Log Cabin Chronicles


Jim, Iqbal, Andy

Putney, Vermont

 When we arrived there was a brand new ambulance waiting. The driver was in the process of opening the rear door when he spotted the patient. Patient was a bloody, muddy lump of thoroughly battered and very unhappy meat. Slam went the ambulance door.

"This is a brand new ambulance." the driver informed us indignantly. "I have to pick up the night shift in ten minutes."

Just when you think there are no standards in PNG you find that keeping up a clean ambulance is a very high priority. Our prisoner was tossed back into the paddy wagon for his trip to the hospital. He recovered quickly and headed for the calaboose to pay for his sins. Mt. Hagen was once again safe from psycho dump truck operators.

Imbakey Okuk was the deputy prime minister of the country in 1986. He was the first Highlander to achieve this level of prominence in the federal government. Up until then coastal men held all of the high government posts. It was because of this that he was held in very high esteem by Highlanders in all parts of the country.

Imbakey had died in Australia of heart disease and his body was flown back to Port Moresby. When a big man dies in the Highlands trouble is never far behind. Riots, murder and looting is often the upshot of the death of a leader. The reason for this is difficult for an outsider to understand.

One reason is that no one ever seems to die of natural causes. If someone croaks then his enemies must have had a hand in it.

Imbakey did not die of heart disease in the minds of his tribal brothers. He was murdered with "puri-puri" (black magic) and vengeance was in order. That the revenge exacted was not directed at any one person, tribe or sector of society is not as important as destroying something in the name of Okuk. Generally speaking the more prominent the dead guy the greater the civil disorder.

When Okuk karked the members of the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary girded their collective loins for battle.

The drill with Imbakey was that his body would be displayed in all of the major towns in the country before being laid to rest in his home town of Kundiawa in Eastern Highlands province. Moresby, Lae and Goroka had already had extensive rioting resulting in several deaths and the pillaging of much of the downtown area. Mt. Hagen was next.

Andy, Iqbal, a regular member of the force, and I piled into Andy's 4x4 armed with various clubs, firearms, and chemical weapons to deal with the expected rioting. I don't mind admitting that reading the papers over the past few days had done nothing to bolster my level of courage which was not all that huge to begin with.

Despite my out-of-character exploits with the dump truck, I was just getting used to asking drivers for their licenses without pissing myself when this assignment loomed for the weekend. We all drove to the station to find out which killing field we were assigned to. All of the police in Mount Hagen, both regulars and reserves, mustered at the station on Saturday morning.

Sergeant Andy told us that we might be given the duty of patrolling the suburbs to discourage thievery while the regular police stood ready to control rioters in the city.

I thought this was an absolutely first class idea. Tooling around town far from the burning buildings and clouds of tear gas, snipers and rioting villagers was just fine with me. Yessir, that had my vote.

Just before the station commander handed out assignments a call came in from one of the out stations that there was a large flat-bed truck headed for town full of heavily armed warriors.

"We'll take care of that." said our big-mouth mutton-headed Sergeant. Just like that my last hope of getting through the day alive had fled. Andy McArthur was a friend of mine, a pretty good friend. I liked him because he was eccentric, funny, and courageous.

At that moment I wished that I had never met him. I wished that I had run him over in the parking lot of the Pioneer Club.

We set up a road block just outside of town and Sergeant Andy, Constable Iqbal, and Constable Appelis got out and stationed themselves in front of the vehicle. Shortly an overloaded flatbed truck hove into view with what seemed like fifty warriors decked out in bird of paradise plumes and covered from head to toe in pig grease and soot. They all stood in the truck and sang while rhythmically banging the butt of their spears on the truck bed.

As the truck came to a halt I took the initiative. By that I mean I got on the radio and called for backup. I accomplished that before anyone could see how much my hands were shaking and returned to see Andy in heated discussion with the head man.

He was demanding that all of the men leave their spears behind before they entered the town. The head man argued that the spears were merely ceremonial and were necessary to complete their tribal dress.

I wanted to point out that accessorizing with deadly weapons was could be dangerous but held my counsel. Finally, some of the backup regular police arrived and took up the argument. We got back into the 4x4 and headed to town.

"I wonder where those blokes came from?" said Andy, referring to our backup.

"Beats me." I lied unconvincingly. " Must have been in the area. Shouldn't we have a look around the suburbs just in case?"

We were on our way to Safetyville when the radio crackled and announced that there was rioting and looting going on in Minj, a small government outpost with a police station and a few trade stores only 15 minutes drive from town. Just when I was thinking I might live, this.

We drove for 6 miles up the Highlands Highway toward Minj when we came to a sight that put my heart as well as a few other major organs into my throat. The road was blocked with oil drums, logs, and boulders. On the other side of this barrier were about 1000 screaming people and two flatbed trucks whose beds were crammed with so many people that the tire were virtually flat and going nowhere. We all stepped out and Appelis, our regular force member parlayed with some of the more prominent members of the mob.

To Part Five

To Part Three

Jim Austin likes a challenge.

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