Sukundimi Tribesman: Guardian of the Mighty Sepik River

Sukundimi Tribesman. Art by Caleb Hamm

The mighty Sepik River has existed since the dawn of time, twisting and turning, forming a wide belt of active meanders and fish populated great lakes, depositing vast amounts of fresh water into the ocean.
The banks of the river is adorned with Lianas, sago palms, and Pandanus 
Who put it there, I do not have the faintest clue, all I know is that the river was placed there for my survival.
My father navigated this great river before me, and his father before him. I was brought into this magnificent world on the banks of the river, nature welcomed me with open arms for the river was calm that night, my first
bath was in the mighty Sepik. I cried when I was dipped into the river, my father held me and called for the spirits to protect me. He called upon the Sukundimi to watch over me so that no evil may befall me.
My early childhood and teenage years were spent on the river, like every young Sepik boy, I learned from the great men of Sepik to fish and hunt on the river, to revere the river, not only because it provides for me but for it is also a living entity. The river has sustained and ensured the survival of my people for centuries. They say the river holds memories, the history of my people is not written in ink on pages, the river is my history, the river holds the centuries-old history of my people. I read the river like the scrolls. Our culture and history is intertwined with the mighty river. The river and the river God gave us our unique culture and identity. 
They gave my ancestors the inspiration to paint, to carve, and to build. 
I went into the Haus Tambaran as a boy, I came out of the Haus Tambaran a man bearing the markings of the Pukpuk. I know the history of my people, I learned the intricate and complex cultures and traditions of my people, I am a Sukundimi tribesman. I am the protector of the river and my people. 
Of Gods and men, the river is the link between the spiritual and physical world. The river is the gateway to the afterlife.
Where the Supreme Sukundimi glides through the water, fish multiply in numbers. Where the Supreme walks on the banks, the
sago palms spring forth. I am one with the river, she takes care of me and I take care of her. 
But now, I see the foreigner with his foreign ways and lifestyle on the banks of the river, he wants me to forsake the Gods of
my fathers, to forsake the practices of my people.
Now I see the foreigner coming to look for minerals buried deep in the earth, he wants to dig it up and take it away.
He wants to dig at the head of the river. I know the destruction they will bring, I see my people living their simple lives unaware of the demise that awaits them. 
What do I do?
I am the Sukundimi tribesman, I will protect the river. I will fight to ensure the survival of my river and the survival of my people, I know I do not fight alone, the Sukundimi walks before me. I have his strength. I have his razor sharp teeth, I will tear the flesh of my enemies. He is me and I am he.
I will fight with the spirit of my ancestors beside me. I have their knowledge and wisdom.
I will fight with my people behind me, they look to me for protection. I look to them for guidance.

Guilty until proven Innocent (A poem dedicated to the victims of SARV)

This is the poem that inspired me to write the story about the woman who was accused of sorcery and burnt alive.
This poem was written last year, I wrote it for the Crocodile Prize Literary Competition

A little boy of 5 had just died in my village
Cause of death remains unknown
Word is that I killed him
Word is that I removed his heart from his chest and ate it
Word is that I ate half and place the other half back
Relatives begged me to escape
But How can I when I have done no such thing
The village mob came and dragged me out my house
Relatives said “We warned you”
The mob said “We got the sanguma”

I was found guilty of murder until proven innocent

They tortured me, burned with me hot iron rods
Like a welder’s welding rod coming in contact with metal
My flesh burned
Smelled like a pig’s flesh when roasted
They cut my fingers off one by one
Interrogated me from dusk till dawn
They wanted me to confess
They promised I would live if I confessed


I was found guilty of murder until proven innocent

I thought about my children
Whom I brought into the world
They are my world, my life revolved around them
Who would look after them if I am gone
I thought about my husband, my pillar, my strength
What would he do without me
Was he capable of looking after our 4 children?
I couldn’t leave them
What would life be without me


I was found guilty of murder until proven innocent

They forced me to confess
The pain was too much to bear
So I confessed that I killed the boy
Only so they would spare me
They didn’t keep their word
They tortured me more
This time even more painfully
They tore me piece by piece
Like a lion ripping off the flesh of its prey piece by piece

I was found guilty of murder until proven innocent

When the police came, the mob chased them away
If the law couldn’t protect me
Who else would?
Who else was strong enough to face an angry mob
My strong and fierce warrior husband was helpless and weak before the mob
With tears in his eyes, He turned away
He covered his ears in shame when he heard my cries from a mile away

I was found guilty of murder until proven innocent

I was given a tribal justice
I appeared before the elders of the village

They were the judge and the jury
I pleaded my case before them
No evidence was presented before the court
Still,
I was found guilty
The sentence was death

I was found guilty of murder until proven innocent

I tried to hide my shame
My naked body was exposed to the men
They did unimaginable things to my body
They enjoyed it
I could see it in their cold dark eyes
They thirst for blood and revenge
They beat me till I lost all consciousness
They pissed on my naked body
I begged for water, they made drink their piss
Said I was a witch, a sanguma, a murderer

I was found guilty of murder until proven innocent

They led me to the village square
They had a cross made from old rotten wood
They crucified me on a cross
The cross, a symbol of redemption for humanity
Was now my condemnation
If Christ was watching
He probably was in pain watching a innocent woman being tortured
No man can save me

I was found guilty of murder until proven innocent


So I look to the sky and prayed for divine intervention
But God wasn’t there
He turned his back on me
So like Jesus,
I cried to him, my Lord, my God
Why have you forsaken me
They piled tires beneath my cross
I remembered the scene from the movie passion of Christ
And asked myself why?
What did I do to deserve this?
They Poured petrol on my naked body
I felt trickled it down slowly
I could taste it on the tip of my tongue
My lips were dry

I was found guilty of murder until proven innocent

Someone from the mob threw a burning wood onto the tires
The tires caught flame
And I felt my feet burning
I screamed but no one helped
I remembered Late Leniata Kepari.

We were both found guilty of murder and sentence to a painful death without given a chance to prove our innocence.

Women covered their eyes, children their eyes and ears, men stood proud with their chest out
Justice has been served they said

I was found guilty they said, I had been weighed and found wanting.