The following story was told to me in 1976 by a Numbami man who was a noted traveler and storyteller whose nickname was “Samarai,” because he had once spent time there.
In this rough translation, I’ve tried to capture the storyteller’s idiom without presuming too much specialized knowledge on the part of my readers. We can be sure the story has “improved” over countless retellings, but it nevertheless conveys a third-party perspective on the Pacific War that is too rarely heard. For more local reactions to the Pacific War in Papua New Guina, consult the Australian-Japan Research Project.
We went and slept until the first crack of dawn when it was my time to sound reveille. So I went and struck the, dakine, slitgong: “Kuing, kuing, kuing, kuing, kuing.” So then the boys woke up and bathed and washed their faces. When they finished, okay, the bell rang.
The bell rang and all the people went to school and were singing. As soon as they finished, I ran right up behind the school and stood atop a rock.
When I looked out, I could see as far as the Huon Gulf and, okay, it was completely dark.
I said, “Hey guys, come look at something. The boys said, “What is it?”
“Come look!” And when they looked, “Guys, let’s scatter!”
Okay, they went and gathered up their things and fled into the forest. Before we left, the guns started sounding, “Bum, bum, bum.” They were firing at the soldiers at Singkau and Kabwum and Lae and Salamaua. You could see fire and smoke all over the place.
Okay, all the Bukawa and Hopoi people went into the forest. I ran to my house and roasted some taro cakes under a tree. I planned to take two to eat in the forest.
I was doing that and our teacher Gidisai and his wife and kids came up. And just then a crazy Japanese man came up. He had no gun, no knife, just walking around empty-handed.
So I said, “What?”
“E, Kapten, Japan boi hangre, ya.”
“Oh, I don’t have any food.”
“A, banana sabis [= ‘free’], ya? Japan boi hangre, ya.”
The teacher said, “Are you crazy or what? You go fight!”
“O, nogat [= ‘no’], ya. Japan boi sik na hangre, ya.”
“Oh.” I heard that so I stayed and thought, “Oh, if he stays there, the guns will kill our teacher for sure.” So I stood by and didn’t go into the forest.
I was standing there waiting and, suddenly, “Japan boi, yu mekim wanem [= ‘you do what’]?”
“Boi, hangre, a, imo [= ‘tuber’] sabis, ya? Imo sabis?”
“O, imo planti planti istap faia [= ‘are on the fire’]. Olgeta sabis [= ‘all free’]! Kam kaikai [= ‘come eat’]!
He went and sat down and ate taro and I said to the teacher, “You all go quickly!”
So they ran way over into the forest and hid themselves in the rocks. And then I said, “Japan boi! Yu kaikai. Yu stap. Yu slip haus. Mi go.”
Okay. I took my things and ran into the forest.
Listen to the fuller story in Numbami here: