Gideon Kakabin – A Tribute

Gideon Kakabin speaks
at the 75th Anniversary
Commemorative Service for the
Rabaul and Montevideo Maru
Group on 22 June 2017 in
Rabaul, East New Britain.

Gideon Kakabin, elder of Gunantuna (Tolai peoples), artist and historian, had just completed a four-week research residency at the Australian War Memorial relating to the Battle of Bitapaka and was about to begin his journey home when he suffered a heart attack and was admitted to hospital in Canberra. Tragically he suffered another massive heart attack and passed away. His loss to Papua New Guinea and Australia is enormous.

Everywhere, in PNG, Australia and internationally, people were in shock.
Gideon ran the popular ENB Historical Facebook site along with other PNG Facebook sites and was noted for his passion for culture and history with an international following of 15,000 people. He particularly inspired generations of Papua New Guineans and Australians.

Heartfelt Tributes

Max Uechtritz wrote:
‘His loss will be felt by admirers and friends in galleries and museums and universities in various countries – beneficiaries of Gideon’s knowledge, skills and energy.’

Acclaimed Melbourne musician and song writer David Bridie who collaborated with Gideon and legendary ENB singer George Telek on ‘A Bit na Ta’, a multimedia Tolai history exhibition touring Australia wrote: ‘Gideon was a man so generous with his knowledge and his heart. A fine musician, historian, cultural expert, IT expert, golf player, artist, insect collector, painter, sound technician, poet and so much more.’

The name, ‘A Bit na Ta’ means ‘the source of the sea’ in Tolai – the local language in PNG’s East New Britain province. The concerts and album told a story about war and colonialism under Germany, Japan and Australia set against a heaving backdrop of volcanoes and earthquakes.

Chairman of the National Museum and Art Gallery of PNG, Julius Violaris wrote: “Gideon was a national treasure and a huge loss to the nation.”

Australian War Memorial Director, Brendan Nelson, expressed his deepest sympathies.
“He was loved and respected by the Memorial’s staff who consider it as a privilege to have worked with him,” Dr Nelson said. “His sudden death is both a deep shock and tragic loss.”
An Elder of Gunantuna people, he contributed to bringing a landmark exhibition of PNG art to Australia and shed new light on the New Guinea campaign in WWII.

PNG political commentator Deni ToKunai wrote: ‘We have lost an epic pillar of historical knowledge today, not just in East New Britain, but in Papua New Guinea. Gideon touched many people with his historical, social and cultural commentaries. He was always open to listening to people share their stories – small and big – and enjoyed recording and documenting them. Gideon was at heart a story-teller. He loved PNG, East New Britain and the special history our little part of the world has. He dedicated much of his spare time and his own finances to pursue his passion and share it with the world. I would also like to thank the Kakabin family for sharing your Gideon with the rest of us. For that we will forever be grateful.’
Fundraising for the medical and repatriation expenses for Gideon from Canberra to East New Britain were successful and a huge relief for the family. Gideon Kakabin was finally laid to rest on Saturday 1 September at Vunaulul.
We, the PNGAA, were pleased to support Gideon’s wife Judy, his family, and the large community in PNG, Australia and internationally who have been touched by Gideon’s loss. We would like to thank all those who assisted the PNGAA in this fundraising effort, with special thanks to Max Uechtritz who provided wonderful support.

The Appeal

When PNGAA realised that not only was his family and the community facing this devastating loss but that, as a Papua New Guinean who passed away in Australia, the medical and repatriation bills were likely to be exorbitant, PNGAA immediately offered assistance to help with fundraising. The PNGAA’s long standing history includes goals ‘to strengthen the civil relationship between the peoples of Australia and Papua New Guinea’ so the Management Committee was proud to get behind this fundraising appeal. PNGAA’s integrity in the community as an incorporated association with its Management Committee run entirely by volunteers meant that every cent donated would be for the Gideon Kakabin Appeal.

PNGAA Management Committee member and Sydney Wantok President, Steven Gagau, travelled to Canberra and spent two weeks assisting Gideon’s family liaise with the hospital, the AWM and 2nd Secretary, Morgan Pehara of the PNG High Commission, to ensure Gideon travelled home as quickly as possible. Steven provided strong leadership at a challenging and sensitive time for the PNG and Australian community. His guidance and comfort, especially to Gideon’s family and those close to him, must have seemed a safe haven in the huge shock of this tragedy.
The dignity and strength of the East New Britain community in Canberra, as well as Gideon’s wife, Judy, and family in East New Britain, at this very sad time reflected the spirit of a very fine community.

Gideon Kakabin coming home

The Papua New Guinea Association of Australia particularly thanks the PNG High Commission in Canberra for its tremendous support. Generous donations to the appeal quickly flowed in, ensuring that accounts for $30,300 were covered in eight days.

Gideon’s family posted the following note of appreciation on the NGI Historical Facebook site:

Dear All – A Note of Thanks from the Kakabin Family:
“On behalf of Judy, Tipia, Miriam and late Gideon’s immediate family at Nangananga and Vunamurmur villages, East New Britain, we extend our heartfelt thank you and acknowledge the following for your generous cash donations and assistance in kind:
1. Late Gideon’s countless friends, associates and colleagues
2. Sam Wuvuai
3. PNG Association of Australia
4. Steven Gagau
5. Andrea Williams
6. PNG High Commission Canberra
7. ENB Australia Community

(If there is anyone we have missed, forgive us, it is not intentional).

Without your generosity and selfless efforts, we would not have been able to achieve, what has culminated in the successful repatriation of late Gideon from Canberra on Thursday 30 August and eventually to Nangananga, his final resting place. The overwhelming support we received, demonstrated just how far reaching Gideon’s impact and/or influence spanned.
Many of you we will never meet although you can rest assured that we will never forget your mammoth acts of kindness during our time of loss. Our prayer is that God will bless each of you abundantly for your generosity.
Blessings and warm regards.”

Excerpts from the following are acknowledged:

NGI Historical Facebook site
Max Uechtritz

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