Home Uncategorized Sir Michael Somare, Papua New Guinea’s first prime minister, lovingly remembered at state funeral

Sir Michael Somare, Papua New Guinea’s first prime minister, lovingly remembered at state funeral

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Pacific Beat / By Nick Fogarty and Inga Stünzner

Thousands have gathered to bid farewell to Papua New Guinea’s “Father of the Nation” Sir Michael Somare at a state funeral.

Sir Michael was Papua New Guinea’s first prime minister when it gained independence from Australia in 1975, and was also its longest-serving leader.

Key points:

  • A developing COVID-19 crisis prompted calls for the funeral to be cancelled
  • The Australian flag was flown at half-mast as a sign of respect
  • Mourners honoured Sir Michael with an outpouring of artistic tributes

He died two weeks ago at the age of 84, soon after he was diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic cancer.

Mourners crowded into the Sir Hubert Murray Stadium in PNG’s capital Port Moresby to honour the Grand Chief, while others flooded onto streets and threw flowers as the hearse passed by.

The ceremony was punctuated by choral hymns and traditional dances originating from Sir Michael’s birthplace of East New Britain.

As a mark of “mourning and respect”, the Australian government requested all its national flags to be flown at half-mast on the day.

Dulciana Somare Brash, Sir Michael’s daughter, delivered a powerful eulogy reflecting on her father’s ability to unite the new nation of more than 800 different language and tribal groups.

“Contrary to the opinions of our colonial masters and critics, my father always envisioned us as one people, one nation and one country,” she told mourners.

“I’m proud to say my father, Michael Somare, dreamed Papua New Guinea into existence.”

Few mourners wore face masks at the service, despite a recent surge of COVID-19 across the country which has seen the number of cases almost double since the start of February.

The developing COVID-19 crisis prompted calls for the farewell to be cancelled entirely in fear it could become a superspreader event.

Betha Somare, Sir Michael’s daughter, urged Papua New Guineans to stay indoors during the funeral because of the health risks posed.

“Sir Michael would have wanted us all to keep each other safe, especially during these unprecedented times,” Ms Somare said in a statement.

“Stay home if you can and follow the directions of health authorities.”

Grand Chief immortalised through art

Derrick Lendu has drawn Sir Michael Somare’s face on his palm to honour the Grand Chief.(Supplied: Derrick Lendu)

In the lead-up to the funeral, lifelike portraits of a smiling Sir Michael Somare were drawn on the palms of hands and shaved into the back of one man’s head, as part of artistic tributes toward the founding father.

University of Papua New Guinea art student Derrick Lendu, 24, who created the ink-on-palm art, said he was overcome by grief after watching moving videos of Sir Michael in parliament.

A man shaved a picture of Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare to honour his life.(Supplied: Ben Junior Manda)

“The name Somare was the name we often hear when you’re small, growing up, so when he passed on we faced a great loss to the country,” Mr Lendu said.

“We appreciate what he did for the country in achieving independence and everything in his life … so I felt like I should do a proper tribute.”

An outpouring of artistic tributes to the late prime minister include sand sculptures, drawings, oil paintings and graphic designs — all of which reveal different sides to Sir Michael.

And that’s the point of art, according to internationally renowned Papua New Guinean artist Jeffrey Feeger.

Feeger shared several portraits he completed of Sir Michael over the past decade, including a stylistic and heavily textured oil painting created two years ago.

The painting was done at a social function the Grand Chief attended, and Feeger finished it within a couple of hours.

“Any good artwork reveals the process and gives you a sense of perspective of seeing the person,” he said.

“I think that’s the beauty of any painting or artwork. It’s a window in which we can see an individual and it does add to the tapestry of narratives surrounding the Grand Chief.”

Contemporary Papuan New Guinean art was born at the time Sir Michael Somare became Grand Chief, and artists are paying their respects.(Facebook: CLINTgrafiks)

Feeger welcomed the diverse range of artistic impressions and encouraged others to share their impressions of Sir Michael.

“He was not just a politician for the people of this land,” he said, adding that he was also a tribal leader, with many referring to him as the Grand Chief.

“It’s an honour to be able to paint his portrait.”

Pacific traditions closely linked to arts and culture

An oil painting of Sir Michael painted by Jeffry Feeger two years ago.(Supplied: Jeffry Feeger)

Sir Michael’s support of the arts is well documented.

During Papua New Guinea’s independence in 1975, he secured Australian funding to build the national museum and arts centre.

“The Grand Chief was someone who closely revered his own culture, the culture of the Pacific people,” Feeger said.

“He carried with him this respect for our traditions, and our traditions are closely linked to art and culture.”

Feeger said Sir Michael was a conservator of art and was critical of artwork being removed from parliament.

“He was very vocal about that, expressing his disapproval at the way the culture was being denigrated, not respected,” Feeger said.

“It’s a sad thing that he had to stand and fight for that in the face of the modern culture — the foreign culture — coming in and changing the way in which we think,” he said.

Father of contemporary art

Jeffry Feeger has several paintings of the Grand Chief from the past decade.(Supplied: Jeffry Feeger)

Ruth McDougall, curator of Pacific Art at the Queensland Art Gallery, is not surprised about how artists are responding to Sir Michael’s death and memorialising him.

“In Papua New Guinea, Somare holds a very dear place in many people’s hearts, and certainly for the arts community, his initial terms as prime minister were ones where there was enormous fervour in the arts,” Ms McDougall said.

“He was very responsible for creating the institutions and providing the support that enabled artists to begin to explore different techniques and expressing themselves.”

Ms McDougall said art played an incredibly important function in PNG as a way of communicating a sense of identity.

And artists sharing their portraits of Sir Michael online, which in turn have been embraced by the rest of the public, was part of this, she said.

“A way of communicating their identity is to share this coming together, uniting to share this one particular figure and their history as an independent nation,” Ms McDougall said.

“It’s an extraordinary history.”

Souce: Sir Michael Somare, Papua New Guinea’s first prime minister, lovingly remembered at state funeral – ABC News

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