Reflecting on childhood memories of PNG’s first PM visit

By Paul Minga

Michael Somare became the first PNG Prime Minister in 1975

THE BUZZING HELICOPTER took my childhood attention unexpectedly by storm in offloading PNG’s first PM Michael Thomas Somare was at where now Kerowil Singirok, PNGDF Engineering Battalion Highlands base is located.

Every Papua New Guinean born before or after independence has their own story to share, reflect, reminisce, highlight and tell others about their encounter or sighting of PNG founding PM – the Grand Chief Sir Michael Thomas Somare.

I was born sometimes in 1973 and was fortunate to have caught of my country’s founding and first PM for the first time as a 6 or seven year old boy at Kerowil, a village located 20 kilometers or so east of Banz town.

Around that time the area hosted the North and South Waghi LLG Council chambers and Kerowil Community School in the Waghi Valley in the late seventies.

It was during 1979 or 1980, as l can’t really recall the exact year or date for l was an out of school boy at that time.

News and rumors of the PM and the local MP Kaibelt Diria visit to Kerowil was spreading fast in the village a few days earlier. That made every grown up person excited about the occasion and eager to see their PM and their local MP.

My peers and I did not care so much about all the fuss going on in the village about the PM’s visit to Kerowil as our minds and interest were focused on different childhood activities at the time.

Anyway, a day before the visit was due for PM Somare and our local MP to visit Kerowil my mum encouraged me to join the greeting crowds.

I could still remember that evening mum said to me, “It’s your golden chance to see the country big men coming to Kerowil tomorrow. Your dad and everyone else are going so you must go along with dad and see Michael Somare – the country boss.”

What mum said to me that evening was something interesting enough to make me so excited that I questioned dad repeatedly if the two of us were for certain going to Kerowil together the next day to see Michael Somare.

Dad knew how eager and anxious l was that evening so he promised to take me along to the big occasion the next day. That night l went to bed on my canvas and cardboard bed as excited as ever.

The mood l was in was just the same as when there is going to be a pig killing ceremony to be held in the morning the next day.

In the early morning hours of the next day, village elders and chiefs were shouting out announcements in reminding every able person to leave behind whatever planned activity for the day and be all in attendance at Kerowil for the PM’s visit.

On that day those who had planned activities and shows to entertain the crowd and welcome the PM and his delegation prepared early in the morning and were all congregating into Kerowil for the occasion.

The day was as fascinating and exciting for an out of school boy as me, seeing villagers in traditional attire that were as sparkling and colourful. Some acted as comedians from their rehearsal of different activities and showed that they were planning to stage at Kerowil for the occasion. There was much in store to see and enjoy that day as l followed dad and we made a journey of about 10 kilometers walk to Kerowil from our village.

Upon our arrival at Kerowil it was a real spectacle, beyond my imaginations, with the singing, plays and staging of show by different cultural and comedian groups. What was as big crowd attraction were the brass band and posing of early white explorer Jim Taylor’s “BRUKIM BUS” scene were feast of lead up activities into the main occasion of the PM’s visit.

While witnessing all forms of show and entertainment, I thought to myself, wow what a scene and what a day.  One thing funny was that I wasn’t aware that our country PM and the entourage would travel to Kerowil in a chopper. Even my dad wasn’t aware about that too.

As dad and l were not aware of PM Somare coming to Kerowil by air, we enjoyed the good time away in fully concentrating on all the show that were as amusing and entertaining going on over the day.

Unfortunately, the sound of all the singing, the beating of drums, cheering and shouting of the crowd made the place became deafening. So we couldn’t hear the chopper carrying the PM and delegation was coming in to land.

As the chopper came near, all of a sudden people called out in our vernacular “Hoi wonum, wonum” meaning its coming, its coming.

At that instant people were colliding and bumping into each other amongst the crowd, trying to make way for the chopper to land.

It was rather funny because the crowd was also not aware of the incoming chopper and they were also taken by surprise. Dad and I were being pushed over in the melee and stampede but we were holding hands at the time.

I feel down but dad stood firm and pulled me up again. At that instant l was confused with the crowd action, with the stampede and everything else that was going on, l thought a mad man was running wild and people were trying to flee for cover.

As only an out of school boy l mistook the crowd action for a mad man giving them chase. But it wasn’t as l thought. It was the landing chopper that brought PM Somare – its swirling propellers sent flying sticks, leaves and other objects hitting the onlookers face forcing them to take cover. It was a hilarious melee.

This funny incident l still recall to this day as a middle aged person.

In recalling that from my memory, as the chopper made touch down at Kerowil Community School playing field, for some like me who had never seen a landed chopper in my lifetime, l stood in awe with eyes wide open.

It was as a rare opportunity for me to get a glimpse of the landing craft at that time during the visit by our country’s founding PM. I gazed at the chopper with my heart  beating rapidly to see what would eventuate next.

First to step out was a white pilot, then the man whose name l used hear a lot about, in a grey laplap type garment and shirt followed by our local MP Kaibelt Diria, and two other persons made their way up to the grandstand to the applause and cheering of the crowd. That was the first sighting of my country pioneer and founding PM as an out of school boy in the late seventies at Kerowil, North Waghi in Jiwaka.

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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