Close to 50 years I lived with a family curse. The same curse affected other siblings in my family.
The curse was made through the utterance of a great maternal uncle (wawo in Nagum Boiken language). The maternal uncles are the most powerful people in a person’s life. Whatever they say or do affects one’s life forever. Never make the maternal uncles curse you.
Well I did or inadvertently did by ignoring my great maternal uncle, my mother’s eldest first cousin’s concern that I did not compensate him for saving my life close to 50 years ago.
I was about a year old when I crawled into the men’s pit laterine. At that time my mother was with her parents in their hamlet known as Jonkwinumbo, within the greater sphere of the Kubalia village known as Ulighembi, perched atop the Prince Alexander Mountain Ranges of the East Sepik Province.
Florian Lihofi, my great maternal uncle and a venerated elder in my village saved me from dying in a pit laterine That day someone had cried out that a child had crawled into the pit laterine. A woman cried in vein for someone to help rescue the child. Lihofi ran as quickly as he could to the men’s pit laterine, jumped into the shit filled laterine, and pulled me out before I sank into it. He jumped out, dashed to Yalim, the nearest river and washed me clean from the shit and all the worms that covered my skin.
Without his timely rescue I would have been dead. Uncle Lihofi saved my life. All these happened to me at an age when I remembered nothing. I have no memory of it. Even the story itself seemed unreal to me. Within me I know that such a thing happened, but the memory of it was never there for me to make sense of it.
As it turned out since that moment I had journeyed out of the jungle hamlet into the modern cities of neon lights and skycrapers, lived a life of respect and meaning, earning a good salary and enjoying a good life. It turned out the child saved had done well in life. It so happened that I became what I am today that the world knows and appreciate.
It turned out I did not fail on my path to my goals. It turned out I did not become a drug addict, a criminal, a loser, a bad person in society. It turned out I was not one of those people struggling in life. It turned out I was not someone who brought disrepute to my family, clan, tribe, and community.
The life I have was and is full of blessings. I had all completed all the degrees I needed to do in my field, go married, had children, grand children, a home, and all the materials needs in life. The life I have now is full of rich and inspiring moments that I sometimes share with readers of this column.
Yet, inspite of all these I had to deal with the one person living a ghostly life within my conscience. That person was Lihofi, my great maternal uncle who saved my life. He complained that I had to compensate him for saving my life. He heard me visit Wewak every now and then, but I failed to pay him my respects and compensate him for saving my life.
His utterances became a curse over my life and that of my younger siblings. One the day I cleared my mother’s name after her passing, only one demand was left unattended to because I refused to pay compensation to my great maternal uncle. My argument was that it was his duty as my maternal uncle (wawo) to do all he can to see me grow up even at the cost of his own life. I reasoned that as a result of that cultural expectation there was no need to compensate my wawo for what he did.
I was wrong. My refusal enraged Lihofi to become incensed with it. His utterance became a curse all of my mother’s children. We began to experience all kinds of misfortunes and miss-opportunities. Many times we found our lives taking the wrong turns and moving away from the correct paths. Some of us felt that Lihofi was unreasonable in cursing everyone. The cultural reasoning is that as the first born child of my mother I shouldered the blame that affected others behind me by birth.
I took the opportunity on the 16th of February 2014 to lift the veil or curse on me and my family. Before my arrival in Ulighembi I had sent word to my great uncle Lihofi that I would compensate him for what he did to save my life less than 50 years ago.
I arrived in Ulighembi from Wewak on the date mentioned with a truck-load of family members and relatives. We sorted out the money at my paternal uncle’s hamlet where my paternal/maternal uncles (wawo-ngus) and brother-cousins (niumi-mandes) also contributed towards the compensation, which was described as a “soap and towel” to wash himself clean from the shit and filth that covered him when he saved my life from the pit-laterine in Jonkwinumbo hamlet.
The event took place at my great uncle’s hamlet and ceremonial ground known as Helisoho along the Sepik Highway. Speeches were made to explain the event and as tradition dictates all sides were in agreement with the compensation. We shook hands before my great uncle Lihofi spit-sprayed all my family members with the secret nutmeg buck he brought out for the occasion. He was sorry for cursing us and that our paths will become clear from then onwards.
I am taking the time to explain this event and its significance because so many times we forget to honor our tradition and customary obligations. Our people still live the way our ancestors lived thousands of years ago.
Our traditions will continue to be part of our lives.