Remembering the war in New Guinea - Kaiapit-Saidor track

Remembering the war in New Guinea
Ammak Tapduk: Kaiapit-Saidor track during the Second World War (Symposium paper)
Panel name: Indigenous experience
This page was contributed by Dr Sam Kaima (University of Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby)

Many people felt the effect of the Pacific War in the coastal and highland areas of Papua New Guinea. In some areas there were major battlefields, while others only witnessed patrols and took part in the war indirectly. The Papuans and New Guineans, not being aware of the cause of the war, did not know whom to support. It destroyed village life; for many this was their first experience of a large-scale war, compared to their traditional warfare. As a result, villagers developed perceptions and witnessed the realities of war. The colonial order was reversed, as the people would not understand the war, the cause of it, the fear that it caused among the people. Wantoat, inland of the Markham Valley in Morobe Province, had its share of experiences during the war, as it was an alternate route between Kaiapit in the Markham Valley and Rai Coast in Madang Province. This is the subject of this paper.

This is paper discusses the impact of war in Wantoat and the surrounding areas. Ammak Tapduktime bilong war, as the Wantoat referred to the period during the war, has been described orally, but written documentation is lacking and more research remains to be done.

Kaiapit was used as a Japanese command post from 1942 until its recapture in September 1943. As a consequence, the Japanese had to find a route to escape to Madang from the advancing Allied troops. Thus they used traditional trade routes inland through the Finisterre Range. Although, there was no heavy fighting in Wantoat, skirmishes took place in Kaiapit and nearby areas. Both Allied and Japanese troops used the Wantoat as carriers and helpers. Many young men had no option but to help whoever arrived first and wanted assistance.

This paper is organised as follows. The first part provides a short history and background to the area. I then discuss the war situation on the Huon Peninsula, taking into account written sources about the area. The third part of the paper discusses the Kaiapit-Saidor Track and events in Wantoat, before concluding with propaganda and perceptions that developed as a result of the war.

The Wantoat had limited contact with Europeans before the war, with few patrols by kiaps. The activities of both missions and kiaps came to a sudden halt due to the Second World War in 1942. According to Wantoat oral traditions, the people remember contact with foreigners in three different time periods. There was taim belong faet - ammak tapduk. This was taim no gut; then there was the German taim, which according to the people was gut taim; and eventually taim bilong Australia na kiaps.

The Wantoat District
Germany declared north-east New Guinea and the offshore islands their colony in 1884 and two years later, in 1886, the first Lutheran missionary arrived in Finschhafen. Expansion and colonial control of the inland of what is now Morobe Province was not extensive during the German period. It was from Finschhafen, later Salamaua and then Lae, that extension of colonial and missionary influence slowly took its toll on the Huon Peninsula, including Wantoat.

In 1912 Lutheran missionaries Keysser, Pilhofer, Leonard Flierl and Oertel arrived in Kaiapit, but the Kaiapit mission station was not set up until 1918 when Fritx Oertel was appointed a missionary. The longest-serving missionary in Kaiapit, Reverend Karl Holzknecht, was not appointed until 1935.

The first European to reach Wantoat was another missionary, Reverend Saueracker from Kabwum, who arrived with several evangelists in 1927. They arrived through Ewok village after climbing the Saruwaged Ranges. The Kabwum evangelists were left at Bumbum, Mupiapun and Matap villages to help spread the new religion (Wagner 1986: 69–71). However, rivalry between Jabem and Kate speakers soon flared up and a church building burned down at Gwambongwak village before peace was restored and the area divided. This was despite the fact that both groups were Lutherans. The colonial administration did not do much but left it to the mission to pacify the people.

Aside from mission and colonial officers, there was labor recruiting in Wantoat during the period to work on gold fields in Bulolo/Wau. Most of the men who had been on labour trips were later appointed tultuls/luluais by kiap patrol teams from Lae and Kaiapit. For instance, the paramount luluai of Ginonga village was Mambon S. Gwarane, father of Steven Mambon. (Kaima, 1991a) The first administration kiap who went into Wantoat was Leigh Vial, who patrolled the area and issued village books in 1936. This patrol went through some Wantoat villages. Vial produced a number of reports and papers on his patrols through the Wantoat Valley and his background knowledge of the geography of the area proved useful to Allied troops during the war.

The only case of hostility by the Wantoat towards kiaps was the wounding of Patrol Officer Tom Hough by Suenda villagers in 1936. Hough was injured by a flying arrow and carried for two days to Kaiapit and later flown to Salamaua Hospital, where he died on 20 December 1936. (PIM 1936) Events after 1936 and during the war are discussed in detail below.

Kaiapit District Headquarters was set up after the war in 1947. It was Reverend Karl Holzknecht who started the work after being held in detention in Australia; “[W]hen the war with Germany broke out, a number of German Lutheran missionaries had been interned” (Ryan 1959: 212)

The colonial administration patrol officers came after the war, and one of those who patrolled into Wantoat was James Sinclair in 1949. This time he witnessed displeasure towards mission schools among people who wanted an “English school”, rather than mission schools which taught their children “Bible Stories only”. Sinclair concluded that this was based on a cargo cultic expectation of goods that the English language could bring into the district; according to Sinclair such expectations were on the upsurge and widespread on the Huon Peninsula (Sinclair 1982: 57–61).

In 1955 the first Patrol Officer was posted to Wantoat; a year later a mission station was set up and missionary, Guenther Herrlinger, posted. This cleared the way for introduction of an administration school, an Aid Post and the introduction of coffee – a future cash earner for the people. An administration-controlled “English” school, demanded in 1949 by Gwambongwak villagers, was set up in 1956. An airstrip, originally set up before the war by a Lae businessman with the hope of growing vegetables and selling them in Lae, was extended. This airstrip became a battlefield as it was used during the war as a short take-off strip and to supply materials to Allied soldiers. An Allied base was set up at Umbaku village overlooking the small airstrip. The airstrip was to be the only means of contact with the outside world for Wantoat until 1986, when a road was opened to link with the Highlands Highway at Leron Bridge.

The war scene on the Huon Peninsula between 1943 and 1944
Before discussing the impact of the war in Wantoat, I would like to provide an overview of the war scene in the Morobe District and nearby areas. This should place in context the limited fighting and its impact in Wantoat. The Japanese had occupied Rabaul and advances onto Salamaua, Lae and Bulolo were imminent as they continued their onslaught towards Port Moresby. However, the Allied troops, especially Kanga Force, retaliated before the Japanese could reach Port Moresby, leading to heavy fighting at Kokoda and Milne Bay before the Japanese were defeated. The Japanese bases in Lae and Salamaua were the next to be attacked, before the Allied troops went to Madang, thence to Wewak and through to Hollandia (Jayapura). There is literature on the Japanese occupation and activities in Lae and Butibam village during the war. Neville Robinson and Ian Willis discuss the impact of the war on Butibam in detail, based on interviews with villagers. Meanwhile Busujima, who served as a Japanese medical officer himself, also outlines the Japanese experience in Lae during the war. A paper titled, “The withdrawal of the 51st Division, XVIII Japanese Army from Lae and the Huon Peninsula, September 1943–January 1944” (Willis 1974:2–19), gives details of the Japanese retreat to Madang. It was this withdrawal and pursuit of the Japanese by Allied troops that had a direct impact on areas of the Huon Peninsula, including Wantoat.

Several other works discuss the impact of the war on the surrounding areas. Official military documents and reports are heavily used in The New Guinea offensives (Dexter 1961), which discusses military activity in areas around Wantoat in detail. It is this volume that in brief discusses the encounter with the Japanese in Taput village in Wantoat.

Aside from this event, there are reports of war patrols and activities in nearby areas in the war classic Fear drive my feet (Ryan, 1959). It discusses activity during the war in the middle Erap/Boana, an area with limited contact with Wantoat. Ryan had hired a cook boy from a village close to Bumbum village in Wantoat.

There are reports of activities in the Markham Valley by Kenneth Read, showing linkages and contacts with the people of Wantoat during the war. Kaiapit was the base for Japanese who fled through Awara and Wantoat to Saidor or through the Ramu Valley, towards the end of the war. The route discussed in this paper is further inland and was documented by the Allied Geographical Section in their plans to attack the Japanese in the Madang and Morobe districts. Allied Geographical Section reports, in particular “Rai Coast and Finisterre area” and “Locality study of Ramu-Markham Valley with link to Madang” (see bibliography), provide detailed information on the geography of the area and routes the Japanese used. After the war, in an anthropological work, Hartmut Holzknecht wrote about the impact of the war on the Markham Valley villagers as follows:
The people of the villages involved, Dzifasin and Tararan, still recall the episode and its aftermath with bitterness. Further up the valley the war had relatively minor effect. The Japanese forces had a large base camp at Tsakrak on the Umi River crossing and recruited throughout the area for men to serve as police and guides (Holzknecht 1974: 34).

Carl Schmitz, another early anthropologist in Wantoat, discussed the impact of the war in Wantoat as follows:
During the wars years the Japanese troops penetrated the valleys. As the advance of the allied troops lately on mainly followed the level valleys of the Markham and the Ramu, the population suffered particularly from the retreat and pursuit of scattered Japanese Units. Both sides made use of the villagers, and both sides “bought” the produce from their gardens (Schmitz 1964: 15).

Another scholar who researched and spent some time soon after the war among Ngarawapum villagers, in the Markham Valley near Kaiapit, reports as follows:
Lae was captured in the early months of 1942, and with its fall European administration in the Markham valley ceased. … There was no contact with former rulers until the recapture of Kaiapit on September 19 1943. During the intervening period the enemy established headquarters at Lutheran mission station at Kaiapit (Read 1947: 95–116).

These sources show the impact of the war on nearby areas and the use of the Wantoat route between Kaiapit and Saidor. More research needs to be done in the Rai Coast, Wantoat and the villages near Kaiapit in the Markham Valley. Oral traditions have, however, been maintained and passed on after the war. It is now evident that the Japanese used Wantoats as carriers to help them on their way to Kaiapit. My father, from Yaparingan village, was one of those who escaped the Japanese defeat by Allied troops near Kaiapit. Another informant whom I interviewed years later in Port Moresby, Yaput of Gawan village, remembered being forced to be a carrier. He was carrying for the Japanese in the Awara area when he met other Wantoats, who had escaped from the Japanese. According to him his wantoks told him that the Japanese “may be cruel” and that he should try to escape as well. He eventually did, after pretending to attend to a call of nature. But according to Yaput, the Japanese had killed a kiap in Kaiapit to set up base there. Peter Ryan confirms this: to have followed the Leron down would lead to Kaiapit, the district where Harry Lumb had been killed (Ryan 1959: 229). According to information gathered, the Japanese moved in to occupy the Lutheran mission house and headquarters at Kaiapit before Allied troops arrived and recaptured Kaiapit on 19 September 1943.

Another story illustrative of the impact of the war and the presence of left over weapons is a murder story, reported by Mary Woodward, of a pay back killing using Japanese guns in the Markham headwaters area (Woodward, 1977: 35). In fact Wantoat was set up with the aim of capturing the culprits and bringing them to justice, as the area was difficult to reach unless a patrol post was set up close to the area.

The impact of war in Wantoat
Wantoat would have been surrounded by military activity in the Lae, Nadzab, Finschhafen, Kaiapit, Madang and nearby Ramu areas. Stories about the impact of the war in these areas would have been heard as people were sent home. Those who returned home would have told stories of the war and how frightening it was. War finally arrived in Wantoat when the Japanese were on the run and had been chased out of nearby Kaiapit, especially in 1943.

When Lae fell to the allies, the Japanese had two possible routes by which to reach Madang, their base on the north coast. One was to go through the Markham Valley, where it would have been easy for the Allies to attack them from the air. This meant the Japanese had to take to the interior, through the rugged Saruwaged and Finisterre Ranges, to reach Madang. According to Busujima, the Japanese left Butibam and followed the Busu River over the Saruwaged, to eventually reach Kiari in Sio on the north coast.

In The New Guinea offensives, David Dexter outlines the war scenario in New Guinea using official war records (Dexter 1961). This is the official history of the war in New Guinea, and gives a summary of activities in New Guinea. Dexter indicates the areas in which the Allied troops were heavily involved. The entire areas surrounding Wantoat had witnessed a lot of military activity. There were large bases at Lae and Nadzab. Wau and Bulolo saw heavy fighting as well as Finschhafen, Ramu, Bena Bena and Salamaua. The activity in Wantoat took place simply when the Japanese were on the run and needed to get to Madang. With the onslaught on Kaiapit and then Ramu, Bogadjim and eventually Madang, the Japanese fled all over the Huon Peninsula. Dexter points out that:
As a result of an Angau report that there were some enemy in Wantoat area, a platoon from the 11th Division Carrier Company accompanied by the commander, Major Armstrong, was flown to Kaiapit on the 15th (May 1943) and ferried thence to Wantoat. Advancing along Ikwap Track the platoon learnt that the Japanese were in Tabut. Surrounding the village the Australians attacked at dusk. Four Japanese were killed and two escaped (Dexter 1961: 875).

The Kaiapit mission station ceased to operate and local evangelists in Wantoat fled during the war years. Wantoat, for example, became a route for both Allied and Japanese troops to reach Madang from Kaiapit. As a result many Wantoat young men had been labourers and carriers of both enemy troops. It depended on who was the first to reach a village.

Towards the end of the war there was a need for Japanese to find a route between Lae and Madang as they were on the run from enemy troops. Traditional trading routes between Kaiapit and Saidor were used by Japanese troops to escape advancing Allied troops. No actual large-scale fighting took place in Wantoat but the area was used during the war.

When the Japanese command camp at Kaiapit fell to Allied troops in 1943, the Japanese had to scatter from the valley:
The vanquished Japanese scattered. Many retreated up the Markham, but it was estimated that about 750 went into the mountains behind Kaiapit. During patrols into the Wantoat area, at least 36 Japanese were killed and many rifles recovered, while at the head of the Yupno River “only dead men could be found” (Woodward 1977: 116).

It was this retreat of the Japanese troops that would have had an impact on the people of the mountain areas, including the Wantoat. I have heard of the killing of Japanese on the Yupno River, and I hope further research will explain the events at discussed above.

Kaiapit-Saidor Track
When Kaiapit fell to Allied troops, the Japanese took to the routes used for traditional trade between the Kaiapit villagers and the Awara people. The Arawa villagers also had a link with the Wantoat, who further also traded with the Ketu of the Rai Coast. The track led through rugged countryside, climbing the Saruwaged and Finnistere Ranges and crossing fast flowing rivers. The Japanese retreat meant that the Wantoat were driven out of their villages in fear of possible attacks.

As in many areas, the people were aware of the war, and had no option but to be part of it. But they did not know whom to support and they did not know the reasons for the fighting. Many young men were taken as carriers by both the Japanese and Allied troops.

From the large Markham Valley, a crossing had to be found over the Finnistere Ranges in order to reach Madang. It took 11 days of walking from Kaiapit, starting at Newafmarin village, then via Dantap, Hikwak and Huperang (this is the present Kusiparang village), Ginoga, Buran, Dorem, Gwambongwak, Gehan, Keweing, Isan, Wadabo, Tapen, and finally to Malalamai in the Saidor area of Madang Province. There was also another route, which started from Sangang, south of Kaiapit in the middle of the Markham Valley, through Wongat, Sukurum, Maianka and then meeting the above track at Huperang [Kusiparang] village.

The problem remains: there is a need to document the events that took place in the area. I have heard stories of the former airstrip being used as a drop-off point by Allied troops, and there are stories about Japanese being killed by Nankina villagers overlooking the Finisterre Range. Woodward supports this as well (see above).
Stories about the war in Wantoat are centred on three events. Firstly there are stories of young men being carriers and helpers of both Allied and Japanese troops. Secondly there was an Allied base camp set up overlooking a small airstrip. Finally there is a story of killing of Japanese within a hilly area between Kubung village in Wantoat and Tapen in Yupno in Madang province.

There are stories about the use of a small airstrip by Allied troops as drop-off points for the soldiers who were stationed on the Umbaku ridge overlooking the airstrip. The airstrip was built before the war by a businessman, hoping to grow vegetables and sell them at Lae markets. The Allied troops using the above track meant there had to be a supply of food and materials as well. There are thus oral traditions that an Allied base was set up at Umbaku village, overlooking the small airstrip above the present Gwambongwak village. The people of nearby villages had benefited from supplies being dropped off by the planes. Peter Ryan, who discusses the use of the airstrip, outlines some of the problems faced by another Allied soldier in Wantoat as follows:
A day later a boy from a nearby village brought us news of another European at Wantoat, not far away. This, we surmised, was Fairfax-Ross, the man being withdrawn from the north coast. He had been expecting cargo to be dropped by plane to him at Wantoat about 17th June, but the cargo had not arrived. As it was 18th June, and Wantoat was a good two days’ walk away, we felt we had a small hope of overtaking him. (Ryan 1959: 221)

Oral stories have repeatedly told of the killing of Japanese troops en route between Wantoat and Tapen in the Yupno area of the present Rai coast area of Madang Province. Moreover, recently a damaged airplane has been recovered from the area and the body of the pilot taken out by Australians in March this year (2000).

Kubung village is en route between Tapen in Madang and Wantoat, and is covered with fast following rivers and rugged countryside. The people had traditionally used the route for barter. It was reported that the people of the area had killed Japanese troops. There is little oral tradition about the event, but reports have suggested that many Japanese were killed by villagers throwing stones over a cliff. Walking over a cliff with river gorges made it possible for the people to wipe out the entire platoon from the top of the cliff.

Again, there have been oral reports and stories about young men being used by both Allied and Japanese troops as carriers during the war. There are stories of villages being deserted as young men were taken out of them. Most of the villagers fled and hid in the jungles of the area, and “unlucky” young men were forcefully taken as carriers by the troops on both sides.

Propaganda, perceptions and the aftermath
It is documented that the war had an impact on belief systems and values of the people. As in most wars, propaganda was important to win support, and propaganda stories spread in the Wantoat Valley. One of the Japanese propaganda stories, as told to Ryan by villagers, was as follows:
When you native people die your spirits go to live in Japan, our homeland. The spirits of your ancestral dead are living in Japan now. Unless you look after us Japanese well we will see it that the spirits of your dead get a bad time (Ryan 1959: 221).

This was definitely false, but such stories could be believed by the religious-minded natives. Meanwhile the Allied troops would have done the same, and that was witnessed soon after the war when the people demanded change, and quick change, without thought for the planning and finance involved. As a result, the colonial administration referred to these movements that soon rose to prominence in New Guinea after the war as “weird” cargo cults. The problems of so-called cargo cults have been witnessed in areas outside Wantoat, which no doubt had an impact on the area. In Madang and Rai Coast there was the Yali Movement (Lawrence, 1964) and Satan’s Marafi Cult was at Leron, just south of Wantoat (Steinbauer 1979: 56–7). Yali, for example, set up his rehabilitation scheme which, according to him, was to be fully supported by the Australians. Unfortunately for him and his followers, it was not forthcoming as quickly as expected. Cargo cultism in Wantoat was not openly noted during the early period, but surely these movements will have influenced the people of the area which was in close proximity. I have discussed the impact of new religious movements in Wantoat in the past (Kaima 1987: 55–70).

Meanwhile the religious cosmic order of the Wantoat was altered as a result of the war, and the people had to explain the events based on traditional belief systems and values. The two races that appeared during the war had to be fitted into Wantoat cosmology. For the people, these two races were created in Wantoat, but dispersed to faraway lands and told never to return. Thus, themes of the creation story were changed to fit these two races; the white men were seen as descendants of the ancestor of white bamboo; the Japanese, on the other hand, were descendants of the ancestor who grew out of yellow bamboo. I have often wondered how the people would have explained the existence of black American soldiers if they were seen at Wantoat at that time, as there is no black bamboo in the area. One of the main problems of interpretation had been seeing the fleeing of the Europeans and the perceived take-over of the Japanese. Once again Holzknecht reports as follows:
Such impressions include the observable fact that Europeans were not invincible and had to flee from Japanese; the great friendship and generosity with which the allied troops treated villagers, the observation of Negro troops having equal status and access to goods and services as European troops (Holzknecht 1977: 34).

The simple change in mythology made the people think otherwise: they thought the people once created in Wantoat were returning to their home of creation, but did not know why they were fighting each other. It was amidst such mental confusion that many New Guineans thought ancestors who had returned would deliver the goods-cargo, leading to the development of so-called cargo cults.

The people would not have developed any positive feelings towards either side, as the young men were taken by both Allied and Japanese troops. This happened in many parts of the two territories, as whichever troops were first to arrive in a village forcefully hired young men as carriers. Everybody was afraid; they did not know whom to support in any case, as the villagers never knew the causes of it or which side to take.

This discussion has been short and further research is needed to study the impact and perceptions that may have developed as a result of the war. We still need to reconstruct stories about the war in Yupno, and if possible search for evidence of activities that took place in this mountainous region. The Yupno will have their own stories to tell, while Wantoat versions of the war have yet to be recorded and properly documented fully. The three events discussed in this paper need further research and expansion.

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