MY dream of soaring into the blue skies of Kandep in the belly of an aeroplane began with the recruitment of young men straight from the village to work on rubber, copra and cocoa plantations on the coast.
How I wished to look down upon the two great swamplands of Kandep with their many lakes and rivers teeming with wildlife, then disappear over the mountains to distant places.
I am sure, had I been old enough, I would have allowed myself to be recruited under the indentured labour scheme that operated during the colonial period.
My uncle Wariak Mainu, Pambuti Nawe, Bui Waion and Toank Londokai - all young men from my village - were loaded on that big plane with three propellers, two on the wings and one on the nose.
I stood at the top end of the airstrip at Kandep and watched the plane rumble down the runway scattering the ducks, cormorants, white cranes and other swamp birds which took to the air in panic.
With a mighty roar, it lifted off the ground and headed towards Tari, banked south and, as it gained height, turned north to disappear over the sloping hills of Yaik Kungu.
Then there was quietness and the birds of the swamp settled down to feed again.
Two years later uncle Wariak returned and gave my father a knapsack which everybody affectionately referred to as a ‘barasapen nuu’. My father hugged Wariak for the gift, treated it with care and used it for many years.
My uncle mentioned that he had worked in a place called Madang where coconuts grew everywhere. He said he had to cut grass, crack open coconuts and dry the white flesh. This was put in bags and shipped to faraway places over a huge body of water called solwara.
Uncle Wariak must have liked plantation work because later he said goodbye again. He left me wondering where he was this time. The answer came in 1974 when he sent a $2 note in an envelope with a letter from Wakunai in Bougainville.
By then I was in Grade 9 at Lae Technical College far away from my wantoks. I was happy to receive the money from my uncle. Two dollars was a lot of money then.
Young men from all over the highlands were recruited under the indentured labour scheme. Some went to Port Moresby to work on the rubber plantations while others were taken to Madang, Rabaul and Bougainville to work on copra and cocoa plantations.
When they returned home, they had learned to chew betel nut and their teeth were black. People milled around them to see their teeth and commented that they had become like coastal people.
They did not continue the habit because chewing and selling buai was not popular in Kandep in those days.
Other young men never returned home when their two year contract was over. The explanation was that they had consumed some sort of poison or a masalai (evil spirit) had entered their minds to make them forget relatives and their homeland. Their spouses would often remarry.
On 16 September 1975, I met some of these lost young men at Nenk Pasul’s residence in Port Moresby when we celebrated independence with a big mumu feast and drinks. These men had abandoned their jobs on rubber plantations and migrated to the city in search of better paid jobs like cooks, security guards and shop assistants.
Many lived like kings compared to plantation conditions. They had free accommodation with plumbing, electric light, health facilities and other amenities. They were earning good wages.
To supplement their income, they sold buai, collected bottles and even sold black market alcohol. Some wasted their pay at the liquor shop or found sex in the ‘K2 bush’ in what is now the Waigani and Gordons industrial areas.
One former plantation labourer was greatly envied. He had joined a major shipping line as a cook and travelled to the Pacific, Australia, Asia and the Americas. This was Andrew Kusit from Konari village. His friends wanted most to hear about Kusit’s exploits with foreign women.
“Once when the ship anchored at Sydney Harbour,” he began. “I went into a bar at King’s Cross and ordered drinks. It wasn’t long before a beautiful misis with red lips came and sat on a stool next to me.
“I offered her a drink and she accepted it. I knew she meant business so I offered her another one and some more until she agreed to come with me to a lodge.”
“How did you converse with this lady?” asked Toank Londokai.
“What does it matter to speak with someone who only wants to drink your money?” replied Andrew Kusit. “You can speak to her any way you wish – broken English, sign language, Pidgin, whatever. Important thing is to supply her with enough drink. That’s what she is after.”
He said, of all the women he came across, the most beautiful were those from the Pacific islands.
“They are really beautiful like the legendary Tapuenda Ipali from the sky. When you look at Pacific island girls, they are like the sun in your eyes,” he told the silent crowd of men.
The ship’s cook knew how to manipulate these poor sex-starved buggers, most in their thirties and still single. They had come on arranged flights over the mountains - they didn’t know how to go back on their own. Some didn’t even know in which direction home was.
They had no clue how to go back, get married, bring the wife to the city and raise a family. It was even harder for them to approach the Motuan, Koari and Kerema women in Port Moresby let alone single female office workers.
One of my cousins, Raphael Apin, was smarter than the rest. He saved money, went home, paid bride price for a village lass and brought her to Moresby. They lived at Goldie River Army training depot where he was a chef. He sent his children to school and his first son Mark is now a senior medical doctor in Port Moresby.
And Andrew Kusit brought home a beautiful lady from Malaita in the Solomon Islands. He met her in Honiara on one of his sea voyages. She was a kind and humble woman who never complained about serving a plate of food to people who went to her house at Morata Two.
This initial marriage into Malaitan culture paved the way for Sakias Tamao, Paul Steward Itiogon and David Kaiao to marry three of Andrew’s tambus.
Now, Kambrip tribesmen from Kandep have land at Malaita and regard it their second home, which of course is the Melanesian way.
The time for me to fly overseas on an Air Niugini Airbus was just around the corner.