The Black Rooster
A True Account of a Human Sacrifice
The author was the police officer in charge of the West Coastal Division of the Royal Papua and New Guinea Constabulary. He wrote of his personal impressions of cargo cults which were the subject of numerous colonial police investigations over the years in New Guinea - when Australia ruled the territories of Papua and New Guinea. The second part of the article was about a police investigation into a cargo cult related human sacrifice.
Most policemen of the Territory of New Guinea have a good idea of what is meant by Cargo Cult. Many have served for 10 years or more, living and working among the native people. Some appreciate the extraordinary implications of a specific cargo cult, and the disastrous results that follow. An occasional letter to the press indicates to me that many of the general public have no idea of the tremendous impact which a cargo cult may have upon a particular community. Good government invariably suffers as well, and we are back where we started, in the particular area of the cult.
The Mount Turu cargo cult has now made headlines in most Australian newspapers. Moreover, it has made the Papua and New Guinea Post Courier almost every day for weeks. Wise correspondents have advised, cajoled and suggested. I wonder who is right?
In order that we might have some idea of what a cargo cult really is, I believe that we should adopt what I like to call a New Guinea perspective viewpoint. Take, for example, a remote village in England, or Wales, or Scotland, or anywhere else for that matter. I know personally, that in some of these villages, the older inhabitants have never been outside. They have no idea, unless they are told, of what happens outside. They are able, the majority of them, to read and write. They can watch the television set. They are able also to go to the village store and purchase their immediate needs, and, having budgeted carefully, they make ends meet. For the most part, they desire no more, and, because of their environment, and the fact that they have been more or less in touch with civilisation all their lives, they know very well that they will get no more than that which they have paid for, with cash or kind, at the time. Some of them hope, hence football pools, lotteries and bookmakers. But for centuries, they have had a good idea of where cargo comes from. Money does not grow on trees. They have been subject to invasion, over the years, and they have accepted the facts of existence, knowing that if there is no money left, then that's that.
On the other side of the world, take northwest New Guinea. A hundred years ago there was the occasional pig, fish or fowl to be caught, killed and eaten. Other than this there were vegetables to be grown in a fertile land, provided that you owned the land. If you did not, then you lost your head to your neighbour, who might vary his meat diet a bit, and eat you. This was the fashion, for thousands of years, and with the possible exception of a solitary once-a-year exploration vessel, which dared not put ashore anyway, the people of coastal New Guinea were left to exist as they had always done. They were out of touch with even their tribal adversaries, some only a few miles away. They spoke different tongues and preferred to remain in safety within the confines of their own villages and their own strategic boundaries. To venture outside was to court certain death.
Cargo cult, until the last 30 years or so, was confined to the coastal fringe of New Guinea proper, and, of course the Islands region, to Bougainville and possibly beyond. There were two very significant and logical sequels to visits and incursions by people of other races and environments, to a land where the local inhabitants have seen no one or nothing but their own immediate neighbours for thousands of years.
First, the invaders arrive. They stay on the beach or not very far inland. They speak a strange language, and they bring with them all the things they find necessary for comfort and trade. The local people see these things that they have never seen before. A tin of bully beef, for instance, is given to one of them, and it is opened by the trader. It is good to eat, and comes in boxes, in ships, in which there is an apparently unlimited supply. These white skins have lots more very attractive paraphernalia. Hitherto, the simple local native has produced everything himself. His food, and his weapons, even his clothing, have all come from his own land and efforts. There must be, then, some source of supply where this tin of meat is obtained, and the white man holds the secret to it. This is the first thought of the local native, seeing the tin for the first time, and observing the ship, the people on it, and the far distant horizon. The ship, and others, appear again and again. Next, the question of how to communicate.
A trading enterprise must have a means whereby the traders can talk with the people. So they adopt a language, in this case pidgin English, and reasonably soon, the language spreads within the tribe at which contact is made. So we have a type of language evolving around the arrival of ships, and other material benefits, and no one knows what is happening, except that gifts are handed around, in return for favours such as fresh water, fruits and vegetables, which grow anyway.
Studying these two points, attractive goods, associated with ships and strange men, and the new language, we find that the local native by now believes that there is some type of source somewhere beyond, where perhaps trees might grow, bearing fruit of tins of meat, and anything else. There could also, he thinks, be land where if you dig deep enough, you might find bright metal axes and beads, and various articles which are not to be found in and around the village. Having the pidgin language, he knows that anything coming on a ship is termed as "cargo" by these strange and generous people who hand it out. So, we have the basis of cargo anyway.
The natural hazards of exploring an unknown and potentially hostile country make it logical that for many years cargo cult has been confined to the coastal regions and the immediate hinterland. The local native of the coast, and the islands, the man who saw the cargo, was able to describe it, and actually received it.
Also, very slowly, he began receiving money, and to find that money could buy cargo from time to time. Inland New Guinea was still dark and foreboding. No one went there, or if they did they were either out of there pretty quick, or were never heard of again. Hence the cargo never got there. Late in the last century lots of people came to coastal New Guinea. Traders, missionaries, teachers, Administration Officers, beachcombers, remittance men and soldiers, all came. Some remained and settled. Others came and went. All brought cargo of some kind. They built houses, and produced food, cleared ground and planted. Ships came, laden with cargo, all for the white man. Germans came first, then Australians, and English, then Japanese, Americans and last of all Australians again, with a conglomeration of other nationalities as well. The point was, they all had access to cargo, and to the native mind, they must have some hidden power to produce this, ad infinitum.
Some say that the greatest con men in the world are Australians. Don't you believe it. I wonder could one Australian control thousands of gullible people, on the promise of riches to come, as can some of the more unscrupulous, and also some of the rather laputan types that I have come across in my time. And this is how cargo cult works. It is engineered by either a visionary or a practical rogue, to extort cash and kind from his simple fellows, on the promise that he knows the secret of cargo. It has been, in my experience, a box to which he holds the key. This box, if it is filled with money (not his), will remain filled forever, no matter how much is taken out. It has been also an attempt to get a well-known President of the United States to rule New Guinea, so that a submarine, filled with goodies, will arrive on a set date at a point on the coast.
Hundreds of people have paid good money to expect this to come to pass, and hundreds have waited on the coast for the promised wealth. Cargo cults have taken various forms, including human sacrifices, of which more later, and in the investigation of which I was deeply involved.
Now at this time, it is said cargo is about to be found in a mountain in the East Sepik District, and gullible thousands have paid their subscriptions to men who say that if they remove a man-made piece of cement on top of the mountain, all adherents, who have paid-mind you-will be wealthy men very shortly. There is a passport to this wealth. You must be a member, paid up, and you must possess a stone and a slashed wrist.
We have amongst us certain persons who do a great deal of good. We have idealists, and we have cranks. We also, if we are Christians (and I sometimes wonder!), follow the Good Book, and its teachings. It was written, and translated into English with ponderous and archaic phrasing, and no one except perhaps Cecil B. de Mille could put it across so that everyone could understand it. I was once a theological student, and it is still, on occasions, beyond me. Translate it into pidgin, and it is eminently readable, any way you like. If, of course, it is read by a far-sighted man, and of good sense, then it makes sense to those who believe it. But, it could be construed by simple people, and by unscrupulous con men, as something different.
There are the prophets and the foretellers, the visionaries and the historians. There are the Revelations of St John the Divine. The sayings contained in the Good Book are clear to us, but are they, at this stage to the primitive man who has seen nothing beyond his own village, or beyond his own administrative district?
Recently there was an earthquake of some magnitude in Madang. Much damage was caused and the earth moved. Great capital could be made out of this if you read into it some of the visions of St John. A good time would be had by all who believed the prophet! And so we have with us the cult of cargo, which has cursed New Guinea ever since con-men and cranks took it up. What to do about it? What to do about something which will make people sit for days and weeks on top of a mountain, hoping for something which will never come, neglecting their daily subsistence tasks, going home disillusioned but satisfied with the explanation offered by the cultist generator?
As usual, a slight mistake was made in his calculations, or the Government fastened the road to cargo, or the white man generally coveted it all for himself. Never mind. We will try again soon, he says, and so it goes on. It defeats good government. It hamstrings the work of officers who have, some of them, devoted their lives to the development and well being of this country. It causes dissension, racial tension, acrimony and suspicion, and it ridicules the native people generally, which I deplore more than anything.
There are many avenues of solution, each and every one of which is wrong, or each may be right-who knows? We, as the Government, could let things be, and let the people be disillusioned. Let them find out for themselves. Let them neglect their gardens – they’ll learn. But when?
We could arrest the cultist leader, and make him into a martyr by putting him in jail. We would then, as Government, be directly responsible for blocking the cargo road, and we could have insurrection on our hands. Some people say that we should wait until the appointed date for, say, the removal of the Mount Turu marker, then protect the marker with the full force of the law. We would then be guilty in the eyes of a good part of the world for taking notice of a primitive people and their beliefs, and by letting a paltry thing like a piece of cement damage our reputation worldwide. I read where one enlightened newspaper says that the marker should be now removed, and resited, to fox 'em all. What a closing of the stables door. "Prodigious and Unwarranted Expense! Does the Taxpayer Realise!" etc. The suggestion that the marker should be removed now, was made in a leading article, no less!
So whatever we do will be wrong. We have heard that there might be a human sacrifice, following the revelations again. Are we then to attend this, and to try and prevent the unlawful taking of a life? Of course we are. We are bound to the protection of life and property.
I believe that the answer lies in progress. You will find, without doubt and without exception, that cargo cult is followed only by the people who have seen nothing, and learned nothing of the world outside. We must play this particular game by ear and do what we think is right at the time. Above all, we must not waste time or effort in educating, in their time, those who will accept teaching. It is not a bit of good adopting an Asquith policy, but on the other hand it is just as bad to say that we can teach all these people overnight that cargo does not grow on trees, and will come only by work and effort on their part. Good government is something which came to Australia naturally, because we had the benefit of a couple of thousand years experience by the Old Country. I am not suggesting that we have to wait that long in New Guinea. Even in the last 10 years I have seen some remarkable achievement but for those who are continually pressing, I would urge that we be given a little more time, because the work of a thousand years cannot be completed in one.
Many people have heard my story of Nicholas Lagit, the cultist of Madang, perhaps the district which was (and is), the most steeped in cargo cult in the Territory. Many people have related their version of it as well. I now give you the true version, and I hope that it illustrates my impressions of cargo cult, as I have found it in my many years in New Guinea, which, despite conmen and cranks, I have enjoyed.
Mount Wilhelm, in New Guinea, straddles the Bismarck Range. From the summit of its 16,000 feet you can, on a few days of the year, see the Bismarck Sea, 100 miles to the North and East. Wilhelm is a very proprietary mountain. It owns no master under God. It frowns from the snow clad crags above, on the audacity of the missionaries who dared to hew an airstrip at Kegelsugel, half way up, and who continue to amaze the civilized world by taking off, and landing airplanes on it. Wilhelm has a right, I suppose, to be superior. It is after all, the highest mountain in Australian New Guinea, and it stands sentinel over the vast tracts of rain forest, swamp and lesser peaks, which stretch to the east, and which comprise the Madang Administrative District of the Territory.
The District of Madang is not the largest in New Guinea. Indeed, it is one of the smaller ones. A population of some 150,000 is governed from the township, and from a half dozen tiny patrol posts accessible only by airplane, small ship or weeklong walks, dependent on position, weather and relative urgency. In the main, I suppose it is better off than most of New Guinea. At least, the North Coast in parts, is reminiscent of the South Seas, waving palms, tropic night skies and sandy beaches. There is also the humidity, the malarial mosquitoes, the torrential rain and the eternal jungle.
Diggers will recall Alexishafen, Binnen Harbour, Langemack Bay, Finschhafen and Shaggy Ridge. There were the additional hazards of the Japanese in those days, who for some reason took great exception to the presence of allied troops in Madang, sufficient for it to have been almost blasted from the face of the earth by 1945. But that's another story.
Leslie Williams is an Australian. He is not tall but he is certainly impressive, broad shouldered and with a thatch of white hair waving in the wind. It was not as white when he was a member of the Allied Intelligence Bureau, as a Coastwatcher during the Second World War. He was Lieutenant Williams then, in the Royal Australian Navy, though the nearest he got to a warship was through a pair of binoculars from his hideouts behind the Japanese lines, while reporting on the movements of enemy shipping and aircraft, and getting himself a few medals.
Williams was a Senior District Commissioner with the New Guinea Administration. His main relaxation is golf, at which he performs with a pretty fair handicap. He retired recently to Australia. He was relaxing after a steady round, at Madang, during the early evening of Sunday, 7th May, 1961. The day was still in the clammy grip of the wet season, and the ice cold beer he held was frosted with bubbles of moisture. He sipped it, and felt better.
After almost 30 years of service in New Guinea, he may have felt that he could afford to relax. He supervised the development of one of the most progressive areas on the north coast. He may also have reflected that he had a good team of public service officers, and that much of his rugged district was being regularly patrolled, increasing the well-being of the native people in his care. He gazed over the town. He could see the port, and the overseas ship discharging cargo. He had a momentary thought of the airport, stacked with merchandise for the Highlands, and he brooded for a moment on the idea of visiting his office for an hour or so. He took a pull at the beer and unlaced his golf shoes.
The telephone rang, insistently.
He reached out, grabbed at it and murmured his usual, "Williams". He listened intently for two minutes, then said, "There in half an hour", replaced the telephone and strode quickly into his bedroom, picked up his day shoes and called his wife.
"Hold dinner for me, there's a dear," he smiled.
Margaret Williams had long realised that regularity of existence was not a feature of the life of any married woman in New Guinea. She turned off the stove, stuck her tongue out at the gecko on the wall, and made herself a cool drink. She watched her husband back the car out, and drive away towards the coast road.
Williams travelled fast for 12 miles on the coral dust surface which is known for s01ne obscure reason as the North Coast Highway. He reached Alexishafen some 12 minutes later and pulled into the headquarters of the New Guinea Roman Catholic Mission there. He parked, and walked briskly to the residence of Bishop Adolph Noser, an American, who was head of the mission.
Noser, quiet and unassuming, had done much to build up the Christian faith in the country. In fact, the area around Madang had been under mission influence for well over half a century. The hugely improved social welfare of more than 100,000 people was largely due to the untiring efforts of Noser and his clergymen. But today, this wise and influential man appeared shocked, as Williams saw him approach the door.
Williams later told me of his conversation with Bishop Noser. I was then officer-in-charge of police in the Madang district, and as such, later became closely involved in this, which was to prove one of the most bizarre affairs with which I had been connected in many years of service in New Guinea.
"What's wrong?" asked Wililams, and followed the bishop inside. Noser did not speak immediately. He went to his private study, and motioned Williams to a chair.
He then began to relate a tale that chilled the experienced District Commissioner. Bishop Noser said, "A few months ago I received an invitation from the people of Garegut village, some four hours walk west of here, in the mountains. They asked that I visit them. "The invitation came in the form of a small deputation of men. A man called Lagit led the group. He's a well known fellow in the area. He was, at one time a Luluai *, as was his father before him, and he's a church catechist now."
The bishop, explained to Williams that Lagit had been appointed catechist because of his apparent devotion, and that he now gave
Bible classes to his village people.
"He asked me very respectfully," continued Noser, "to go to the village and say a mass."
Williams listened intently and noted that the bishop was extremely disturbed. Noser continued, with an effort. "Unfortunately I had so much to do, and I had to refuse, but I did ask if another time would do."
"Some weeks later they came again and asked me. I could not say 'No' this time, so I planned for the weekend 5th and 6th May.'
Noser described leaving Alexishafen, and his day long journey over mountains, and through valleys, on foot, with his attendant priest, Father Bayer. They arrived at Garegut just before dusk, and Bishop Noser continued, "I could feel something funny going on. Most of the people were dressed and painted as for a celebration. Lagit was there, and conducted us to a palm thatched rest home, which is usual, but this one had a fence round it, which was not customary. We had a rest and then said a mass.
"Throughout the night there was dancing and I listened to drums until I fell asleep in the early hours."
Noser moved around the room whilst talking, becoming more agitated. Williams began himself to feel apprehensive, but he would not hurry the Bishop.
Noser went on, "I slept reasonably well, and said another mass at 6 a.m. on the Sunday. This was well attended and following the service, we perambulated a statue of the Madonna round the village. I noted particularly that there were persons from neighbouring villages there as well. The village had been decorated, there was a beaten earth area in the centre, and at one end of this had been built a rough tin1ber platform similar to a dais. On either side of this stood a sn1all grass hut, shaped like a wigwam, and I pondered on the reason for these huts. They were brand new, the fronds and grass being still verdant green.
"After this we returned to the rest house where we had breakfast, which we had carried with us.
"Lagit came to the door and said to me, in pidgin English,
'Will you kill a black rooster for us?'
"I truly thought that this was his way of offering me a table bird, for lunch. I shall regret for ever that I answered, 'No, I will accept the black rooster, but I will not kill it. You can kill it for me.'
I noticed that he seemed to adopt a business-like attitude when I said this." Noser added that he felt a strange and eerie atmosphere. Lagit came to the door again, this time dressed in an old army jacket, with a collection of brass buttons, badges and other metal articles hanging by a piece of wire from the shoulder.
He carried a six foot long spear in his hand, and with a most authoritative manner ordered us outside. He said, 'Come along, now you will see something'. We went."
Bishop Noser's voice became lower and more troubled as he continued the story to Williams. There were many people gathered around the village houses.
The Bishop and Father Bayer were led to the front of the crowd, and a place set aside for them next to a line of some half dozen elders, all of whom looked rigidly towards the dais. Lagit quickly mounted and from the dais began an impassioned speech, partly in pidgin English and partly in local dialect. He related a brief history of the people, and stressed that they had literally nothing.
He indicated that the white men had everything. He referred to possessions as "Cargo". and immediately, Noser felt that the cult of "Cargo'', so weff-known on the north coast, had gripped the people of Garegut. Lagit continued and told of the work of the church, that he was once a Luluai, but that now he had greater authority. His speech became confused. He indicated the brass symbols on his tunic and screamed, "These are all mine. No govermnent gave me these. They have a meaning. I will show you".
He ended with a flourish of the spear, and jumped down lightly from the dais, running towards the two clergymen. and he plunged the spear into the ground a few feet away from them. Both clerics were by now alarmed and puzzled.
Lagit disappeared into one of the palm-fronted grass huts, and emerged carrying a machete two and a half feet long. It was a relic of the Japanese Anny. He brandished it and ran to the other hut.
After a few seconds he came out, leading a middle-aged man by the hand. Both walked normally to a space in front of the platform. Lagit turned to his companion facing the dais, and stood a few feet in front of him. He then looked directly at the bishop and stared.
He shouted, "Now you will see what we wanted to show you. Now we will get the cargo."
He raised the machete from the ground in a one handed motion. He paused as if to measure the distance between his companion and-himself. He called to the man, whose name was later found to be Loren, and said, "Raise your hand."
Loren raised his right hand quickly and threw back his head to expose his neck. With a powerful slash Lagit brought the machete up and across. and with a flick, as it were, slit Loren's throat and severed the jugular vein. Loren groaned once, slipped to the ground, and bled to death in seconds.
As Bishop Noser continued his story, Williams listened with growing fears. He realised the great significance of this event to the community and to the work of the Administrative Government. Several times he watched Noser pause, and carry on again with an obvious effort.
When Loren died, the assembly watched and stood in deathly stillness. The first to recover was Father Bayer who quickly clutched his bishop's arm to lead him away. As they left, the bishop turned back and called to Lagit. "You have broken God's commandment. Lagit, you have killed a man."
Father Bayer led him away from the scene of horror and together they walked rapidly back to Alexishafen. The memory of the last few minutes has haunted them both since.
Bishop Noser went to his house. He had not been home very long when he heard a rapping at the window. He investigated, and found Lagit outside. Noser could say little. He told Lagit to give himself up to the district com,issioner as soon as possible.
Lagit replied and said that he fully intended to visit the district commissioner and to receive the thanks of the Government for his work of that day. The bishop, horrified, ordered him away.
Lagit disappeared into the fast approaching darkness. Noser said to Williams that the events of the day had seemed to him more like a dream until he had rung the district commissioner. Noser was in a state of profound shock. Williams left.
He pondered on the story and he drove slowly home. Several times he stopped the car and gazed into the darkness. He knew cargo cult very well, the curse of New Guinea. He recalled his early service, and the teachings of his predecessors. He knew of the handicaps of under-developed people who had seen first the Germans, then the Australians, the Japanese, the Americans and lastly again the Australians. All of these had brought more and more equipment and personal treasure to New Guinea. He knew that the native people wondered where all this cargo came from, and that unscrupulous or misguided men amongst them capitalised on simplicity and promised vast returns out of the ground provided that they believed. He knew of the continued extortion of the gullible people by these sorcerers. He had heard several times of the waiting for months on end, by a group of primitives, for the arrival of an American ship laden with radio sets, refrigerators and automobiles, especially for them, having been promised by the local medicine man who had extracted every cent of their money from them.
What, then, was this? It could be cargo cult. It could also be a killing of retaliation against a neighbouring tribe. This was the usual custom of pay back. Perhaps something had been left out of the teachings of the patrol officers, the agriculturalists, and the doctors and school teachers, he thought, and each time came up against a brick wall.
Lagit had to be found. This was murder, and first degree at that. It had to be investigated. Williams got home, declined to eat his dinner, got out a decanter of Scotch and a siphon of soda, then rang me. I was at home, reading one of Australia's latest newspapers, a week old.
He said three words, "Come round please." Over and over I have thought of the following hours. I had then served for about 10 years in Papua and New Guinea, and had ceased to be surprised at anything. Williams seemed subdued as he muttered,
"Sit down; have a drink," and pushed over the mobiltray towards me. I poured out a dollop of whisky and splashed some soda over it, looked at Williams, and saw that he was deeply disturbed. I knew him to be a devout Catholic, and marvelled at his explicit description of what the bishop had told him. After a while, he said “Do what you think is necessary. Keep me posted.''
At first light the next day four government men left Madang, unarmed, but loaded with provisions, and set out for Garegut, in the Adelbert Mountains, to the west of Alexishafen. Garegut, the picturesque village in primitive surroundings, the quiet and sleepy little hamlet of the jungle, Garegut, the place of death.
Gareth Robert Keenan was a patrol officer at Madang. He had by then been in the Territory for over 10 years. He was a practised policeman, and an excellent mediator of disputes. He was of medium height, and built for walking jungle and swamp, which was where I first met him in 1952, on Christmas day, on the Kikori River in Papua, investigating a shooting jncident there. He led the party.
Sergeant Henry Nola Tohian was a veteran of 20 years service, and a Bougainville native. He had seen the Japanese and at Rabaul and had escaped from them, ending up with the American Forces as a scout. He was my best policeman.
Corporal Paul Wangi was small, ferret-like and tenacious as a bulldog. He knew the Madang people as well as anyone could. He himself came from the Sepik River. Garry Keenan had expressly requested him for the investigation. Doctor Iain Welch was an Australian, new to the Territory, but young, keen as mustard, and anxious to please. He had never walked the mountains until that day.
It could be difficult indeed for a layman to appreciate the difficulties involved in this type of inquiry. Language problems (there are over 750 known languages in Papua and New Guinea, each tribe having its own, with no base whatever), blank stares in reply to questions, no assistance from witnesses, and in almost every case, complete silence.
But Henry Tohian, now a commissioned officer since 1964, and Wangi, kept at it, and painstakingly obtained the information of the whereabouts of the grave. Keenan, with his judicial power as coroner, ordered an exhumation and autopsy. Iain Welch very quickly established the cause of death – “massive haemorrhage due to severing of the main jugular vein".
Tohian and Wangi continued probing, with little idea of what they were looking for. Both found, almost simultaneously, that one small house in the village was shunned by the people. The police were refused permission to enter the building. Keenan immediately ordered that the police go inside.
The house was of one long room. The dark interior admitted only single shafts of sunlight, sufficient to see a long table in the centre covered with silver coins, human bones and articles associated with sorcery. More probing elicited the fact that Lagit had been levying a tax on the people on the promise of "Cargo" in time to come.
When counted, the money was worth more than $290, all in one shilling pieces. This may not seem a great deal, but to the primitive man, with no income other than subsistence farming on a minute scale, it was a fortune.
Meantime, I rose early and visited the district commissioner's deputy, Douglas John Parrish, a great, personal friend of mine. Doug, who is now chief of the Department of Labour in the Territory, was also a veteran of the New Guinea World War campaign. Six feet three, and, extending the scales at around two hundred pounds, all muscle, he was an athlete. Sunburnt and swarthy, and wise in the ways of natives, he was affectionately known as the "Black Prince", a nom-de-plume to which I am sure, he had no objection whatever, as it fitted him so aptly. Parrish listened to me patiently, and after I had finished, said, “you know, I suppose I have known Nicholas Lagit as well as anyone for years. He has felt the loss of his Luluai hat for some time. His father was one as well, but when local govermnent councils became extant, Luluais had to give up their duties. Most of the old fellows became quite morose, and Lagit was one of these. I suppose he would be 50 if he was a day".
We discussed Lagit for about half an hour. We also talked of the various methods of extortion involved in cargo cult that we had known over the years. As a matter of interest, since the events of May, 1961, there arose an interesting and quite dangerous cult in the islands of New Ireland. Nominations for the Territory House of Assembly were called in 1963, and a section of the people of New Hanover nominated Lyndon Baines Johnson as their candidate. Leaders of the movement, later to become known as the Johnson Cult, collected some $200 to $300 to attempt to persuade "L.B.J." to accept. Hence the apprehension felt by the Administration in all instances of reports of cargo cult.
Parrish was in the middle of an explanation of cargo, when, without warning, a man entered the office. He was around 50, short, and with grey hair, receding slightly. He walked with sprightly step and approached the desk confidently. "I am Nicholas Lagit of Garegut," he said.
You could have felt the tension in the office then. Parrish said, "Good morning, Nicholas. Have you a complaint?" Lagit said, "No. I have come to tell you of the important events which are about to occur in Garegut, and perhaps in Madang also."
I then said to Lagit, "You have not seen me before. You can see by my uniform that I am a police officer. I have heard of strange thing in Garegut, and I have received some information that you killed a man yesterday.''
In order that we should be scrupulously fair to the old chap, I warned him very carefully that he need make no statement whatever, that he would be well advised to keep silent, and that we would obtain legal advice for him as soon as possible.
Nevertheless, he did not heed me, nor did he heed Parrish, and I am convinced that he believed that he 1had-done a good thing by killing Loren. He expected thanks and commendation.
In a rambling, but quite coherent statement, he outlines the troubles of his people. He recounted his own life, largely controlled by his father, a Luluai. He told of his observations of white men, their motor cars, radios, refrigerators, and their apparently unlimited amounts of money.
He told us also of his own appointment as Luluai. and his later removal from office. He related stories of his devotion to the church, and the teaching of the Bible. During this quite rational outburst by the old man Parrish sat, tips of fingers together, nodding and frowning.
Lagit continued. "My people have been handcuffed. We have nothing. This is because we have sinned, and we are black. I have given this a lot of thought. I have come to the conclusion that we have no cargo because of this. But the white man has cargo.
"I believe in the story of the Crucifixion. I believe, that their sins were washed away because of the death of one man, Our Lord. Therefore, then, is this not the reason that the white man has cargo, and the black man has none, because his sins have not been washed away?"
It had to follow, said this white-haired, elderly primitive man, that the black race must have a black Saviour. This man would have to die, to wash away the sins of the black man, so that cargo would result.
This, said Lagit, was all that he had done. The cargo would come from where Loren's blood had fallen. Loren's death would then be beneficial to at least the people of Garegut, and perhaps to the whole country. Who knows?
He sighed, and sat back in the chair, "I have finished", he murmured.
Parrish turned to me and asked, "Did you hear what I heard?"
I said, "Douglas, what is there to do? He thinks he's done the right thing. We have a premeditated killing. This will be one for the records."
I charged Lagit with the wilful murder of Loren, and he was remanded in custody, later being committed for trial before the Territory Supreme Court.
Whilst waiting for the court, a period of some 2 months elapsed. Lagit was a n1odel prisoner. It became more and more apparent that he thought he was being rewarded for his work. He was well-fed and well-treated. His welfare was better looked after than in his own home.
Judge Ralph T. Gore, who died in Australia in 1968, had retired some years earlier. He presided over the Lagit case at Madang, as one of the last he was to try. Judge Gore bad been a Territory jurist of great note for over 30 years. He was well chosen for this case. Standing 6 feet 5 inches, he looked majestic and impressive as be swept from his tiny robing room to mount the bench, resplendent jn his red and ermine. He disdained a fan, and bowed deeply to counsel as be sat, his ruddy cherubic face shining under his gold-rimmed specticles. He glanced briefly in my direction, inclining his head.
William R. King, judge's associate, stood below the bench, black-gowned, and austere. He called, in his rich Scottish brogue "All persons having business before this honourable court, draw near, and give your attention. God save The Queen!"
The Crown Prosecutor, Paul Quinlivan, now a magistrate, summarized the evidence for the judge. Mr Peter Lalor, Senior Public Defender, appeared for Lagit. Lalor, a very able man, had himself served as a patrol officer before taking a law degree.
And so, witnesses were called. The full panoply and majesty of the law in Papua/New Guinea could not solve the problem before Mr Justice Gore that day and the case went on. Experienced officers, doctors, psychiatrists, and others attempted to give their versions and opinions. The affair was very wisely summed up by the judge in a few sentences. He said, amongst other things, "Here is an example of a culture, perhaps western, to a primitive people, when this culture is not understood." He found Lagit insane. He later published a book - on his own life as a judge in New Guinea (Justice versus Sorcery - Jacaranda Press).
Lagit was eventually sent to a mental institution in Port Moresby, 400 miles away. Again, he was a model prisoner, if indeed he was a prisoner at all. He was allowed to work, and to walk about the grounds unguarded. He never gave any trouble. He completed his first 6 months without incident.
One Sunday afternoon he went for one of his walks, and did not return. Alarms were sounded, searches made and inquiries instituted, but all to no avail. I placed a watch on his village, regardless of the fact that mountains, jungles and swamps stood between it and Port Moresby, but Lagit was quite capable of walking through the middle of the country to Madang, and Garegut.
I kept that watch for months. No one admitted to seeing him, of hearing about him or of knowing where he was.
Nicholas Lagit, 50-year-old ex-Luluai, catechist, cultist and primitive man never reappeared, nor do I think he ever will.
* "Luluai": Exploratory and contact patrols were regularly made in New Guinea, by the Administration. After the first two or three patrols, a member of the village elders, was appointed as Luluai for that area, given a hat, and instructed to keep order, maintain records of births and deaths, and generally to report on occurrences to the next patrol. Later free elections were held, and local government councils formed, which gave authority to several councillors, rather than to one Luluai. This post then became redundant.
** The main image was taken in 2008 at Wabag in Enga Province, Papua New Guinea. Enga Province is next to Madang Provice (where this crime occurred). The image is a typical sing-sing scene, a gathering of different tribes singing and dancing with their unique make-up and traditional costumes. Image taken by Jialiang Gao and sourced through Wikimedia Commons.
***Editorial note 2021: An unavoidable lesson of history is that societies change. Some articles in old issues of the APJ contain text which we today regard as offensive, derogatory, culturally insensitive and/or misogynous in nature. Societal norms at the time of publication meant such commentary was not thought to be inappropriate - often it was mainstream. While the APJ does not condone such views today, it is through transparently confronting the historical record that we can acknowledge previous mistakes, learn, evolve and improve society in general.
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