The only famous Papua New Guinean fuzzy wuzzy angel with a blue eye happens to be Paul Yauwiga Wankunale from Kusaun village in the Kubalia area of the East Sepik Province. I grew up marveled at this tall, well built, giant of a man from my area; legendary in his lifetime for his bravery in the Second World War, fighting alongside the Allied forces on Guadalcanal, Buka, Rabaul, Madang, Morobe, and the Sepik.
|Yauwiga displays his medals of honor. Courtesy of Bikmaus Journal published by IPNGS|
Warrant Officer Yauwiga was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, Bravery Award, and other such medals for his valiant war efforts. One such campaign is described in Lorna Fleetwood’s book, A Short History of Wewak: “On 27th March 1945 Yauwiga was with an Australian Infantry Brigade (A.I.B) party at Aravia. It was learned that an enemy party of about eighty Japanese was approaching their camp. While the A.I.B escaped with their codes and essential equipment Yauwiga took up a defensive position with just three rifles. He and two other soldiers managed to keep the Japanese at bay for fifteen minutes, exhibiting great bravery. In two years Yauwiga killed fifty-seven Japanese.”
Yauwiga lost a hand and both his eyes when holding a grenade used as a signal for Australian planes to drop supplies. No one showed him how to use it. He spent three months in a hospital in Canberra. He was given the eyes of a motor cycle accident fatality. One eye grafted well and Yauwiga became a very rare being, a Melanesian with a blue eye.
In The Bishops’ Progress: An Historical Ethnography of Catholic Missionary Experience on the Sepik Frontier, Mary Taylor Huber notes: “the major figure in Wewak and its immediate hinterland in the first years after the war appears to have been Yau[w]iga…who was also a war hero, and whose decoration ceremony in 1948 was witnessed by some 30 Europeans and 80,000 natives from near and far.” Yauwiga’s war exploits is an exemplary military valour deserving far more attention than is observed.
Yauwiga was more than a war hero to his people. He was a catalyst of many transformative changes in East Sepik right after the war. Yauwiga’s contemporaries Ludwig Somare Sana and Pita Simogun were articulate leaders in their epoch, taking the bull by its horns to wrestle it until it came under their feet.
Yauwiga succeeded in destroying the practice of sorcery in Nagum Boiken villages. In each village a two-to-three meter deep hole was dug where all the powers and sorcery tools like plants, bones, lime, ginger, stones, and other items of sorcery were buried. Only the old men opposed him here and there. But Yauwiga made the refractory ones stay the whole day long in the hot sun until by evening they showed some pliancy.
Father Andreas Gerstner, the Catholic missionary anthropologist, in charge of the parish covering the immediate hinterland of Wewak records his admiration of Yauwiga as a messianic figure: “this unusual man…undertook a war against old heathen spirit cult and has had up to now wide success. Beginning in 1947 and then up to February 1948, he has already undertaken one reform expedition to his own people, two in the Wewak region, one in Boiken region, and one on the island of Kairiru. On each of these trips he stayed three to four weeks. Delegates from many different villages accompanied him. After arrival in a new village, Yauwiga would first give a speech. He asked all the men to give up their spiritual and magical paraphernalia and whatever other things were known as causes of conflict and feud. He said, ‘So long as you keep the old things, you think only of them. You threaten with sorcery, quarrels, and fighting. A new time has come for us. We will better ourselves and follow the whites of the Administration and the Mission.’”
Was this Yauwiga’s way of avenging the rebuke and shame he received during his initiation into the maiye sorcery society? It is said Yauwiga had failed his assignment, as an apprentice maiyenduo, to bring back to normal senses a young woman victim of sorcery, who was still in a state of trance. He went against the rules and code of the maiyenduo society, resulting in his rebuke and banishment.
The knowledge of maiye saved him during the war. It earned him the reputation as a one man army. Yauwiga used the maiye knowledge to ambush and kill many Japanese during the war. He was invisible to his enemies because he used the maiye spells and powers to great advantage.
In the film Angels of War, Yauwiga speaks proudly about his bravery.
In the first years after the war Yauwiga advocated bisnis with a campaign for reform of village society. Yauwiga had the support of his people who worked on a variety of projects, including salt extraction, a coconut plantation corporative, and a sago-processing operation. It is said Yauwiga purchased a saw mill from the government.
Yauwiga had a vision for the future of the Sepik District. He organized the Boram school in Wewak. The Boram school was his brain child, inspired from the discussions he once had with wounded soldiers from Samoa and Fiji he met in the hospital in Canberra. Elders from Kreer village gave him land to build the school, with the help of his own people from Kusaun, Porombe, and Ulighembi.
The famous pupil of this school is our Prime Minister Grand Chief Sir Michael Thomas Somare.
Yauwiga died in 1982. He was given a military service and buried conspicuously on his land at Marinumbo.
Yauwiga fought for his country.
He had the vision to develop his people through education, through various business ventures, and developmental activities. Given the atmosphere at that time Yauwiga had the leadership persuasion that is poorly acknowledged and given recognition for its accomplishments.
Yauwiga’s individual gallantry in World War II, his post-war visions, and pioneering leadership legacy is best honoured if a foundation or scholarship is set up to continue his dream.