The search for fallen airmen in Papua New Guinea continues
Sijo on the loss of culture

The Flight of Galkope


An entry in The Crocodile Prize
Ok Tedi Mining Book of the Year

Flight of GalkopeTHERE HAVE NOW BEEN FOUR works entered in the inaugural Ok Tedi Mining Ltd Book of the Year Award within Papua New Guinea’s Crocodile Prize national literary contest for 2014.

They are Francis Sina Nii’s novel Fitman, Raitman & Cooks: Paradise in Peril; Leonard Fong Roka’s collection of verse, The Pomong U’tau of Dreams; Leonard Fong Roka’s collection of short stories, Moments in Bougainville; and Sil Bolkin’s The Flight of Galkope, from which we provide the fascinatingextract below.

The tribes and clans of the Galkope have occupied the steep mountain slopes and valleys of the southern part of the Simbu Province for countless generations. As a son of the Galkope, Sil Bolkin, spent several years trekking through his traditional homeland talking to people about their origins, especially in the traditional men’s houses.

Here the elders and sages of the Galkope recounted, interpreted and handed down their past stories to him. Through these old men, Sil found he could delve back several hundred years into the mists of time and memory to the very moments of the inception of the Galkope as a distinct people and nation.

In this extract, however, the history is of more recent origins as the old men, through Sil Bolkin, retrace how modern Christian religions came to the people of the Simbu….

The Flight of Galkope: The arrival of Christianity

By Kela Kapkora Sil Bolkin

Towards the end of 1933 Father Schaefer of the Divine Word Missionary led a party of Catholic priests from Bundi south towards the Wahgi River.  They were guided by Kawage, a big man originally from Sambugla Waugla.

The following year Father William Ross walked through on his way to Mount Hagen.  On the way Father Ross selected a site for a mission station at Wilya but when the Catholic missionaries returned they built their first station and headquarters at Mingende.  A station was established near Denglagu a short time later.

Reverends Bergmann and Zimmerman from the Lutheran Church led a mission party of more than one hundred into the Simbu in the same year and established a station at Ega near Kundiawa.  They completed the construction of an airstrip in 1935.

By the end of 1935 there were ten mission stations operating in the Simbu.


In late 1934 Divine Word Missionary, Father Karl Morschheuser, shot dead a pig that came into the newly established mission station at Womatne, near Denglagu.

The young boys and girls who were working at the station that morning were frightened by the gun shot and ran in fear back to their hamlets. In the stampede a girl fell and broke the crescent shell that she wore around her neck.

The crescent pearl shells traded in from the coast were priceless things in the highlands at that time and the fury of her father upon seeing her daughter coming home crying with the broken crescent shell in her hands was at first understandable.

“I bought this with a huge pig,” shouted the angry father. His eyes were bulging like the full moon.

“Who was the culprit,” enquired the men and women. Soon there was a small crowd around the girl.

“Ah yoo...” lamented the women.

An elderly woman uttered, “I have pains in my body just from seeing this.”

“This thing came from the far off lands. Crescent shells cannot be collected like pandanus nuts or fetched at Koniga River like green frogs,” the father lamented. He walked over to her daughter.

“You are not a little girl. How did you fall and break this?” he shouted prodding her in the head with his finger.

The father had worked himself into such a rage that sweat was oozing from his brow and running down his greasy face into his eyes making them red. His chest heaved with his quickened heart beat and the cramps in his stomach were overwhelming.

He stormed off and crawled into the men’s hut and collected his bow and arrows stored in the roof above the fire place. He then strode off to Womatne with them.

When he got to the mission station he ambushed Father Morschheuser and shot him several times. The priest was defenceless at the time and quickly succumbed to the arrow wounds. The news of the killing spread like wildfire.

The Denglagu people came down from Toro Mambuno to Womatne to see the body of the dead priest.  The Denglagu women rubbed mud on their faces and cried freely to show their shock and grief. Some Inauk and Kugl Kane men and women came to grieve over the death of the priest too.

“Listen everyone! Lower your wailing and crying,” said Merimba, the leader of the Inauk clan. The women took heed and there was silence as everyone looked towards their leader.

“The priest came here from a faraway land that we know nothing about. He had a father and mother just like us. Our fathers and mothers would not want us killed in a foreign land and buried where the spirits dwell.”

“No!” said the men.

“For this reason I feel that we should bury the priestat Kangre since when he first came he was with the Denglagu people. Toro Mambuno is at the headwaters of the river and is too isolated.”

The men shouted in agreement.

Merimba continued, “Let us go and slaughter some pigs and have a proper funeral. We must give him a decent burial at Kangre.”

The Denglagu and Inauk men made a stretcher and carried the priest to Kangre. They staged a big funeral and buried him with due reverence.


Assistant District Officer, Jim Taylor, led a punitive patrol to Mitnande following the murder of Father Morschheuser and a number of Inauk and Kugl Kane men were killed indiscriminately. Wau Yagl Nem from Kugl Kane was one of the men killed.

The people fled in all directions. Most of the Kugl Kane people left for the Jimi Valley in what is now Jiwaka Province and others, especially the Inauk, left for the Eastern Highlands.  Most of them have never returned.


The murder of Father Morschheuser, along with that of other missionaries, prospectors and patrol officers in the Simbu brought a strong government presence.  On the heels of this development other missionaries came to sow their message and they did so without fear or retreat.

Yaire Ulne, Wii Balwal, Gulkua Dua Nem, Dibole Tine and Yaku were pioneer Galkope men recruited as catechists and they attended school at Kup Waigile in the late 1930s.


One moonlit night in 1942, Father Schaefer, and Father Kips (Gibbs) woke the young trainee catechists in their dormitory and summoned them to a meeting.

“The war with the Japanese is now widespread. We have been told by the administration that we must evacuate to Australia and will be leaving tomorrow.  If we escape safely we will return after the war is finished. Pray for us. Kapkula and Mane will remain at Kup Waigile with you,” said Father Schaefer. Kapkula and Mane were two catechists from Madang.

The next day the priests gave the Madang catechists instructions about looking after the mission property and stock and were escorted to Kundiawa. The young trainees farewelled the two priests as they climbed into their plane and then returned dejected to Mingende.

At dawn the next day Yaire Ulne and the rest of the trainees left Kup Waigile for their various hamlets. Each was sent home by the Madang catechists with a blackboard and two goats, pigs and chickens.


After what seemed like a very long time news reached the trainees that the war was over and the priests had returned. The trainees took the blackboards and animals and returned to Kup Waigile. They met the priests with jubilation. They hugged each other in true Simbu fashion.

Yaire Ulne, since he was the oldest and most mature, was given the insignia badge of a Mission Friend. During his commissioning Father Schaefer had told him that he wanted the southern part of Simbu to be colonised by the Roman Catholic Church.

“You are to start at Yuale and build churches with bush materials in selected places as far as Mor Karawil,” said Father Schaefer.

“I like this insignia of authority. I am big and strong. I will supervise the building as you have instructed,” said Yaire with pride.

He was given two patrol boxes. One contained tools while the other contained food and blankets. He departed for Yuale and built the first church. Upon completion Father Schaefer appointed Kutne Alphonse as the catechist.

Dibole Tine was posted to Kup while Gul Kua Dua Nem went to Gor with Dilu. The next church was built at Kon Mil and Kuake was appointed catechist. Father Kips occasionally inspected these places on his horse.

Yaire Ulne went on and built churches at Kuibre, Ulwal, Mor Maphir, Gapa Gol, Diphin Mine, Guma, Mor Maule, Buli, Kua Bala, Bre Kowan, Oldale, Kapdan, Molgime and finally at Mor Karawil. Yaire Ulne, the Mission Friend, had accomplished his task with diligence.

Yaire Ulne finished his work in the late 1950s. When he returned there was a modern mission station at Neragaima. He was fascinated by the permanent buildings. His finish pay of five big pearl shells, five axes, and two drums of cowrie shells was presented to him at Neragaima.  


The Catholic Church at Neragaima quickly exposed the Galkope to Christianity.  The Galkope were excited about the prospects the Catholic Church brought for their sons and daughters. They flooded around the station every day, let alone Sundays.

In those days Neragaima on Sundays was like today’s national election campaign rallies. The priests conducted three masses every Sunday.

The Yuri people living in the Mon Maril Valleys lit their bamboo torches on Saturday evenings and walked to Dinidan, Galma Main and Komi Kamale to sleep with relatives in order to be ready for the first mass on Sunday.

The Erula Nauro did the same. People living at Banake, Konake, Kura Yauro, Kee Meru, and Gor crossed the foot bridge to Nin-Gorma to sleep with relatives so they could be up early for the Sunday mass.

The Dom people living as far away as Sul Baul, Gaima, Melma Kela, Minima, Bemal, Konteu and Dee Pek also walked to Genabona and Kopil Krara ready for the mass on Sunday.

Others who were closer to Neragaima rose at the second cock crow and walked to Neragaima with bamboo and cane grass torches.

The Sunday mornings during those days was a sea of Bird of Paradise plumes, parrot feathers, coloured cordylines, fur and traditional woven string cloth.

After the Sunday masses people would meet with their relatives to share food and arrange the dates for bride price or compensation payments. The younger people arranged visits in the night for courtship songs or elopement with their lovers.

In those days the sights, sounds and emotions on Sunday were awe inspiring and the members of the six Galkope tribes looked forward to them with excited anticipation.


Father Music, a German priest, was the first permanent parish priest at Neragaima. In a short time he learned to speak the Bari-Erula Nauro language fluently. He also studied the Galkope culture in great detail.  With his understanding of the culture he strived with endless zeal to convert the isolated Galkope.

He built the station with its school and health centre at Neragaima with the help of the men and then turned his attention to the outlying areas.  Over two decades he replaced the bush material churches at Karil Maril, Kelma Keli, Kulame and Wara Mon with permanent buildings. He also erected permanent schools and clinics alongside the church buildings.

The sick now had access to western medicine and the excited children flooded into the schools. In this way the spiritual, intellectual and physical needs of the people in the Galkope were met by the Catholic Church.


In the 1970’s a new twist of events unfolded. Several non-Catholic religious sects entered the Galkope territory. These sects easily took advantage of the innate rivalry between the tribes and clans.  Hearing about what these sects were offering some of the Galkope clans invited them into their lands.

However it soon dawned on many of these clans that the sects were only erecting simple huts as church buildings and were not building schools or health centres for them. The material goods that the clans anticipated were also never delivered.

The Catholic Church lost many of its flock to these sects. During the masses on Sunday only half of the seats at Neragaima and the other out stations were filled.

Father Music lamented the arrival of the sects because they weakened communal feeling and widened traditional rivalries.

Despite this the Catholic Church maintained all of its schools and health centres. The followers of the sects had little choice but to use the Catholic schools and health centres for their education and medical needs.

The Kugl Kane people eventually sent one of their own sons to study in the seminary. The young man completed his studies and was ordained as a Catholic priest on Christmas Eve in 1968.  The young Kugl Kane man was Father Ignatius Kilage. The Kugl Kane saw his ordination as a symbolic gesture to recompense for the murder of Father Morschheuser in 1934.

However the Kugl Kane people were still not content.  In 2004, seventy years after his death, the Kugl Kane people invited Father Morschheuser’s relatives from Germany to Kangre and in a remorseful ceremony gave thousands of kina, some 200 pigs and a mountain of food stuff to them as compensation for the killing of Father Morschheuser by one of their tribesmen. 

The relatives of Father Morschheuser who came to Kangre saw that the Kugl Kane people were truly sorry and graciously accepted the apology and the compensation.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Robert Muka

Bro Kela, great piece of writing, can't wait to read the whole book. let me know where to order a copy.

You could try Crawford House Publishing at or email - KJ

Kela Kapkora Sil Bolkin

Tambu, tani Q kamukamu.

Agnes Soni

Ikana vagi.

Joe Wasia

Well articulated and mind capturing. Can't wait to read the full book.

Tine Ningal

Brilliant piece of writing, Bro. Can't wait to read the full book :)

Michael Dom

Angra Sil, looks like some great story telling here, with real history too.

I look forward to reading this book.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)