IN September 1991, while visiting the United States, I refused to meet Pastor Peter Halliman in Cleveland, Ohio, after a damaging article appeared in a major American newspaper.
He was with Ekere Embago, an illiterate pastor from Koroba in the Southern Highlands, and they were speaking to church congregations from the east to the west coasts appealing for funds to do more missionary work in the jungles of Papua New Guinea which, they claimed, were still inhabited by missionary eating cannibal tribes.
They appeared to be very successful in using the media, calling press conferences in major cities and towns to draw attention to their cause.
Many years on, I wonder if Halliman was a soldier or a pastor. Or if he left missionary work to establish the Lawrence Aviation and Security Group, the employer of the six mercenaries who over the last few days have caused so much consternation in Port Moresby.
According to Papua New Guinea’s police commissioner Gari Baki, Halliman’s firm LAS is an American based company that offers high-end security solutions to global customers, including the United States government. It is staffed by former American military and police personnel.
“I was approached by the president of the company, Mr Peter Halliman, around July last year. He was offering his company’s services to the RPNGC,” Baki said.
“Mr Halliman is an American citizen but he was born in Bulolo in 1961 and grew up in the Lake Kopiago-Koroba area of the Hela Province. His parents were Baptist missionaries.
“As the commissioner of police and commander of the APEC 2018 joint task force, I have been concerned at our response capability should we be faced with serious security threats such as a hostage situation for instance.
“I invited Laurence Aviation and Security Group to come to PNG in February this year to do a presentation for the senior police hierarchy on what they can offer to the RPNGC in terms of training.”
Back on 14 September 1991, I had refused to meet Pastor Peter Halliman in Cleveland because I did not like an article concerning cannibalism he had published in the local newspaper.
I felt his story damaged PNG’s reputation as a tourist destination and I felt personally hurt because I was an Alfred Friendly Press Fellow on attachment to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the newspaper that had published the story.
Did my fellow journalists see me as a cannibal, I wondered.
The other night, 26 years later, I saw his face on EMTV news as principal of Lawrence Aviation and Security Group.
This was the same Pastor Peter Halliman who had told a press conference in Cleveland that Papua New Guineans still practised cannibalism - and that he had visited cannibalistic tribes on several occasions in the hope of converting them to Christianity.
At that time, he was quoted as saying: “They say human meat is better tasting than any other. Mostly they kill their enemies and eat them. They use skulls to decorate their houses. Other tribes are careful about going to their areas.”
Two months before that article, I had read another shocking Halliman story in Weekly World News. It was about a brave missionary and his family of four who had been eaten alive by “wild eyed Tuarie tribesman as soon as they arrived at the tribal camp in the steamy jungles of New Guinea.”
I just couldn’t believe that an honest missionary could tell the American public that Papua New Guineans were still living in the stone-age and practising cannibalism. Halliman was born in PNG and had worked for eight years as a Baptist pastor before going to America to raise funds.
Of course, he could have made clear that certain tribes practised cannibalism in olden times. But these practices had been outlawed by the Australian colonial administration and implemented by the kiaps and through the hard work of early missionaries.
My 300,000 Engan tribesman never practised cannibalism. Nor did Ekere Embago’s Huli people. We are the Huli-Opone people of the central highlands - a proud people, culturally linked to a common ancestor.
I’m sure Embago wouldn’t have discussed cannibalism with American journalists because he didn’t know anything about it. He couldn’t have understood what Halliman told journalists as he spoke only Tok Pisin and his own local Huli language.
Embago was upset when eventually I got to tell him how he was like a circus animal exhibited to congregations right across America in order to collect money. Anyway, at the time, I didn’t get to see him or Peter Halliman because their story in the Plain Dealer had hurt me so much.
I had wanted to meet my fellow countryman as I was homesick after being away from PNG for three months but, over the phone, I refused to do that, explaining I was very upset.
“You sound so harsh,” a Christian lady told me. “Peter loves your country. He showed us some good pictures.”
“But the country depends on tourism, and visitors could be scared away,” I replied.
Now Peter Halliman’s armed security personal have alarmed Port Moresby residents giving credence to last year’s disclosures by PNG Blogs that a private security operation was functioning in the country with the support of the O’Neill government.
I don’t think Gari Baki knows what he is doing or who he is dealing with. How can he take Halliman at face value?
I believe police commissioner Gari Baki was conned. He should suspend these mercenary operations and, as Sir Mekere Morauta has said, allow an independent investigation into this sinister security deal on the ever of PNG’s national elections next month.