A LOT OF PEOPLE will remember the hilltop bonfires that were lit all over Papua New Guinea on 16 September 1975 to mark the nation’s independence from Australia.
In a lot of places the kiaps had contrived with the local leaders to build the bonfires and were instrumental in the coordination of their lighting.
It was both an inspiring and eerie sight, especially in places like Simbu where such fires had been lit for other cultural reasons from time to time.
There is a story in the area around Gumine and some other places that such fires heralded the arrival of a “prophet” in the land. There is a lot of mystery around this story.
One theory is that the “prophet” was the Russian anthropologist, Nicholas Miklouho Maclay, who spent several years living with people on the coast near Madang in the late 1870s and had ventured into the mountains from time to time.
Maclay was an anti-colonialist who objected to the takeover of New Guinea by the Germans and Papua by the British.