Remembering the war in New Guinea - Interview with James Tumat

Interview with James Tumat (Interview)
(Indigenous perspective)
This interview was conducted by Dr Iwamoto Hiromitsu and transcribed/translated by Pastor Jacob Aramans

Dr Iwamoto: What is your name?

Tumat: My name is James Tumat.

Dr Iwamoto: How old are you?

Tumat: I don’t know how old I am.

Dr Iwamoto: Have you gone to school?

Tumat: I didn't attend any formal education. I was at home until I grew up big.

Dr Iwamoto: When the Japanese came were you already a big boy?

Tumat: I was in my teens. I did a lot of work for the Japanese. We built roads, airstrips and did other work in the bush where their camps were. They appointed me as a kenpei (policeman).

Dr Iwamoto: Why did they appoint you as a kenpei?

Tumat: Because of my strength and how I spoke. They called for a talkative and hard working man.

Dr Iwamoto: What sort of work you were doing?

Tumat: I was a kenpei. My work was to keep law and order and make sure that people abide by the laws that were set up during the war. I brought people to court.

Dr Iwamoto: How many men became kenpei like you?

Tumat: There were many of us.

Dr Iwamoto: Did all the kenpei come from your village alone or from the other villages as well?

Tumat: They came from different places. Those kenpei who were based at Naram looked after Nongura and the other surrounding Villages from Nongupan to Nangali. Nagura was our central place and whenever meetings were held they were held there.

Dr Iwamoto: What sort of uniforms were you wearing - caps and shirts?

Tumat: No caps, but we wore shirts with badges and numbers on them. These badges and numbers indicated what sort of rank we held.

Dr Iwamoto: Were you given rifles?

Tumat: No rifles, but we were given wooden rods for the purpose of beating trouble makers. We were not allowed to be issued with guns because the soldiers feared we might turn against them if they treated us cruelly.

Dr Iwamoto: How did the Japanese treat your people?

Tumat: The Japanese made our people work hard on whatever job was given them. They treated the people fairly but on occasions when people disobeyed or got big headed they were beaten and whipped causing great pain and injuries to parts of their bodies.

Dr Iwamoto: What sort of work? In the garden or in the plantation?

Tumat: They worked in the gardens. They cleared the bush, cut down the trees, dug the mounts and planted kaukau (sweet potato), taro and other vegetables. Other times we were driven down in the morning to Rabaul and Kokobo to work on building the airfields before being driven back to the village in the evening.

Dr Iwamoto: So did only the men do this work or did the women do it as well?

Tumat: Only the men were taken by the Japanese to do their work while the women and children were left behind in the village.

Dr Iwamoto: Were you paid by the Japanese?

Tumat: Not paid in cash, however we were given food.

Dr Iwamoto: Were the kenpei paid in cash?

Tumat: No, but we were given food. Like the others who worked for the Japanese the kenpei were given fruit such as ripe popo (pawpaw), pineapples and other food they bought or got from their own gardens. They used their own money called “kumdio” for the payment of goods. That type of money was only used during the war.

Dr Iwamoto: Did any Japanese doctors live here?

Tumat: No doctors lived here. Whenever a person was injured they treated him using their own supply of medicine. Other times we used our natural medicine.

Dr Iwamoto: Did the Japanese set up any schools here?

Tumat: No schools were set up here because it was war time. In other places schools were probably set up by the Japanese.

Dr Iwamoto: Did you see Peter Torot die?

Tumat: I saw him.

Dr Iwamoto: Did you see him being decapitated by the Japanese?

Tumat: I saw him when he was brought here. In fact he lived in the next village where we (the kenpei) used to go and work. They brought him to their camp which we were not allowed to enter or even go near. After he died they brought his body over and that was when I saw it (the body).

Dr Iwamoto: I read that the Japanese gave him medicine, is that true?

Tumat: How he died exactly I do not know. He may have been poisoned, beheaded or shot - I do not know. They brought his body all the way to Rakunai and buried him there.

Dr Iwamoto: When the war ended and the Australians came back did they do anything to you because you were a kenpei with the Japanese?

Tumat: They did not do anything bad to the kenpei. In fact I was appointed as the tultul and continued to provide security plus law and order in the village. Tultul was the second biggest title, the second rank to luluai in the village.

Dr Iwamoto: Thank you very much my questions are over.

This page was last updated on 31 May 2004.
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