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The Unsung Hero, Topa Mata of Erave

By Christipher Papiali
I must confess to you that I love my people and that is why I am going back home’, said Topa Mata, the only Erave man who has dedicated his life serving his rural people.
It was at 7:25pm on 23rd January 2013, when I visited Topa Mata’s executive apartment at Korobosea. I had visited once this place and really at that time many people were around but this time it was very quiet and the still night sounded different.
It was not long when the true comrade of Topa, Koniki Tipale hugged me and we conversed in our usual fashion discussing problems in our village and of course it was one way of building that tribal trust and confidence we have for each other.
In fact Topa Mata was part of that tribe we belonged and welcoming me in his home was also a show of alliance that others could not do. It was our usual Wamulu way.
After almost four minutes Topa offered me a sprite can so as Koniki. And then we chatted for almost 30 minutes and I felt a strong sense of belonging, a special connection to where our umbilical cords belonged.
Topa Mata’s name was synonymous with Erave because he was the only leader who has a supermarket servicing the Polopa, Erave station, poleambu, Semberigi, and other villages within Erave basin.
‘Bro, sometimes people take me wrong and they have not given me the complete mandate during the past elections because they have not known me full’, continued Topa while looking at the still night.
From that very moment, I could see his eyes glowing like a candle light, and his face indicated history and development. The manner in which he conversed demonstrated commitment, belief and hope to develop Erave.
‘In 1978 Sir Julius Chan opened the Erave bridge and the only people who killed cow was the Tiapili people and our record is there and every now and then Eraves look for leader but they cannot find one’, said Topa.
He sobbed for a while and I knew he was speaking from his heart and that very moment I thought about Erave, the long neglected district since 1978 by provincial and national governments. Nothing to show: airstrip closed, aid post manned by a skeleton staff, school children without teachers and last year the grade 10 students at Erave High School did not sit for National Examinations. Hundreds of people die every year due to Malaria and other diseases.
‘Why is God not answering the prayers of the pastors and priests? Who could be a miracle man waking people up from their slumber? Could this man be the savior?’, I thought as I glanced through Topa Mata’s beaming face.
We all call Topa Mata, ‘TM’ because it sounded easy and it resembled a taste of success.
TM was born on 5th February 1959 in Marorogo village. He had to walk 40 km every day to attend Erave Primary T. School from 1967 – 1972. And those 6 years have been very painful walk that he will remember for his life. But it paid off well when he was selected for Mendi High School in 1973.
In 1975 he was selected at Iduabada Technical College to take up electrical course in Port Moresby. He did one year and in 1977 he did his apprenticeship with Turner and Davey Electrical in Mt. Hagen. He did very well and as a result TM was given the Apprentice of the Year Award.
‘Bro, I was doing well and as a village kid, I wanted to do better because I had no chance to come back and at the same time things were not easy in those days’, said TM as he puffed his smoke.
‘And I did not like other places and for this reason I had to go back to Erave in 1981. I did not work long with the company because I knew my people needed me in the village’.
Erave did not have businesses and there was no sufficient cash flow in which people could improve their lifestyles. In the early 1980s the only business activity was the Coecon Pty Ltd where it owned the coffee plantation and Dolarmait with his trade store.
One thing for sure was that there were hardly any educated people staying back in the village because of the depleted business activities and most of them decided to leave Erave seeking opportunities in Mt. Hagen, Lae and Port Moresby.
TM began to build his trade store selling cooked food and other goods. He was committed and every toea was very important to him. His entrepreneurial skills were remarkable and the Erave community began to see the outstanding leadership qualities in him.
TM was another Chinese in Erave because he viewed time was very vital, overspending and squandering was evil and staying fit and focused was equally important to prosper.
He expanded his business by building a larger supermarket in the center of Erave government station. And with the support of his Simbu wife, they operated the business successfully, employing some of the village youths.
TM is a gifted oratory speaker, mediator, and people-oriented and sometimes take part in pig killings, contributes heavily in bride price payments, compensations and assists funerals.
When I asked him why he continues to do that his reply was: ‘I love my people and I love giving than receiving’.
Of course the people had to decide the fate of this great leader when the community decided to request him to stand for the 1987 National Elections for Kagua/Erave Electorate.
‘I lost the elections because it was my first time and may be that I could not plan well’, said TM.
TM tried again for the 1992 National Elections but lost and he did not run for the 1997 elections because he was very upset with the Kagua/Erave people for not choosing the right leader.
As I found out the right leader in his understanding meant someone who was corrupt-free, family oriented, development focused, and staying in the village, seeing the needs of everyone and meeting those needs.
Again TIM ran for the 2007 National Elections but did not do well.
After failing the 2007 National elections, TM knew that his ambition to become political leader was not forthcoming and so he left for the big city of Port Moresby.
He settled in Port Moresby well and started to diversify his business by going into real estate and hoteling industries.
With the vigor and determination, he established the Gale Investments Ltd, a fine lodge that has 64 spacious magnificent rooms in Erima just few magic minutes’ drive from the Jacksons International Airport, Korobosea Apartments with 6 units, Henau Drive Apartments with 6 units, 1 duplex in Waigani and a Hohola Standalone House.
He also established the TNG Constructions company with the intention to construct the Erave Road that will link Semberigi that will eventually link the Southern Highlands Gulf Highway.
Within the span of 5 years TM worked hard employing a lot of people in Port Moresby city.
He says this is his contribution to national development. With everyone doing our part, we could create a pathway for national prosperity and money stays onshore.
‘Although I love the bright city lights, I am still connected to my roots, my village, my district Erave. With this thought I contested 2012 National Elections but lost again’, continued TM.
‘Some people may view me as a desperate man looking for opportunities to become a Member of Parliament because I have tried and tried and all unsuccessful. If that is all you think, you are wrong. Where are all the Kagua/Erave people in the administration and technical field, employed by the state to help our elected leaders formulate policies and help implement those policies?’
I sat there helpless, just nodding in approval, for what he said came from his heart.
He had driven up and down on those rugged mountain terrains, spent most of his prime life in Erave, knew exactly where the next village was, where every person was from.
Everyone who lived along the Kagua/Erave Road respect him more than any leader because he has not created enemies.
TM was known for brokering peace when conflict emerged and he does not want people to see street sellers with imported goods on the roadsides and villages in Erave and at times he has warned them not to enter Erave District.
TM continued: ‘Kagua/Erave is the least developed district in PNG. I do not blame politicians for a failed district. It is the public service machinery that has failed. The system has been hijacked and redirected to fail the people and leaders’.
TM had tried for the 5 National General Elections since 1987 and he says I will never give up the fight to produce a quality leader.
He says it is not the election win that makes you a champion but it is the continuous effort, the toil and labor, and the expenses that you spend that molds you to reexamine your totality as a human person.
It is by working at your set goals that defeats all forms of hurdles, believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
In parting, I pay tribute to my Wamulu who has been my unsung hero and may our Good Lord bless him and continue to do so because he has peoples’ sorrows and pains at heart. Move on Wamulu…

Words: 1590

The author can be contacted on 72111918, [email protected]

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