SAMSON MAIM & KENNETH BRUNO
THE 19 CARVED HEADS IN THE LINTEL above the entrance to Parliament House (and which have since been destroyed) came from Maprik, Wosera (Abelam people) and West Yangoru (Arapesh people), who saw the significance and good meaning of the haus tambaran and adopted it as a symbol of governance.
Some Arapesh people on the Maprik side also adopted this symbol of governance 500 to 1,000 years ago when the two cultures clashed, so culturally we practiced more the Abelam culture but speak the Wewak/Aitape languages. We call the haus tambaran ‘Kalabu’ while the Abelam people call it ‘Kwarambu’.
The Kwarambu (man’s house now known negatively as haus tambaran) is a very significant structure to the Abalum people. The head carvings are traditionally part of the design and construction of the Kwarambu and are called the Ter’kert. You cannot have a Kwarambu without a Ter’kert, a special carving representing the heads of the clans within that tribe or governing system.
The Ter’kert is usually carved out of one entire kwila tree to signify that out of the same trunk of a tribe comes many different clans. Kwarambus are erected to represent a traditional parliament with one chief and other elders; it is kind of a medieval democratic government.
The heads carved on the Ter’kert represent the number of clans within that tribal group. Depending on the size of the tribes, they could have up to 10 or more heads on the Ter’kert.
The designers, in close collaboration and consultation with traditional owners of that magnificent structure, made sure that the original design of the National Parliament House contained a Ter’kert.
Most of the current parliamentarians do not know anything about the Ter’kert and its significance. Obviously, Speaker Theor Zurenuoc and his team don’t.
When Papua New Guinea got its independence in 1975, the house of parliament had 19 members representing the then 19 provinces. Therefore it was fitting to have a Ter’kert with 19 heads above the entrance into the House of Parliament as a fair representation of “all Papua New Guineans”.