An entry in the Rivers Prize for
Writing on Peace & Harmony
AN extremely good-natured, stocky old feller – Joseph - used to come down from the high slopes of Mt Wilhelm every now and then to stay with his ‘daughter’, Dorin Bas, at the DPI compound near Kundiawa, where I also resided in 2004.
Joseph called me “kombani blong mi” and I called him the same. After I learned his age and who he was, my esteem for the bloke increased greatly.
I was amazed that, at his advanced stage in life, he exhibited the stamina and charisma of a 30 year old. Many times we shared a beer at our local Kaugrass Club. He smokes Cambridge brand cigarettes and even chuckled about the opposite sex.
Since I had been indulging in the history of Simbu, I couldn’t let this fellow out of my sight every time I had the opportunity to talk with him. And what an historian he was.
Joseph’s story started in 1933. He was born Miulge. He recounted his story as told to him by his mother, Kogme:
“When I was a few hours old, my mother took me out of the hamlet into the morning sun. She was sitting outside with family members and other admirers when there was a humming noise in the sky in that direction (pointing to the east).
“We thought it was the usual morning humming insects in the trees but the noise got louder and louder and soon it was over our head. My mother carried me and ran into the house. All the people were confused and ran in all directions.
“Some people said it was the bad spirits of the Geregl Bundi people who had come to spell another lot of catastrophes on us. We have never heard a noise this loud before.”
In 1930, the Leahy brothers, Michael and Danny, had discovered gold at Benabena near Goroka. At the time, this was the furthest any white men had ventured into the central highlands. But the discovery was not as promising as earlier thought.
Michael Leahy then convinced his sponsors, the New Guinea Gold Field Company, that they needed to explore beyond Benabena to the west.
On 8 March 1933, a bright blue highlands morning, an aircraft carrying three Leahy brothers, this time big brother Jim was along, and officials from the company took off from Benabena and flew over north Simbu as far as today’s Mt Hagen and back.
This was the same plane that Joseph’s mother and her relatives had heard that morning at Amange village in the Chimbu valley.
So Joseph Miulge was born on 8 March 1933. It was the date that marked the end of the isolation of a million mediaeval people and the beginning of the arrival of white men into Simbu and beyond.
Although he did not know it at the time, of course, Miulge was a special boy.
This first airplane was witnessed by many Stone Age Simbu people that morning. They all saw a big bird making much noise fly high through their skies from east to west and back east some time later.
They hid in bushes or ran into their houses. Many talked of astonishment and wonder. Most people thought it was a magic bird.
The Chuave and Sinasina people thought it was a magic bird sent by the Siane and Lufa people, who were known magicians.
Joseph Miulge’s people in the Chimbu gorge thought it was a magic bird from Bundi.
The Kundiawa and Kerowagi people thought it was a magic bird from the Bomai, who were said to be cannibals who would kill-eat you.
Later the Catholic Mission built an airstrip at Kegsugl. Old Joseph (Miulge) told me of the first time a plane landed there in November 1937:
“I saw the first plane at Kegsugl. Traditionally my Inaugl tribe and the Wandigl were enemies but we did not care, me and many other people went up there to see the first plane land. It came in from the river side.
“As it landed, my hands and legs shook badly and I pissed in my kondai (front garment). When I looked across, the other boys also had water running down their kondai. This was our first time.
“It was a one engine plane and they brought a lot of cargo for the mission. Later, when I went back to Amange, I told everybody – ‘Ah I went to Keglsugl and saw the plane’.”
Many years later when Joseph was a teenager, he and his clansmen helped carry sawn timber for the Catholic Mission down from the Kuragmba Mountains in the Bismarck Range to Goroka.
“Near the Catholic Church in Goroka, I suddenly dropped my load and ran into the bush when I saw the biggest brown pig making so much noise and coming up the mountain fast towards us. All the other men also ran.
“Later we were brought back to the mission and I touched my first car”.
Before 1952, when the road to the coast was not yet constructed, the Catholic Mission and a few of the planters and traders like Jim Taylor and Jim Leahy had flown jeeps in by plane to use on the small network of roads in Goroka and the outlying plantations.
Joseph Miulge told me with a grin that, for the timber they carried from the mountains, a distance of more than 70 kilometres, the men were each paid one tablespoon of coloured beads and a small bottle of paint.
He said it was a white man thing but they were more than happy with it. On later trips, they were given more valuable items like loin cloths, shells, shirts and other goods.
Stemming from the superior stock of the Inaugl tribe in Gembogl, Joseph Miulge was traditionally named after Chief Miulge, his grandfather. He was baptised in 1952 at Toromambuno and given the name Joseph.
Toromambuno was the first Catholic Mission settlement in the highlands after Bundi. Joseph was one of the first people of the area to speak Pidgin and thus was a primary contact person every time the kiaps went into the area.
He assisted the kiaps to supervise the construction of roads and bridges and government stations. Later he joined the Administration and worked as a translator for the kiaps in the Eastern Highlands, which then included Simbu.
In the early 1960s, he became an advisor and translator to Highland leader Kondom Agaundo. Joseph Miulge was a pioneer councillor and first president when the Gembogl Council was formed in 1964 and remained a councillor until 2010.
He served many times in the Simbu provincial assembly. In 1978, he and some selected presidents of Local Level Governments in PNG visited the Queen in England. In 2005, he was awarded an OBE by the Queen for distinguished services to his community.
He also attempted to enter national politics but did not succeed.
Being such a vibrant good looking feller in his time, Joseph attracted many young women from the places he worked but settled for a local girl from the Wandigke tribe.
From this marriage, Joseph and Anna had three sons and a daughter. The girl is married to a man from Samarai. My Kombani, Joseph, also had many grandchildren.
In 2010, 'Kombani blong mi' passed away peacefully unto Ende-ewa Kombuglo (The Forbidden Stone) to join his father Bina and grandfather Miulge.
I did not make it to his funeral in his village in Gembogl but to make amends I thought this short story of a worthy character should be shared with other Papua New Guineans. Lest we forget.