ALL PAPUAN NEW GUINEANS should remember the dreams of their ancestors. This is a tribute to Wenamba and Bimai, two great leaders of the Eastern Highlands in the 1950s, as told to me by the villagers of Kanangomato.
Daulo Pass is at the top of Mt Gesegga in the Eastern Highlands and at its highest point is 8,500 feet above sea level. The pass was built in 1952 and 1953. It was a very difficult task and the challenge was accepted under the leadership of Ian Downs, the District Commissioner at the time.
Just exactly how this difficult project was achieved is a story in itself and Bob Cleland’s book Big Road tells the amazing story.
Watabung is wedged between these mountains in a narrow valley, and got its name from the fact that two of the mountain rivers met there. It was known as the gateway to the Chimbu District being only seven kilometres from the border between the Chimbu and Eastern Highlands.
Before the highway was constructed, Watabung was a camping spot for government patrols and other people climbing the mountain on their way west along a narrow trail.
The main leader of this part of the world was Wenamba, a very religious man. He played a huge role in assisting the Summer Institute of Linguistics in translating the Siane language into the New Testament. He was a very powerful leader and his clan owned all the land around Watabung and much of the land the road was to pass through.
Wenamba was the main supervisor of the village people who were commissioned to construct the road through the Daulo pass. He agreed to let the government build a patrol post on his clan’s land at Watabung as he was a progressive man and knew that the establishment of a patrol post would greatly benefit his people. This all happened in the 1950s.
The establishment of the patrol post at Watabung was largely supervised by Bob Cleland, a young patrol officer and now a contributor to PNG Attitude, whose father was Sir Donald Cleland, a long-time Administrator of Papua New Guinea when it was still an Australian territory.
A rest house for patrol officers had been built there in the late 1930’s and was used by Bob in the early 1950s as he supervised the building of Watabung government station. Watabung station was completed in 1954 and even in 1967, when I taught there, the roadside gardens and Bob Cleland’s house were well maintained.
Once the patrol post was established, Wenamba lobbied the government for a school and a first aid post. Shortly after the school was started Wenamba got very sick with an intestinal disorder and died.
The whole Watabung area grieved the loss of such a great man. Bimai, another leader of that area, arranged to have Wenamba's body taken from village to village. Each village was told to donate some money to a memorial fund and, after every village had been visited, Wenamba was buried at the cemetery in Kanangomato. The money was used to build a double classroom at the school.
Bimai Noimbano who lived in Nonembaro village had worked at the Aiyura Agricultural Experimental station in 1951. He returned to Watabung in 1953 and developed the first coffee nursery in New Guinea. From this small nursery, the New Guinea coffee industry started.
He also planted a coffee plantation on his land at Nonembaro. As more villagers developed their own small plots, Bimai bought a small truck and travelled around the villages buying their coffee. He would then transport it to Goroka where it could be processed.
He became a very successful business man. Coffee also became the main cash crop in the Highlands. Sadly in 1966, Bimai became sick and was taken to Goroka hospital where he died. His brother inherited the plantation and continued to care for the family.
I never met these two remarkable men but did have the pleasure of teaching their grand children.