Ten-Day Walkabout Among the Kukukuku Savages

How the Gospel reached a formerly treacherous people.

Brother Hugh Dickins and I have had a wonderful patrol among the former treacherous Kukukukus. Now that the gospel has reached them they are very friendly and surprisingly trustworthy. Brother Dickins and I were the first Ad­ventist European missionaries to enter the Wantikia and Simbari valleys in New Guinea.

We took off from Goroka, just after lunch, in VH-SDB on Sunday, October 8, and in twenty-five minutes were deep into Kukukuku country, mountains rising to 11,000 feet, sheer-sided valleys, and raging mountain streams thundering into deep chasms. Clinging precariously to the side of a ridge is the Wonenara airstrip, an isolated government patrol post. The air­strip is at an altitude of 5,000 feet above sea level and nestles at the foot of a 10,000­foot-high mountain. It is short and steep, running sharply up the ridge and literally buries its head in the mountainside, for in order to get enough length the strip had to be dug into the ridge. Thus at the top end you have huge earthen walls on three sides, an effective means of stopping the aircraft should a pilot overshoot when landing. Being a one-way airstrip, it must be approached by overflying it and enter­ing a tiny horseshoe-shaped valley. Inside this valley the aircraft must execute a tight turn of 180 degrees, fly out through the opening of the horseshoe, and land on the strip, which is right at the neck of the valley.

We removed our patrol packs from the aircraft and chocked and tied down VH­SDB, for we would have to leave it for ten days while we slogged over the steep moun­tain footpaths. Our packs contained Bibles, a Picture Roll, rice, salt, matches, packet soups, bedding, and changes of clothes. Salt, matches, and knives would be used to buy food for the carriers and ourselves, but because of the terrain the packs must be kept as light as possible. That night we slept in a native-material house our na­tional pastor had prepared for us on his mission station just a few minutes' walk from the airstrip.

The Trek to Kukukukus

Early the next morning, after a good solid breakfast, we followed the trail that led past the airstrip and waved a fond farewell to our mission aircraft securely fastened down on the side of the ridge. How we wished we could use its wings rather than our legs, but where we were going there were no airstrips and no sites for any, according to the local patrol of­ficer. However, I had it in my mind to have a good look for some, and after sev­eral days of hauling myself up mountain­sides on tree roots, my resolve was strength ened. 'The native carriers were happy, singing a mixture of their old tribal march­ing chants and some gospel choruses they had learned from our native pastor, as we began climbing the grass-covered foothills.

In less than an hour we reached the timbered country, taking three hours to reach the highest point on the track. Here we refueled with some cold food, had a rest, and then plunged on into the thick rain forest. After six hours of slipping, sliding, and tripping on the slushy wet track, we suddenly came to the lip of a narrow steep-sided valley. Thousands of feet below we could see the smoke of many fires rising in the late afternoon sun. Those fires were being kindled by Kukukukus, who had never seen a white Adventist mis­sionary before.

We descended into the valley rapidly, and in a little over an hour were setting up camp in a native patrol hut. We pur­chased food with salt and matches and in­vited the bark-cape-clad Kukukukus to have worship with us. As the sun fell below the mountains and the evening mists rolled in, little Kukukuku warriors and maidens could be seen wending their way toward us. We started to sing choruses and the cargo carriers joined in with great gusto while the little savages watched our mouths keenly and tried to mimic us. Out came the Picture Roll, and these darkened hearts heard, perhaps for the first time, the story of Jesus' soon return. After prayer it was suggested that the people might like a missionary to live in their vil­lage who, morning and evening, could tell them about Jesus. The villagers enthusi­astically agreed that that was just what they wanted. With tired bodies but with thankful hearts we retired for the night and slept the sleep of the just.

Early the next morning we were away again, for we had been told that this next stretch, to use the words of the patrol of­ficer, "was quite a puff." Eight hours later, and still puffing, we reached the edge of the Simbari Valley. As we had four na­tional workers in the area, we were eager to see how the work was progressing. Neat churches, filled with happy expectant na­tives, was what we found. Kukukukus pre­paring for baptism. What a joy it was to meet with these people, the "wild" men from "back of beyond." On Sabbath all the people in the valley were invited to come to one of the central villages for the Sabbath meetings, and a great crowd came in. Two precious souls were baptized into the church—we trust, by God's grace, the first fruits of a great harvest.

Locating Site for an Airstrip

As we were in the valley for almost a week, I used the time to good advantage and searched for an airstrip site. The Ku­kukukus were most enthusiastic and dragged me up hill and down dale show­ing me precarious ridges they considered ideal for an airplane to sit down on. I trudged along curly ridges, undulating ridges, timbered and grassed ridges that seemed, to these primitives, just what was needed but which made me shudder at the thought of attempting to land on them. The natives threw themselves bodily at the grass and brush to lay a path so I could measure and sight the areas. On Thurs­day morning we found one. It was a wide timbered slope with not too much of a gradient and not requiring too much earth moving. This is a very important factor, for the people will have to use primitive dig­ging sticks and spades to prepare the ground. The area was a little short and it would definitely be a one-way strip, as there was a big mountain at one end, but we were overjoyed that we could find such a site in this rugged valley.

All the village elders were brought to­gether for a council meeting, and we put the proposal to them. We would give them advice on how to build an airstrip and a few shovels to assist their digging sticks. However, they would have to do all the work, assisted by our national mission­aries, and for this they would receive no remuneration. When the strip was com­pleted we would purchase the ground through the government and would set up a school on this site. The little Kukukukus were delighted and promised full support for the program. I promised that if they would start immediately on cutting down the timber on the site, when I returned to Wonenara in a few days' time. I would bring the airplane into the Simbari Valley for them to see. As we clambered out of the valley the next day and looked back down the rugged Simbari chasm, we won­dered just how long their enthusiasm would last. They were to surprise us!

The track was dry on our walk back to the Wantikia Valley and we were able to cut the walking time down by almost an hour. We brought with us one of the mis­sionaries from Simbari to temporarily fill the call in this valley. He would build the teacher's home, start a garden for him, and instruct the people until his replace­ment arrived. Then he would return to Simbari. The people gave us a wonderful welcome, wrapping grubby arms around us and patting our backs. They were de­lighted we had brought them their mission­ary so soon. The worship period with these eager people was a blessed experience.

As there was still an hour or so of light we decided to push on up the valley, climb­ing one thousand feet to a village set on a crag. We would spend the night in a pa­trol hut. This village belonged to another denomination, and their national mission­ary was in residence. As we were about to have worship with the cargo carriers, we invited the missionary and his flock to join us in singing the good old gospel choruses and to worship with us. The missionary declined, but his flock accepted. In a large native hut we sat clustered around a fire and sang at the top of our voices—"My Lord Knows the Way Through the Wilder­ness," "Jesus Loves Me," "Bye and Bye We'll See the King," and many others re­verberated in that hut and filtered through the village and down the slopes into the valley. The carriers clapped their hands in time to the choruses and sang as though their lungs would burst, the firelight play­ing on their happy, smiling, clean Chris­tian faces. They sensed the importance of this evening—this was public relations at its best. As our joyous noise reached the villagers they left their house fires and joined us in the hut. A few at first, but as their confidence grew they just crowded that hut until there was hardly room to breathe. Brother Timothy Pakavai had been selected to take worship that eve­ning, and he had prepared a little inspir­ing talk for the carriers. However, when he saw this evangelistic opportunity sitting at his feet, he did a quick switch, condens­ing our essential doctrines into a powerful evangelistic sermon. He had his audience where he wanted them. If anyone had at­tempted to move out, the whole house would have collapsed. The Spirit of God came very close and hearts were touched that evening.

As we slowly extricated ourselves from the building the resident missionary of the other denomination was outside awaiting his prodigal flock to return. He wanted to say something to them, but as he did not know the local language, and as his inter­preter had been taken off to prison, we of­fered him our interpreter. He told the peo­ple that if they wished him to leave the village he would do so, and since these two European missionaries were in their midst this would be a good time to call for an Adventist missionary: We assured him that we were not here to take his flock from him and that we had no intention of plac­ing a missionary in his village. We just wanted to be friendly. However, the Spirit of God was working through this man, and he insisted that this was the time for the people to make a call. We trust that this dear brother of another faith may also take his stand for the truth.

The next day we returned to Wonenara and loaded our packs into the plane. We checked the plane and after prayer taxied up the steep slope of the strip, up into the hillside between the earthen walls. I swung the plane around and pointed its nose down the steep slope. Before us was the tiny valley into which we must fly, do a steep 180 degree turn and fly back out through the neck and over the airstrip. After a complete pre-take-off check the air­craft was held on its brakes as the throttle was advanced and the engine came up to full power. With brakes released the plane accelerated quickly, hurtled down the rough slope and into the air. The grassed slopes flicked past under our wing as it dipped steeply in the turn. As we flew back over the airstrip we could see our faithful carriers waving good-by. In five minutes we were descending into the Wantikia Valley, and as we passed low over the vil­lages the people greeted us with enthusi­astic waving. After several runs over the village in which we had just placed a worker, we climbed away steeply out of the narrow valley.

Airstrip at Simbari

We set our course for Simbari, and in another five minutes were looking for a hole in the clouds to let down through. Eight hours' walking, five minutes' flying! How wonderful it would be when the Sim­bari airstrip was completed. We found the hole we wanted and made a circling de­scent right above our first village at the head of the valley. The people literally jumped for joy as we flew over, but we noticed that there were few people about. The same was the case at the next village, but as we flew down the valley we realized the reason—a great scar had appeared in the valley on the left-hand side and in the scar was a seething mass of brown bodies. In just two days the Kukukuku warriors had cleared three quarters of the airstrip site. It is no wonder they are feared by all the other tribes in New Guinea if they fight like they work. We did several low passes over their heads to cheer their hearts and to check the altitude. I made a dummy approach toward the strip and noted that because of the narrowness of the valley some trees would have to be felled on a ridge on the opposite side of the valley from the strip to make for a reasonably safe approach and take-off path. If the peo­ple can keep up this enthusiasm it will not be too long before VH-SDB has landed in the Simbari Valley. Soon our workers' isolation will be no more. No longer will they have to carry their sick wives or chil­dren over those heart-breaking trails for days on end. The morning is dawning for Simbari.

We waved good-by to these little people we had learned to love, and as we climbed out of the valley fantastic waterfalls tipped our wings with silver. Home and family were only thirty minutes away, but our hearts were with the Kukukuku savages of Simbari.

The Shadow


When a solitary shadow 

Flung itself upon the clay

'Cross the bosom of a meadow,

Lingering there but for a day,

Knew it little of its duty,

Thought it least of all to serve,

Seeking but the spreading beauty

Of the meadow's vast reserve.

Came a travel-weary stranger,

Tanned beneath a blazing sun,

Sought a refuge from the danger

Of a duty overdone.

Spied he then the single shadow. '

Twas but yet a little way,

Shimmering there like heaven's halo

'Gainst the burning of the day.

As the thirsty seek the waters

Of a cool refreshing stream;

As the wily merchant barters

Labor for a pleasant dream,

Did a weary trav'ler hasten

To the shadow's soothing shade,

Seeking refuge at the basin

Of a comfort heaven made?

Oft a solitary shadow,

Thought a source of gloom or strife,

Flings itself across the meadow

Of a weary pastor's life.

Think it not a thing of lightness

That a hoary sage would say,

"Every shadow has its brightness,

And the darkest night its day."


E. E. Cleveland

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March 1968

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