resources and bring back what belongs to the people. We need leadership that shares our resources and wealth with fairness.

We do not need to pay back violence with violence, fear with fear, extortion with revenge and life for life.

We need to put away our anger, violence, hatred, bitterness, and revenge. We need to put down our weapons and hold up the shield of respect, dignity, fairness, peace and justice.

To the child whose life has been taken too soon, we pay tribute. We are ashamed of this violent act. It is unbecoming of a people who hold true the values that form the fabrics of our Cconstitution.

These experiences must give us the opportunity to revisit our true identity and values and find true leaders, the likes of our founding forefathers.

And together we must rebuild the Hela that was the genesis of our founding fathers.

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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