Bougainville, independence & the doctrine of ‘stare decisis’

Not always easy, not always nice, but look where we are

Chimbu Valley
The Chimbu Valley


KUNDIAWA - From the north coast our ancestors climbed into the mountains arriving here in the Chimbu more than 24,000 years ago.

They operated in small groups and freely roamed the vast forests of the time, living by hunting and gathering.

Through natural calamities and feuds with other groups, these early people fragmented and reorganised into new groups and settled on the sides of mountains and in the valleys and farmed the land becoming some of the first people to undertake agriculture in the world.

Then closer to our time today, the advent of kaukau ensured our people settled into more stable communities with domesticated animals.

In the 1930s Australian gold prospectors stumbled upon our remote villages in Karimui and soon after our people saw their first aeroplane flying high in the sky from east to west and back again.

These events were the start of Chimbu’s modern history.

Since then our people have undergone many momentous events, including the first patrols of white men such as Taylor, Schafer, Bergman and Costelloe; the killing of two Catholic missionaries; the shootings of Chimbu people by the colonial Administration; the construction of the Highlands Highway; the lives of Kondom Agaundo, Iambakey Okuk, John Nilkare and others; the development of Chimbu coffee; self-government and independence; rugby league stars such as Joe Gandi, Bal Numapo and others; the 1997 drought; the national elections every five years; and the advent of mobile phones in 2007.

In the present, the work of doctor/priest Jan Jaworski is equally momentous. Every Chimbu can relate to these events according to their own personal understanding.

Chimbu people travel and meet other people from other places, they work on the plantations, use money in commerce, attend schools and colleges, they use Tok Pisin and English to communicate and marry into other tribes and provinces; they even marry expatriates.

All this has contributed to stabilising Chimbu and speeding it towards modernity.  

Many years after independence, many challenges face Chimbu, as they do Papua New Guinea.

We transitioned from taim bipo to modernity long ago but after all these years we cannot truly embrace Western ways.

Our attempt at speaking and writing in their language is not perfect, we use tools and equipment made by outsiders which we cannot repair and we sell our only cash crop, coffee, at prices we cannot control.

At the national level we continue to receive donations and loans to keep our nation afloat. This unfortunately places Papua New Guinea in a weak position among the nations of the world.

Even 80 years after first contact and 40 years since the declaration of sovereignty, our country is still not able to quite bridge that gap with the West. As some of our colonisers predicted early, it may yet take another 100 years to rise up so we are on a par with the world’s community of nations.

In 2018, our rural Chimbu people continue to suffer from a lack of basic services with many of them migrating to the cities to escape these adversities.

High population growth, gender and sorcery related violence, tribal animosities and other law and order problems and health epidemics like the spread of tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS are issues Chimbu communities continue to face.

These problems are embedded in the informal sector where the citizens are marginalised and their voices not heard. The disparity between them and the rich few is getting wider and more noticeable. Chimbu’s economic resources are meagre compared to other provinces and are more severely affected by national issues.

There have been national crises post-independence: civil war on Bougainville; a malfunctioning civil service; a police force that sides with politicians and foreign business magnates; runaway corruption, hyperinflation and unemployment; deteriorating infrastructure; service corrosion; illiteracy; bad leadership and inequality - all issues that hamper the progress of our nation.

All these issues are evidence that Papua New Guinea has somehow gone off track in her rush to be like the West. 

I, and many other Papua New Guineans, blame Australia of a hasty retreat in 1975 leaving a vastly underdeveloped country and an untrained people to fend for themselves into an unfamiliar future. Many say this premature departure is responsible for the chaotic scenes we see today.

In 2018 most Chimbu people still do not understand nationalism. They live in the rural subsistence economy, where their lives revolve around their families and clans, their land, their pigs, their gardens and their attachment to bride price, school fees, haus krai, compensations and a new sensation these days, the nere tere at national elections.

These issues are more important to them than national issues. In essence, the past is not as far back as we think.

The challenge for Papua New Guinea now is to lift itself up from its reputation as one of the world’s most corrupt and poorest nations. This will be difficult while our leaders continue to exhibit bad habits in government. In a country where economics and politics live hand in hand both the elected and their unelected collaborators work together to keep us back.

Despite all this we can draw strength from our people’s resilience and the fact that our tribes now exist in relative peace with roads connecting our villages. Our schools and medical facilities stand on former battlegrounds and parents talk to their children in the cities on mobile phones and on festive occasions our age old singsings still display our Chimbu colours and culture.

Chimbu must continue to advocate the richness of the village subsistence economy and hold loyal to our wantok system, which have both been the foundations of our existence since taim bipo and will continue to ensure our people do not starve, have shelter and do not suffer from the lack of any essentials.

We are blessed with many unique natural resources.

Our beautiful, rugged and scenic landscape, including our tall Mount Wilhelm and the other high peaks that surround us and our many fast flowing rivers, offer great potential for tourism. Our rivers also offer good prospects for the generation of hydroelectric power for the nation. The fertile plateaus of Karimui offer agriculture and forest potential.

Our most important asset is our Chimbu people. Since the 1960s and 1970s, our fathers and mother’s embrace of education has earned great returns for us and our continued endeavour in that direction will ensure our children will rise above all others. 

To this end every responsible Chimbu who is able to contribute must endeavour in his or her own way to give every opportunity to our children for a better tomorrow.

During our four decades under colonial rule and another four as an independent state, Chimbu and greater Papua New Guinea have weathered the many storms well.

The impact of modernity has brought our Chimbu people out of obscurity into a nation of 800 tribes.

Our leaders, elected members, public servants and those in the private sector, must take advantage of the experience offered so far and work hard to chart a course for Chimbu towards prosperity for our future generations.  


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Mathias Kin

Thank you all my friends for your comments. This is Chapter 9, the last part to our history book on Chimbu. Hopefully our book will come out shortly.

Gordon, Michael Danga was indeed the first Chimbu to play in the Kumuls in 1966. He has been accorded ample time in the book.

There was also a Joe Gandhi and David Tinemau and later years Bal Numapo who has played more games for the Kumuls than any other.

Fr Roche, I agree with you on the spread of Chimbus across PNG since the 1960s. In modern times educated Chimbus of all disciplines has blessed PNG and so many of them are currently working in countries across the globe.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Here's another interesting aspect to the influence of the Chimbu people. It's from an article researched and located by Robert Forster:

'Getting the Numbers - PNG style.....'

In the 1972 elections there were 102 seats in the House of Assembly. The conservative, anti-independence United Party won 42. Somare's Pangu Pati won 24. The United Party was sure it would form the next government, but Pangu Pati expertly put together a coalition.

Iambakey Okuk; a MP from the highlands region played a key role in forming the government that took the country into self-government and independence.

Here is Iambakey Okuk's own version of how it was done, taken from an address to some University students in 1982:

"We went and greased up one bloke (an MP) called Kaibelt Diria.‟ (In Pidgin grisim‟ or `to grease‟ means to trick somebody into doing something by flattery or lies.)

"Kaibelt Diria was a deputy leader for the United Party. And, you know, we told him: 'Papa, the Australian Government has already announced that Somare is to become the first Prime Minister.' And he says: 'WHAT!' And we said: 'Yeah. They announced it on the radio that we have already got the number and we‟re forming a government. But we don‟t have enough Highlanders and we want to give some ministries to some people'.

"So we said, 'But Papa, there is only a few of us and we are still young and we are looking for some elders to take the important positions.' And he said: 'Yeah? Wait, wait .. OK! We go now!' And we said: 'Look, hang on, hang on, it‟s OK. The position won‟t run away. You‟ll get it. But you must also bring another five or something like that.'

"'Oh, that's no problem,' he said. `I‟ll bring seven!' So he brought back seven people (newly elected MPs) so we made the number. This is how Somare claims he got self-government.

Okuk said, "But we did the dirty job which you don't know. I had to tell lies to my old father who had more pigs and more wives than Somare, you know. Many, many wives - many, many pigs. Big coffee plantation – more things than Somare, myself or Chan put together.

"Anyway, the poor guy, we greased him so he had to come and become a minister.

"We made him the Minister for … Telephones!"

Garry Roche

Regarding Chimbu people, it is clear that they have spread far outside Chimbu since 1933, but an additional query may be how far have they spread outside PNG since 1933 ? I once met Ludger Mond, a former Chimbu politician, in Dublin, and while he was only visiting the place, I do know of at least one Chimbu man (from Neragaima) living and working in Ireland on the staff of University College Dublin. I presume there are some in the UK, and there would be many in Australia. I remember reading about one Chimbu scientist was working in the USA. By the way - is the spelling “Chimbu” preferred to “Simbu” ? Just asking.

Lindsay F Bond

Eloquence emitting endearingly as the hand of Mathias heralds hope emerging from events in space-time. Bravo.

Journey mentioned by Chris has, since Hermann Minkiwski in 1908, diagrammatic representation known as spacetime.

Humanity as a whole has now an imperative of accommodating the concept, thus not only folk of Chimbu.

Rising to the challenge via education are the endeavours of learners and teachers throughout PNG and for a focus on accomplishment, it might be remembered UPNG School of Natural & Physical Sciences notes the first national PhD graduate was in 1983.

In 1917, one of my grandfathers was employed driving locomotives hauling coal. In 2017, one of my brothers was employed driving locomotives hauling coal. Australia's economy has yet to evolve from coal, prolonging both advantage and limitation.

In "village subsistence economy and hold[ing] loyal to our wantok system", similarly limitations and advantages.

Gordon Shirley

This is a good summary regarding the Simbu people, Mathias.

I have been married to a Simbu woman for 45 years, and although most of those years have been spent in Australia, we have travelled back to Simbu on quite a number of occasions and stayed with her people at Goglme.

I speak a little Kuman and used to listen to many interesting stories in the men's house. Some of those stories were very funny, as Simbus have a great sense of humour. But other stories were very serious,and I learnt a lot about the Simbu this way. My old departed mate Terry Shelley did this too.

I would like to point out that Michael Danga was the first Simbu to represent PNG overseas in rugby league and he toured Australia with the PNG team in 1966. I knew him well. Sadly he is long gone.

Chris Overland

This is a very eloquent piece of writing by Mathias Kin.

It serves as a useful summary of the pre-colonial, colonial and post colonial eras in the Chimbu that, incredibly, have all occurred within the space of 80 years or so. I doubt that this has happened to many groups of people anywhere else in the world.

That many Chimbu people are struggling with the transition from their traditional societies to modernity should therefore come as no surprise.

And they are not alone: it is a struggle in which we are all engaged.

There are many countries in Europe, the Middle East and Asia that, under a superficial cloak of modernity, have barely changed in many important respects.

Ancient enmities and suspicions still bubble beneath a surface calm, periodically being expressed through the ritualised conflict of football or not so ritualised open conflict.

Truly, we are collectively both modern and ancient.

So, Mathias, the struggle towards modernity may seem more obvious and pronounced for the Chimbu, yet it reflects a wider struggle for humanity as a whole.

To use a hideously over worked form of expression, we are all on a journey together. While our individual destinations are, of course, pre-ordained, that of humanity as a whole remains mystery.

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