This article was written as a tribute to my father’s memory on the second anniversary of his death. He passed away on 17 August 2012
THE day my father died, a part of me died with him. 17 August 2012 will be forever etched in my memory as the date on which he passed away.
He held on for a number of days at the Kundiawa General Hospital in a comatose condition but he eventually succumbed. It was also the day I would discover later that my life had changed forever!
Hatred, animosity, and jealousy are destructive forces in our communities. It hurts me to ask the following question over and over again: why can’t we live with each other in peace and harmony?
Papua New Guinea, despite being a Christian country and under the rule of law, is a very violent society. The level of violence meted out to docile members of the community is appalling. We read of many examples in the media, but so many more are never reported.
I am not sure that telling this story will reveal any of my weaknesses or expose me. Melanesians and Papua New Guineans in particular do not reveal and discuss many of their personal issues with others. We are a deeply secretive people, and tend to internalize many things and emotions. We reveal only that which will make us look good or find favor in the eyes of outsiders.
But these powerful energies unable to be contained can explode out with destructive consequences. Although what I will be sharing is deeply personal, I wish to make three things clear: some people in PNG can become very violent if they choose to, with enormous costs to society and those affected; that by doing this I can start the process of bringing about closure to a tragedy that has changed my life forever; and importantly portray that every human life is worth protecting because it is given once and is therefore sacred.
My parents met while they were young and courted for a while, then married. And we children came along beginning with me - all eight of us. Mother tells me once in a while some of the stories of how they first met, and which people were responsible for bringing them together.
But he was callously hit on the head with a coffee stick, not for anything but just for being himself. From what I was able to gather he was the victim of jealousy. He was not at fault to deserve the treatment that was dished out to him.
I was told he was comatose for a few days and took his final breath on the 17 August 2012 at about 10 in the night. He never woke up to say final words to his children. Having been informed of the incident, I was trying to buy another day hoping his condition would improve before dashing home. But I knew straight away it was not good news.
The message confirmed my fears. I have never forgiven myself since. Could he have lived if I had reached him in time? His violent death at the hands of the man who chose to lift the stick was witnessed by many members of the community on a market day. It was a public spectacle, almost a public execution. While I do not hold those onlookers directly responsible, many watched without doing anything to intervene.
Some nights, I stay up late thinking he could have been alive now if someone had just held the attacker back or drew my father away. I have many questions for them. I want to ask them if they enjoyed the spectacle and were satisfied that a life was lost while they just watched. I want to ask them if they had anything against our family.
The Polish doctor in Kundiawa and the theatre staff did their best to stabilise my father and bring him back. But he had heavily bled overnight at Koge Health Centre before he was brought to Kundiawa and this led to complications. From there it was all downhill.
My family is satisfied that the culprit is behind bars and we want the courts to dish out the maximum sentence possible that befits the gravity of the crime.
My father had no formal education. He told me that he ran away from school a number of times after severe beatings by the teachers. One day he decided to leave school for good. Our grandfather did not see the value of education and left him to his devices.
Yet he had his land, his name and he had us. That to him was his wealth. He was content. He contributed to the community and his customary obligations. He had a proud sense of being part of his tribe. He also told me that he was his father’s favourite son. (Our grandfather married three wives).
Sometimes I cried myself to sleep. I kept my grief to myself for fear of being seen weak. A man should not cry, but I cried for the manner in which he was taken from us. No one living can take the place of someone close to you but taken away in such a manner. I found this out the hard way. I had an option to take up the sword, and begin to plot a tooth for tooth scheme. I weighed up my options and did some soul searching.
This is a society in which not appearing to react can be deemed as weakness. While having this mental battle, for over a year I slipped into depression and my hatred just grew stronger. Often the line between being alive and dead became blurred and just did not matter to me. I am supposed to be a confessed Christian, but on this occasion I did not handle myself very well. Besides what does it mean to be a Christian if other professed Christians can appear so evil?
At some stage I almost lost the will to live. It was getting destructive and I knew it but had no internal energy to reverse it. I felt physically weak, lost my appetite, and found everyday work cumbersome.
It was during those dark times that I began to stumble upon materials and pieces of literature that appeared to speak to me in my situation. A colleague gave me a video – The Secret. There were many messages in it that appealed to me. I also read its book version. They gave me a glimpse of a new beginning, a new way of viewing the world.
There were other messages and signs in the form of a book, a quote or a sermon that consistently appeared to be directed to me. Certain Bible verses and messages from Pastor Brian Houston on Hillsong TV, and 3ABN (the Adventist Television broadcast), became relevant to me in my condition. Among the books was “The Greatest Miracle in the World” by Og Mandino.
Mandino is an American bestselling writer and international motivational speaker. I read the book from cover to cover over many times and tried to hang onto every word in it. It is a great antidote for depression if anyone cares to know.
I began to notice a pattern. It appeared to be random at first, but then the trend continued and became regular. It could not be coincidental anymore. Maybe the universe was trying to speak to me. You do not need to be religious or superstitious to understand this. Sometimes things happen that are out of this world – miracles in a sense.
There must be a meaning and purpose to life and each of us are not an accident but is here for a reason. That was a powerful message for someone in a situation like me. I looked at the lives of other people and saw how they bounced back from the brink of destruction or defeat. It was then that I decided to begin to live again - for my father, my family, and importantly for myself.
Our lives are not our own. They are like the ripples in the pool. Our influence spreads further and wider, as we grow older and come to know more people than our immediate families.
My father had friends from many parts of the country. Some of his best friends were teachers from the nearby Muaina Secondary School. They refused to accept that he was gone like that.
Someday with the passing of time, the wound of sorrow will heal. We may still have scars but that is expected. As his children, we are keeping together. None of us have succumbed to any illnesses, accidents or become maimed.
We are proud to be his children regardless of whatever others had thought of him. And I know he is proud of us from wherever he is now! It is important to spread the word that to have real future in PNG, peace must prevail in our communities.