PNG’s Sir Rabbie blessed at birth – ‘he’ll be a big man, clever’

The late Sir Rabbie Namaliu
The late Sir Rabbie Namaliu . . . Presold his autobiography but has died before he could write it. Image: PNG Post-Courier/PNGPC Archives.

By Jean Nuia in Kokopo, Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea’s fourth prime minister, Sir Rabbie Namaliu, has died — four days shy of his 76th birthday which would have been celebrated today.

The late Sir Rabbie was born Rabbie Langanai Namaliu on April 3, 1947, to early local missionaries Darius and Utul Ioan Namaliu, at a mission station at Watnabara, Duke of York, in East New Britain Province. He was the eldest of eight.

In the wake of his death, Andrew Ilam, a first cousin to Sir Rabbie, recollects the blessing Sir Rabbie received at birth by the early white missionaries.

“When he was born, because he had a big head, the sisters would carry him every morning. And they told his parents: ‘You know what, when this man grows up, he’s going to be a big man.

“He’s going to be a clever, educated man’,” Ilam said.

“So they actually blessed him for what he was doing when he grew up. This is what happened to him.”

When Sir Rabbie was old enough, his father enrolled him at Raluana Primary. He went on to Vunamami Vocational, a feeder school to Kerevat during the 1960s. In 1966, Sir Rabbie finished from Kerevat National High School. He was ready for university.

Told to ‘stay back’
Sir Rabbie’s younger brother, Jack, recalls that at that time most of the students would have gone to New South Wales to attend university. However, his brother’s group was told to stay back.

They were the first students to attend the University of Papua New Guinea at a time when there were still no buildings.

“He studied political science and history while living in temporary accommodation, a tent hitched at the Admin College,” Jack said.

Upon his father’s urging, Sir Rabbie was forced to turn down a job offer with the United Nations.

“He had already signed his contract and written to our father. But because we were getting ready for Independence, my father wrote back, telling my brother that he could not stay abroad, he needed to be here to help Sir Michael Somare prepare for Independence,” Jack said.

Jack, shaking his head, said: “The late Sir Michael even had to send the late Sir Pita Lus and late Sir Maori Kiki to Canada to press him to return.

“We knew Sir Michael well. Our fathers were very close.”

From lecturer to government
Sir Rabbie later left UPNG where he worked as a lecturer and in 1974 he became Sir Michael’s Principal Private Secretary.

“Sir Michael sent him back here … before Independence as the first local District Commissioner for ENB [East New Britain]. That time there was so many associations and movements in the province. He brought everyone together. That’s where everyone agreed to having provincial governments,” Jack said.

Sir Rabbie first became an MP in 1982. He was Member for Kokopo for five consecutive terms until 2007.

Jack remembers: “That was the year the voting system was changed to LPV (limited preferential voting). Not too many people knew about this and a lot of people were confused.

“And that’s probably why he lost. Otherwise he would have remained an MP.

“He accepted defeat and he congratulated his successor, the late Patrick Tamur. Consecutive elections after, people and leaders asked him to stand again but he refused. He had a principle that if he was defeated, the trust was no longer there so he stayed away.”

Vocal man for the people
In the years after politics and up until his passing, Sir Rabbie sat on a number of national and international boards. He remained a vocal man, with his heart for the people.

“He gives advice to anybody, even to the MP’s after him. He would say if you have any problems, come and see me — none of them have ever come to him. But he is a humble person, he does not want to hurt anybody,” Jack said.

Late last year, the late Sir Rabbie had decided he wanted to write a book.

Jack said: “We started on it and Dr Ilave Vele from UPNG agreed he would write Sir Rabbie’s biography. We’ll probably still have to pursue it and complete it.

“He pre-sold the whole book. He hadn’t even written it yet. He did have a title but I’ve forgotten … maybe we can still push it.”

Jean Nuia is a PNG Post-Courier reporter. Republished with permission.

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