Sir Michael Somare, first Chief Minister of Papua New Guinea, December 1973.
Many expatriate Australians living in Papua New Guinea in the 1970s would have taken at least one photo of Michael (now Sir Michael) Somare whilst he went about his duties as the country’s first Chief Minister. The gallery of photos in this post was taken in his home village of Karau, in the Murik Lakes district of the East Sepik province. The occasion was Somare’s initiation as Sana, or peacekeeper, of his own people but also his initiation as Onkau, or head person, of the family of Lady Veronica Somare, his much respected wife.
What I would like to do in this post is concentrate less on Sir Michael and more on the kind and hospitable people of Karau village. Almost 40 years have passed and there would be people portrayed in the photos who have since gone to join their ancestors. Those of us who remain behind have grown old as each of us must. Even the children would now be in late middle age. My hope is that it is those children who will now enjoy looking at the old photos of what was an important day in the life of their families and their village.
I went to Karau as part of a media contingent. The journey took all day, starting with a flight to the regional capital of Wewak, followed by a very long trip on a coastal boat until we reached the entrance to the Murik Lakes, where we tranferred across to a motorised canoe for the final leg of our journey. By the time we reached Karau, it was already quite late at night and we all bunked down in the guest house that the villagers had prepared for us. I recall that the women supplied us with a delicious chicken and coconut hotpot. The village was built on a sandbank, and we were awoken the following morning by the sound of children playing on the beach. The day of the Sana had begun.
Karau village at dawn and children are already playing on the beach.
Post-breakfast and the rest of the village is on the move. There had been quite a fierce rain storm overnight and there were lots of puddles waiting to be evaporated. The houses, however, had come through unscathed. The ceremony would go ahead.
Early morning after an overnight storm and the men are inspecting for damage. There is nothing but a bit of washed-up debris.
Lots of happy smiles…
…and rice for the supper table.
Now the men are summoned to the sacred men’s house for the start of the Sana initiation ceremony.
The women and children wander off to a darkened house on the other side of the village. The sacred part of the ceremony is for men’s eyes only and the women are left to giggle and gossip and chat in the gloom of someone’s home to their hearts’ content. Their confinement lasted for quite a long time but no one seemed to mind.
Lady Veronica Somare with her baby daughter, Dulciana. She had special dispensation to enter the men’s house but stayed with the rest of the women.
When the Sana ceremony is over and the new Sana is escorted through the village.
Singsing dancers performing for the whole village at the end of the ceremony.
Somare, after several days of fasting, is desperate for a cigarette and a village elder obliges.
And finally there is this photo, the one that featured in a number of newspapers and the one that the newspaper editors clearly preferred. And that’s the end of the story. A day in the life of Karau village, 40 years ago this year. I hope there are some happy memories there for some of you.
(The copyright for all of the photos in this post is held by the photographer, Veronica Peek, and after that, by her descendants. Must not be reproduced without permission of the copyright holder.)
After days of fasting, a nicotine hit. Even a Sana is human and Sir Michael Somare, who still smoked all those years ago like so many of us did and now regret it, blew smoke rings and savoured the moment. He is dressed in the regalia of onkau to show that he is also the head of Lady Veronica Somare’s family.