People are not what you expect
Legendary district commissioner David Marsh dies aged 93

Yaltom & his father discuss bringing Nil-mam into the family


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PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum
Award for Essays & Journalism

YALTOM’S family and relatives did not know that Nil-mam and Yaltom had kept their relationship secret from Nil-mam’s parents.

One afternoon Yaltom’s father visited them in Porgera and said he wanted to make a feast and invite Nil-mam’s family and relatives to the village.

This gathering would mark the traditional public declaration and recognition of Yaltom’s marriage to Nil-mam, a widely accepted practice in the Simbu tradition.

Yaltom gave it some thought and nodded in agreement. He was glad his father and family wanted to host this feast. Normally in contemporary Simbu society, parents and relatives would leave such feast to the working class son or daughter.

Parents and relatives approved of their sons and daughters working for the money it brought from their salary. Yaltom’s father was different. He wanted to honour his commitment as a father and make sure his son’s marriage was formally recognised according to tradition.

Nil-mam’s pregnancy outside the traditional ceremony was a concern for Yaltom’s father and family.

Yaltom struggled to understand the philosophical foundations of his father’s thoughts. He was a young person in contemporary Papua New Guinean society who was struggling to balance the traditional and modern ways of life.

His upbringing in church had provided him with a sense of direction in life. He regarded people and the environment around him differently from his peers.

There was no guarantee he would maintain this position. Things were always changing and his world view might change. Perhaps he would no longer like Nil-nam and turn to gambling, beer, girlfriends and more wives.

Yaltom had observed his semi-educated and even illiterate uncles and cousins - incapable of making gardens and building houses for themselves - marry two or more wives.

Yaltom was educated; he did not have problems with gardens and building a house. He had a company house and enough money to shop in the most expensive supermarket in town.

Only strong Simbu men swallow their pride and remain loyal to their family. It takes extraordinary discipline. Yaltom was at a crossroads.

Nil-mam could hear the discussions between father and the son but understood very little or nothing. Yaltom and his father were conversing in the Kuman language of Simbu.

Nil-mam kept the water boiling in the jug and ensured Yaltom’s father did not run out of coffee.  This gesture was enough to win the heart of her future father-in law.

“Yaltom, looks like your wife will welcome visitors and be friendly to them. This kind of woman will make you stand out among your tribesmen. She has my support,” he said as he walked out to the verandah to stretch and puff his tobacco roll.

“What do you think of Dad’s suggestion, Nil-mam” asked Yaltom.

“That is a good idea but who do I invite to represent my family in Kundiawa?” She made a mental list of the few Kavieng people she knew in Kundiawa during her short time there.

“Two at Sir Joseph Nombri Memorial Hospital, three at Mingende Health Centre, one at Rosary Secondary School, three at Back Street,” her mind ticked over.

“Not a problem, we can provide return plane tickets for your parents and two or three others you may want to invite. How does that sound?” Yaltom interrupted.

“Yaltom,” called Nil-mam. It was the first time since they had met that Yaltom heard Nil-mam call his name. Normally they would call each other by nicknames that reminded them of their first meeting at the Mt Hagen bus stop.

“I told you, my dad is a guardian of the Malangan tradition and I am his first child. For me to end up like this without his knowledge and permission is a mistake that he would not accept easily,” she said.

“What is a Malangan?” asked Yaltom’s father. Yaltom struggled to answer the question.  Nil-mam sensed the seriousness in her father in-law’s voice and kept quiet.

“I see, I see,” said Yaltom’s father, sipping his black Kongo coffee.

“We have leaders who look after our cultural properties and laws in Simbu and Digine,” Yaltom said. “Nil-mam’s father is a leader of his clan and tribe. We have to understand the different cultures,” he said.

“Hold on Yaltom,” his father interrupted. “I know my culture well and that was why I insisted you marry a Simbu woman. Now you make me come here and discuss this as if I don’t know anything about it!”

Yaltom heard the seriousness in his father’s voice and kept calm. He did not want Nil-mam to be bothered by this discussion so he asked her to do some work for him in the bedroom.

Yaltom broke the silence between him and his father. “Yes, you are right. I have decided to marry Nil-mam against your advice. I am sorry, but the decision has been made. So let’s work out how your planned feast can be hosted.”

“Yes, the feast is planned when you and Nil-mam come home for your next break,” said Yaltom’s father.

“We are coming home at the end of this month and that’ll be a good time to host the feast. Nil-mam and I will work out how we will bring her parents and relatives, leave it to us,” said Yaltom.

“Son, I am happy that you are able to drink as much coffee as you can and walk into the toilet in the same house,” Yaltom’s father said, changing the topic as he finished his coffee and walked into the toilet.

“In the village, toilet smells and we build pit toilets away from the house. On fine days, we are OK but on rainy days and at nights we have nightmares trying to go to the toilet,” he laughed.

Yaltom felt sorry for his father and went to fix his bed. A few minutes later he told his father that his daughter in law had already fixed it for him. 


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