There are hundreds of tributes that have been written and many more are being written.
This is one of many.
We gave a fitting title to the Grand Chief – Papa – and that is what he was to many who knew him personally and those who were fortunate to meet him and for those who didn’t.
‘Amazing’ is a cliché. An understatement not fit for the occasion. Not fit for a man of Sir Michael’s stature and character. Sir Michael commanded the respect of a Dad. Anyone who has met him know this. I guess that was one of the most important of jobs for him.
Always, he had an ear to eye smile when he went to schools where girls and boys lined up to welcome him. He beamed with pleasure at achievements of young Papua New Guinean men and women. It was what he envisioned.
“…So that you can become pilots and engineers and run your own country…” he said once after I asked a rather stupid question.
When he was unhappy, he gave an ear bashing just like any dad would.
If you messed up, you got a scolding. Sometimes, very publicly, when you REALLY deserved it. I got several. In my youthful brashness, I challenged the Prime Minister. Sometimes, he peered over his glasses… and you knew… you were going to get it.
Sir Michael, would cut you down to size. Humble you and then, give you the lessons you really needed to learn.
He spoke fluent sarcasm in a thousand different languages just like any skilled dad would. If you didn’t get it, good for you. If you got it. Wow! It stung! It was a qualification that came with the job.
The body language was key. The raised eyebrows. The tilting of the head to one side and again… the dreaded peering over the glasses.
You knew it was coming.
Many a time, I listened to Sir Michael and marveled at the ease at which he transitioned from one distinct culture to another. From one province to another. He could speak to the heart and mind of the Tolai and the Huli in the same day in the morning and in the afternoon.
This was only a tiny glimpse into the complex mastery of his mind and innate abilities. He was the Melanesian Chief, the diplomat, the negotiator, the peacemaker.
It was always good to have a sit down with Sir Michael. Every interview was a history lesson. I learned about my own country and learned about why he and his brothers pushed for independence.
While every other country, went down the road of bloodshed, Papua New Guinea’s transition to a new administration was smooth.
To find common ground.
To find consensus through peaceful means.
To fight for what you believe in.
To resist but to consider all the factors that affect everyone around you.
To make decisions that hurt.
That is what Sir Michael taught. A million lessons for a thousand tribes.
How do we fill this void?