Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Passing of a great Melanesian

This tribute was made to the late Dr. Bernard Narokobi on Friday 19th March 2010. front cover of The Weekender in The National newspaper. Photo credits to Staff of The National. Thanks to Margaret Daure for editorial.

In the engine room of the Constitutional Planning Committee in 1972 was a young Papua New Guinean lawyer from Wautogik Village, an Arapesh community of the East Sepik Province.

The lawyer, Bernard Mullu Narokobi, had just graduated from the Sydney University, Australia a year ago in 1971.

Born in 1945, Bernard Narokobi, who was educated in PNG and Australia, played a prominent role as the legal officer from the Public Solicitor’s Office to advise the Constitutional Planning Committee on the development of the Papua New Guinean Constitution.

The Constitution was submitted to the Chief Minister, Michael Thomas Somare in Aug 13 1974.

The Constitution became operational on Sept 16 1975, when Papua New Guinea became an Independent State. Without the Constitution, our nation would never have been born.

Dr. Bernard Narokobi passed away at the Port Moresby General Hospital on Tuesday March 9, 2010.

He was believed to have died of heart failure associated with his diabetic condition.

I pay my respects to someone who in my lifetime stood tall and carried himself with the highest degree of human dignity, wisdom, and Papua New Guinean values that all citizens young people, men and women, leaders, nation builders, students, teachers, and ordinary folk should consider the ideals of a true citizen of this great Melanesian nation.

His life is exemplary to many of us who want to serve our country without making a big deal about what we want to do to help our people.

Dr. Narokobi’s influence in the legal system, politics, and ideological development of Melanesian Ways, remains truly monumental and inspiring.
After PNG gained independence, Bernard Narokobi held several jobs, including serving as the legal advisor to the provincial government in his home province of East Sepik, he also worked as a private lawyer, a lecturer in law at the University of PNG and had a stint as an acting judge in the PNG National and Supreme Courts.

He also published a number of papers and articles, which are scattered in various journals and several books, including: The Melanesian Way, Life and Leadership in Melanesia and Lo Bilong Yumi and a short book of fiction entitled Two Seasons.

The late Dr. Narokobi was like the un-diminishing morning beacon of light raised on the hills of Wautogik to shine out its steady and assuring beams into the Ocean to guide the lost fisherman back home, to the roots, to our ways of life, our ways of knowing, and to the laws in our society that guide us onward.

His life was the embodiment of the ideals he believed in and inscribed into the constitution and the philosophy of Melanesian Ways.
The late Bernard Mullu Narokobi served as a Member of Parliament, Government Minister, Attorney General, Opposition Leader, Speaker, and the PNG High Commissioner to New Zealand.

Two occasions that the late Narokobi surprised me, even though he was a busy man and one would have thought he had no time for the little man.

The first occasion was in the PNG High Commission Office in Wellington, New Zealand in 2006. Never mind his busy schedule that day, he made time to meet me, when I traveled from Christchurch to make a courtesy call to the High Commissioner.

The second occasion was during the funeral service of the late Paschal Waisi, who had worked with the late Dr. Narokobi to develop the course Melanesian Philosophy at the University of Papua New Guinea. He turned up before anyone else to pay his last respects to the one person who taught Melanesian Philosophy at the University.

Dr.Narokobi’s philosophies, ideas, way of life, and simplicity rubbed on many of us, who held him higher than some of his contemporaries.

He was in the league of grand chiefs, influential statesmen, philosophers of eminence, and the conscience of a postcolonial nation.

For many of us now, whether we are political leaders, public servants, academics, students, or ordinary Papua New Guineans, we will have to live with the ideas and philosophies of Narokobi.

He lived a simple, everyday life without the pretense that many of his contemporaries exhibit on occasions to separate themselves from the common men and women on the streets of Port Moresby or in the thousands of villages in our country. His life is exemplary to many of us who want to serve our country without making a big deal about what we want to do to help our people.

At this time of his passing the sadness of loss casts its shadows over us in many ways.

How many great men and statesman of unblemished and impeccable record do we have? How many among us are as great as the man whose life is a public life, yet whose virtues and philosophies of life are grounded in the traditions of our people and those of the modern world that we have borrowed from the Western world, but which we now come to regard as our own?
In his own words, we regard such a lifestyle or way of life and ways of knowing, the Melanesian Way.

I pay tribute to the late Dr. Bernard Mullu Narokobi, a person of high intellect and moral standards, someone whom I have long admired his life and work, as a member of the Wewak local community in the East Sepik province that Mr. Narokobi had represented in the National Parliament as a politician, and as a student of Melanesian Philosophy and Constitutional Law.

Dr. Narokobi was more than the titles and offices he held. His life was lived in the way he imagined it to be—a simple, yet complex life, one imbued with the solid idealism grounded in the foundations of the Melanesian Way of life.

Among the many inspirational lines of the late Narokobi, I would like to leave with the reader, a passage from his seminal book, The Melanesian Way (1980): “There are those who are so ill-informed, simplistic and narrow minded as to believe Melanesians have the choice between the so-called “primitive” past of our ancestors and the “civilized and enlightened” present of Western civilization. The choice is in fact more complex than this. The secret to that choice lies in the dual pillars of our Constitution. These pillars are our noble traditions and the Christian principles that are ours now, enhanced by selected technology. It is my hope that we would not blindly follow the West, nor be victims to technology and scientific knowledge. These belong to human kind. They are no racial or national. It is the same with music and good writing. These are physically located in time, place, and people, but in their use and enjoyment, they belong to all. Thus it is with Melanesian virtues”.

Indeed, Dr. Narokobi’s legacy in Melanesia will remain, with us for a long time, as our guiding light.

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