THE BIRTH of my grandson Archie was like a popular bedtime legend told to children in Enga: some of it true; some of it myth….
The three mountains near my village - Sambakmanda, Kumaemanda and Kipanimanda- are extensions of the Mt Sugarloaf Range which stretches past Wabag to Laiagam in the west and bordering Kandep in the south.
This great range is covered by thick jungle, the perfect home for many species of bird of paradise. One of the most beautiful is the Miok, or the Princess Stephanie’s Astrapia, a real princess with tail feathers of the blackest black.
A long time ago when men and birds lived in harmony, some of the Miok birds built their nests and fed on fruit and sweet nectar so abundant in those three mountains near my village of Kanamanda in the Wapenamanda District of Enga.
One of the Miok birds built a nest on the tallest tree on Mt Kipanimanda and in that nest it laid a single egg. But one night before the egg could hatch into a chick, unexpected heavy rain fell accompanied by lightning and strong wind.
The wind tore off every tree branch including the one bearing the nest of the Miok egg.
The branch fell into the overflowing Lai River and was swiftly swept away beyond the mountains and past many strange places until it reached the mighty ocean.
It bobbed up and down on the waves and was pushed around by the ocean currents. Finally the branch floated near an island called Daru at the western end of Papua New Guinea.
It was a place where no Miok had ever lived there. The people were dark skinned, tall and spoke a different language.
A beautiful young woman, Arnie, left her house to collect firewood from the debris piled up along the beach.
Arnie means ‘mother’ in the Enga language. As she walked along the beach she noticed the branch with the beautiful nest. It appeared to be waving to her.
She dived into the waves and swam towards the branch and carefully pulled it to shore. Inside, she found the most beautiful little egg she had ever seen.
Arnie picked it up and put it in her mouth for safekeeping. Then she dragged the branch to her house to use as firewood.
On the way, she tripped on a coral rock and fell to the ground, accidentally swallowing the egg. She did not think much about tis and continued to pull the branch to her house.
That night something unusual happened. Her stomach began to ache and made her cry throughout the night.
The family could not sleep as Arnie moaned like an injured animal caught in a trap.
The next morning, to everybody’s surprise, Arnie was pregnant. She was not yet married and her parents, siblings and other relatives cast curious glances at each other, wanting to know who was responsible.
Arnie couldn’t explain the phenomenon but had an inkling it was the egg. She told how she had brought it to shore and accidentally swallowed it. As she spoke, she knew that it was the egg that was responsible for her condition.
But her parents and relatives did not accept the explanation and hated her for telling lies.
When the labour pains began, Arnie family ignored her so she went alone to Daru General Hospital where she delivered a healthy baby boy.
She was relieved of her pain but, when she returned to the village, she could not feed her baby with breast milk. Her nipples had withdrawn inside her breast making it hard for the baby to suck milk for nourishment.
At first Arnie’s parents did not want to help but when they saw the baby crying in need of milk, they brought Lactogen to feed the baby. The parents helped Arnie look after the baby until it grew up to be a strong and active boy.
But this was no ordinary boy. He knew where his home village of Kanamanda was in the cool foothills of the Mt Sugarloaf Range. He tired of the heat on the coast and longed to be with his father.
Arnie said to him; “Stop crying my boy and I will take you to your Miok father.”
Arnie’s parents noticed the happy look on the boy’s face and decided to send the child and Arnie to Kanamanda village where the Miok father lived.
Before they departed, Arnie’s relatives said, “Our own son Archie was killed during an ethnic clash between Engans and Keremas at Sabama in Port Moresby in 1978. We have hated Engans ever since.
“When you hatched an Engan child, you shocked us all. But the child was born here and he is already among us and we accept him.
“But now we must send him back to where the egg came from. Before he goes, we must give him a name. We name him Archie after our own child killed by the Engans.
“If this boy’s father does not accept him, bring him back to us. He will take the late Archie’s place here in Daru.”
Then they bought airline tickets for Archie and his mother, who did not sleep well that night as they prepared themselves to fly to Port Moresby. They would miss their Daru relatives.
As soon as they arrived in Port Moresby, a policeman took custody of the boy and travelled with him to Kanamanda to see if his Miok father would accept him. The policeman told Arnie to wait in Port Moresby so she could take the child back if his father did not accept him.
When Archie arrived at Wapenamanda airport with his clothes packed in a plastic bag, his Miok father, Ishmael, was there ready to welcome him home. Ishmael hugged him tightly and cried. All his relatives joined in and the airport terminal resembled a funeral home.
Ishmael then took his son to Kanamanda where a feast had been prepared. A large pig was killed and cooked in a mumu together with some kaukau, English potatoes, bananas, taro, corn and every other food you can think of.
As soon as they arrived, a great feast was held. Archie distributed tuna fish he had brought from the coast.
Next day Ismael took Archie to Wabag where Bubu Miok lived. A crowd of people was there to welcome Archie. Bubu Miok wanted to make sure that this boy who had come from the coast was really his grandson.
Bubu Miok examined him from head to toe. He had to be absolutely certain that this boy was of his blood because he would inherit the family land and carry on the Miok name.
When Bubu Miok was satisfied, he made another great feast and gave Archie a new name – Iso, which means ‘boss’ or ‘heir’.
After two months, Archie rang his mother in Port Moresby: “Mama, my Miok father and Bubu Miok and the Enga people are really good, they are kind and generous. You must come immediately because we will be safe here.”
Bubu Miok sent Arnie the plane ticket and she came up the next morning. The Miok father whose egg she had accidently swallowed ran up to the plane and held her tight.
Her son Archie/Iso did the same and they never let each other go. They were so happy to be reunited and, in accord, went to Kanamanda village.
Finally they drove up to Wabag where Bubu Miok waited with another great feast to welcome Arnie.
Archie, Ismael and Arnie lived happily ever after.