Scott Waide: Grand Chief Somare and the wisdom he left for everyone

Farewelling Sir Michael Somare
School children draped in the Papua New Guinean national flag farewell Sir Michael Somare. Image: Scott Waide

COMMENT: By Scott Waide in Wewak

I  stayed away from the livestream that we in EMTV produced out of Port Moresby. I did watch parts of it. But it has been hard to watch a full session without becoming emotional and emotion is  something that has been in abundance over the last 16 days.

There are a thousand and one narratives embedded in the life of  the man we call Michael Somare.

How could I do justice to all of it?

Do I write about the history? Do I write about the stories people are telling about him? Do I write about his band of brothers who helped him in the early years?

Narratives embedded
There are a thousand and one narratives embedded in the life of the man we call Michael Somare.

Sir Michael was, himself,  a storyteller.

Narratives woven into relationships
He didn’t just tell stories with words.  The narratives were woven into his existence and in the relationships he built throughout his life.  From them, came  the stories that have been given new life with his passing.

I went to speak to Sir Pita Lus, his closest friend and the man who, in Papua New Guinean terms, carried the spear ahead of the Chief.  He encouraged Michael Somare to run for office.

Sir Pita Lus
Speaking to Sir Pita Lus, Somare’s closest friend and the man who, in Papua New Guinean terms, carried the spear ahead of the Chief. Image: Scott Waide

He told me about the old days about how he had told his very reluctant friend that he would be Prime Minister.  In Drekikir,  Sir Pita Lus told his constituents that his friend Michael Somare would run for East Sepik Regional.

Sir Pita Lus and his relationship with Sir Michael is a chapter that hasn’t yet been written.  It needs to be written.  It is up to some young proud Papua New Guinean to write about this colorful old fella.

Sir Michael Somare
Sir Michael Somare (1936-2021) farewells a nation … a livestreamed tribute by EMTV News. Image: EMTV News screenshot APR

A chief builds alliances. But what are alliances? They are relationships. How are they transmitted? Through stories.  Sir Michael built alliances from which stories were told.

When I went to the  provincial haus krai in Wewak, there were  huge piles of food. I have never seen so much food in my life.  Island communities of Mushu, Kadowar and Wewak brought bananas, saksak and pigs in honor of the grand chief.  They also have their stories to tell about Sir Michael.

The Mapriks came. Ambunti-Drekikir brought huge yams, pigs and two large crocodiles.  The Morobeans, the Manus, the Tolais, West Sepik, the Centrals.

In Port Moresby, people came from the 22 provinces …  From  Bougainville, the Highlands, West Sepik and West Papua.

In Fiji, Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama sent his condolences as he read a eulogy. In Vanuatu, Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) members held a special service in honour of Sir Michael.  In Australia, parliamentarians stood in honour of Sir Michael Somare.

Followed to his resting place
Our people followed the Grand Chief to his resting place. The Madangs came on a boat. Others walked for days just to get to Wewak in time for the burial.

How did one man do that?  How did he unite 800 nations?  Because that is what we are. Each with our own language and our own system of government that existed for 60,000 years.

Here was a man who said, “this is how we should go now and we need to unite and move forward”.

In generations past, what have our people looked for? How is one deemed worthy of a chieftaincy?

I said to someone today that the value of a chief lies in his ability to fight for his people, to maintain peace and to unite everyone. In many of our cultures, a chief has to demonstrate a set of skills above and beyond the rest.

He must be willing to sacrifice his life and dedicate himself to that  calling of leadership. He must have patience and the ability to forgive.

The value of the chief is seen both during his life and upon his passing when people come from all over to pay tribute.

For me, Sir Michael Somare, leaves wisdom and guidance – A part of it written into the Constitution and the National Goals and Directive Principles. For the other part, he showed us where to look.  It is found in our languages and in the wisdom of our ancestors held by our elders.

Asia Pacific Report republishes articles from Lae-based Papua New Guinean television journalist Scott Waide’s blog, My Land, My Country, with permission.

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Scott Waide is the Lae bureau chief of EMTV News and began his career with EMTV in 1997 as a news and sports reporter and anchor and has been a media professional for more than 19 years. He has worked as a producer and researcher for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Port Moresby Bureau. Scott is also a recipient of multiple awards including the Asia Pacific Broadcasting Union Prize in 2005 in Iran for best news feature.