MY full name is Raymond Muso Sigimet. I am now in my mid-thirties and I grew up away from my province and village. Half of my life was spent in the New Guinea Islands.
I am the third born in my family of nine siblings. Five blood sisters, two blood brothers and one adopted brother. We were a crowded lot and very close when growing up.
We fought, argued, got punished, rebelled, forgave, and did all those stuff that families and siblings do. And we still do some of these things today.
My father spent some 20 years of his life as a career officer in the Papua New Guinea Correctional Service. During those years, the family moved around with him to different parts of the country where he was transferred to.
His transferals around the country resulted in me and my siblings being born in different parts of the country.
My father, came to know my mother while he was stationed at Buimo Corrective Institution near Lae in 1975 and they got married in the customary way but without the bride price obligation.
My mother was working as the travel clerk with the Department of Agriculture, Stock & Fisheries at Top Town, Lae. It was her first job after completing Grade 10 at Busu High School in 1974.
My father, Joseph Sigimet, is from Umanep village while my mother, Regina Yalamen, is originally from Riwo village. Both villages are part of the big village of Woginara #1 in the hinterland of Dagua, East Sepik Province.
I was born in mid-January 1981 in the once famous gold mining town of Wau, Morobe Province. My maternal grandfather came to Wau from Madang in 1949 and worked with New Guinea Gold at Nami, panning gold along Edie Creek.
My maternal grandfather, Alexius Morosime Yalamen, was one of the first Sepiks to settle and work in the goldfields of Wau with the early colonial gold prospectors after the World War II.
During the war, he and the local people assisted Australian soldiers evade capture by the Japanese Imperial Army in the Woginara mountains of East Sepik, showing them safe passage to the coast.
After the war, he left for Madang where he worked as a barber for the expatriate community. He heard of Wau from the expatriates’ conversations and decided to travel there in 1949 making contact with the white men he had come to know in Madang.
In 1950, he went back home and returned with my maternal grandmother, Emma Utomen Niwas. Between them, they had 12 children including one adopted. My mother and her siblings were all born and raised in Wau.
My first name was given to me by my mother’s younger sister. My maternal grandmother wanted me to be named after my paternal grandfather.
My aunt disagreed, arguing that she had the naming rights because she assisted my mother when my mother was heavy with me.
She gave me the name Raymond because it started with the letter “R”, the first letter of my mother’s name
When I was born, my aunt came with baby stuff and my first baby clothes were bought at Kivung Trading where she worked. Kivung Trading was operated by Chris and Donna Harvey-Hall.
The late Chris Harvey-Hall was a good friend of my maternal grandfather. When he came to Wau from Australia in the early 1970s as a young man, my grandfather took him in as a son and gave him food from his garden, taught him how to pan for gold and also taught him how to speak Pidgin.
In 1983, when my father was serving at Laiagam Corrective Institute, Enga Province, my mother affectionately gave me the baby name “Awi” which stuck with me until I left home for boarding school.
I was told by my mother that, during shopping trips or outings, whenever I saw Engan tribesmen in their traditional bilas I would cry my eyes out for my mother to dress me up like an Engan warrior.
To quieten me, she would improvise by placing tanget leaves to cover my front and back. I would then proudly strut around the house with my very own “arse tanget”. Awi translates as “uncle” in the Engan language.
My earliest memories as a child growing up was of my maternal grandparents’ Banis Donkey camp in Wau. Banis Donkey was a piece of land given to my grandfather in 1974 by New Guinea Gold after he retired from the company. He settled there, building a house and panning for gold.
It was where I played hide and seek, explored the kunai beside the camp, slid down slopes, and collected the corn bead plant (Job’s tears) to make necklaces.
We would visit my grandfather’s garden, negotiating a path down the steep cliff face crossing Kunai creek to go to Wau town and observe my grandfather’s wok bois and their families playing cards under the bamboo patch at the camp. They were originally from Chuave in the Chimbu Province.
In 1998, I started community school. All my primary and secondary education was completed in East New Britain.
At Keravat Community School, my teacher was Ms Rachel Lote from East New Britain. She taught me from Grade 2 until term one of Grade 6 when I left to complete the year in West New Britain where my father had transferred, resigned and settled with the family.
Some of my classmates had parents who were public servants working at LAES research station, Keravat Corrective Institution, Keravat National High School, PNG Forest Service, Keravat Police station, Vudal Agricultural College, and Public Works. It was a fertile environment for learning because of our different social and cultural backgrounds.
After community school, I returned to East New Britain to for high school at Vunabosco Agro Technical High School, a Catholic boarding school for boys near Kokopo. In 1994, I witnessed the twin volcanic eruption that destroyed Rabaul.
A significant national event that happened during my final year in high school was the Sandline Affair which made everyone perceive the Bougainville conflict in a different way.
In 1998, I found myself at Keravat National High School, a completely new experience for me.
From a sheltered, disciplined Catholic boarding school I stepped into the freedom and excess of national high school life. I had to grow up quickly during my two years at Keravat.
I tended to pay more attention to and get good grades in Geography, Language & Literature and Visual Arts.
When the time came to fill my school leaver form, my Geography teacher took me aside and informed me she wanted me to put my first choice as Geography at the University of PNG. She assured me that if I did, she would make sure I gained entry into UPNG.
Because of personal reasons I had been grappling with for some time, I declined her offer and opted for technical college.
In early 2000, when the Y2K computer bug hysteria was on people’s lips, I boarded a plane out of Hoskins for Madang and spent a year doing a course in painting and sign writing at Madang Technical College.
Before graduation, one of my teachers informed me the college planned to retain students from some of the trade departments.
The school would provide on-the-job training as an apprenticeship for the next four years. My teacher wanted to recommend me.
Again, because of personal reasons, I declined the offer.
After graduating at the end of the year with a PETT certificate in Painting and Signwriting, I returned to Kimbe and looked for a job. Unfortunately I was unsuccessful as many of the companies had signwriters.
So I decided to spend the time helping out my parents at the family’s oil palm block. Formal employment was not easy to attain. It was all about who you knew. It was then and it still is now.
I got some work in a hardware store for a few months doing signwriting. I also worked for a local woman who operated a small arts and crafts shop painting traditional designs on her shop walls.
In 2005, I was selected as a non-school leaver for the four years education program at the University of Goroka after being persuaded by my brother-in-law to apply.
When I graduated with a teaching qualification in 2008, I was offered a position in East Sepik and spent the next seven years teaching in the Maprik District.
I finally saw the need for a helpmate and God brought into my line of vision my lovely wife and partner; blessing me with two beautiful headstrong daughters. They make life complicated and fulfilling for me.
Last year, I decided to put on hold my teaching duties to pursue post-graduate studies at my alma mater, the University of Goroka.
I believe that our life is a reflection of the influence of the people we meet and the decisions and choices we make as we face the challenges life throws at us.
I am grateful to many people who have contributed to my life and to where I am now. My elder sister and brother-in-law, my immediate and extended families, my teachers and mentors in all the schools I’ve been to and finally, the Good Lord for His blessings and stewardship. With acknowledgement to my mother and father for snippets of the early history about my maternal grandfather and my maternal side of the family in Wau.