Margaret Embahe - Oral History interview recorded on 14 June 2016 at Popondetta, Northern Province, PNG


Mrs Margaret Embahe tells the story of her parents' life and her own, inclduing her parents' time in Milne Bay during the war, when her father was a teacher evangelist.



Warning: This site contains stories of war. Some of these interviews may include detailed and graphic descriptions of events and experiences that may be disturbing for some individuals.

[MT] OK Margaret, let's have you introduce yourself.
Thankyou. My full name is Margaret Lain Tahima – now I am married so I use my husband's name Embahe. Okay, I was born on the 23 of September 1951, up where the Resurrection Anglican Cathedral is, because my dad was the teacher evangelist, and he was teaching there, so I was born there.
And I grew up going around with my daddy wherever he was posted to by the Bishop, to go and teach and to start up a church. That took us right around, especially the central Orokaiva area, and we all grew up, me and my brothers—there were about seven of us and I am the fourth in the family—and we grew up with dad wherever he went, and mum, wherever he went we would go and we grew up around the central Orokaiva area.
Okay, I started my primary education at the place I was born, that's the Resurrection Primary School and I was the only student—in a group of students there were 13 boys there were all boys, and I was the thirteenth, only female student there to start the grade six at the Resurrection Primary School. Because before that the students from Resurrection Primary School would come down to Popondetta Primary School and complete their grade six, but then my group was the first to start up the grade six at the Resurrection Primary School. And I did well. So I was sent to Holy Name High School in Dogura in the Milne Bay Province.
I completed my grade ten in 1968 and I was sent to, that time it was called administrative college but now it is known as Papua New Guinean, PNG IPA, Institute of Public Administration, where I took admin clerk scheme. While doing that I was told to work under Psychological Division with the Public Service Board, and I did a lot of travelling at the time also. I would go out giving psychological tests to the school leavers, so we had to go out and give IQ tests to the school leavers, come back again to the office and see how well they had gone.
And all that, so it took me out quite a lot of time to the provinces, the other provinces, to conduct tests with the high school students within grade ten at that time. And I felt that it was like sitting down in the office was not my kind of life. I wanted to go out and meet people. And so opportunities where I took a look in the newspapers. I do a lot of reading, so I seem to have picked up the newspaper at that time. And I saw that there was a man, two men who were in the country from a company known as Peter Shearer International in Brisbane and they were looking for people to go down and be trained, and then come and start up a new clothing factory in Port Moresby.
So, when I rang the number the man on the other side is saying, 'come up to the labour office, we are there and we will interview you'. So I went up and I was just taking it as fun, you know, and when I went up there this man said 'you are successful, you will be going down to Brisbane'. And I said 'what?' And when we got back the psychologist in the psychological section, said, 'no, Margaret, we are trying to grow you to be somebody here and we cannot let you go. You are a good worker here'. But then he said, 'well, someone has to move out maybe to a greener pasture', and so they made a little refreshment to say bye bye to me. The section bought me a bag and they said, it might be cool down there, you know it's warm but that time they said the place gets cold so they got me a cardigan, and that was my bye bye greetings from the section I used to work with.
And so I left. It is like a dream come true, and a dream that my mum had. When she was a little girl, her father, my grandfather was the person who gave away his land to the first missionary Father Henry Holland and the local man known as Andrew Uareh who walked in looking for a land to start up a new mission station. And at that time my mum was a little girl, naked, and she got scared of looking at this man—the white man, a tall white man, she used to tell me. And so she went and hugged on to my grandfather's thighs and she is looking up to this big man talking to my grandfather. So, she grew up and the land was given away, in fact, to this man, Father Henry Holland, and the school and the church was erected there on my grandfather's graun, land.
And my mum grew up and she was able to go to school in that school. And she just went as far as grade three. But my dad was also from the Isivita area made it all the way up to grade four and because there was no grade five and six at that time, Dad was sent to St Peter's and St Paul's Anglican school in Dogura in the Milne Bay province and that is where he did his two years of grade five and six. When he got back, he met up with my mum, who was growing up, teenager—chubby, chubby, beautiful. So, my dad fell in love with my mum. And they eloped to my dad's grandmother's village which is called Harangi on the other side of the mighty Kumusi river, on the month of August.
It was a nice moonlit night and they had to elope over to Harangi, in fear of my mum's people coming down to hit my dad, or even take mum away from dad. Because he was really in love with my mum. And they had to cross this mighty Kumusi river, and they had this funny looking thing, it was like two logs put together and tied. It is an X, and you had to put both arms over the two logs and been pulled across by somebody else, across the river. And that was my mum's first time to do such a thing and she cried—she did not even want to cross the river, but she had to. Dad convinced her that she would be safe.
So, they went across the river. And then couple of days later they had to come back because the word got to mum's relatives that Philip, that is my dad's name, had run away with Margorie. So, they had to come back to Isivita village where my grandmother—that is my mum's mum—went and dipped herself in the river with her tapa cloth things, and she came and sat on top of my dad's shoulder, trying to let him know that she was not pleased with what happened. And that mum was the lady who would cut trees and clear the bushes and plant taro, she could do anything a man could do, and that she was to be taken away by him. But anyway, mum and dad got married and Father Henry Holland sent my dad to St Aidan's teachers' college.
Well, I touched that little bit about me going down to Australia because my mum used to tell me, 'this white man had come in and I got scared of him. So, one of you in the family would go down to his village' – that is a language she used to use. 'One of you will go down to his village. I want you people to show him that you can do it. You took ownership of education and the gospel that he had brought you, and so I want you to take ownership, study as much as you can and go down to his village to show him that we can do it. My children can do it, because I was there, I witnessed everything'.
Anyway, and so I did go down to Australia—we will come back to where my dad used to be when they went to St Aidan's teachers' college. But going back to my bit about going down to Australia, yes, I was accepted and they were four other girls who were accepted also. They were five boys—five gentlemen—and five ladies. And we went down to Brisbane. And the boys lived somewhere out in the Fortitude Valley. And me and my girls lived in New Farm, somewhere called New Farm. And we lived in the Methodist Church run hostel called Archibald House. And eventually, I named my second born son Archibald. And anyway, we used to go down to Fortitude Valley to do on-the-job training in the clothing factory, and the clothing factory was called Peter Shearer International. And anyway Peter Shearer is the man from Longreach. He did come back and named the clothing factory in Port Moresby Longreach Clothing Factory.
Anyway, we did on-the-job training in Brisbane for three months. And then he had to send the whole of us in to Papua New Guinea to our homes for the Christmas break. He took us back, this time he sent us to another office clothing factory in Newcastle, it is called Style Masters, up in Newcastle. So, we did another three years of the job training with this factory. This time I lived in the YWCA hostel, right next to the teachers' college. And we had plenty of young girls, young white girls attending teachers' college and they were good. But they were on a break, so we had to use the hostel. As soon as they got back, we were given caravans to live in, at the back of the hostel. But we used to eat with the other girls in the hostel and I thought the way girls were good, good friends.
Anyway, after six months on-the-job training we got back to Papua New Guinea and started this Longreach clothing factory in Gordons in Port Moresby. Okay, and while I was there I had heard of Radio Northern. There were vacancies that came up and they were looking for workers. So, I applied for a position as a broadcast officer, where I was accepted. And that is where I came in to be part of the team, and I enjoyed working with Radio Northern. It did not take me long to be there. 1972 I came in and joined Radio Northern, it was opening at that time. I was right there when the station opened and we went on air doing live broadcast and there was a lot of feasting, dancing that took place then, pondo [Orokaiva: making feasts].
And then I worked only for three years, and my husband who still with me was a patrol officer, known as kiap, council advisor, at the same time, and he was out in the bush. So, he told me, when we got married he is telling me, 'you are going to continue working or you following me?' So, I said okay I will follow you. So, I resigned from my job and I had to go out, follow my husband to Tufi. He served there for a while, for some years. And that was where I got my first baby, my first born son. PNG flag came up, Union Jack went down right there at Tufi Station, while I was right there.
Still with my baby in the stomach, after that I came in to Popondetta General Hospital to give birth to my first born son. Okay, for a while in Tufi he got transferred to Afore station as a kiap council advisor. So, we were there for a while, and he decided to resign. Okay, so we came home and he told me, 'my parents, dad is still alive but mum is dead. But yours are both still alive. So, I think we will spend some time with them in new village, take care of them and then we can move on to my village'. Oh, he was good, so, we came home, gardening, doing everything the villager does, staying together with my both parents. After three years he decided that we should move on to his village, so, we went on to his village after three years of taking care of my old parents.
Doing everything that a villager does, looking after pigs, chicken, doing everything like gardening, getting involved with spots, anything that was going on around the community, we stayed out for thirteen years both him and I and we realised that our first born son was in grade five, so one night we sat down and we talked. We said, in our times the school was free, we never had to pay for it to go to school, but now they have introduced this money system where children had to pay for their education, so what do you think? And then the man says 'how about you try your old job'. I said, if you say so! So, he drafted a letter for the manager and said you take this with you the next morning to NBC and give this note to the manager.
So, it was Mr Maisel Pendaia, who was with me at admin college of PNGIPA, admin college at that time. He was taking up patrol office's course. And he eventually got into broadcasting himself, and he became the manager of Radio Northern. So, I brought the note down to him. He looked at it and he said 'okay, we have sent the application of four people already, but we will make this the last—you'll be the fifth one'. So, he sent mine, with my voice recordings. I did translations, English version into Motu, and I had to read it. And he got that recorded as well and sent it over. Two weeks later my name was put on the radio, for me to come down and see the manager. And so when I came back he said, 'you have been given the job'. So, I got reinstated in 1988. My husband says, 'praise the Lord, you have got your old job back'.
And so, I came down in 1988, was given accommodation. It was nothing hard for me because I was in the system before, so, when I came in I just went straight on air. And I had to do what I started doing when I started with NBC. And my husband followed suit. He came down, he followed me down, and he got himself a job with the Oro Provincial Government and he is still there, he is the Assembly Clerk. Anyway, when I came down I started again with NBC, enjoyed every bit of it, going out recording, doing everything that a radio announcer does, going on air. I took care of children session, I took care of education program, I took care of woman's program, and I took care of health. I had four jobs that I had to do.
And that was a plateful, but it was nothing to me, because, I enjoyed doing everything. And I just liked being there; you meet a lot of people coming in and out. Okay, I would not have been there if it wasn't for my parents, but they groomed and shaped the whole seven of us. And I was one of those. I used to hear a lot of stories from my mum, sit down, and listen to her telling stories. And some of the stories that I would like to share while I am talking, is that, I will be fine if I touch on that. I worked until 2009, and I was retrenched, and I am out of NBC at the moment. But, wherever I go people are saying get back, get back on air, we are missing your voice, you know, you used to greet us, you used to say things that used to, you know, make us happy, that you are there with us, you are talking in your language, and you are educating us, you telling us what is happening out there that we are not sure of. And we don't read, we don't know how to write. But, because of what you are saying in our own language we can understand what is happening out, get back, get back.
But, I tell them, no, I have done my part. I have served you already, it is time for the young ones, give them space to get in and do something. Anyway, so that is what it used to be, it was when I was with the NBC. I enjoyed every bit of it, anyway, but I should not have been there, had it been not for my parents. Anyway, when I was in Australia coming back for the first Christmas break from Australia, I bought my mum and dad a little pickup, they used to call them, and some records discs for them to listen to - my mum used to love Skeeter Davis, and so I bought her a record of Skeeter Davis. My dad loved Jim Reeves, so I bought him Jim Reeves' record. And so when they are trying to relax they would play their pickup and listen to the songs. Mum loved 'how beautiful Heaven must be' song by Skeeter Davis. And she would play it over and over again. 'Oh we are tired', the others would say. 'We are tired of listening to Skeeter Davis, play something else.' Anyway, so that was my mum in that time.
Okay, like I said, it had been for them. I would not be speaking English, I would not have gone to Australia, nor would I have found myself a job that made me popular. Mavis would know. And anyway I got out of the system in 2009 but I am being used wherever people think that I am needed to do something for the community. Like at the moment I am being used by the national court, when there is a circuit in Oro to interpret from Pidgin to English, English to Pidgin, or from Orokaiva to English, and vice versa. So, that was me. Okay, going back to my parents.
Here, Mum and Dad got married at Isivita. They were married in the church by Father Henry Holland, and they went back to St Aidan's teachers' college, it was an Anglican-run teachers' college, and my dad with his beautiful wife went back to the college. And it was there that the War broke out. They were at a little place called Jivari. That's At at the back of a big bay right into where Dogura is, and right at the back where the first missionaries landed. Wamira, the little place called Kaieta, there is some kind of a fjord that goes right in and the college was started there. So, my parents were there when the War broke out. Before that my mum had already given birth to a baby boy, our first born brother, who passed away two years ago. And, Pauusl is his name. There was another person also from Isivita, a former Parliamentarian from Isivita by the name of Wilson Unduka Suja. And, he also got married to a girl called Margaret Rose, and both men took their wives across to St Aidan's teachers' college, and that is when the War broke out.
And the principal of that college, there were a lot of fighting that took place across there. So, he told— all the teachers went in to hiding, those who had family had to go in to hiding. And, my mum, dad, Wilson Suja and the wife had to go in to hiding. They made a little hut next to the rock and that's where they used to live. But, the principal told the students to go out and collect ammunition from the dead Japanese and bring them into his office. And, so that's what they used to do during the War. Anyway, Wilson told my dad, who is a humble kind of a man, you take care of the family, I will go out with the rest of the students and do what the principal is telling us to do. And so my dad had to stay back in the little hut they built to take care of Wilson's wife and my mum.
But the sad part there is that Wilson's wife Margaret Rose was pregnant and the baby [Margaret's mum had already] was not even crawling at that time. And so mum had to look after, breastfeed two babies at that time. And, you know, we are talking about War, and having to look after two babies was not good for mum, but she was able to handle them. And, towards the evening rations and things were stopped because there was no boat coming into the college, and there was no ration for them. So, they had to survive in whatever they could find. And around that area, Dogura area, they had this vine, just something like a legume, a cover crop, and it has some tubers underneath. There are some tubers underneath that is edible according to the locals there.
So, Mum would go out and pull those things out. It's a white, it's something similar to tapioca, and, because the ground is sandy and it was not hard to dig. So she would just go and pull them out, and clean them, and boil them, and they would just eat that, live on that. But the other lady, an aunt, Margaret Rose, Wilson's wife, who was expecting, my mum—with a tool and whatever little greens that could go out and find, they would cook that and they survived on that. While Wilson is out there collecting ammunition, watches, gold watches on the dead soldiers' hands and even gold teeth. If the corpse is still fresh they were asked to remove the gold teeth. And, so, the War started moving down this way.
So they had to start up a new college site and this place was locally known as Garogarona, with Dogura up there on the hill and the new teachers' college was built further down the beach. And, dad completed his training there for two years as a teacher evangelist and he came out in flying colours. He started teaching at a place, further up the mountain called Sewa, that was his first posting. By then they had another child, Philip Nigel, named after Philip Nigel Warrington Strong, the Bishop. And they lived up there, he started a new school and a church up at Sewa, St John the Baptist Church, and he taught there for a while. And then Bishop told him to move down to Sangara mission station. Yes, he taught there for a while. Being a teacher evangelist, they had to shift him from place to place.
And mum would, during those times there were no suitcases, mum was a weaver and she could make big bilums, string bags. So, she would put what she could in the bilums and carried them all the way, that's how they travelled from place to place. And they were told once again to move down to Jegarata to start up a new mission station there. So, they came down, cut down the trees and he started a new school there with a church and the classroom, all built of bush materials. And it was there that mum had her third child, another boy again, Uticus was his name, Uticus. And that was when Mount Lamington erupted, and they had to run away from there. After that, getting back again, he taught for a while at Resurrection Primary School, and then here comes the Bishop saying, you have to go up to Irihambo, start up a school there, a church, look after the survivors of the eruption.
So, dad was sent up there and he started up a mission station again, and he taught there for a while with a big church, and the landowners got up and said 'we would rather move closer to our land'. So, he had to leave Ilihambo and go up to Hohorita, now the big primary school, my dad started that primary school, got all the community together, not to live in isolation, but to come together in a big village. So, that they would be looked after and while doing that he was involving himself in, you know, community activities, sharing the word of God, trying to council them, and to bring them all to come to know the Lord, and to be closer with him. And at the same time he was teaching also, so dad and mum both did a lot of things for the people around the central Orokaiva area.
So, we all grew up with the community and, okay, so that's mum and dad, and they retired. The last station that the Bishop sent for daddy to start is Ijika Primary School and that's where Margaret Lain Tahima started her education, standard one, they used to call it, standard one, standard two and then I came down, standard three, four, five, six at Resurrection Primary School and from there I went out. I was only thirteen when I had to go to Holy Name High School. And I got scared of the sea, the big blue river. And I got scared to get on the ship to travel on top of that big river. So, mum had to take me there herself, leaving dad with the others at Ijika Primary School. But two of my brothers were already out, the second one Philip Nigel was at Sogeri.
It was Sogeri National High School now but it was known as Sogeri Secondary School. So, he was up there already and my big brother followed the shoe of my dad. He was already at St Aidan's College at Garogarona, training to become a teacher. So, they were four that were staying with dad at Ijika, when mum went to leave me at Holy Name High School. And in her broken English she is telling the headmistress, 'I bring my daughter here, she small' – I was thirteen at the time – 'If she is naughty, hit her, if she doesn't listen to you, get cross to her, in a good way.' You know, she is jokingly putting it, 'in a good way', 'I want her to learn, I want her to go to this white man's ples, village, so if she doesn't listen to you, hit her.'
Sister Margaret Anne, a nun from Melbourne, I heard she passed away lately, and Sister Margaret Anne, being tall with a very short nose. She said: 'yes mother, I will do that, I will do that for your daughter. Don't worry, she will be okay, she will be looked after.' And so, I fulfilled my mum's dream by going to this white man's village and when I got back, oh, she was a proud mother, very proud, and I had to bring her presents too. So, that was my life. Mum, she went on ahead of dad. I mean, she passed away before dad, and dad a little while later, still taking care of the church as an evangelist, as an adviser to the young people, young evangelists. He would bring them together and tell them, this is what you should do, and this and that, until he passed away also. I know that they're both with the Lord, praying for us, that is why I am still up and moving. Victoria, I think, unless you have something else to ask me—
[MT] Yes, I think I have a question to ask you.
Go ahead.
[MT] let's take you back to the Longreach Clothing Company.
[MT] When you came back from Australia you started the work at that Longreach Clothing Company, was a new company that was—
That's right.
[MT] – that was started in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.
[MT] Okay, did you enjoy working there with your colleagues that went down to Australia, you came back—
Oh yes.
[MT] —that time you started working with Longreach Clothing?
Oh, yes, I enjoyed it very much because you know, you have lot of people come in to place their orders. They might want their pants to be made, long pants, and they might want their shirt to be made. And, you know, they would come in, their companies also would come in with, you know, their orders, place an order for us to make. I was in fact the supervisor there, the female supervisor, and we had another guy, late Boniface Aikeba from Ambasi. He was the supervisor for men, while I was the supervisor for women. And we did make a lot of clothes at that time, and I enjoyed working amongst others. Not so much as a boss, but as a team. I loved going and coming, you know, cracking jokes where I had to, to make them happy, so that the work is running, you see.
It was a very busy place, but then we had time to crack jokes, and you know, make people feel that they are part of the team. I enjoyed very much working there. Well, that's what I wanted at the first place I said, I didn't want to be isolated in an office to sit down there. I wanted to be out where I can meet people. So, I enjoyed very much working with the new company Longreach Clothing Factory. And we had Peter Shearer, the owner, who would fly in and out from Brisbane seeing that things were okay. But, he was happy with what we were already doing. And when I left to come to join the NBC as a broadcast officer, eventually, the factory stopped functioning. And I believe it was taken over by Luk Poi Wai, a Chinese company, and I believe they are still functioning at the moment and making clothes and all that. And I see a lot of Luk Poi Wai clothing in the shops. So, they may have taken over that place. Does that answer your question?
[MT] Thank you.
So, it was a big factory with all those machines there, with all the cottons hanging down. And you have the cutters, you know, the clothes up this high, and you have this, you know, machine. And he is putting the marks only on top with the tailor's chalk. He would just mark the pairs and all that on top and then zzzzzz and he is cutting this much bulk of materials, just cutting it in couple of seconds. So, it was like very exciting, you know, making sure that, being a supervisor, making sure that the things were done properly. And then what ever sizes the company asked for was done, cut neatly, pressed, the last thing that the factory used to do was, it goes to the press at the big huge thing there, and they pressed it and then fold it and put it. So, it was very exciting, I enjoyed working there also, thank you.
[VS] Can I ask you about your mum, you know of the stories about your mum's life, when did you learn these from your mum, when would she tell you these stories?
Oh, when I was beginning to understand, around six, seven, she would sit me down and tell me all the stories, you know, near the fire light or when there is moon light. She would sit down, 'you are going to grow up', she would tell me, 'you are going to grow up to be a big woman and this is what a mother does, this is how you should go about looking after people, don't isolate yourself, go out there and meet people, and you must learn as much as you can, do a lot of reading'. Even though, she was not that well educated, but that is what she used to tell me. When I was six, seven, she used to tell me all these things. And, while going to school down here, if I had to go, walk all the way to Ijika Primary School over the weekend, I would follow my dad, and go in the bush, during the night to hunt for bandicoots.
And, my mum was saying, she was very keen in learning. So, she passed on everything, you know, like stories, and how I should go about harvesting the taro. She taught me all those. When I came back after doing my first year at Holy Name High, she already had woven a new bilum, and she bought me a small kitchen knife. And, she also went ahead and made garden. And she planted taro with the help of my dad; she planted taro, anything that grows in the garden. And this is, she is trying to teach me how to go harvesting in the garden. And, so this is when I was fourteen, she is teaching me how to harvest in the garden.
When I came home the next day she is saying 'yeah, I know you are here for holiday, but it is time for learning too, for my part'. So, she would give me my new bilum, 'this is your knife, we are going to your garden, I will teach you how to harvest taro, and how to go about—if the taro is sick, if you tip it with your toes and if it moves then that taro is sick, so get rid of it. And you don't cut it where the good taros are, you take it to a tree trunk, or take it away from where the others are, and you try and clean it, if it is good, okay bring it home to eat. But, if it is no good get rid of it, away from the rest. But if you just tip it and it is not moving, that's a good taro, save it for another day. And you don't want others to come in and steal, so when you are going through your garden you pull the weeds out and this is what you do, you clean around your Taro, but then you make sure you block the place, so that your taro is safe, your garden is safe.'
And, so mum taught me a lot of things. She used to tell me 'you will be a woman one day and this is what you do. This is how to go about looking after your garden, saving your taro for a rainy day, or time for starvation. This is how you put your yam away. If it is not good you eat, if it is good put it away, and if the shoots are coming up break them, get rid of them, unless you want to plant. But if you want to keep it then get rid of that shoots. So, she taught me all these. I thank her for what she did for me.
[MT] Margaret, I should call you Margaret Lain Tahima, I knew you with that name when you started with NBC. As a colleague of Margaret, I loved her voice, the beautiful voice of Margaret Lain Tahima. Admirer of her voice, honestly, I am telling you Margaret, I admired her voice. She had a beautiful voice. She spoke like an expatriate girl behind the mike.
But I never forgot my local people. I spoke in their language also.
[MT] Of course you did it, beautifully done.
Thank you.
[MT] I want to tell you that I was one of your admirers, though I am your colleague who worked together with you at the radio station. And I was in the administration section; she was in the broadcasting side. But I admired Margaret Lain Tahima's voice, behind the mike.
Thank you.
[MT] thank you Margaret for that.
Thank you.
[VS] Thanks Margaret.
Thank you.

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“Margaret Embahe - Oral History interview recorded on 14 June 2016 at Popondetta, Northern Province, PNG,” Voices from the War, accessed May 22, 2024,