Sunday, January 10, 2010

Waria warrior of Morobe province, Papua New Guinea

Abandoned tea trees now overgrown by bush

The author trying out the new telephone link in Garaina

Cr Amos Sega (left) with his son Terute (holding bow) besides the memorial cairn in Garaina, dedicated to the famed Sgt Maj Sega Birito

Cr Amos Sega, 7th born child of Sgt Maj Sega Birito, at the grave of his father. Resting on headstone are the campaign medals of Birito, which include the Bronze Star

The Garaina Tea Factory, now shut down. At its height, it was the number one tea in PNG

The mighty Waria Valley from where Sega Birito walked into Wau in the far distance to join the New Guinea police force

By PATRICK LEVO

The grave yard is overgrown with bushes. The plain white cement headstone is sun bleached and cracked, the epitaph is faded and moss covered at the sides.

But in this simple grave under the scorching Papuan sun lies one of PNG’s greatest heroes of World War II – a man of remarkable courage – a man of the true warrior class who rose above his humble uneducated beginnings to shine on the battlefield among foreign troops.

The mighty Waria Valley is the final resting place of one of its finest sons and a legend of Papua New Guinea - except the legendary exploits of Sergeant Major Sega Birito is sadly, unknown outside his native Waria land.

Having visited the Waria Valley last week and being privileged to pay my respects at his graveside, I feel it my obligation to re-tell the people of PNG, Australia and the USA, of the fearsome Waria warrior who served all three nations with the highest credentials.

This is the story of a simple village boy from Sopa village in Garaina who fell in love with the police force, signed up with ANGAU in 1926 at Wau and served the New Guinea Armed Constabulary, going on long range patrols all over Papua and New Guinea with patrol officers, gold prospectors and even missionaries.

Birito later served on Bougainville Island as a policeman and it was his knowledge of that part of the country that was to distinguish him in battle during the war.

When hostilities commenced in WWII, Birito was on holidays in Garaina planning on getting married when ANGAU recalled him to police headquarters. He was immediately bundled off for scout training with the now famous coast watchers.

Strong and fearless, the tall rangy Waria warrior came to the notice of the Americans while undergoing specialist training in Melbourne, Australia.

The US Navy Special Forces, forerunner to the Navy Seals, enlisted Birito (or rather snatched him) from the Australians in Melbourne after noticing his remarkable courage in training and engaged him as a scout in their “M” Force.

The simple boy from Waria, appreciated for his camaraderie with the Australians and Americans, and known for his fearless spirit in battle, landed with the US Marines at Tulagi and at Guadalcanal. It was on Bougainville that he distinguished himself in gallantry.

His Bronze Star citation read: “Constable Sega, ANGAU, distinguished himself with meritorious achievement at Bougainville, Solomon Islands, from September 22-28, 1944. While making reconnaissance into enemy territory, he came upon a village occupied by hostile troops. Crawling among the native houses, he collected information regarding enemy strength and dispositions. After reporting this information, he returned with a combat patrol which successfully attacked the village. On a later recon, he located a hostile camp and leading American troops, assisted in killing 14 of the enemy.”

Sgt Maj. Sega Birito is the first and only Papua New Guinea soldier I know to have received the American Bronze Star for gallantry in combat.

General Douglas MacArthur, the US General famed for his ‘I shall return’ promise to take back the Philippines from the enemy in WWII, conferred Sega Birito with his star at Wau.

Birito saluted the mighty US General as 10,000 of his tribesmen armed with bows, arrows and clubs applauded from the sidelines in a resonating cheer that echoed down the Waria Valley.

At the Queen’s Coronation in 1952, Birito was invited to visit England but fell sick at the last moment. However, when the Queen did visit PNG in later years, the Bronze Star hero met the Head of the Commonwealth.

She conferred on him the Queens Medal for Exemplary and Long Distinguished services to the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary.

In Garaina, beside the old RSL (Waria) building stands a simple stone flagpole. It was erected in 1973 by the American Government in appreciation of Birito’s services to the US Marines, following a visit by Colonel Douglas Hubbard, director of the Admiral Nimitz Centre in Fredricksburg, Texas.

Why would the Americans send such a high ranking officer to visit an old policeman in an unknown part of PNG? The answer lies in his Bronze Star citation. Americans revere and worship their heroes and Birito to the US Navy’s “M” Force was a fearless hero whose exploits are held in high regard.

His only complaint against the Americans was crooked job a medic did on his ear, which had been partially shot apart by enemy fire. The US Marine medics did a pretty hasty job on their trusted forward scout that when the wound healed a few weeks later, his ear was set a bit crookedly, which he blamed of robbing him of his once handsome looks!

The Americans erected a memorial cairn which reads: “To the memory of Sergeant Major Sega Birito of the Royal Papua New Guinea Armed Constabulary whose personal efforts during the Pacific Campaign in World War II resulted in his being awarded the American Bronze Star for gallantry, while serving with the United States Forces on Bougainville in September, 1944. In grateful appreciation, erected by the Government of the United States of America and the Admiral Nimitz Center.”

Birito, the son of a mighty chief, died in 1976 – a year after independence – at about 70 years of age.

Now his son Amos, the councilor for Ward 11 in the Waria Local Level Government, is taking up a new fight in his father’s respected name.

Amos wants the Australian, PNG and US Governments to fund the building of a government centre and a double classroom in Garaina.

Amos said: “I don’t want any other benefit; certainly I don’t want any money. I just want these governments to recognise the efforts of my father during his service to the armed forces and to erect a building in Garaina to house the local level government offices.

“I also want to see a double classroom built at Garaina Primary School and both buildings to be named Sega Birito so that younger generations will know and honor the memory of this foot soldier.”

Cr Amos is the 7th born of Sega Birito and his wife Teira Ponito, both of Sopa village.

The Birito clan is Baru (deceased), Steven, who was a police inspector, Lyn, who now works for Trukai Industries, Jack (deceased), Naru, Reuben, Amos, Eero, Martha and William.

Cr Amos can be assured part of his problem has been solved with the arrival of a new VSAT telecommunications system, linking the Garaina Station with the rest of the world.

The system was recently installed by Telikom PNG technicians Henry Esara, Gideon Kore, both Waria boys, power engineer Brian Inamo and engineer Peter Khaya.

In the days of old man Birito, there was no such telecommunications. Now with a vibrant visionary young leader in local MP Sam Basil, the winds of change are descending on the windswept Waria plains.

Mr Basil, who only collected seven votes from 4000 voters in the last election, has promised K2 million from his district services improvement funds to revive the Garaina Station and kickstart the ailing economy of the once vibrant tea and coffee industry.

Waria LLG president Morokai Gaiwata is upbeat about the future of Garaina. On the list of musts are the return of police, a dozer and an ambulance for the health centre.

One old man told me: “Member is giving us a lot of money. But before that money comes, law and order must return to Garaina.” True words of a wise old man.

As he was departing the beautiful valley, an old lady stepped up to Mr Basil and gave him a string of dog tooth and said: “This is the money of my forefathers. It has lasted for generations. You are giving us K2m but will it last?”

On the plane back, the maverick politician, feared in the halls of Waigani for his no nonsense approach to tackling corruption, showed me his dogtooth money: “This Valley will rise again,” he promised.

Certainly, for better or worse, one councilor will be watching and waiting, Cr Amos Sega.

10 comments:

  1. Malum na Pat, lapun ya em bubu blong mi ya.
    Sapos yutupele bin lukluk igo olsem long Oro side blong Waria Valley long Garaina Station, em yutupela bai lukim wanpela water fall. Em mi blong peles aninit long dispela water fall.
    Mi save sprint igo kam olgeta dei long skul long Garaina Primary "T" School.

    Sapanga Apuqahe

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  2. Malum & Pat,

    Garaina used to be a sub District HQ. It was a vibrant township with movies every Friday evenings and discos every Saturday evenings and a very well established and managed market under the auspices of Waria Council for local villagers to trade. 4 large stores served the township; one owned by a local, Gemu Apuqahe, one owned by Lutheran Church, a Chinese (who else??) and a consortium from Bulolo. Daily Scheduled flights from Talair serviced the valley. Today, it lost its stature due to Organic Law on Provincial Government & LLG (OLPGLLG)which made Districts equivalent to Electorates. Government services such as Post Office, Medical, weekly Government Charter Flights from Lae, timely Public Service Salaries & Wages, etc; etc; are no longer coming to Garaina but to Bulolo which is the District HQ. Consequently, services have deteriorated over the years since OLPGLLG came into existence. This is happening everywhere, not only Garaina and Waria Valley. Government services are not reaching people nationwide because of this animal OLPGLLG.

    Sapanga Apuqahe

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  3. Hi Nalu,

    I am from Sopa village in Garaina. I am a third year student at the University of Technology studying Computer Science. I was thrilled to read your article and the comments posted by Mr. Apuqahe.
    The old warrior happens to be my great grand father also, and I am thankful that you have shown Papua New Guinea and the world the true characters of the Waria warriors during the great war.
    I have heard stories about the warriors from my elders in the village but your article on Sgt. Major Birito is quite indepth and facinating. Thankyou.
    It is quite evident from all the run down government facilities in Garaina that government services are not reaching the mass in Waria and ofcourse other rural districts of Morobe. Garaina station as commented by Mr Apuqahe was a vibrant government station in the 60's and the 70's. The current run down tea estate is the origin of all tea estates in the highlands of PNG. Tea seedlings were air lifted on the Ansett airways and TAA from Garaina direct to the highlands for planting thus, establishment of the "Kurumul tea" and the "No. 1 tea". I would like to see the tea plantation revived.
    And to you Mr Apuqahe, you and I have some say on the ownership of the waterfall. What do you think?

    Mai, siro ma qaipo (Good bey!).

    :)Yasom Mambere (18/05/2010)

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  4. Anonymous8:55 AM

    Hi Nalu
    it was very indept reading on our war hero Sgt.Major Birito.thank you.I am really sad to read about the Garaina tea plantation which is no longer in operation. I hope Garaina can open again to benefit the Waria valley
    ( mi blong Kasu village,now living in Aust) Siro ma qaipo pasira (nee Poma)

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  5. Dear Mr Nalu

    I am a Waria Man, and feel truely sorry for my home town. I was a little five year old when I last left Garaina station. I vividly remember a little bustling township full of activity. I have years later walked into a little twonship outside country victoria Australia, And remember my home town's splendedness. Some day God willing we will rebuilt Garaina, the fertile Waria Valley. Love you bro God Bless Mr Nalu

    Jerry Damoi
    Arabuka Village, Bubu Waria Valley
    Now Studying at RMIT University Australia

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  6. Bake Clan9:16 PM

    Hi Nalu
    I was wondering if any of the readers or contributors to to the blog could provide me with an insight to any development taking place in Garaina. Its been awhile since the last tme I have been back to PNG.It will be really great to see the tea plantation re-open again. thank you Mr Nalu
    Bofenuc Gorothy

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  7. Great story MN,

    I'm from Waria and I'm really inspired. Sore peles is stap long we. I'm from the mouth of the river.

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  8. Awsome story MN!

    Em ples blo mi stret na the "Waria Warrior" em bubu man blo me stret.

    Your article brought memories of sitting on my dads lap as a child and listening to all his stories of the 'good times' when he was a child growing up in a remote village that was Western orientated with expatriates as their teachers, shop owners, nurses, etc.

    These stories are now only memories that linger in the hearts of the Waria pikinis like my father & Mr. Apuqahe who were privileged to have seen Garaina Station when the station was truly vibrant with colors. But today, sadly these beautiful memories seem like just a dream as the station quietly and quickly deteriorates that one must struggle in his memories to reclaim a glance of the 'good times' in Garaina.

    I hope one day I can bring my daughter to a home that truly reflects her grandfathers pride and joy...Waria Valley, Land of Green Gold!

    Birori Atapa
    Okari Hausline, Sopa Village, Garaina

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  9. It is of great pleasure to read this article and know of what my great grand father has done for the People of Sopa, Waria, Morobe and Papua New Guinea. Today we live to erudite the tails and legacy Mr Birito Sega has left, a true hero.

    I am quite mesmerize by Mr Apuahes statement of how Garaina use to be in the past.Today my father happens to be the only one trying his best to bring back the lost picture which he persistently recalls through his stories. In addition to Mr Apuahes statement, i believe Garaina deserve to be an electorate of its own with a parliamentary representative.

    Thank you again Mr Nalu for your time in adding some light to Garaina and its history.

    ta. Sopa Khata

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  10. I am quite mesmerized by this great article which " Birito Sega" happens to be my great grand father.He is not just a hero of Sopa village, but a pride to the people of Waria, Morobe and PNG as well.

    In addition to Mr Apuqahes statement, " the people of Waria deserve a break away from Bulolo , a new electorate with a new parliamentary representative will be the catalyst to developments which the government has failed to deliver" .Today the only transportation is seventh level aviation (expensive) and alluvial gold mining as economical income for the locals. "

    If we are to see change in Garaina, we need to push for the break up of a new Electorate as soon as possible. Other wise, everything said by Mr Apuqahe will be just pictures with memories.

    Once again thank you Malum Nalu for shedding some light on my peoples History, keep up thy good work .


    # SOPA KHATA (08/06/17)

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