An interesting news article recently came across Radio New Zealand about how the Governor of Papua New Guinea’s Oro province, Gary Juffa, wants to see Mt. Lamington revert to its original, indigenous name.
Last month was the 70th-anniversary of a major volcanic explosion of the mountain. Authorities estimated that around four thousand people died in the eruption. But Juffa said the figure was likely to be far higher because many villagers weren’t counted in the death toll.
The governor, who is looking at establishing a better overall record of the disaster, said the mountain should be known by its indigenous name, Sumbiripa. “It’s something I’d like to do, to give reflection back to the original people of that area, to name those mountains, hills, those geographic locations, their original, tribal names.”
Many mountains and hills in PNG are known by European names in official maps or documents. The famous volcanic mountain in Oro was named Lamington after a British colonial administrator. However, Juffa said all Oro’s mountains and hills had indigenous names. “I’ve already got someone to find out about how to go about the process of changing names of geographic features.”
Juffa said while there would be pushback from some people, he expected the greater majority of people to welcome the use of indigenous names over European ones.
The 1951 explosion was one of the worst natural disasters to hit the Pacific region in the past century, but Juffa said relatively little was known about it, even though oral history is strong in PNG.
Regarding the death toll, he said only the public servants were named at the time because that was largely all that authorities had records for. But he said for the purposes of closure, the many local communities affected by the major eruption should be acknowledged in a more accurate toll. “There’s an area where seventeen villages were decimated. And only one family survived out of the seventeen villages.”
“In those days the villages were quite large, about a thousand or so (people). So that’d be seventeen thousand people, thereabouts, Juffa continued. “A lot of people that died were not remembered, adequately recorded or recognized etc. So it’s a project that I’d like to undertake as well.”