Papua New Guinean Biography

Person in Focus – Paulus Goresau Arek

01 NOVEMBER 2020


Paulus Arek - Wikipedia

Over the last seven decades, Papua New Guinea has grown from a disparate collection of traditional societies administered as an Australian colonial territory, to a thriving, developing state. The story of how Papua New Guinea came to lose its colonial shackles and gain independence is one of collective endeavour, as the tiny group of Papua New Guineans who gathered in the dusty streets of Port Moresby transformed into leaders of the new nation. One of them was the young teacher, Paulus Goresau Arek, who in his own journey from the village to the nation, experienced many triumphs and tragedies.


Paulus Goresau Arek is an inspirational Papua New Guinean and former Member of the House of Assembly. Slender in build, he had the heart and spirit of a leader but the wit and tact of a politician. He was from a big village in Northern District called Wanigela in Collingwood Bay on the northeastern coast of Papua New Guinea. His father worked as a cook for an Anglican bishop and later as a mission schoolteacher.

Arek was born on 3 December 1929 at Wanigela. He was the youngest among four siblings. His elder brother Christian was in the Royal Papuan Constabulary and later went on to have a colourful wartime career as a member of the Papuan Infantry Battalion. In his childhood, young Paulus looked upon his elder brother as his role model. Paulus received primary education at the local mission school. He avoided working for the Australians during World War Two only because of his youth so Christian convinced their father to enroll him at the Sogeri teacher training centre in 1946. That set the path of Arek’s career, following the footsteps of his father, to becoming a teacher.

In January of 1951, Arek returned to teach at his former school at Sogeri. One of the educational initiatives that he led within the school was a debating society. Topics debated included: “Do you think the townspeople are more important than the farmers?” and “Is town life better than village life?”. Two years later in 1953, his first trip overseas was to attend the second South Pacific Conference in Noumea. Around this time, Arek returned home to Wanigela and married Etheldreda Bairob.

Three weeks after marrying Etheldreda, the Education Department posted him to teach on Manus Island in 1954-1955. Arek was one of the first Papuans to teach in the New Guinea Islands region. At the time there were tensions between the communities and the colonial administration in Manus, caused mainly by Paliau Maloat’s movement on Baluan Island. Arek’s leadership was sought to help deal with the situation. Part of the reason for the tensions was that the colonial administration had built a government school on traditional land which aggrieved the people especially since they already had two existing Mission schools. At the end of 1954, Arek went to Rabaul to study how to run local government councils. He returned in 1955 to continue the conflict resolution he had been doing on Baluan Island. Apart from his administrative tasks which included overseeing the building of two new classrooms for the government school, he also taught.

The Education Department next posted him to become headmaster at Popondetta Primary School in 1956. In 1957 he taught at Iokea, Gulf District, where there was a similar issue between the colonial administration and the landowners where the London Missionary Society had established a school before the colonial government did so. From a Primary School, he went on to teach at Kerema High School that same year. In 1958 Arek was sent to Daru, Western District. His promotion from a senior teacher to headmaster within four years showed enormous capacity. His ambition saw him confronting many challenges and his moral compass and political ideas meant that sometimes he was at loggerheads with the colonial administration. Arek was very vocal about change and the potential for PNG to change. He shared his ideas openly with colleagues and others who would listen. At Daru, he often opened his home to other teachers to discuss and share their ideas about change. These gatherings were a concern for the colonial administration and having displeased the authorities, he was exiled to a school 805 kilometres up the Fly River around the Lake Murray area. In 1959 Arek returned to Popondetta but to a demoted position.

In December 1963, Arek resigned and attempted to enter politics when the first House of Assembly started. He nominated himself for the 1964 elections for Popondetta Open and did well to come second. He lost by about 700 votes of 7,000 cast. After failing at his first try at the elections, Arek went back to teaching at Popondetta Primary School as its headmaster, whilst plotting a strategic professional career to aid his intended political comeback at the next elections in 1968. He worked constantly, establishing the Northern District Workers Association for the local Department of Works and plantation workers. His advocacy for a pay increase of $6 per week for plantation workers and other workers too was successful. For the comfort of the workers of Popondetta he set up a workers club using the model of the Canberra Workmen’s Club. Arek made it a policy that the Popondetta Workers Club was also open to expatriates.

In 1967, Arek resigned from teaching and put himself forward as a candidate again for the 1968 elections. He stood for the Ijivitari Open Electorate. There were a total of five candidates – two expatriates and three indigenous. Arek won by an absolute majority and represented his people in the second House of Assembly. His ideological platform was to localize the Territory Public Service and develop a constitution for the country to lead to self-government and ultimately independence. All his ideas and visions would broaden more when he travelled abroad and saw the presidential government systems of the African nations which he thought would be more suitable for Papua-New Guinea than the Westminster System.

In 1968, Arek was one of two special representatives to the United Nations General Assembly in New York where he heard a resolution put forward by the African and Arab nations calling for prompt independence for Papua and New Guinea. Impressed by the conviction of the African nationalists, Arek nevertheless felt that they had underestimated the difficulties of a rapid transition. Following his motion in the House of Assembly, in October 1969, a Select Committee on Constitutional Development was established with representatives from all the political parties represented in the House, and with Arek as chairman. Between 1970 and 1971 the Select Committee held hearings throughout the country. The Committee also visited a lot of other countries, in Asia, Africa, and the Pacific. Although he was supported by Pangu Pati representatives—and by Napidakoe Navitu (Bougainville) and the Mataungan Association (Gazelle Peninsula) — in his objective of an early transfer of power, Arek was sensitive to the qualms of the conservative Committee members, as well as to the political advantages of compromise. The Committee’s report, presented to the House of Assembly in March 1971, recommended preparations for self-determination in 1972-76. Its proposals concerning the structure of parliament and the electorates formed the blueprint for self-government in 1973 and independence in 1975.

Arek won the Ijivitari seat again in 1972 and was appointed Minister for Information in the coalition government that was formed with Michael Somare as Chief Minister. He subsequently joined the People’s Progress Party, Pangu’s coalition partner, which was led by Julius Chan. His main achievement as Minister was to oversee the creation of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC).

Arek died of cancer on 22 November 1973 in the Port Moresby General Hospital just eight days before self-government was proclaimed and the NBC inaugurated. He is survived by his wife, Etheldreda Bairob Arek and eight children: Winifred, Hudson, Patrick, Sergius, Clive, Theresa, Freda, and last-born son Matthew.

Though Arek did not live long enough to see the realisation of his vision for independence, the National Museum and Art Gallery honours him through the Person in Focus Exhibition as one of many Papua New Guineans who helped lay the foundations for the path towards Independence.  


Diane Langmore, ‘Arek, Paulus (1929–1973)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, , published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 23 January 2018.

Etheldreda, BA 2018, pers. comm., 19 April.

Juddery, B 1969, ‘A firm footstep on the path to independence’, The Canberra Times, 4 October, p. 11.


The Person in Focus Exhibition is a biographical concept that seeks to tell Papua New Guinea’s story – from the village to the world – through the experiences of some of its pioneer leaders, beginning firstly with Arek.

Please visit the PNG National Museum & Art Gallery website to learn more about the Haus Independens Museum located on MacGregor St., Downtown Port Moresby. Contact the Museum on (+675) 325 2405 or for more information.

The Warriors Who Had No Name

01 NOVEMBER 2020


The Ben Moide Story: Nameless Warriors by Lahui Ako, University of Papua New Guinea Press, 2012, 246 pages. ISBN 9980869577. Order online or purchase from the UPNG Press & Bookshop, Port Moresby.

Nameless Warrios head

PORT MORESBY – Ben Moide was one of the youngest members of the Papuan Infantry Battalion (PIB), a unit of the Australian Army formed in 1940, the first 63 recruits being old or volunteer police officers, some with considerable experience patrolling with the kiaps.

However Moide’s picture of the PIB was not one of glorious comradeship, but of tribal enmities, tensions even amongst kinsmen, dissension, desertion and discrimination between mixed race and other troops. The PIB lost 60% of its members due to such issues.

The Ben Moide Story is an important book written by a Papua New Guinean historian about a Papua New Guinean soldier and his experiences of a global event that has scarcely been written about by Papua New Guineans.

In author Lahui Ako’s acknowledgements one can glean the challenges he faced when he initially brought his manuscript to an Australian publisher who shrugged it off as “unofficial”.

One can infer the risk this manuscript seemed to pose to the status quo. Here was a Papua New Guinean writing about World War II in PNG, around which existed a status quo established by Australians – including “official” war histories.

I by no means intend to conflate the interests of the Australian publisher with a general Australian readership nor to insinuate that all Australian publishers may have an agenda to silence other perceptions of World War II in PNG.

I have some personal insight of this book project as I was operations manager of the University of PNG (UPNG) Press and Bookshop when Ako’s manuscript was accepted for publication in 2012. Dr John Evans was general manager at the time.

I was responsible for organising two book launches and for marketing and selling the book between 2012 and 2013. Of all the recently published UPNG Press titles, The Ben Moide Story was a best seller especially among Australians and Papua New Guineans working and living in Port Moresby.

Despite the initial hostility of the Australian publisher, many Australian readers, perhaps hungry for a different story or some unique insights into a well-known historical event, took to the book zealously. It also sold well in Port Moresby during the 2018 APEC Summit.

Another reviewer of The Ben Moide Story, John Burton, has pointed out that there are two unit histories that chart the course of World War II from the perspective of the PIB, New Guinea Infantry Battalion and the Pacific Islands Regiment.

These are Green Shadows by GM Byrnes (1989) and To Find a Path: The life and times of the Royal Pacific Islands Regiment by Jim Sinclair (1990).

Neville Robinson’s 1981 monograph Villagers at War: Some Papua New Guinean Experiences in World War II incorporates oral histories from three villages in the Central, Gulf and Morobe provinces.

Namless Warriors cover

In the same genre is Annie Kwai’s Solomon Islanders in World War II: An Indigenous Perspective (2017). Kwai, a Solomon Islander, based the book on her master’s thesis from the Australian National University. Her book is another important inclusion in the genre of ‘inside-out’ histories or ‘bottom-up’ histories, if I may describe them as such.

Ako contextualises the events of Moide’s life by painting broad brush strokes of the world events that led to World War II and that impelled the Australian government to begin fortifying its own and the Papua-New Guinean coastlines in 1939.

Moide was 16 years old in 1940 when he noticed changes in the usual rhythm of his life in Port Moresby, where he lived in his maternal village of Pari and attended the nearby Catholic school at Badili.

Stories of Australian activities, the build-up of Australian soldiers and their construction activities on Paga Hill abounded.

One day in July 1940, Moide and his friends aimed to satisfy their curiosity about the Australian Army’s activities at Konedobu by visiting the encampment of makeshift tents there.

Moide was amazed by what he saw: the activities of the PIB; their training and discipline; and the admiration they attracted from both men and women. He was also intrigued by the possibility that Papuans could be equal to the taubadas.

This one exploit planted a seed in his mind that would see him sign up the very next day as the sixty-seventh enlistee of the newly-formed PIB.

So, on a Friday morning in July 1940, a normal school day, young Moide left his home in Pari, hugging and kissing his mother as if for the last time. Moide had made up his mind to join the PIB and this intention was unbeknownst to his mother.

His public show of affection unsettled his mother who felt that something was amiss. Days later when she and Moide’s father were informed of Moide’s enlistment with the PIB, they were horrified at the thought of losing their son.

They lamented their son’s action when the war was not theirs, an all-taubada affair as far as they knew. Furthermore, since Moide was only 16, he should have been turned away by the recruiting officer.

And they were frightened that the Australian Army would take its troops into the hinterland, which was the much-feared Koiari territory, the Motuans traditional enemy.

Through examining Moide’s reasoning, his decision to enlist with the PIB and his parents’ grief over his action, Ako describes the tribal sentiments and territorial loyalties then prevalent in colonial Papua and New Guinea.

For whatever personal reasons Moide joined the PIB – to protect his native lands of Pari or Kiwai or to protect his family and clan members from external threats – might be added a third possibility.

Could Moide have envisaged the bigger picture of a nation run by Papuans themselves? Without a doubt, years after the end of the war, Moide would have appreciated his part in it, and understood as we do now, how those events and outcomes shaped the nation of PNG.

In September 1945, the 20 year old Sergeant Moide was discharged from active service in the PIB. He had not gone on to serve in Bougainville and had spent his final year training new recruits at Murray Barracks and Bisiatabu.

Back in civilian life he regretted he had not seen his mother before she died and was buried at Gaire Village where the people had been temporarily resettled during the bombing of Port Moresby.

The inevitable “what if?” questions began to torment him. What if he had waited and joined the army after his mother passed away? At least he would have been able to spend her last days with her. His father had permanently resettled on Kiwai Island but Moide and his siblings remained in Pari with relatives.

The war had changed everything in Papua-New Guinea forever. The population had a more experienced outlook on what life should be like for them than they had before the war. Meek acceptance of the taubada’s authority was no longer assured. Racial awareness and hostility to Europeans in general was increasing.

Disgruntled war veterans like Moide were becoming frustrated daily with their lives. They felt abandoned after they had lost blood, sweat and tears to help the taubadas.

Things had changed in other ways too. Gone were the wonder and awe with which people viewed warriors. Most saw the returning warrior as a competitor to the new status quo created by the vacuum they had left in order to fight the taubada’s war. They all blamed the taubada for creating such a situation.

Most members of the PIB were paid a monthly salary during the conflict, the amount of which was determined by rank and time served. Moide’s salary payments ceased about a month after he had been discharged.

These men were not fighting for a nation but for their own patches of tribal land which happened to be Australian territories. They should have been recognised as individual soldiers or carriers and treated like any other Australian war veteran.

More should have been done to support a PNG veteran’s affairs department with the initial aid monies especially knowing that a fledgling democracy would not have been immediately concerned with the welfare of veterans who served in a war more than three decades before political independence.

A common sentiment in this book, which is present in many other Papua New Guinean oral histories of the war, is that the war was not theirs. The question then is whose responsibility it was to facilitate reparation, compensation and manage veteran’s affairs?

Moide was well-known but his celebrity should not eclipse the anonymity of his comrades. As someone who has been collecting and studying oral histories of World War II in PNG for the past six years, I support the intimation of Ako’s title that there are many Papua New Guinean “warriors” who have passed on and so remain nameless and may continue to remain unrecognised unless we dig up their stories and preserve them.

Ako’s book and the icon of Ben Moide stand as important segues to illuminate the richer historiography of Papua New Guinean oral history.

The sacrifices that we in fact celebrate and acknowledge every Remembrance Day in PNG is the anonymity of these nameless warriors that we all inadvertently perpetuate through our inaction.

Lest we forget!

This article first appeared on PNG Attitude on 25 July 2020 at

Significance of the centenary: history and commemoration of the Kokoda Campaign in Papua New Guinea

31 OCTOBER 2020


Kokoda Track plaque

‘History’ and ‘commemoration’ are distinguishable terms. For instance, while Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Australia share a history spurred from the events of the Kokoda Campaign, our analyses, understandings, perspectives and experiences of the war are subjective and thus different. Commemoration is centred on the present and is concerned with the values that people in the present can derive from the events, good or bad, of the past. Although both history and commemoration are related to the past, they serve different functions. For different countries, the reasons for commemorating certain events will be similar, but the histories surrounding the events must be different because they inform different national narratives.

In PNG many a WWII cenotaph ends with the sacred remembrance parlance, ‘Lest We Forget’. Were this translated to Tok Pisin, it might read, ‘Yumi Noken Lus Tingting’, though this is currently not being done. WWII memorials, monuments or plaques in PNG are all written and emblazoned in English, which is partially reflective of where they are being made and the primary audience being targeted. The English version of the sacred remembrance phrase was taken directly from Rudyard Kipling’s 1897 Christian poem titled “Recessional”. Kipling himself was known to have taken his inspiration directly from one of the books of the Bible, Deuteronomy (4: 7-9), which reads:

7For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon him for?

8And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?

9Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons;. (KJV Bible).[1]

After WWI, the phrase ‘lest we forget’ began to be used at the end of the ode of remembrance during commemoration services in Australia.

On Anzac Day in 1931, the Governor-General of Australia, Sir Isaac A. Isaacs, remarked in part:

In contemplating the event that it perpetuates, all distinctions that may divide the Nation are set aside, and unitedly we rise to render homage to the heroic band of Australians who, of the own free will, at Honour’s call, went out into the World War, and to resolve that we as a people shall be worthy of the sacrifice they made. In no way can we do so more truly than by keeping alive and in full activity the spirit that animated them. (Rabaul Times, 24 April 1931).

The Federal President of the Returned Soldiers League gave a similar message marking the 16th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings:

Anzac Day is Australia’s Nation Day because it was in consequence of the patriotism, valour and heroism of her citizen soldiers, who comprised the Australian Imperial Force, that Australia was elevated to Nationhood. (Rabaul Times, 24 April 1931).

War, honour and sacrifice are themes that surround larger notions of nationhood and national identity, and these hinge very much on memory politics, which is informed by public enthusiasm and discourse. The opening sentence of Sir Isaacs’ Anzac Day message in 1931 read:

Each year as it brings round to us again Anzac Day finds the commemoration of its origins more solemn, more majestic, and of fuller meaning for people. (Rabaul Times, 24 April 1931).

Today Anzac Day goes beyond the anniversary of the landing on Gallipoli in 1915. It is the day on which all Australians who served and died in all wars, conflicts and on operational service are remembered. The spirit of Anzac, with its qualities of courage, mateship, and sacrifice, continues to have meaning and relevance for Australia’s sense of national identity. Sir Isaacs’ belief in the aging solemnity of Anzac Day has generally been steadfast over the years, except a slight drop in public interest in the 1970s after Australia’s involvement in the unpopular Vietnam War.

The centenary of WWI and of Anzac Day in Australia is a case in point with heightened public interest in the commemorative events. Take for instance the trend of visitor and researcher interests in the Australian War Memorial (AWM) galleries and archives. Every year visitor and researcher interests spike in the two weeks leading up to and immediately after Anzac Day in April and Remembrance Day on November 11. In 2015, there was an unprecedented amount of public interest in the AWM archives and records, in line with the centenary of the Gallipoli landings. Similarly, there is expected to be a significant spike in public interest on the centenary of the end of WWI next year in 2018.

Australia is the primary market for tourism to Kokoda Track and these analyses are important for PNG. The suggestion and general trend is that centenary commemorations of WWII will see increased public interest in Australia. Accordingly, the Kokoda Campaign centenary from 2042 will attract a lot of interest from Australian tourists and those who have close historical links to the events of the war in PNG. The PNG Ministry of Tourism, Arts & Culture, under which falls the National Museum & Art Gallery, Tourism Promotion Authority and Kokoda Track Authority (among others), would do well to build up the atmosphere leading up to the centenary and prepare in advance for the centenary anniversaries. Yes, anniversaries, for the beginning and end of the whole conflict in Papua and New Guinea in 1942 as well as the commemorating of various key battles, particularly but not limited to, the Kokoda Campaign. An important part of the commemorations should be the end of the war centenary in 2045. The US bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, August 6th and 9th, respectively. The official surrender of Imperial Japan was announced on 15 August and the formal signing of the surrender document by the Japanese Foreign Affairs Minister took place on 2 September. The Cape Wom surrender took place eleven days after – technically it can be said that open hostilities of WWII effectively ended in New Guinea with the surrendering of the Japanese there, ending the New Guinea Campaign. The end of war and the beginning of the restoration of general peace is indeed worthy of commemoration.

The Kokoda Track ‘product’, though, is still effectively commemorating the Australian version of history. This is not necessarily bad. Economically, it is a product that the Ministry should continue to develop, as suggested, in preparation of the centenary celebrations. However, the Ministry should also support its departments and relevant stakeholders to develop a PNG version of the historical events worth having centenary celebrations about in all provinces of PNG, not just Port Moresby, come Remembrance Day every year. The day of commemoration of the Kokoda Campaign is a case in point – PNG’s commemoration takes place on 23 July, the date on which the Papuan Infantry Battalion (PIB) and its native soldiers first engaged the Japanese on PNG soil. In PNG’s version of the events of that Thursday in 1942, prominence is given to the late Ben Moide and other native members of the PIB who drew first blood at Awala against the Japanese. Australian records do not deny this, but in the written Australian histories this fact is not always acknowledged.

Kokoda (image: Australian War Memorial)
Australian War Memorial

Development of the Papua New Guinean narrative and version of history will attract greater numbers of people both externally and internally. At the time of WWII, Papua was an Australian Territory and New Guinea was a Mandated Trust Territory administered by Australia. The Papua New Guinean history and version of the events of the war in New Guinea will no doubt fill a gap in the larger Australian narratives of the contributions of First Nations peoples to Australia’s war efforts. In line with the Reconciliation Action Plan, the AWM has already began this process of commemorating First Nations peoples through its “For Country, For Nation” touring exhibition. A number of Papua New Guineans also feature in this exhibition and the contributions of native Papuans and New Guineans, in support of Australia, are acknowledged.

For Country, For Nation exhibition (Australian War Memorial)


[1] The Tok Pisin translation of the same Bible verses reads:

7Yupela tingim ol arapela lain pipel. Maski ol i gat bikpela strong, ol i no gat wanpela god i save sambai long helpim ol, olsem God, Bikpela bilong yumi, i save mekim long yumi. Oltaim Bikpela i stap klostu tru long yumi na taim yumi singaut long em, orait em i save helpim yumi.
8Na ol dispela arapela lain pipel i no gat stretpela lo olsem ol dispela lo nau mi bin skulim yupela long en. Nogat tru.
9Yupela i mas lukaut gut. Long olgeta taim yupela i stap long graun, yupela i no ken lusim tingting long ol dispela samting yupela i lukim pinis. Nogat. Yupela i mas tokim ol pikinini bilong yupela yet na ol tumbuna pikinini bilong yupela; (Tok Pisin Bible, Bible Society of PNG).

This article first appeared on the Australian National University’s DevPolicy Blog on 25 April 2017 at

Eh, Mi Seksek

31 OCTOBER 2020


Pin di Papua New Guinea Fashion

English translation follows the Tok Pisin original

Eh, mi seksek long meri ia
Lek, han na lewa guria
Taim maus blong em singautim mi
Taim em lukluk long ai blong mi
Bun bilong mi tanim wara

Aiyo mama, aiyo lewa 
Meri em naispla samting ia 
Tasol nogut em less long mi
             Eh, mi seksek!

Ating long nait bai mi sala 
Olsem kanu long solwara 
Driman i sakim han blong mi
Surukim em isiisi 
Umbeng igo nating, basta!
             Eh, mi seksek!

Dispela tok-singsing mi raitim emi makim stret wanpela hanmak bilong tok-singing we ol French i givim nem rondeau. Ol arere toktok bilong wanwan blok igatim wankain nek olsem aabba / abbR / aabbaR, na tu bai wanwan lain toktok igatim fopela kain liklik hap nek i mekim kamap eitpela pairap taim yu toktok.

Mi kisim tingting long raitim dispela tok-singsing taim mi ridim tok-singsing bilong Dennis K Belas, long mun Novemba long 2019. Bihain mi tingting long ol sampela kain wok long tanim dispela hanmak rondeau tok-singsing ikamap long Tok Pisin. Em nau dispela emi nambawan rondeau mi raitim long Tok Pisin.

Mi ting olsem stori tu ia emi kamautim wanpela kain longlong tingting we ating ol man meri isave long Tok Pisin bai ridim na bagarap long lap, o nogat bai sampela tu igat liklik bel kaskas. Em iken olsem na mi ino wari tumas, laka.

Och, Ah’m Crazy


Och, Ah’m crazy for that woman
Ma legs, ma hands, ma heart spasms
Whenever her mouth says ma name
When she looks into ma eyes, the same,
Ma bones turn into ectoplasm!

Oh mother please, ma heart spasms
For that juicy, hot n’ spicy dame
But Ah don’t think she feels the same
              Och, Ah’m crazy!

At night ma sleep is savoury
A boat adrift on moonlit seas
Seduced by dreams, ma hands will try
To reach for her, sleeping gently
That net Ah cast, it breaks, damn me!
              Och, Ah’m crazy!

This poem was written in Tok Pisin using the traditional French form rondeau. The most obvious features are the rhyme scheme aabba / abbR / aabbaR, and tetrameter lines. (Note: The rhyme scheme is not adhered to in the final stanza of the English version of the poem although the tetrameter pattern has been maintained.)

The idea for this poem arose from a comment I made after reading a Tok-singsing by Dennis K Belas in November 2019. After that I spent some time thinking about how I might construct a rondeau in Tok Pisin. This is the first Tok Pisin rondeau I have penned.

I think the story here reveals infatuated fantasy which is quite amusing to portray in Tok Pisin, although others might feel less delighted. I’m not too concerned either way.

This piece first appeared in PNG Attitude on 16 June 2020 at

Remember Me: An Ode for the Dead

30 October 2020


The living must honour the dead,
         For they teach us the good and the bad.
Times of sorrow and strife,
         Are all a part of life.

Though the world I may roam,
         My mind is never far from home.
Although I travel about,
         My heart will always remain in Waut.

We were certainly not the first,
         And let us not be the last
To have the spiritual thirst
         To commemorate the ancestral past.

Eating, sharing and giving
         Is how the present should operate.
It is the role of the living
         To assist those who have met their fate.

If tomorrow I should die,
         I hope you will put up my haus krai.
Please keep track of all who came
         To help remember and honour my name.

The present and the past,
         Create the future, when they meet at last.
Dancing, singing, stomping the ground,
         Whatever it takes please don’t let my name go down!

Waut – short form or nickname for Wautogik, the Arapesh village where I come from
haus krai – wake or grieving time

This poem first appeared on PNG Attitude on 27 October 2019 at

Voices From The War: PNG Stories of The Kokoda Campaign

30 October 2020


Voices from the War cover image


World War Two (WWII) passed through our land, along the rugged, inhospitable terrains of the now iconic Kokoda Track, and the tales we read and heard were all about foreign armies who came, fought the war to leave a legend.

70 years on and little to nothing was heard of our own heroes and heroines who played important roles during the war. Even eyewitness accounts of the hostilities brought by the war are much welcome tales to decorate our heroes and heroines.

It is now a thing of the past given this publication entitled ‘Voices From The War – Papua New Guinean stories of the Kokoda Campaign, World War Two’ (2015). Indeed, the publication not only gives a permanent imprint on the fast-fading local war tales but it sets the stage for many more accounts of the war, told by our own, that was experienced right across this majestic land.

In an attempt to record and preserve the rich oral history of the Kokoda Campaign a group of Papua New Guinean and Australian researchers collectively put together this account of 80-plus interviews carried out.

This 53-page document printed on 140gsm photo glossy on a tanned cover is metaphoric. The ‘red-room’ atmosphere of negative film coming out of washing emits the language of ‘there is more to come’.

Gaining political will by being co-sponsored by the PNG Government, through the Department of Environment, Conservation & Climate Change, and Australia’s Department of the Environment shows how important this publication is. It reaffirms the ongoing governmental support in protecting the Kokoda Track, Brown River Catchment and Owen Stanley Ranges while improving the lives of the people living along the track.

Expounding on the political will, Dr Andrew Moutu, then Director of the National Museum & Art Gallery, in his foreword message reveals that this Oral History Project was originally conceived as a vital element in the management of the Kokoda Track.

Dr Moutu elaborates that this first of its kind publication received and captures to preserve before all is lost to history and to memory. To date, people who are not from Papua New Guinea, notably Australians, Americans, and Japanese, have dominated these stories (p. v):

Those stories of many Papua New Guineans who were involved in the war along the track have become marginalised, muted, suppressed or repressed and are often not brought into mainstream history or public light. It was as if the war is not theirs and they are incidental actors.

Dr Moutu is all applause to the Australian Government for providing funding and professional expertise. He sets the hope of this initiative by encouraging students, war history enthusiasts and researchers, and readers in general alike to learn about our history. It is in learning this oral history that we can improve historical introspection within ourselves to reinforce the true value of telling such stories.

The voices reverberating from the 11 topics constituting this timely publication is complemented with monumental sepia photographs bringing to life the memories of those three years of cruel war experiences.

Seven decades gone and the stories are evolving into legends: told and retold. Fair enough, some are accounts of first-person witnesses and those who actually took part in the war. Others were kids at that time and we praise them for keeping these memories for the goodness of humankind.

Such is Hawala Laula, a witness of the war from Kagi village, as a participant in the interview who reaffirms (p. vi),

The war on the track lasted 3 years from 1942 to 1945, when I was a young man at the age of 14 …All these stories are not forgotten, they are all fresh in my mind.

These are accounts of the stories being retold as in this interview with Dixie Woiwa, from Hanau village (p. 17):

…And the bodies were so many, I am unable to count. At the time my grandfather was telling the story and the vivid descriptions of the dead soldiers, I cried when my father told me the story. I was deeply moved by the way my grandfather told stories of his eyewitness accounts during the war.

The war was not only for the menfolk. Women also played a part. Lomas Tonu Ani, from Hanau village (p.13) tells why his mother was taken away:

…my mother is Ruth Ani. She was recruited and taken to No.3 camp where she did laundry with other girls. There were 40,000 pieces washed each week…from seven hospitals in the Dobuduru, Oro Bay, Base B area. She was working at No.3 camp which is located near Girua airstrip until the war came to an end.

The 10 accounts presented in the book are heartening. Reading them brings alive the receding voices once shared over dying embers not just ordinary everyday stories, but stories rich in flavours of an event that has changed the courses of nations.

We now have a task at hand to replicate this Initiative to capture similar voices from other parts of Papua New Guinea who also experienced WWII. There is this great calling to bring out these voices before they become ghostly mists on a dead man’s chest. Of course, funding such initiative are our greater challenges; however, opening our purses to where our mouth is serves justice to where our heart is – home.

Timothy Pirinduo is a freelance writer based in Port Moresby, PNG.

This book review first appeared on the Australian National University’s DevPolicy Blog on 27 June 2017 at The book is a free download (8.17 MB). Please also visit the National Museum & Art Gallery in Port Moresby to ask for free hard copies of the book or listen to the audio recordings in the Tuari Helalodia (voices from the war) Exhibition in the Museum’s Be Jijimo Gallery.

Run Hard and Don’t Look Back Until You Achieve Your Goal

30 October 2020


Caroline Evari


DAD resigned as workshop manager with NCDC Parts & Services in 1997 to contest the national elections that year and we moved to Sakai Village near Musa in Oro Province.

We vacated our nice big house and sold the car and other belongings we did not want to not take with us. I was only nine and had completed Elementary 1 the previous year.

There were limited schools in Musa. One, about 16 km away from where we lived, had Grades 1-6. To get there I would have to wake up at around two in the morning and walk. Being new to village life, I was not prepared for that.

The nearest school only had a Grade 5 class but I was supposed to be in Grade 2.  My dad was hesitant to enroll me in Grade 5 but saw the teacher and I started going to school.

It didn’t take me long to understand the lessons. I had an advantage because I knew how to read and, after doing some exercises with comprehension cards and practicing my handwriting, I soon caught up with the class. I was also the youngest student in class and everyone gave me the best treatment.

End of year came and the test results for the class were pinned on the notice board. We gathered at the board to check out how well we’d done and I had come second,

Our teacher made a special announcement that morning to congratulate me but I knew that our results reflected the level of previous educational exposure we had. I had come from the big city where I learnt English and had radio and television around me. My school friends didn’t have that exposure.

Our teacher came from Popondetta and travelled home to spend the festive season with his family but never returned the following year. The school shut down. Those who could travel to other villages for school did so while the rest of us remained at home.

So I spent the next three years as an ordinary village kid, gardening, fishing, feeding the pigs and learning the local language.

Whenever I got the chance to sit under a coconut tree or on the big rock beside the river, I would write in a book that I always had with me – describing my environment in words, sentences and paragraphs. These were the only things that gave me hope and a determination to focus on my dreams.

In 2000, a chartered plane came to the village and my dad travelled to Port Moresby. I packed my bag and got ready but when the time came for him to leave, he wouldn’t let me go with him.

I stood with my bag in my hand and sobbed as I watched him go. It felt like my heart had broken into pieces and dropped to the ground.

But then I felt my dad’s hand and heard his gentle voice telling me to wipe away my tears, pick up my bag and follow him.

That was the day I made my decision that was going to show my dad that he made the right choice in coming back for me.

Life in the city wasn’t easy.

Dad left me in the care of my two big brothers and two big sisters and in 2001 I was enrolled at the St Peter Channel Primary School where my one of my sisters was an elementary teacher.

I repeated Grade 5, struggling to catch up with all subjects except English.

From time to time I was forced to move between my older siblings or stay with a close relative. Many times I went to school with an empty stomach and just enough money to get me there and back.

But regardless of the situation, I was determined to succeed and maintained my focus. I wasn’t going back to the village.

I began to catch up on my subjects and started to do well. Completing Grade 8 in 2005, I received two awards in the presence of my teachers and friends and scored a place at Marianville Secondary School, an all-girls school in Port Moresby.

I was enrolled as a boarding student and continued to do well. Even when my family was not there for me, I was blessed with friends who became my family. I passed the Grade 10 national examinations in 2007 and in 2009 I became the first child in my family to complete Grade 12 and receive an academic excellence scholarship to go to the University of Papua New Guinea.

I studied for a degree in computer science and my dad is the proudest man because I honoured his decision to take me on that plane with him.

My advice to every women out there is that age is just a number, gender is an identity and struggles your stepping stones to succeed.

Your mind is your greatest enemy, not the people around you. When you start running, don’t look back until you’ve achieved your goal.

Caroline Evari, 28, is of mixed Oro and Milne Bay parentage and the mother of an eight month old boy. She completed university in 2012 and works as a team assistant with the World Bank Group. She started writing at age seven and has never stopped. Her desire is for many Papua New Guineans to discover the beauty of writing and to one day have her writings published.

This article was first published on 27 December 2016 on PNG Attitude at

Kaiwa and Marumaru the Dwarf

29 October 2020



There once was a man named Kaiwa. He lived in Efogi, a Mountain Koiari village in Central Province. Kaiwa loved gardening and worked in his garden plot most days. Many a time, while he was at his garden, he would help other villagers make fences for their own gardens. Kaiwa was a smart and handsome man and was well liked in the village.

One fine day, like most other days, Kaiwa woke up and went to his garden after breakfast. As he reached his plot, he came upon a dwarf eating a pawpaw underneath the pawpaw tree he had picked it from. As noiselessly as he could, Kaiwa crouched and hid at the back of a mado tree and continued to observe this rare sight. The dwarf was relishing the juicy pawpaw and clearly thought it was so good that he climbed up the pawpaw tree and picked another pawpaw fruit to eat.

As the dwarf was climbing back down, new pawpaw in hand, Kaiwa jumped out of his hiding place and surprised it, “Hey! You!” said Kaiwa.

Startled, the dwarf jumped down from the pawpaw tree and ran as quick as he could towards the nearby trees to hide. Kaiwa was equally quick to react and took out his knife and ran after the dwarf. He came upon the patch of bush where the dwarf was hiding.

“I won’t hurt you. Please, come out. I don’t hurt people,” Kaiwa said as he lowered his knife and tucked it away back into his bilum (string bag).

“I’m scared,” replied the dwarf.

Kaiwa assured the dwarf that he would not hurt it and pleaded with it to come out.

Hesitantly, the dwarf came out from its hiding place and ambled closer to the man. Kaiwa introduced himself to the dwarf and asked for its name.

“My name is Marumaru,” answered the dwarf.

“It’s good to see you,” replied Kaiwa.

Marumaru nervously acknowledged Kaiwa and the two sauntered back to the pawpaw tree.

“That’s my pawpaw tree you climbed. You can help yourself to more pawpaw if you like,” offered Kaiwa.

“No, that’s okay. I don’t think I can eat anymore. I think I’ve had enough,” replied Marumaru.

“You can come with me and we can go to my home,” suggested Kaiwa.

But Marumaru said that his wife would be looking for him and that he should go back to his own village.  

So Marumaru waved goodbye to Kaiwa and cautiously left. Kaiwa went into his garden, dug up some kaukau (sweet potatoes), stuffed his bilum with them, then went back to his village later in the day. He cooked the kaukau, ate his dinner and went to sleep. Around midnight, Marumaru appeared in Kaiwa’s dream and pronounced that he will kill Kaiwa and all the other villagers of Efogi. Kaiwa woke up terrified and sat up from his sleeping position. The dream had given him the heebie-jeebies and he had a feeling of being watched. Kaiwa reached for his torch and turned it on and as soon as the beam partially lit up the space he saw a large figure staring at him from the corner of his room. It was Marumaru who seemed larger than he actually was because of the shadow cast by the torch light.

Alarmed by the unexpected visit, Kaiwa asked in the croaky voice of someone who had just been abruptly awoken, “What are you doing here?”

“I’m here to visit you,” replied Marumaru.

“For what reason?” asked Kaiwa.  

“No particular reason really, but I just wanted to see you,” replied Marumaru.

Kaiwa told him to wait while he made a fire for them. He picked up some firewood and got some flames burning. Kaiwa encouraged the fire to grow by blowing into it. Then the man and the dwarf sat around the fire to warm themselves.

Marumaru asked Kaiwa, “My family and I are hungry, can you please provide us some food?”

“I’ll certainly help provide food for you and your family,” replied Kaiwa.

Marumaru smiled and thanked Kaiwa and then left.

Kaiwa put out the fire and went back to sleep. But Marumaru appeared in his dream again. Looking at Kaiwa with a horrifically distorted face and pointing straight at him, Marumaru proclaimed, “I want to kill you!”

Kaiwa was frightened and asked why he wanted to kill him to which Marumaru replied, “Because we dwarves love eating human hearts.”

Kaiwa woke up panicked and panting heavily. He looked around to see if Marumaru had come back to his house but the first rays of dawn had cleared out his room already. Unsettled by the ominous dreams and the unexpected short visit by the dwarf, Kaiwa made sure to arm himself today – just in case – when he went to the gardens. He packed his axe, knife, and bow and arrows into his bilum and walked to the gardens but told no one about his dreams. When he arrived at his plot, he saw that all his garden food was gone. At first he thought it was one of the village boys. Kaiwa was furious but calmed himself down and tried to think of who might have raided his garden as he paced about looking down at the empty patch of mess and what evidence of the crime was left on the ground.

He had a gut feeling that this could have been the misdeed of a dwarf so Kaiwa decided to go to Marumaru’s village to see what the dwarf was up to. Kaiwa managed to find the dwarf village by following a trail of debris leading out from his garden patch. It wasn’t long before he came upon the village and then followed the trail straight to Marumaru’s house where the miscreant and his wife were feasting on kaukau, banana, yam, taro and greens.

Kaiwa was infuriated upon seeing this. He entered the house and questioned Marumaru, “Where did you get all this food from?”

“We harvested from our own garden yesterday,” scoffed Marumaru.

“Don’t come and interrupt our lunch! We want to enjoy eating our food,” added the dwarf.

But Kaiwa was not convinced.

“You are a liar! And you’re lying to me now. You stole all my garden food,” Kaiwa yelled his accusation at the short-statured deviant.

“I was very hungry so I got the food from your garden. Sorry for stealing your garden food but my fellow dwarves and I are planning to kill you and eat you and this is the bait because I knew you would come looking for me,” Marumaru revealed menacingly in an ignoble and brooding voice that now seemed unrecognizable to Kaiwa.

Kaiwa quickly realized his predicament and the danger he was in. He turned to run away but Marumaru grabbed a spear laying conveniently by his feet and threw it at the fleeing man. Before he could reach the door and get out, the spear pierced Kaiwa’s right leg behind his thigh and the man yelped in pain and fell to the floor.  

“Help! Help! Please help,” cried Kaiwa as he crawled out of the house, spear-in-thigh.

Kaiwa cried louder and screamed for help but no men were nearby to help him. He was alone in a dwarf village.

“I’ve been waiting a long time to eat another human. It’s been months since our last one and I’m tired of just eating garden food,” said Marumaru.

“Please, don’t do this,” Kaiwa begged.

“I’m sorry but we want to make a feast in our village,” replied Marumaru, “And you’re the main course.”

“Please, help me,” pleaded Kaiwa.

But other dwarves had gathered around him already. Some of the male dwarves helped Marumaru lift Kaiwa up and carried him to a shelter at the other end of their village. Inside the shelter was an altar on which the dwarves killed human sacrifices before eating. The dwarves sang and shouted in jubilation as they all exited the shelter. They knew they would be feasting soon. Atop the altar, Kaiwa heard them singing and noisily moving about their houses. The singing subsided and then stopped.

Most of the dwarves had gone to their nearby gardens to gather what scant food they had left for their planned feast. In their rush, no dwarf had tied up the man or secured the shelter. They may have assumed that a man with a spear in his leg was not going to be able to escape.

Kaiwa knew he did not have much time. He clenched his teeth and yanked out the spear from his leg, grimacing in pain as the spear came out. He knew he had to push through the pain and try to walk on his feet and make a quick escape. He opened the door quietly and peered out. Marumaru and his wife were in their house probably preparing their garden food. Some of the other dwarves were harvesting starch and greens from their gardens just outside on the fringes of the village perimeters. But no one had been told to guard the shelter. Kaiwa bolted out of the sacrificial hut, making his way around the back and into the bushes. He found his way to the main road and half ran, half limped as fast as he could back to his village. It was evening when he arrived home. Kaiwa boiled water and washed his leg then dressed his wound. Feeling drowsy, the man who had just made a lucky escape, plopped over and dozed off.

The next day Kaiwa informed the men in his village of his dreams, and his ordeal and lucky escape from almost being killed and eaten by the dwarves. They decided they would retaliate and Kaiwa would lead them since he was the only one who knew the location of the dwarf village. They grabbed their bows and arrows, knives, axes and spears and marched – Kaiwa limping. Kaiwa had dropped his bilum of other weapons yesterday when he was attacked so he carried a spare spear which he used as a support walking stick as they marched back to the dwarf village with ill intentions.

As they came upon their target, the men fanned out, plodding over garden plots and pushing through the shrubs that skirted the settlement to surround the dwarf village. The village seemed empty. All in sync, the men walked into the village, like a shrinking circle, brandishing their weapons, ready to attack at an instant. No one was around to resist or run away as they walked in, looking through windows and doors. Kaiwa motioned with his hand to some men near him, indicating that they follow him as he paced towards Marumaru’s house. Kaiwa peeked through the window and saw Marumaru sitting alone inside. The dwarf was thinking about the previous days’ happenings.

Then all of a sudden, Kaiwa appeared at the door, silhouetted by the sunlight trying to make its way into the hut. The dwarf looked up unsurprised, seemingly expecting the man’s return.  

“After what you did to me, this is payback time,” Kaiwa growled as he lunged his spear at Marumaru.

The spear went straight through Marumaru’s head and the dwarf fell off his stool – dead. The men searched all the other houses in the dwarf village but there were no other dwarves around. The dwarves had expected a retaliatory attack by the humans so had vacated their village in haste the previous evening. The men concealed themselves in the thickets surrounding the village and waited for some hours to see if any other dwarves would return but none ever did. The men then returned to Efogi Village and no human was ever bothered by a dwarf again.

*Sandrah is of a mixed parentage of Central and Simbu provinces and is in Grade 7 (Blue).

Sijo on the Loss of Culture

29 October 2020



Strangers teach you to sing songs and march to a drum that they own;
To reject your garamut, your kundu and the stilled speech of wood;
Their soporific chorus dulls your mind and cheats your Black soul.

This piece first appeared on PNG Attitude on 11 January 2014 at

Shared Military Heritage and Developing ‘Kokoda Culture’

29 October 2020



Efforts continue in Papua New Guinea (PNG) to preserve and protect World War Two heritage. In 2014, a team of Papua New Guinean researchers commenced work on an oral history project along the Kokoda Track, recording the memories of local people and families who had lived through the war: their experiences and the legacies of the conflict. PNG historians are starting to talk about how this ‘Kokoda culture’ could be transposed throughout the country to foster wider participation in PNG’s economy while increasing international exposure for PNG as a rich tourism destination.

The Oral History Project has been conducted in close liaison between historians and the Papua New Guinea National Museum and Art Gallery in Port Moresby, where the interview recordings and transcripts are now housed. The National Museum is central, as the project is extended out to other parts of PNG beyond Kokoda, and taking a lead in developing a national narrative that may tap into this ‘Kokoda culture’.

The oral histories complement the National Museum’s already extensive collection of wartime artefacts. With the Ford Trimotor, the P38 “Lightening” and the P39 Airacobra aircraft all situated at the entrance of the museum compound, it is evident that the war looms large in the historical imagination of PNG. Working on this project has given several historians and heritage workers the opportunity to pause and consider precisely how the war – which was experienced in many varied ways for millions of people across the region, as well as foreign forces – will be represented. We see this as a key moment in which to build historical consciousness about sites beyond Kokoda.

Gregory Bablis, Senior Technical Officer with the National Museum’s Modern History Department, has been conducting interviews around the coast near Port Moresby, in areas evacuated during the war, in villages such as Roku. This is an area considered fairly central to PNG’s administration, was part of the areas bombed through the Pacific Campaign, and a site where the war brought considerable disruption to people’s lives. Yet in terms of its war history, these southern coastal areas get overshadowed in commemorations by the Kokoda Track. There are significant military structures and remnants in and around Port Moresby that deserve more attention. The Port Moresby coastline defence fortifications were built between 1939 and 1944. The coastline defences stretched from Bootless Bay northwest of downtown Port Moresby to Boera. In between there is the Basilisk Station at Roku the Gemo Station, the main station at Paga Hill and the Touguba Hill bunker.

Upon visits to any of these sites one can see that PNG’s historical heritage has a lot to offer PNG’s economy in terms of tourism. Apart from eco-tourism, which is closely related, military heritage needs to be promoted. We are increasingly seeing local initiatives to promote trekking on wartime tracks not as famous as Kokoda, including the Bulldog and Black Cat tracks. One of these is the Musa Track that runs from Abau in the Central Province to Oro Bay in Northern Province. Another track is the Trans-New Britain Trail which begins at Katula Ridge in the southern coast of Pomio (East New Britain), cuts across the Nakanai Ranges, and ends at the border with West New Britain. In many ways, eco-tourism and military heritage can converge as they often do along the Kokoda Track.

As the Oral History Project moves forward, we are aware of the need to reinforce local efforts to remember the past and commemorate experiences. Local landowners collect war relics and display them, not only for younger generations but for tourists too. Blamey’s Garden (Namanatabu) and Roku, for example, are still significant and display substantial remnants of the wartime that need to be protected, preserved and promoted. We need to assist the local landowners to register their Incorporated Land Groups, formalise their land titles or establish their landowner companies so their interests can be protected and they can participate meaningfully in these tourist activities on an equal footing with the landowners of the Kokoda Track.

This is what is meant by the transposition of the “Kokoda culture”. There is a rethinking of the term culture in this context – not the ‘traditional’ way of doing things or thinking, but the permutation and cross-culturing of the Kokoda name, re-branded to other historical and military tracks in PNG. We need to consider what local landowners can learn from the way in which other tracks are run, and particularly from the Kokoda model. Can the Musa Track and Trans-New Britain Trail be marketed as tourist products too? We would like to think so, through the revelation of their wartime histories via parallel oral history projects, and through better situating local narratives within the meta-narratives that already exist.

We need to make sure that the research done as part of the Oral History Project or any military history research relevant to their sites are made available to communities, and that assistance is provided for locals to research the history so they can use this to inform their visitors as part of guided tours. Heritage management plans need to be developed to ensure sustainability and efficient management of tracks or sites. For example, the Conservation Environment Protection Authority has helped Gideon Warite, the landowner at Blamey’s Garden, develop a heritage management plan, and there is scope for much more to be done across the country.

Throughout all of this, there has been considerable scope – and in part this is already being realised – to share information, knowledge, resources, technology, and personnel across the Torres Strait. We believe that this will help develop a sense of shared historical heritage between PNG and Australia for future generations. Papua New Guineans can gain economic empowerment from the disused and disposed wastes of war and Australia can develop a greater, deeper appreciation of their history abroad. Australia’s history in Papua New Guinea expands well beyond the Track, and this was often in the form of a shared cultural economy. Under colonialism this was often exploitative, but as Papua New Guineans try to attract tourists, communities throughout PNG have a chance to gain both economically and culturally from ties based on a common wartime history.

This article first appeared on the Australian National University’s DevPolicy Blog on 21 April 2016 and also as a Notice in the UPNG journal, South Pacific Journal of Philosophy and Culture‘s 2018 Vol. 13 at