“I have come to climb your mountain; will you grant me permission to do so?” Papua New Guinea’s Head of State, Grand Chief Sir Paulias Matane, stated the request to the people of Gembogl in Chimbu. And the women’s shrill sounds rose in a crescendo piercing the cold air.
He had asked. And the custodians of Mt Wilhelm, PNG’s highest mountain, had given their approval for the Governor-General to make an attempt to climb to its summit. Sir Paulias had arrived in Chimbu making no secret of the fact that he was determined to climb Mt Wilhelm. “I am leading this expedition to raise funds for children whose parents have died from HIV/AIDS and in doing so to promote Mt Wilhelm as a major tourist attraction,” he said.
But Mt Wilhelm is no walk in the park. When one arrives in Kundiawa the first thing that strikes you is the terrain. There is the one way landing strip, the only flat area in all Kundiawa town. It is with precise calculations that pilots negotiate the surrounding ridges and mountains.
Kundiawa is known for the tomb of the late Iambakey Okuk smack in the middle of town. It boasts two hotels, the Kundiawa Hotel and Mount Wilhelm Tourist Hotel. David Herman Tambagle, the manager, goes out of his way to make sure you get a good feed, a shower and a warm bed. His bar opens to the view: the distant peaks of Sina Sina to the east and Gembogl northwards cut into Wara Simbu’s deep ravines.
Every now and again, the young at heart perform the Karim Lek ceremony. “It is an all night event in a traditional Chimbu custom but we put a time limit to it so as not to disturb our visitors from their sleep,” Tambagle says.
The road to Gembogl is rough and accessible only by four wheel drive. The road winds up the sides of steep mountains, down gorges and levels out for a short distances only to repeat the scenario. At Gembogl station Sir Paulias Matane addresses the crowd from a stage decorated by fruit and vegetables. Large onions the size of tennis balls and huge strawberries. Massive round cabbages, broccoli and passionfruit. “This is where the biggest of the best is grown,” Joe Mek Teine MP, proud member for Kundiawa-Gembogl points out.
The Governor-General has seen it all. He has been to all seven continents of the earth. He tells two young men from Israel at the foot of Mount Wilhelm “Yes I have been to your country and climbed Mt Sinai.” But the weather has closed in and a thick cloak of cloud conceals the mountain. The climb is slippery and dangerous for the head of state. So, with his voice breaking, Sir Paulius charges members of his expedition with the responsibility to continue the quest to reach the top of the mountain and raise the PNG flag on his behalf and for all the people of this country.
This is achieved on Monday 16 June at 6.30 in the morning and today a specially made PNG flag mounted on a teal frame flies above the cold and misty loneliness of the summit of PNG’s very own Mt Everest.
Source: PNG Weekend, Post-Courier, 28-29 June 2008