Papua New Guinea is a collection of nations, each with its own rich history.
Much of that history has been lost and much needs to be told. The stories need to be told not in the context of the 200 years of colonialism, but from perspective of our elders and based on the 60,000 years of unwritten precolonial history.
Our history is alive.
It is in the words of our languages and in the names of our people and places.
In recent weeks, we – my family – have been fortunate to have come across old historical photographs of our ancestors posted on the Facebook page administered by Peter J Tate. The photos were taken in the late 1800s at the turn of the century and show a Chief of the Binandere nation – Bousimae and one of his three wives, Kapaia.
In the photograph, Bousimae is not in traditional attire.
The reason is that he was arrested by the British for killing his brother over a disagreement. Despite being in prison, his status warranted a few privileges and he sent for his wife Kapaia to be with him while he served his prison sentence in Tufi – a long way from his tribal lands.
Bousimae and Kapaia were Binandere nobility.
Bousimae was a Chief, a warrior and a leader who – according to our own oral history – resisted, for decades, the colonial occupation of Binandere conquered lands stretching from the coastal regions of Northern Province into the hinterlands and into the Huon coast of Morobe.
The Binandere were a nation of more than 70 large clans bound by a singularity of purpose, territorial expansion and a warrior code of honor which has lasted to this day.
They were on a path towards refining a system of government. Their organization allowed them to subdue other smaller clans, through military conquest, and rule relatively portions of land in the northern province.
Chief Bousimae was born before the turn of the last century prior to the colonial presence. When colonial rule was imposed, Binandere culture came into conflict with the imposition of western law.
“He had an argument with his brother Anjiga in Mambututu village over sustainable management of mangrove resources and speared his brother to death,” Maxine Anjiga, a custodian of Binandere history explains.
“As per our laws, he (went into self-imposed exile) and took his family and moved to Deboin, the neighboring village in the Mambare bay, so Anjiga’s children could freely live in Mambututu and mourn. He was giving them time to heal and forgive him.”
At some point in the future, Bousimae was expected to return to resolve the matter with his clan and brother’s family. That didn’t happen. He was arrested and taken to Tufi to be jailed.
“There are many women in Mambututu village, named Kapaia, as well as in Deboin and neighboring villages within the Mambare Bay. There are descendants of Kapaia today who look like her and the resemblance is unbelievable,” Maxine Anjiga says.
“In the photograph, Kapaia wears a mourning attire. I am not sure if it was because of her tambu Anjiga, her brother or a close relative.
“No Binandere was and is allowed to wear ‘boera’ (tear seeds) outside of mourning. This process and dress is called ‘boera bari.’ Her top is made of asi (bilum) and kambo (shells) and the boera are sewed on. The neckline are rattles or ‘buwa.’ Her armbands are ‘meto’ (made of vines) on one arm and ‘sipa’ (coconuts shells) on the other arm, necklaces are boera and kau (shells), ear rings are made from kepore (turtle shells) and daima (shell money).”
Oral history tells of powerful woman like Kapaia who also helped fight battles of conquest and defense. It is our history, alive and still unwritten.
My family would like to acknowledge Jan Hasselberg who initially posted the photographs. The images come from a collection taken by Captain Barton at Cape Nelson, around 1901, and are now kept at the Royal Anthropological Institute in London (registration number 21283.