BY MARTYN NAMORONG
An entry in The Crocodile Prize
MY NAME IS AFATI; I’m from the Mubami tribe that lives in the rainforests that border the Gulf, Western and Southern Highlands Provinces of Papua New Guinea.
Our tribal lands stretch east from the banks of the Guavi River towards the Turama River, west from the Guavi River to the Wawoi River, south to the Bamu River and north to the shadow of the ancient volcano, Mount Bosavi. There are two villages that make up our tribe; Parieme and Kubeai. I am from Kubeai.
My dad was a cannibal; he hunted people not just for ceremonies but as abus. He doesn’t know when I was born. He just says that it had rained but cleared that evening and there was a full moon. Then, our people lived at the old village of Kubeai. The men had come back from hunting cassowary and the women from gathering sago.
My mother was in labour. The elderly women were assisting her in a hut built out of palm leaves and wood. My dad said when I was born, the muruk meri who live in the pikus diwai wanted to steal my spirit. Every night I’d cry until the village sorcerer was called one day to come and check me out. The sorcerer removed a cassowary bone from my head. He said that the spirit woman had lost her baby and wanted to steal me.
When I was a very small boy the first white men from APC [Australasian Petroleum Company] now called Oil Search, came to look for oil in our tribal lands. They did their drilling near my village, Kubeai, and at Koko in the land of the Kapolasi people who live further north.
APC didn’t find any oil so they left. After they left we never saw anymore outsiders for many moons.
One day a missionary from the Seventh Day Adventist Church came to our people. He was from a land far away from ours. He called it Daudai, near Torres Strait, and a white man’s country called Australia.
He talked about Jesus and God and told us not to eat pork. My dad’s totem is the pig and he doesn’t eat pork, therefore he thought these new people must also be pig clan people. All of us in the pig clan became Seventh Day Adventists.
The missionary didn’t stay with us long before some kongkongs came to see our people because they wanted to cut down our trees. They were from a company called Straits Marine. My dad asked the pastor to help us because nobody in our tribe had ever gone to school. We made the pastor the chairman of our landowner company.
In the late 1980s the company set up a logging camp at Kamusi. Then they changed their name to Wawoi Guavi Timber Company after our two rivers – Wawoi and Guavi.
I remember the first time they brought in big machines to clear the bush and build the camp at Kamusi. They brought them on a pontoon and unloaded them. We were very scared of the noise these machines made. I remember many of us kids running and peeing. It was scary.
The kongkongs were strange people. They had eyes that looked like snakes and they spoke a different language. They didn’t even speak Motu.
The government built two classrooms for us. In 1989 they opened Kamusi Community School and I did grade one. I was a big boy with mausgras.
I remember when my old man first tried to drive the truck he bought. He drove it into a coconut tree. We were all laughing at him and he chased us way.
When our people started getting royalty payments it was very big money. The Forestry Officer brought our royalty money. We didn’t know how to spend it.
We kids didn’t go to school. We used to go to the company canteen run by Ms Lu. She was a very angry woman. One day a kid decided to act clever with her and she said in her best tok pisin, “Yu stupid me huh! Yu eye bagalap!” We were all laughing at her and her shop assistants chased us away.
The adults used to gamble their money away with the workers from the logging company. Some men went to Mosbi and bought trucks and dinghies and put them on Steamships cargo ships. Others just used up their money womanising.
In 1994 I sat for the grade six exams. I didn’t make it to high school. Some of my friends were selected to do grade seven at Awaba High School in the land of the Gogodala people.
I was a young man by then. I went and saw Mr Wong, the camp manager and asked him for some work. He told me I could join the chainsaw crew under the supervision of John from Kavieng.
Every fortnight we guys would go looking for K2 meri long K2 bush. There were many Bamu and Gogodala girls who were willing to sell themselves to us. We used to go and make so much noise in the banana bushes that everyone started saying, “Kamusi Pairap Oh!”
Today I’m a chainsaw operator cutting logs in the forest. I married a nice Gogodala girl from Aketa village near Kawito Mission Station.
My dad died of malaria a few years ago. His TATA truck died years before him. They both lie next to each other near the sawmill along the Guavi River.
Translation of Tok Pisin to English
Abus – meat.
Muruk meri – literally cassowary lady, refers to the mythical tree dwelling female spirit of the forest, they are said to be beautiful women with a tail, much like James Cameron’s tree dwelling aliens in Avatar.
Pikus diwai – the banyan tree.
Kongkongs – Asians.
Mausgras – beard.
Mosbi – Port Moresby.
“Yu stupid me huh! Yu eye bagalap!” - Ms. Lu attempting to say “Don’t fool me! You’ve got bad eyes”.
K2 meri long K2 bush – prostitutes.
“Kamusi Pairap Oh!” – Slang describing prostitution.
The author grew up with the Mubami at Kamusi Logging Camp along the Guavi River where he attended Kamusi Community School between 1994 and 1999. The general chains of historic events are true but Afati is a fictional character. The author is not from the Mubami tribe.
The author’s mum was one of only two regular teachers who taught grades one up to six at Kamusi Community School. Her colleague was the Late Mr Morgan Marepo from Gulf Province. She resigned from teaching last year and has been having a hard time with the Education Department, trying to get her final entitlements.
Today Kamusi Community School is a Primary School still continues to be poorly staffed. The Wawoi Guavi Timber Company, a subsidiary of the Malaysian logging giant Rimbunan Hijau continues logging activities at Kamusi Base Camp along the Guavi River. RH also operates the Panakawa veneer mill along the Wawoi River.
The neighbouring tribes of the Mubami are the Gogodala who inhabit the Middle Fly flood plains, the Bamu who inhabit the delta region and the Kapolasi/Wawoi Falls people who live in the Shadow of Mt Bosavi – all of whom are Western Province People, and the Kuri People of the Turama River who are from Gulf Province.