The stocky little fighters raided as far south as the Papuan Gulf and in early 1906 the outgoing Administrator of British New Guinea, Captain F R Barton established an administrative outpost on the coast at Kerema principally to curb their depredations.
When not raiding their neighbours the Kukukuku fought among themselves and when the first Europeans penetrated their boundaries they took them on too.
The famous ‘Outside Man’, Jack Hides, described the daring of the Kukukuku as ‘colossal’. District Commissioner Ian Downs whose adolescent interpreter had been presented to him one morning in 1937 disembowelled and impaled in sections on the defensive stakes of his camp boundary was less sanguine in his praise.
He later described the chill he felt when he momentarily mistook the shaven heads of Hare Krishna in the streets of Sydney for Kukukukus.
Downs reported that the Kukukuku had their own unique humour, ‘A theatrical pantomime of denials that they had ever attacked us followed by tearful demands for the return of their arrows’.
The term ‘Kukukuku’ was never used by the people it purported to describe. The general consensus is that the word is derived from the Motuan kokokoko, which described the distinctive cassowary bone belts worn by Kukukuku men after the birth of their first child.
Other connotations are more derogatory. Faced with this dilemma a number of researchers proposed the word Anga, which is almost universally used by the Kukukuku to describe the concept of ‘home’.
The word has caught on with some researchers but Ivan Mbaginta’o as curator of the J K McCarthy Museum in Goroka and himself a Kukukuku says that the term is not in common usage among his people.
Call them what you will, the man whose name is perpetuated in the Goroka Museum ran across the Kukukuku in 1932.
McCarthy, who later became the Director of the Department of Native Affairs, came away with several scars for his trouble. His brave colleague, Lance-Corporal Anis, from Madang, lost his life in the encounter.
There was a special relationship between the police and the kiaps. Together they were two parts of a unique team; one couldn’t have survived without the other. This relationship is epitomised in the writings of people like McCarthy.
There are several inconsistent accounts of McCarthy’s encounter and his 1933 patrol report differs here and there from the published accounts.
Despite these disparities there is no getting away from Lance-Corporal Anis’s extraordinary bravery. The following account is taken from McCarthy’s 1963 book Patrol into Yesterday (F W Cheshire, Sydney, pp 106-13)….
The people of the hamlets of Kobakini at the headwaters of the Kapau were strangely quiet at our arrival. They were insistent that we must not linger. They brought us food in exchange for knives and salt, yet they carried with them an air of supressed animosity that I found hard to explain.
There was a difference in these people. They did not yell insults at the patrol or apparently want to challenge us merely for the love of a fight, yet truculence was not far from the surface.
Then I saw that some carried steel axes, although I thought I was the first white they had met. I saw a belt, and some buckles and some European clothing, and when finally two men were seen with shotgun barrels used as handles for their stone clubs, I began to understand.
“We’ll camp here, Nusa,” I announced, and camp we did, despite our obvious unpopularity, which was quickly growing.
We camped outside one hamlet, and very soon afterwards my suspicions were confirmed. In a nearby gully the police found the evidence of a massacre. It was a pitiful sight. The remains of two murdered white men and their carriers lay just as they must have been killed. Their bodies were decomposing now, but boots unmistakably identified the two white men.
Who were they? I had no idea of their names, but I supposed they had been prospecting. Meanwhile our discovery of the massacre made the watching Kukukuku nearly mad with rage.
This was unfortunate, because now that we had stumbled on the scene of the murders we could hardly move on without taking action, or else the already over-confident Kukukuku would think we were running away.
I tried to think it out carefully. There could be no thought of ‘investigating’ the murders and then deciding what individuals were guilty. These primitive people had no conception of the white man’s laws. Yet a lesson had to be taught – the lesson that this sort of attack had to end.
I decided we would capture some of the men, notably the two who had been displaying the gun-barrels in their clubs, and take them to Salamaua as prisoners. After a suitable indoctrination period they could be returned to their homes to spread the gospel.
Constable Nusa remarked that the Kukukuku didn’t look as if they intended to wait much longer before attacking us, anyhow, so the sooner our job was done the better.
“We’ll surround the hamlet first thing in the morning, Nusa. You pick the fittest of the carriers to help in holding about ten men. If we end with five that should do, anyhow.”
We collected better than five, but couldn’t manage ten. We started off with ten, but as our men struggled with them at first light, two of the Kukukuku – kicking and biting like maniacs – got away.
“Right, Nusa! These eight will do! We’ll soon have the whole crowd of them on our heels!”
We did too. We got moving quickly with our eight men – including the two men with the gun barrels – but the disturbance had brought the men from the other hamlets on to the scene.
I was at the rear with Lance-Corporal Anis and a police party, and soon had to order the police to fire in the air to keep the Kukukuku at a safe distance. They were hopping mad.
Then, suddenly, our attackers ceased to follow us. Soon there was hardly a sound. Our prisoners gave no trouble – they were trembling and obviously in a nervous state, with the fear of death in their eyes. They clearly felt we would kill them, and I felt sorry for them as we continued quickly east.
Our captives were each handcuffed and a cord from the handcuffs was tied to the wrist of an escorting policeman – one policeman for each prisoner.
Eventually we came to outlying hamlets, and there was nothing we could do to stop some of the prisoners from shouting out for help.
But as it happened it did them no good for the hamlets were deserted – an ominous sign, I thought, that the news had travelled and that trouble was afoot. I could do nothing but keep going at the fastest clip possible.
“They’ll be after us, Nusa,’ I told the corporal when we stopped for a rest at one stage. ‘I can’t believe they will let us get away with this easily.’
The country was heavily timbered and suitable for a surprise attack now, so the police and I took it in turns to walk ahead of the patrol as ‘points’ in case of ambush.
We were each on ‘point’ for twenty minutes at a time, walking about 100 yards ahead of the patrol.
We were able to camp that night without having seen any signs of an attack. Next day I estimated we were about three days’ walking from Mark Pitt’s post at Otibanda.
We stuck camp early and had a hard climb to the top of the divide. Soon we came to a large hamlet. Here one of our prisoners, the most powerful man of the lot, resumed his shouts for help and then finally lay down and refused to walk. We moved him only by half-carrying him.
We entered heavy jungle as we followed a stream I hoped was the Waikanda, and the track down became overgrown and very steep. A light rain began, resulting in the track becoming greasy and slippery so that the eight police to whom the prisoners were attached were in difficulties.
Ahead of us, Corporal Nusa was just commencing his period of ‘point’ and had reached the bottom of the ravine, ready to begin climbing the other side.
Leading the patrol proper, about 100 yards behind Nusa, was Lance-Corporal Anis. I followed him a few feet away, together with Bob, my Airedale, and strung out behind us in this difficult piece of country were the rest of the patrol.
We drew level with a large clump of bamboo near the stream at the foot of the ravine when the attack came. I felt a sudden blow in the stomach, like a punch. I was startled to find myself on the ground, where I saw that an arrow was sticking out from my middle.
There seemed to be dead silence. It occurred to me that I had best get my pistol. I was still trying to draw it – it seemed stuck in the holster – when a man jumped from the bamboo and fired an arrow point-blank into my right thigh.
Now everything was noise. There were roars, shouts and rifle shots. The man above me had a mouth bright red with betel, I noticed, as he raised his club. I still couldn’t get at my holster.
There was an explosion a few inches above my head, and the red-mouthed Kukukuku came crashing down on top of me. Boko (McCarthy’s cook) had shot the man with my Winchester.
The terrible position we were in suddenly became clear, and I began to struggle to my feet, amazed at the number of arrows that were now coming from the bamboos. I saw two strike Anis as he charged, shouting, into the bamboo with his bayonet fixed. Anis disappeared but the police were firing and the gully was alive with yells and shots.
Another few minutes and it was all over. The noise stopped as suddenly as it had begun and there was an uncanny stillness. The attackers were gone.
We counted our casualties. Lance-Corporal Anis was badly wounded. He had several arrow wounds and one had entered his chest on the left side. He was bleeding freely from wounds caused by a club.
Near him in the bamboo were the bodies of two of the attacking Kukukuku he had killed. Constable Suaga had a head injury and arrow wounds in his left and right sides, and his wounds too were serious.
Constables Gwambilon and Natava were badly wounded with arrows – Gwambilon had one arrow in his neck. My personal boy, Tami, had taken an arrow clean through his left breast – the point was sticking out his back.
Constables Sigasik and Boganau also had arrow wounds, but they made light of them as they set about doing what they could for the other wounded. Of my own arrows, one had gone in near my navel and one into my thigh. The arrow wound on the knee was no trouble.
Not one of our carriers had been hurt, but the powerful Kukukuku prisoner who had specialised in calling out for help was dead with five arrows in him – all from the bows of the men who had tried to rescue him.
And seven of the attackers were lying dead. Some we recognised as men of Kobakini – the hamlets where the white men has been massacred.
The attack had been carefully planned and well carried out. The men at Kobakini had ceased to follow us after the arrests and had circled ahead to find out which way we were going.
They must have watched our camp and calculated correctly which track we would follow. They had laid an ambush in the best possible place and there they had caught us as we negotiated the difficult ravine and had let the pointman, Nusa, go unscathed while they concentrated their arrows on the police and myself, who had arms.
Five police and myself out of 13 armed men was good shooting. With us out of the way, the attackers would have been able to kill the unarmed carriers with ease. My boy Tami had been shot because he carried a shotgun.
These bow and arrow men had had a tactical victory and they deserved better success, for seven of their men still remained with us as prisoners.
We had few medicines and these were simple, consisting of iodine and aspirin. The remaining police kept guard in case the Kukukuku attacked again as we tended the wounded.
Anis looked as if he were dying. He was conscious but his reddish skin was almost white from loss of blood. By charging into the bamboo Anis had given the police time to recover and so had saved us all. I told him so.
Boganau underlined all our feelings when he held on to the weakening Anis and said, ‘Anis, you are a true man!’ Anis was a Catholic and one of the police gave him a rosary to hold.
I suddenly realised that it was 25 April and in the towns they would be commemorating Anzac Day. I had now been out for two and a half months during which we had covered more than 240 miles.
Obviously the time had come to get to Otibanda just as soon as we could if we were going to survive at all. We would have to carry Anis, Suaga and Tami on stretchers which we would make from ground sheets.
Gwambilon and Natava, although seriously wounded, would be able to walk if they had a carrier on either side of them. If we walked for the rest of the day and all night, we might be able to reach Otibanda the next day, I thought.
We would have to dump most of our food and equipment for the dash – and hope we wouldn’t be attacked again from some of the Kukukuku hamlets we would still have to pass. A patrol of cripples couldn’t face anybody looking for even half a fight.
I pulled the arrow out of my thigh. But every time I touched the one in my belly it was worse than jabbing a raw nerve in a tooth. I finally broke the shaft off and let the point remain – not game enough to let anyone else touch it.
But the police were wiser. There was no argument. All at once Corporal Nusa grabbed both my arms from behind and held me. Constable Boganau said, ‘Sorry too much kiap!’ at the same time as he jerked the barbed arrow head from my vitals.
It hurt like hell, and I fainted. As I came to, I found them pouring iodine into the wound and rubbing the stinging selat plant into my skin.
‘Thank you, Nusa. Many thanks Boganau,’ I said, getting shakily to my feet. Their action had been the sensible thing to do, and now that it was over I was grateful.
We moved off. I found I was able to walk well enough if I held my stomach with one hand. My thigh wound did not trouble me.
I was glad when the night came and the darkness sheltered our many weaknesses. My own weaknesses were brought home to me when I called for a rest about 8 o’clock and found my leg stiffening alarmingly.
At the same time I had an almost irresistible desire to sleep. Sleep in these circumstances would, I realised, be fatal, and in any case there were men more badly hurt.
We kept walking, and as the long night wore on, it became a nightmare for all of us. We were staggering badly, and little was said as we concentrated on the business of pushing on to Otibanda and to Mark Pitt, who, thank God, had studied medicine.
Indescribably dirty, ragged and bloodstained we staggered in to the post early next day, and Pitt wasted no time in treating the wounded.
When McCarthy got to the hospital at Salamaua, after having a beer at the pub first, he discovered Ian Mack there. Mack had been speared at Kainantu.
McCarthy spent three weeks recuperating. Anis had been flown to Salamaua hospital with McCarthy. A short time later McCarthy wept when he was told that first Lance-Corporal Anis had died and, later, Ian Mack also died….
When I left hospital we erected a stone over Anis’s grave – inscribed with the words Boganau had used: ‘He was a man’. It remained intact during the Japanese occupation in the Pacific War and it stands today.
When I left hospital I was handed an envelope – containing a bill from the Government for hospital charges of thirty guineas. To show the Government how fit I was, I paid it.