EULOGY BY THE SECRETARY GENERAL
DAME MEG TAYLOR
MEMORIAL SERVICE FOR SIR MICHAEL SOMARE
12 March 2021
His Grace, Peter Loy Chong, Archbishop of Suva
The Honourable Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, Prime Minister of Fiji
Her Excellency, Lucy Bogari, High Commissioner of Papua New Guinea
His Excellency, the Honourable Speaker of the House Ratu Epeli Nailatikau
Distinguished Ministers of Government
Na Gone Marama Bale na Roko Tui Dreketi, Ro Teimumu Kepa
Traditional Chiefs of Fiji
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen
And my fellow Papua New Guineans present here today.I speak today, as a proud daughter of Papua New Guinea to reflect with you all on the life and legacy of the Right Honourable Grand Chief Sir Michael Thomas Somare.
At the outset, allow me to acknowledge Lady Veronica Somare and her children: Betha, Sana, Arthur, Michael and Dulciana who, throughout their lives, have shared a husband and a father with we his people.
I also acknowledge the people of Murik Lakes and East Sepik for their generosity and understanding of Sir Michael’s commitment to we, his people, from every part of our beautiful and bountiful land and sea.
Sir Michael belonged to a generation of Pacific Leaders which saw the likes of Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara of Fiji, Hammer du Robert of Nauru, Sir Albert Henry of the Cook Islands, Tuipelehake of Tonga, Ieremaia Tabai of Kiribati, Chief Mata’afa of Samoa who were tasked with pursuing self-determination and independence. They faced, head-on, the challenges of nation building and balanced the sensitivities of the western ideals of democracy and good governance with our traditional and cultural values and ethos.
The unique yet shared experience in nation building of that generation of Pacific Leaders underlay a strong camaraderie amongst them that, at a regional level, led to the emerging tenets and eventual formation of a regional architecture in the Pacific. Indeed, their individual stories now form a significant part of the histories of their respective nations.
To honour Sir Michael’s legacy this morning, allow me to cast back to a few personal memories of who he was, as a person.
I was privileged to have had the opportunity to serve our first Chief Minister and then Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare, with a group of young advisers through Self-Government and into early independence – we fondly referred to him as Chief, both then and throughout his entire life.
He was a leader, who, with natural charisma captured the imagination of his people – to follow his vision for a united and independent country.
Indeed, a key leadership quality that set Chief apart was his natural affinity to listen and empathise with every person.
His kindness and generosity invited all of us to be his sister, his brother, his cousin, his friend and his family.
His vision and determination inspired us to believe in ourselves and our future; and to move through self-government to independence as one united people.
During that transition period, many communities in parts of Papua and New Guinea were apprehensive about achieving full independence.
Remarkably, he seemed undaunted by the task of uniting the country. It was, for him, not just a task. It was a very firm belief and confidence in the promise and potential of what a united Papua and the territory of New Guinea, could mean for his people.
Many had denounced the unity of Papua and New Guinea as impossible but Chief was determined to find a way forward and to carry the people with him. He was tenacious in his efforts to travel to all districts and sub-districts throughout the territory of Papua and New Guinea.
Chief was a master politician in a truly Melanesian fashion. His astuteness in assessing a situation, understanding the implications of words and actions, comprehending anxiety and its consequences and using his skills as a listener, teacher, and a leader, brought people together.
Indeed, nothing pleased him more than to exchange ideas and stories. Your time was his time and he would dedicate hours to ensuring that everyone was heard. He would never leave a discussion unfinished and if the sun set on a conversation in a rural village he would promise to come back again to continue the discussion or would spend the night.
It was these very characteristics that endeared him to our people.
During the process of nation building, he never shied away from acknowledging his own mistakes and he always sought counsel from varied perspectives: drawing on the education and budding energy of his young advisers as well as the measured and experienced wisdom of his older political colleagues.
He continued to be curious about all possibilities throughout his life.
This unique curiosity, coupled with his visionary thinking saw the development of the 8 Point Improvement Plan in the early 1970s and just prior to independence. In essence, it was for its time, an innovative and forward-thinking development-vision for a country on cusp of independence. The 8-point plan went on to form the basis of the national goals and directive principles which today, form the foundation of our constitution – commonly referred to as our Mama Loa.
Indeed, perhaps his greatest legacy was the development of our Mama Loa. The constitution was the ground-breaking vision of creating the nation that we know today – a homegrown constitution, it was consulted over a 3-year process throughout the land.
This consultative quality and the value he placed on peoples and relationships, epitomised his leadership not only at the national level but at the regional and international level also.
Chief recognised that in order to be truly successful as a nation, Papua New Guinea would need to build its relations with his neighbouring countries and he set to work leading Papua New Guinea into its unique role as part of the Pacific, and of Asia. At heart, the region held a special place.
At his first Pacific Islands Forum as a Member State in 1974 he shared “Papua New Guinea acceded to this Forum with the strong desire to contribute and support the Forum Members in the needs of our region. We are not here to rock the boat, but to add another in order that our voyage to that glorious destination may be reached.”
Indeed, his passing has, personally, forced me to pause and reflect on his leadership not only in Papua New Guinea but in the region as a whole and brought to the fore recollections of Pacific regionalism and how it came to be.
At a time such as this, where Pacific regionalism is at its most fragile, Sir Michael’s legacy reminds us of the practice of regional solidarity and cooperation where personal relations at the political level such as that enjoyed by the late Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara and Sir Michael, are paramount to fostering understanding and the pursuit of regional unity.
Regionalism and regional cooperation is only as strong as the unity of its political leadership – this I fervently believe. Sir Michael constantly reminded all of the need to guard our unity as one regional family closely.
The title and name Grand Chief Right Honourable Sir Michael Somare, Sana will be forever etched in our history. His name will be synonymous with the Independent State of Papua New Guinea. His name and stories will be part of our written history, it will be part of our oral history, and we will tell his story with our stories.
I will remember him as a man that knew and held his people, his home and his culture at heart. He was a man who knew the responsibility of leadership and served his country for half a century. As a devout Catholic, he was a man of great faith and he tried to live his faith throughout his life.
He was loyal and devoted to his friends and shared a deep friendship with the late Ratu Mara, his family and the Fijian people and this is part of our history too.
As a final reflection, I offer this – during his life, Sir Michael was always concerned about the unity of my nation. As emulated through his life’s work, his deepest desire was that we, as a nation of a thousand tribes and 860 languages, with a richness in diversity that spanned from the Highlands to our Islands was to be and always be – Wan Kantri, Wan Pipol, Wan Solwara.
I thank you.–ENDS
Image credits: Fiji Govt.