I ENJOYED feeding on my mother’s breast milk. I liked the taste and the softness of her skin, which provided me with warmth, comfort and security.
I never allowed my mother to go anywhere far without me. She had to be close to me always. She was mine and mine alone.
I think my mother allowed me to feed on her breast for about four years. I was old enough to remember everything including when she fought off my father when he tried to get close to her.
This, she told me later, was to punish him for allowing her to be flogged in public for not bearing a child soon enough.
But there came a time when I had to stop feeding from my mother’s breast. It was generally felt that young boys who were influenced too much by their mothers would get killed easily on the battlefield and be subservient to other men.
My father took me away for two months to my mother’s village at Birip. We also went to Kapeamale and Rakamanda to visit my maternal grandparents, uncles, aunties and cousins. They welcomed me into their homes. They picked me up in their strong arms and hugged me close.
I was so busy meeting these happy people that I forgot about my mother’s breast. But, the sweetness of its taste remained and, as soon I returned home, I went straight for her milk.
But she was ready for me. She allowed me to pick one of her breasts to feed from. But I let it go with a scream. It tasted bitter.
I tried the other one but it also was bitter. Pain surged through my lips, tongue and inside my mouth. It was revolting.
I tried again later but it was the same. And the next day. I looked at my mother questioningly but she just sat there with a guilty look. She did not take her breasts away but no matter how many times I tried, the bitter taste remained.
I hated this and finally gave up. I was then encouraged to follow my father to the akalianda (hausman – men’s house).
The fact my father had taken me away to visit my maternal relatives was part of my weaning process. Anticipating I would still go for her breast milk, my mother had rubbed tobacco juice on her nipples. She continued this until I quit. It seems it was an age-old practise.
My father and some of my uncles - Pyalo, Aret, Tanga and Kambao - favoured me among all the clan children. They did me favours and encouraged me to grow up to be a good lad. During feast times, they gave me the best choice of food and spoke to me in kind and soothing words.
When it was time to kill a pig for a feast, they ensured I was present. They made sure I would first cut off the ears of the pig, cook them on the open fire and then share them with my siblings. When it was time to distribute the pork to us children, I was given first choice.
As I grew up, I began to understand why my uncles were doing this. They had all fathered many girls and they believed I would be fair to our female relatives. They felt I would always be open, protective and help them if they needed anything.
It was during my childhood between 1962 and 1964 that I started to count in numbers without going to school. I learnt it through playing cards. Today, I see cards as a bad habit and discourage my children from gambling or even touching the cards.
But at that time, I watched older boys play cards in my village betting with tobacco, marbles and other items. They bet on my behalf and showed me how to count. If I won, of course they collected the bets for themselves and gave me nothing. This forced me to place my own bets of tobacco at card games.
I continued to associate myself with the older boys to play cards. I also went with them to a tokples or adult literacy class in the village where I learnt the alphabet. This was orientation enough for me to attend primary school at Pombabus Catholic Mission.
In the last week of January 1965, after Sunday school, Fr Henry took me to his house and led me into a room. It was full of all sorts of clothing. He helped me to try them but all were too big except one overall which fitted me perfectly. Fr Henry asked me to take it home on the understanding that next morning I had to wear it to the mission.
I was excited to do that but did not have a clue about why I had to see him. As soon as I arrived, Fr Henry welcomed me. He held my hand and led me to the school, standing me in line with other children on parade.
My name was recorded in a book and that’s how I was enrolled at Pombabus Catholic Mission Primary School. Unfortunately a tribal war between the Waiminakun and Itiokon people forced me to stay away from school for half that year. My parents did not seem interested, but I had a longing to continue on with my education.
I went to meet a teacher named Paul Paguk and asked him to write me a reference letter. With his assistance I was able to do Grade 2 at Wapenamanda Primary School in 1966. I completed my education up to Grade 6 in 1970.
In school, I decided that one day I would train as a kiap because they looked smart in their khaki outfits complete with wide-brimmed hats and boots. I also wanted to train as an Aid Post Orderly because they looked smart in their sulu-type uniforms.
My dreams were shattered when I was not accepted into high school. This led me to stay at home for a year before I sought employment using my Grade 6 certificate.
In 1972, I met two fellow tribesmen, Kiponge Kembon and Kep Kapao, who wanted to go to Mt Hagen to look for odd jobs on the tea and coffee plantations. I joined them. We allowed a man named Sabul from the Itiokon tribe to join us.
I hoped to work as a records clerk for any company that accepted me. As soon as we arrived in Mt Hagen, we went to the Kondopina Plantation. There were no jobs there so we went to many other plantations, Kimil, Bunwao, Sigeri, Warakar and Fatima.
Our search paid off. Kiponge was accepted as assistant cook at the Christian Leadership Training Centre (CLTC) and Sambul was recruited as a casual labourer at Fatima. The third man, Kapao, had gone on his way in Mt Hagen town.
I could not be employed because they said I was under-aged. So I stayed with Kiponge and another tribesman, Karapus Yangun, at CLTC. Later I found employment there as a gardener.
A few months later, Karapus Yangen got involved in an accident and was hospitalised at nearby Kudjip Hospital. I looked after him as his guardian. I met lots of people there including the hospital chaplain. His house was right next to the boys’ dormitory.
One day the chaplain invited me to have morning tea at his house. This was my opportunity to ask him if he could help me find a job at the hospital. At that precise moment, while we were still talking, the principal of the Nursing School came to the dormitory. The time was exactly 9:00am.
The chaplain walked out of the house, went straight to the principal and asked her if I could be accepted into the Nursing College. The kind lady asked me to see her at her office at two that afternoon. I prayed to God that she would accept me to train as a male nurse.
I went with the chaplain to the principal’s office arriving right on time. She immediately accepted me and took me to a room like Fr Henry had done many years before. This time, she asked me to select from two sets of clothes.
She then introduced me to the rest of the students and asked me attend class next morning in my new uniform.
It was the happiest moment of my life. I could not believe my luck and I have continued to thank God to this day.