It was one late July afternoon in 2012 when I traveled into Tari town for the fourth time in three months alongside the Papua New Guinea Defence Force Civil Military Cooperation (CIMIC) as part of the Highlands Region NATEL 2012 Operations to cover the PNGDF’s participation.
Fog had settled over the township and the usual afternoon drizzles had spawned more sogginess into the already muddy roads around the little town as we maneuvered our way through the overcrowded central area.
The 2012 National Election was winding down in Hela Province and declarations have been made for the Tari-Pori, Komo-Magarima, Koroba-Kopiago and the Hela Provincial seats.
It was the first election for Hela as a province.
The traffic around the little town was maddening as dump trucks and open back vehicles filled to the brim with chanting supporters drove in long lines around the little township.
Hundreds dressed in Wigman attire and piled up around the huge blue canvas erected beside the counting area as the declaration ceremony and celebrations continued on into the afternoon hours.
It was there that I first saw him – Late Anderson Pawa Agiru.
I admit I never saw him in person but I do remember the sideways smile with a grin on his face that often appeared in the newspapers.
But what I saw that evening was none of that.
Probably because of the challenges that lay ahead and the weight of more than 600 000 landowners of one of the largest multi-billion dollar gas projects in the world.
It was just two months after Hela was granted the provincial government of its own on May 17, 2012 and this was the first ever election as he prepares to take the helm of the new Hela province.
He was given an undivided support and continuously won the Southern Highlands Provincial seat over the years with remarkable margins.
That 2012 election, especially for the Hela people was very tough for him as Andy Kapa Kenamu, another of Hela’s son gave him a good neck to neck chase forcing him to go into the last elimination to be decided as the winner.
As the chanting, singing and the entire celebrations continued into the evening hours, I watched him sat there quietly in a white plastic chair under the blue canvas, deep in thought, nodding in agreement from time to time as his open members expressed appreciation to their voters and the Hela people.
I pondered the local oral history that suggested that the ancestor of Huli was a man named Hela.
He had four sons Huli, Opene, Duna, Tuguba and their only sister Hewa of which the Hela nation, the largest single ethnic group in PNG numbering up to over half a million population is to emerge.
That traditional history seemed to possess the people that rainy afternoon.
A strange proud feeling seemed to pronounce that Grand Ancestor Hela is present amidst the cold evening breeze sweeping through the township.
The newly built and freshly painted Hela Provincial Headquarters stood tall with prestige in the background as if bowing over the counting center, probably preparing to welcome the first members of the newly established Hela Provincial Government.
“I have a dream like Martin Luther said” was his famous statement that his critics have used against him over the years.
That evening he stood up and was declared the winner and to be the captain of a new boat into new waters but not new to his political career.
Sitting there that afternoon, he knew that Hela Provincial Government and the traditional Hela territory, the home of the Grand Ancestor Hela is now on his shoulders.
The first ever Governor for Hela and caretaker of the tribe’s traditional richness.
According to the tale, Great Ancestor Hela distributed his wealth between his four sons and one daughter.
The first born son Opena was given the whole of current Enga Province and under its boundary was given the largest gold mine in PNG, Porgera.
The second child Huli was given the lands of Tari Pori, Magarima, Komo, South Koroba areas and parts of North Koroba where under this land lies Mt Kare Gold Project and the Moro Oil Fields that stretched into Southern Highlands Province.
Tuguba’s land starts from Mt Bosavi and ends at Mt Gigira. Traditionally Tuguba lands was known as any areas opposite Tagali River from Huli lands. Under it lies the Hides, Juha and Mananda Petroleum Projects.
The fourth, Duna was designated the whole of Strickland George, part of North Koroba LLG and all Kopiago Basin, Awi Pori.
The lands of Daughter Hewa are found in the Lake Kopiago Rural District.
This included the lands bordering Laigaip and Om Rivers as well as the headwaters of Strickland and grassland gorge north of Duna lands around Galaga settlement.
Only the grand ancestor Hela knew why he had chosen Anderson Pawa Agiru, The Pillar, The Big Bird and Great Warrior of the Mighty Hela Tribe to be the first Captain of this new ship of Hela to overseer his four sons and one daughter’s great wealth.
Or Maybe it was HIM…..
–By Alexander Nara