BEFORE I relate how my parents met, let me tell you something about my grandmother who married three men and ended up with only one child, my mother Namaing, who was flogged publicly for not bearing children quickly enough.
Ipim was my grandmother, the daughter of a man named Kingi from the Sane Kopeamale tribe.
Kingi had married Yange, from the Ambulyn tribe in Wapenamanda. When Ipim grew into a beautiful young woman, a man, Lyapo, from the neighbouring village of Birip in the Lyalakin Sakale tribe paid bride price for her hand.
Soon Ipim was pregnant but unfortunately Lyapo was killed in a tribal war against the Kandano tribe. Ipim could not live at Birip due to the continuing warfare so she returned to her village at Kopemale and delivered Namaing, my future mother.
For some reason, Ipim took the infant Namaing to Kompiam and stayed with her cousin Kemben from the Tinalapin tribe. When Namaing was ready to be weaned, Ipim met a man named Laliyo, became his second wife and bore him a son, Kapo.
Laliyo’s first wife also bore him sons - Nanu, Yame and Ipu. But somehow Laliyo died and my grandmother became a widow for the second time. To add to her suffering, her son Kapo also died when he was about three.
My grandmother felt uneasy about losing both her husband and son so she led Namaing, about six years of age then, back to her own village of Kopeamale. While there, she met a man named Yukuri from the Wapukin tribe and my future mum grew up at Akom. Her late father Lyapo was of course from the nearby Birip village.
As my mother Namaing grew to adulthood, the missionaries and kiaps started establishing themselves in the Lai Valley. My father Kundal was a tough young man who joined the work gangs to build the Wabag-Wapenamanda road, now part of the Highlands Highway.
Kundal noticed my mother Namaing at Akom and envied her physical beauty. Not only that, but her people were well off and knew he would trade soundly with them in the tee or Moka exchange ceremonies that extended into many parts of Enga and the Western and Southern Highlands.
Kundal met Namaing during the road construction period and courted her. One day he saw her accompany her uncle’s wife to Pipitombos near Wabag to see a cultural dance called the Mali hosted by the Yakan Paliu tribe and he followed her there.
Soon he found her in the company of other young girls ready to part take in a courting session (tanim het) with young men. My father crossed over to the woman’s side of the living room and sat with Namaing till daybreak. They shared jokes, sang love songs while sitting close to each other. Nothing else happened because elderly women always sat close and kept the fire alight.
Next day, Kundal took Namaing back to Akom to prevent her from meeting other young men who might propose to her. The Mali singsing provided the opportunity for young men and women to seek possible marriage partners. But Kundal took Namaing away hoping to marry her one day.
Sometime later, when Kundal accumulated enough bridal wealth, he went to Akom with his relatives and asked to marry Namaing who readily accepted. The bride price was paid and when the Warapae pigs were killed and exchanged it signified that Kundal and Namaing were now formally married.
Obviously, my father loved my mother from the start but she had to be publicly flogged because she did not bear any children for a long time. In traditional society, the main purpose of marriage was to have children and actively participate in trade during the tee or moka exchange ceremonies.
Other women’s activities were to rear pigs, make gardens and establish relationships with her distant relatives so the man could extend his influence. But if women did not bear children, the clansmen became frustrated and beat them up.
My mother had been seen with some barren women who were suspected of performing some form of magic and who could cast a spell on women who did not want to have children.
The menfolk felt Namaing had asked to have such a spell cast on her to not have children so they tied her hands to a post in the middle of the village square and beat her up.
Namaing cried out in pain and begged the men to stop but they were unmoved and continued. She screamed at the top of her voice: ‘Wan mandiakalapong pyala kaealap” (I will bear you a child, don’t beat me)”.
The men did not believe her and continued with the beating, taking her to an old abandoned house and throwing her inside. They made a fire which produced lots of smoke and closed the door tight. Jalop’s wife Kandapole, another woman from the village, was also treated in this cruel manner.
In these olden times, women never openly discussed their pregnancy with anyone. My mother had been beaten without knowing that she was two months pregnant. The child in her womb was me – Johannes Kulimbao Kundal.
When I was born in a small hut at Yakidis, she swore at my father and his cruel band of tribal brothers but they didn’t mind the dirty words that poured out from her mouth. They were content, they had a baby son. And that’s what they had wanted.
My mother gave me the name Kulimbao, which means ‘to dismantle’, because I was born during the construction of the Mandin Bridge over the Lai River in February 1955. The Mukuramanda to Tsak Road had been constructed around 1947 and the first bridge over the river must have been built around that time. It was being dismantled to build a new one when I was born – thus my name.
My baptismal record at Pombabus Catholic Mission shows that I was born on 12 February, 1955. I had to be baptised because I fell sick in the first couple of days following my birth. If it wasn’t for the missionaries, pigs could have been killed to appease dead relatives by sprinkling the blood as an offering. The spirits would smell the blood and stop making people sick.
When he heard that I was sick and could die any minute, my father smashed his pointer finger against another stone willing me to live. A catechist at Kanamanda called the priest from Pombabos who came to baptise me. The Christian name given me during the baptismal service was Johannes, a German name from John the Baptist in the Bible.
In a future article I will relate how my mother punished my father Kundal by not weaning me to allow for another child in the family. Instead she allowed me to suck on her breast for a long time, maybe up to four years.
She had been flogged in public for not having a baby soon enough and she ensured that I grew up to be a strong boy before thinking of having another child.
I can still remember how fresh my mother’s breast milk tasted and saw how she resisted my father from getting anywhere close to her.