Teaching the kids in Tinung: Adrian Geyle

(Published in Una Voce, March 1999, page 31)

Adrian Geyle was CPO for two years at Lake Murray, Kiunga, Gaima and Daru, Western District; PO OIC Green River, Sepik District; PO H/Q, Madang District. (1951-1955). Field and liaison work on two 7-month field expeditions to the Upper Sepik. Oil search operations. Gravity meter work. Supervising labour (1956 – 1957). Field work with Australian Petroleum Company, Gulf District. Oil search operations (1958). Recruitment Officer in Dept of Public Service Commissioner, Konedobu; Regional Taxation Officer, Lae. Assisting New Guineans grapple with the introduction of personal and business taxation into their lives, with the approach of independence (1966-1970).

This is not a pleasant story – the Editorial Sub-Committee decided to publish it with the comment that this sort of thing happens in all sorts of societies worldwide. The map on p13 of the March 1998 issue shows Lake Murray, situated between the Fly and Strickland Rivers.

The Tinung man with three wives came home from a hard day somewhere, or maybe he suffered from some undiagnosed, unrecognised, unknown complaint. Tinung village had little contact with the white, Christian missionaries who were working out from their Lake Murray centre not far away at Pangeo; it was early times in the far reaches of the Western District of Papua (1952) and missionaries were thin on the ground.

The Tinung man probably hated the missioners’ message on killing as much as he hated his older, first wife, and wasn’t deterred by any of white man’s ideas, wherever and whoever they came from. He was hungry and his meal was not any different from the usual crusted ball of sago. Whatever made him angry we could only guess. The evidence was pretty vague because only his three wives were with the Tinung man when he stood up and asked, “Who cooked this shit?” It was to them a rhetorical question as none of them moved and, as always, it was his younger third and second wives who provided services other than cooking. The first wife, being the eldest and the least attractive and accommodating sexually, had to work hard to please her husband at all. She tried to do it, cooking. He asked again and his second and third wives simply said, “She did.” Without a word, without any ado, the Tinung man found a steel axe handy nearby, took an almighty swing with it from behind his Number One wife (but Number Three in popularity!) and nearly took her head off! He killed her outright. She wouldn’t have known what hit her.

That’s the way the story went, back in 1952, in the sub-district of Lake Murray. The case was unresolved when OIC Dave Calder and I first arrived there at Mava, the government station on the edge of the vast Lake Murray, so Dave decided we should go to Tinung to investigate and, hopefully, make an arrest and bring in witnesses. The office file on the case didn’t read too well (information on the case had been provided by witnesses still resident in the village who had visited our patrol post); the details surrounding the killing and the burial were horrifying.

Crossing the lake to the village in a mini flotilla of huge Suki dug-out canoes, paddle-powered at that, we could have been seen coming for hours. I think of the mirage-in-the-desert scene in the film Lawrence of Arabia, with the huge black form of a camel with mount coming nearer for an interminable time, before the animal and human shapes emerged from the haze. Lake Murray is so vast that the shimmer on its surface likewise amplifies shapes from ‘over the horizon’ like desert mirages, so we weren’t expecting to lob into Tinung village and surprise its inhabitants. Situated on a small island, no-one could approach that village without being seen.

As expected, our alleged murderer was not there when we arrived. He had departed that morning for Dutch New Guinea, not too far away across an invisible border, an arbitrary line. The long arm of our law, our suspect knew, didn’t extend across that border – he’d headed there in similar circumstances before, to escape arrest and prosecution. Corroborative evidence, though, we could now collect.

Coming ashore after a miserable canoe ride through miles of grassy passages that were home to every species of insect imaginable, then across wide open water in the heat of the afternoon, the rest-house held our greatest interest. It was built of local materials of course – unhewn wood and thatch-roofed – and it was far from upright. It was crazily leaning so far towards collapsing we were loath to even enter it. Dave did, and nearly lost his manhood when the ‘limbom’ (wood from hardwood palm trees) floor gave way under him to leave him straddling a bearer, in excruciating pain. This derelict rest house and its unkempt surroundings – grass was growing waist-high right up to it and obscuring the tracks to its entrance – were sure signs that the Village Constable was either unable or unwilling to get cooperation from the villagers. All in all, we expected nothing but discomfort and non-cooperation, right at the outset of this investigation.

The investigation centred on the whereabouts of the alleged murderer, and the body of course. We got cooperation. Witnesses knew exactly where the body was buried as did everyone in that small village. It was necessary for the remains of the murder victim to be exhumed, and this happened quickly as the grave was so shallow. The body had been laid in a ditch less than half a metre deep and was covered with a ‘skin’ off a palm tree and a little earth. All we found were bones and hair, decomposition having rid all flesh tissue long since. The skull was our main interest as it was alleged the husband had hit it with the steel axe from behind, with a single, direct, unexpected blow. And exactly as anticipated, we found a deep cut about 7-8 cm across the base of the skull, synonymous with a powerful blow from an axe.

Questioning of witnesses brought ample accounts of what had happened the day this woman died. The eyewitnesses agreed on the facts; there was no conflicting evidence. The husband, having disposed of his wife with one blow to the back of the head as she quietly sat, ordered his second and third wives to take the body down to the coconut grove near the lake’s edge and bury it. They found a natural depression and were gouging out dirt when he joined them and ordered them back to the house. He wanted to ‘say goodbye’ to the dead one.

The kiddies were not oblivious to all that had happened, and out of natural curiosity they went down to join their father, to say goodbye too. Not only those children but several adults saw the man having sexual intercourse with the body, in the shallowest of graves. This was his right, he claimed, and after he was finished the other wives could come back and cover the body over – bury it. He ordered them to.

What can one say. That deed was done, and that file on the whole sordid affair did exist. The despicable murderer/defiler was still at large when I left Lake Murray six months later to go further up the Fly River to Kiunga Patrol Post. The proximity of that village to the border worked in the wanted man’s favour, but such was the weight of village opinion – anger – against him he could not have stayed in his home village indefinitely. The missioners at Pangeo would have learnt what became of him and his other wives and children. Was it all just a ‘one-off’, the aberrant behaviour of a deranged man? I wonder what a Supreme Court hearing would have found, had we been successful in delivering depositions, witnesses and this man to a trial in Daru.

Aberrant behaviour is relative, certainly, and necrophilia occurs in many if not all societies. It could be argued that sordid details like the above are best left in the records of the courts, for specialist use only. Initially I recorded them for the information of my family and generations down the line – the official report exists elsewhere (hopefully). It is an ugly and disquieting story and I wonder how much ‘outside’ influence had to do with this man’s actions, if any.


Leave a Reply