The precision killing of Oulaine Papaite

Tumai Mumu – a warrior and clan leader of great acumen and, in time and when it suited, assistance to the colonial Administration


NORTHUMBRIA – Tumai Mumu, who featured in PNG Attitude a month ago (‘Pax Australiana: Techniques of Pacification’), was a contradictory character and perhaps an extraordinary opportunist.

He was headman of an important group of the Goilala people and lived in a village immediately behind Tapini government station.

This is where I was when, in 1974 he volunteered to me that in his youth, during an ambush, he had killed 24 men and possibly a greater number of women, he could not sure.

This was Tumai’s recollection, somewhat reinforced for me by Tapini Sub-District Office interpreters, who said was known for his astonishing stealth.

The interpreters told me how he had stalked a number of victims while on patrol in the Kunimeipa area with the feared kiap Roy Edwards, who I also wrote about in Pax Australiana.

The kiaps who patrolled the Goilala from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s knew Tumai well.

He created problems for them by initiating a number of challenging land disputes but at the same time he used his great influence to facilitate successful outcomes for many undertakings of the colonial Administration.

In 1974, when I was stationed at Tapini, I became involved in the investigation of a particularly nasty murder and Tumai was especially obliging as we worked to apprehend the perpetrator.

Oulaine Papaite had been axed four times as she knelt over a noisy mountain stream to wash the soil off sweet potatoes she had just dug from her garden.

A male, Opu Anuma, had surrendered but confessed only to the first blow that had severed Oulaine’s spinal cord. He was resolute in his admission that he had delivered the first precise blow and no other.

So who had struck the others and why?

Someone had disfigured her with a precisely aimed axe stroke below her left eye. Another strike had severed her collar bone and yet another had obliterated her larynx.

It was a difficult investigation but eventually I learned that four men, including Opu, had been summoned to a hut where they were given a tobacco-like leaf called kukumara, which they cut with axes.

The axes had been made bloody because they had been using them to cut fresh pig meat. But the aesthetics were of no concern to them as they proceeded to seal a contract to murder Oulaine by smoking the kukumara.

The authenticity of this ritual was confirmed by Tumai, who emphasised that murders could be commissioned by the gifting of kukumara and that participation in the ritualistic practice would bind to silence each of the accomplices except Opu, the initiator, who was expected to shoulder the blame.

During the Supreme Court trial of Opu and the three co-conspirators, Tumai, who was arraigned as an expert witness, confirmed the accuracy of the description of this ritual.

Tapini’s policemen were puzzled about Tumai’s willingness to cooperate, as was I.

One view had it that he was a late convert to law and order. Others thought it was because he enjoyed seeing the prisoners in the dock squirm.

In more recent times, some Goilala contacts of mine who occupy executive collar and tie jobs in Port Moresby, suggested that Tumai, a habitual opportunist, had more pragmatic reasons.

The most important one, they speculated, was that his role in court helped raise his influence while diminishing that of rival clan leaders.

The clan of the initiator, Opu, resided in a hilltop village above the Aibala River almost directly opposite Tumai’s village.

So my Port Moresby correspondents’ explanation of this clever method of point scoring seemed to carry some veracity.

Tumai’s earlier assistance in another arrest was also interpreted as a successful bid to curb the rising status of a neighbouring clan chief.

By helping a kiap to quickly find the killer, the wily Tumai may well have prevented a payback killing and a repercussive chain of violence.

The gratitude of the kiaps who understood the value of this would have been great and further raised Tumai’s already ascendant status.

In its verdict, the court determined that Oulaine had quarreled incessantly with Opu’s sister, Katai and had sealed her fate when she took a stick to Katai which opened a cut below her left eye and broke her collar bone.

The manner of Oulaine’s murder, the court reasoned, was observable in its meticulousness – from the first disabling severing of the spinal cord, the exact blows to the left eye and the collar bone, and that final precise axe stroke to her larynx.

The blow that emphasised that the quarrelsome Oulaine had finally been silenced.

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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