BY MATHIAS KIN
LOCATED UNDER the corridor of a 500-metre high limestone outcrop stretching east to west in the north, Kundiawa town is a bustling town with an estimated population of over 15,000.
It is the capital of the Simbu Province and is home to the best hospital in Papua New Guinea. This story of the beginning of Kundiawa town starts 77 years ago under very unlikely circumstances, a meeting of two leaders from vastly different worlds.
In 1934, Chief Bongere of the Kamaneku tribe had a garden at today's Kundiawa Works Compound.
One day, some strange people came from the east and made camp near the garden. They took some corn from the garden and as payment left some shells and an axe covered by corn leaves. Very early next morning, these aliens had gone west. Some people who hid in the nearby bushes told Bongere of these strange events.
Many days later these strange people returned. Bongere, being a big fellow and a fight leader for his tribe, confronted them. Before Bongere could do anything silly, these intruders took him to his garden and showed him the items they had hidden there.
Bongere was surprised by the strangers’ sincerity and was pleased with the instant wealth he had gained for some nothing corn. He promptly became friends with these people, especially their leader, William Bergmann. Bergmann told Bongere he would return soon and build his house to live with him there.
In those days, the present day Kundiawa town was a fighting zone for the Kamaneku and Endugla tribes and their allies. For this reason, the area was never permanently settled.
The Ega area, where the school and mission headquarters is today, was owned by the Kamaneku tribe. The Premier Hill area known as Tema and the Malaria Area were owned by the Endugla tribe.
A year earlier in April 1933 the Taylor-Leahy patrol had brought the first white men the Simbu people had seen. The Catholic missionaries led by Fr Alfonse Schaefer came through the area in November 1933 having crossed the Bismarck Range from Bundi and settled at Mingende.
The Lutheran missionaries under the leadership of Rev William Bergmann came from Finchhafen through the Markham and Goroka in May 1934. That was when they encountered Chief Bongere. As he promised, Bergmann came back to settle at Ega on the 12 September 1934.
On that day Bongere came down from his Keakge village on Tokma Mountain with a big white pig and killed it in front of his new friends. He then rubbed tanget leaves into the blood of the pig and planted it in the soil.
In this way, he officially signalled that the land was given to Bergmann and the Lutheran Mission. This was the beginning of a close relationship between Bongere and Bergmann. The locals called Bergmann Berman and others called him Kamanekumugl meaning Kamaneku tribesman.
There were two reasons Bongere and his Kamaneku tribesmen easily befriended Bergmann and gave their land to him.
Firstly, these aliens would be a physical barrier between the two tribes, helping prevent further troubles. The people had already seen the power of the white men’s firesticks from earlier patrols. They also believed that by being friendly, these aliens would side with them in the event of an attack from the Enduglas.
Secondly, Bongere and his Kamaneku tribesmen did not want these people who owned everything and knew everything good to go to another tribe. They wanted them to be close to them so that they would benefit from all these goodness.
Chief Bongere’s astuteness served its purpose - the two tribes have not had any fights since then and their sons and daughters are educated, well-to-do personalities all over PNG and abroad.
The Mission quickly built an airstrip which today is Simbu Airport and the first plane landed a month later. In the ensuing months and years the station was an important stopover for prospectors, missionaries and administration officers passing through from Benabena, Bundi and the Hagen posts.
In early 1935, after the killing of two Catholic missionaries in the Gembogl valley, kiap Jim Taylor established the first Chimbu-Wahgi post at Tema, now Premier Hill. From here, the kiaps carried out many punitive expeditions into the Gembogl area to avenge the killings.
They killed tens of tribesmen from among the tribes there. Sadly these killings were not recorded and the outside world never knew of these bad acts. Mr Taylor even took more than 50 tribesmen as prisoners all the way to Salamaua on the Morobe coast. Most of them perished and never made it back to their families in Gembogl.
World War II had a devastating impact on the positive progress of the church work in the area. Rev Bergmann and other missionaries of German origin, including Father Schafer from Mingende Catholic mission, were interned in Australia.
During this time, the Ega and the Mingende stations were occupied by the Allied forces. When Bergman returned after the war, his station was in tatters. Bergmann had to start all over again to rebuild.
But soon after, through the hard work of these missionaries and their indigenous workers, the station was brought back quickly to its former state. Ega again became an important centre for the spread of the Lutheran Church throughout Simbu and the highlands.
By 1953 the Highlands Highway was built through the Simbu-Wahgi from Goroka. This post, later named Kundiawa, became the capital of Simbu (then known as Chimbu) in July 1966 when the area was declared a district separate from the Eastern Highlands.
Kundiawa has today grown to be an important commercial and government centre for the central highlands.
Had it not been for the shrewdness of Bongere and the inspiration and entrepreneurship of his friend Bergmann, we would not have a Kundiawa like we do today.
Mathias Kin (45) was born at Deri village in Salt Nomane Karimui District in the Simbu Province. He graduated from PNG Unitech in 1992 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Metallurgy. He works as an advisor with the Resettlement Project on the LNG Project; prior to that he was a public servant in Simbu for 14 years. He is married with 8 children