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The Founding Fathers of Papua New Guinea

Updated on June 19, 2013

The Founding Fathers of Papua New Guinea

Along with the likes of Mr. Paul Lapun, Mr. Oala Oala Rarua and Sir. Sinake Giregire, these ten great political leaders fought for Papua New Guinea’s independence, and they fought hard and won. They achieved independence for Papua New Guinea sooner than everyone else thought. And it was on the 16th of September, 1975.

No one ever believed that these visionary leaders could achieve independence for Papua New Guinea in a peaceful manner without bloodshed as early as 1975. These outspoken political leaders are:

Mr. James Meangarum Sapakin, Sir. Michael Thomas Somare, Sir. John Guise, Sir. Albert Maori Kiki, Sir. Tei Abal, Sir. John Kaputin, Sir Ebia Olewale, Fr. John Momis, Mr. Matthias Toliman and Sir. Julius Chan.

Though lowly educated, their prowess, wisdom and insights are portrayed by the Constitution of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea; by the Five National Goals and Directive Principles.

Just after midnight on 16 September 1975, Governor-General of Papua New Guinea His Excellency Sir. John Guise proclaimed over the radio, Papua New Guinea’s independence. It was a great moment for Papua New Guinea who, for generations, had been accustomed to Australians making all the important decisions in their country. Papua New Guinean leaders first began talking about independence in the 1960’s, and by 1970, politicians and public servants were taking greater responsibilities. Five years later, these founders of Papua New Guinea led their people to independence, thus bringing to an end almost 91 years of colonial domination. Here are the details of some of those founders, all political leaders.

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James Meangarum Sapakin

Meangarum recalls himself being “The poor colonial boy in the First House of Assembly who said Yes Sir instead of No Sir for his country to achieve independence for Papua New Guinea free and without bloodshed”. Only a little may or may not be known, spoken, or documented about this simple, yet the most important role player who helped prepare Papua New Guinea for independence. James Meangarum was born in the thick jungles of Igom, one of the remotest places in Bogia District of Madang Province under the rain of falling bombs and sprays of bullets. That was in 1942. One of the first Papua New Guineans to be elected into the First House of Assembly in 1964, representing the Ramu Open Electorate, he led the campaign against Australian colonialism. From time to time between 1964 and 1972, he represented his country, the then Territory of German New Guinea in important meetings with the United Nations Trusteeship Council in New York and the Commonwealth of Nations in Sydney and Canberra, where he established important dialogs to pave way for the birth of this new nation. Meangarum had always in his presentations, emphasized that he wanted a united Papua and New Guinea. As the leader of a pack of indigenous leaders, he was given the opportunity to study party politics and leadership management abroad. As a result, he introduced the party politics system in Papua New Guinea and met with certain prominent leaders of his time to form the Papua And New Guinea United (PANGU) Pati at the Bully Beef club in Port Moresby. Meangarum served his people for two terms but continued to study a different kind of leadership - the Theocratic leadership. Sadly, that was when he resigned from politics willingly in 1972 and fellowshipped with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. He will be long remembered by his people for building a road that now links Madang town with Bogia and his proposed plans for building roads from Bogia to Josephstaal to Jimmy Valley in Western Highlands Province, a road to Raikos which is set to link Morobe, a road from Madang through the jungles of Amele to the Simbu province, and finally a road that would link Bogia and the East Sepik Province, which is impossible to build because of the mighty Ramu River. His road proposals are being considered and the road works are beginning.

Sir. Michael Thomas Somare
Sir. Michael Thomas Somare

Michael Thomas Somare

Michael Somare, sometimes called the father of the nation, or ‘chief’, is from Karau village in the East Sepik province. He was a young broadcaster and journalist when the PANGU party was formed. Although a founding member (as a broadcaster) of PANGU, he was not known in the political arena until, he was elected into the Second House of Assembly in 1968. That was when he actively participated in the campaigns against Australian colonialism and helped prepare Papua New Guinea for independence under the leadership of Mr. James Meangarum Sapakin. In 1972, Somare was re-elected, became the leader of PANGU Party (after Meangarum’s resignation), and formed a coalition with Chan’s People’s Progress Party (PPP) and other independent members to form government. As chief minister, he led Papua New Guinea to self-government on December 1, 1973 and became first Prime Minister – on Independence Day, 16 September 1975. The longest serving member of Parliament, with more than forty years, he was prime minister of Papua New Guinea from 1975 until 1980 and from 1982 until 1985, and he took leadership again in 2002 with his National Alliance Party (a breakaway group from PANGU) and held office until he was dumped by the O’Neill-Namah coalition in 2011. His people however, lost no confidence in him, and that saw him retain his seat in 2012.

Albert Maori Kiki

Albert Maori Kiki from Orokolo in the Gulf District became a trade union leader in the late 1950’s. He was one of the leading founders of the PANGU Pati that was formed in 1967, under the prodigious leadership of James Meangarum Sapakin. At different times, he was Minister for lands and Environment, Minister for Defense and Minister for Foreign Relations and Trade. From 1975 until 1977, he was Deputy Prime Minister. In 1972, he was member of the Port Moresby Town Council and the Territory Education Board. Kiki wrote the first autobiography by a Papua New Guinean, Ten Thousand Years in a Lifetime, which was published in 1968. He died in 1993.

Sir. John Guise
Sir. John Guise

John Guise

John Guise from Gedulalara, near Dogura in the Milne Bay Province, was one of the first Papua New Guineans to achieve prominence in national politics. A Patrol Officer by profession, he was a member of the 1961 – 1963 Legislative Council and supported Pangu Pati’s call for independence. From 1964 to 1975 he was the member of the House of Assembly and became the first Papua New Guinean speaker in 1968. In 1972, he was the deputy chief minister to Michael Somare and in 1975, became the first Governor-General of Papua New Guinea. He resigned in 1977 to re-enter politics, representing Milne Bay province in the National Parliament until 1982. He died in 1991.

Tei Abal

Tei Abal, from Wabag in the Enga Province, is the father of the current Member for Wabag, Samuel Abal. Abal was a self-educated man and became known as a conservative politician because of his opposition to James Meangarum’s idea of early independence. He was electd to the House of Assembly in 1964, 1968, 1972 and 1977. In 1973, on the death of Matthias Toliman, he became leader of the opposition United Party. Abal tried to delay independence because, he said, the people of Western Highlands needed more time for economic development and to improve their education. He supported Australia’s efforts on Papua New Guinea, but when he failed to change the date for independence, he threw his support behind Pangu to ensure smooth government. He died in 1994.

Father John Momis
Father John Momis

Father John Momis

Father John Momis, a former Catholic priest, was born in Salamaua of Bougainville parents. He is known as the father of the Constitution because of his leadership of the Constitutional Planning Committee, established in 1972. The committee’s recommendations were debated in the House of Assembly in 1975 and, with some changes, formed the basis of Papua New Guinea’s Constitution. First elected to the House of Assembly in 1972, Momis was a member of the Pangu Pati until, in 1980, he founded the Melanesian Alliance Party. He always argued for Bougainville independence. He served as the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister responsible for provincial government and, from 1999, was Governor of Bougainville. From the start of his political career, he held the view that Papua New Guinea was too diverse to have only one government and he was influential in establishing the system of provincial governments.

John Kaputin

Born on Matupit Island, East New Britain Province, John Kaputin was a hostile critic of Australian colonialism and one of the fathers of the Papua New Guinea Constitution. He condemned Australian plantation owners for taking too much land in East New Britain and strongly opposed the government’s attempts to establish multiracial councils. In 1969, he founded the New Guinea Development Corporation to help the Tolai people establish businesses and invest in property. He was elected to the House of Assembly in 1972 and, under the chairmanship of Father John Momis, was a leading member of the Constitutional Planning Committee. He strongly supported the committee’s recommendations that led to the creation of provincial government system. From 1973 to 1975, he was Minister for Justice and Deputy Speaker from 1975 to 1977. He held many other ministerial posts until losing his parliamentary seat in 2002.

Sir. Ebia Olewale's book launched
Sir. Ebia Olewale's book launched

Ebia Olewale

Ebia Olewale, who hails from Turutere in Western Province, was a foundation member of the Pangu Pati. He was elected to the House of Assembly in 1968 and 1972 and became Papua New Guinea’s first Minister for Education. In 1978, he became Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. In 1969, he began to speak out about the Torres-Strait border with Australia, which he said was unfair to Papua New Guinea. He worked for years to have it (the border) moved further south and finally succeeded in 1978 when, as Foreign Minister, he signed a treaty with Australia that achieved a border more acceptable to Papua New Guinea.

Matthias Toliman

Born at Paparatawa on the Gazelle Peninsula, Matthias Toliman was a member of the House of Assembly from 1963 to September 1973, when he died in the House of Assembly. He opposed Australian colonialism but was known for his strong opposition to violence and his insistence on staying within the law to solve problems. In 1970, he was the ministerial member for education, and in the same year became leader for Opposition. He wanted early independence for Papua New Guinea and supported Tolais who wanted plantation land returned, but tried to persuade them to look for peaceful solutions to their problems.

Sir. Julius Chan
Sir. Julius Chan

Julius Chan

Julius Chan was born on Tanga Island in New Ireland Province. He was a member of the National Parliament from 1968 to 1997, when he was forced to step aside by the Papua New Guinea Defense Force (PNGDF) soldiers under the command of Brigadier General Jerry Singirok, in an operation called Operation Rausim Kwik. This earnt Julis Chan a reputation as one of Papua New Guinea’s most effective political leaders. In 1970, he founded the People’s Progress Party (PPP), which he led into alliance with the Pangu Pati in 1972 to help form government under the leadership of Michael Somare. He was Minister for Finance from 1972 to 1977, Deputy Prime Minister from August 1977 to November 1978, Prime Minister from March 1980 to August 1982, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance and Planning from November 1985 to August 1987, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade and Industry from August 1987 to July 1988, Deputy Prime Minister from July 1992 to August 1994 and again Prime Minister from September 1994 to March 1997. Although Chan was not returned to Parliament in the 1997 national election, he has, since that time, represented Papua New Guinea on many international conferences. His people however, returned him to Parliament in 2007 and again in 2012.


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    • profile image


      20 months ago

      Mate u forgot to put sir pita Lus

    • profile image

      John Ezekiel 

      2 years ago

      I got mor out of this article.Thank you

    • profile image

      Mathew Kilts 

      3 years ago

      It very interesting...thank you God for our fathers..

    • profile image

      Noxx Yakio 

      3 years ago

      These are great leaders with Genuine motives to serve the Nation. I doubt the present young leader so they also have same motives as them??

    • paiarais profile image

      Emmanuel Marosi 

      4 years ago from Bogia

      History has forgotten leaders of such calibre. These men were the true leaders. They didn't chase honor but they served with diligence. A very inspiring hub.

    • Emmanuel Marosi profile imageAUTHOR

      Emmanue Marosi 

      4 years ago from Madang, Papua New Guinea

      He truly is a great man and the greatest leader PNG has ever had. He will be remembered.

    • profile image

      Stanley Soma 

      4 years ago

      Paying my tribute to James Miangarum." Bubu" may your soul rest in eternal peace

    • profile image

      Roy Bisaki 

      4 years ago

      James Miangarum, a great man. May his soul rest in peace.

    • Emmanuel Marosi profile imageAUTHOR

      Emmanue Marosi 

      5 years ago from Madang, Papua New Guinea

      thanks for the compliment bro...

    • bernard.sinai profile image

      Bernard Sinai 

      5 years ago from Papua New Guinea

      This is the kind of stuff they should be teaching our kids in history class. Kudos bro!

    • Emmanuel Marosi profile imageAUTHOR

      Emmanue Marosi 

      5 years ago from Madang, Papua New Guinea

      James Meangarum Sapakin is a man of down to earth character. I was fortunate to interview him personally for his part in building the Bogia-Madang Highway which Bogia people are now pushing for it to be renamed to "Meangarum Highway"

    • bernard.sinai profile image

      Bernard Sinai 

      5 years ago from Papua New Guinea

      Interesting! I didn't know about James Meangarum Sapakin. Thanks for the hub.


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