An entry in The Crocodile Prize
Cleland Family Award for Heritage Writing
IN the gorges and gullies of the Mon and Maril Rivers, in the tribal land of the descendants of Alai-bia, within the Nulai-kia clan of Omdara, were two sons Kurkaul and Tolpari.
According to Kurkaul’s grandson Guna Nembare Maikel, brothers Kurkaul and Tolpari could have been born and raised in the 1910s.
This was an era when the coastal part of the island of New Guinea and New Guinea islands were more than two decades on from official German and British colonisation. But the highlands area, in particular the birth place of Kurkaul and Tolpari, was devoid of European contact.
Nembare remembers little about his grandfather Kurkaul and his brother Tolpari but knows that, if he had mastered the skill of those who wrote the Bible in those days, he could have recorded the histories of his grandfather and great-grandfather.
He did not learn how to write 1, 2, 3 or A, B, C even after contact with first Europeans. He still cannot write his name but does not regret it. He says he spends most of his time doing things that men did during his time and loves smoking his brus (rough tobacco).
He lives a few meters away from the gorgeous, crystal Maril River. He says he owns the river and bathes whenever he feels like it and doesn’t need a towel. But he adds that thetravels he has done have shaped his world view.
Nembare’s grandfather, Kurkaul, grew up among his clansmen and earned his position and inherited his share of the Nulai-kia heritage of the Yuri tribe.
He was respected for his skills as a gardener, warrior, orator and hard worker. He inherited traditions of respect for members of his clan and to avoid mischievous conduct that would bring disrepute to his family and clan.
Tribal warfare had been an inherent part of the Nula-kia tradition. It did not matter which side was in the wrong but the Nulai-kia clan would take it on itself to send warriors to the battlefield and the success of the day’s battle was measured by how many of their men returned unhurt.
Destruction of property was part of war but not the ultimate goal. The rituals associated with war were strictly observed and followed. Among the norms were that young men could not visit their girlfriends or eat at their mothers’ house.
Kurkaul’s strictly adhered to his clan’s tradition not to court girls from within the clan and neighbouring clans that shared common traditional myths and totems.
So he was compelled to go east to the Golin tribe in search of girls who would later become his wives.
In mid-1920, Kurkaul married a Golin woman from the Nilki’gaulin clan who had four children, Kulame, Sipa, Bomai and their sister Guan. Kulame and Sipa followed their mother and grew up among the Nilki’gaulin clan and their children occupy parts of modern day Yani village in the Gumine District. Guan married a Milin’kane man of the Golin tribe.
Bomai was left behind with his father at his birthplace of Omdara. He grew up and ventured south-east to marry a woman from the Guna’gaun clan of the Era tribe. Bomai’s wife was known within Nulai-kia circles as Era’mbia (meaning woman from Era tribe) who had a son in the mid-1940s and named him Nembare.
Nembare being the only child added his mother’s clan name Guna to his name and a Christian name Maikel when he later came into contact with Lutheran missionaries. Nembare now goes by his full name, Guna Nembare Maikel and his Nulai-kia clansmen call him Guna Nembare.
Nembare could not remember exactly what year he was born but he remembered growing up in his birth place and was among the first young men of his clan to be recruited for plantation duties in Rabaul.
He had to walk from Omdara to Omkolai and was flown to Goroka where he stayed for two weeks working in the laundry at the hospital. During his short stint in Goroka, he remembers running away from work because he was shocked to see blood-stained cloth and the thought of washing it scared him.
He travelled to Rabaul by way of Lae and worked as a plantation labourer performing wood cutting, grass cutting, cooking, cleaning, picking copra and other tasks that required his skill.
At the end of his contract he recalled buying clothes for his parents and neatly packed them in a wooden box with some kina shells. His return with European goods created news among the Nulai-kia clan and the neighbouring clans.
Soon the news of tea and coffee plantations in parts of Jiwaka in the 1960s attracted their attention. They had to walk more than 30 km from Omdara to Kudjiip in Jiwaka Province to pursue their dream of working in a plantation.
Nembare, returned to his birth place at a request of his parents and now lives at the river Maril Bay in Omdara, guarded by the walls of Pildimna to the north and Dekawi to the south.