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Up the Markham Valley

Elsewhere the Gospel had won victories but p the Markham Valley a hard battle still lay ahead.  Ruppert was called back to Finshhafen.  Panzer was sent as exchange from Sattelberg.  He was to work with Oertel.  Indigenous help replaced him at Sattelberg.
There was no path though the bush to the Laewomba people and connections with the coastal people were warlike.  So early communications were via the river.  Later, it took established.  Oertel took over this task.  Schummutterer had difficulty getting carriers.  These could carry only 30 pounds each and all tings had to be packed in rain-proof cartons.  Other things still went by canoe from Labo.  Without much indigenous help, the establishing or a Markham station would have been impossible.  Eleven Bukawa men helped with the original building in 1911.  (p.172.GNM)

In 1913 Panzer explained their problems.  He said that two were required for trips but one had to stay on the station.  The Laewombas were still quite nervous.  Every night Oertel had his door especially arranged so that anyone entering would thereby trigger a rope tied to Oertel’s body.  But with the missionaries’ presence attacks by the Laewomba on the coastal people ceased.  However, up the valley fighting was still in full swing.  The people had to kill for religious reasons.  A young man could not decorate himself or get married without first having killed someone.  And those sorrowing could not consider the matter closed until someone had been killed in return.  (p.173.GNM).

The Laewomba therefore made war against the Azera and against the mountain people, the Waing.  They had killed eight Waing people, unknown to Oertel.  Three days later as Oertel and Inspector Steck came to the Waing for a visit on November 7, 1914, the Waing suddenly attacked and killed six Laewombas who had come along.

In a report of 1912, Oertel complains that “the churches and schools are still empty.  Theft and murder are the most important things about which we can report.”  After studying the area carefully, the missionaries reported that formerly the Laewombas plains had twenty-seven villages with a population of ten thousand.  When the missionaries came only five villages with one thousand two hundred people were left over. 

In 1917 Oertel reported that the school boys were staying for one-half year.  Previously they had stayed in school only fourteen days.  But the adults were still in the grips of murder and the payback system.  Six years of work had not changed the situation very much.  Finally, the Australian government took action.  They took the guilty in two villages, brought them to the church the prisoners tried to escape.  The officer ordered the police to fire.  Some prisoners were killed.  Those left received longer sentences.  (Panzer – March 6, 1921)  After baptism, the murderers became changed people.  (p.174.GNM).  They now were zealous evangelists as reported by G. Stuerenhofecker in 1929.

Because of language forms Oertel suggested that once upon a time the Atzera and Laewomba were one group.  For Oertel, the Atzera language was his third and required much time for study.  The Atzeras were different.  The Laewombas were warlike and resisted the Gospel.  To the end they trusted the ancestors.  The Atzeras were eak but had many evil heathen customs.  (Described by Oertel in 1930 Yearbook of the Mission).  Hardly had a beginning been made in Atzera when fighting and fighting related dancing ceased.

The Atzera station was begun in 1918.   Oertel had the assignment.  From 1916 on he had regularly visited the area.  By 1917 he reported that the people had confidence in him.  (p.175.GNM). They send fourteen boys with him for school.  He also started to established helper stations beginning with the Zifasin who lived in between the Atzeras and Laewombas.

Oertel describes Atzera in 1917 as “an area of over one hundred villages with one language, mostly in peaceful and friendly intercourse with one another.”  By 1919 there was a net of ten helper stations in the whole area.  The evangelists came mostly from Bukawa.  A report of 1922  tells of welve Bukawa families at work in Atzera.

Peace, brought by the Gospel among the Atzera and also near-by Kai mountain people, made a great impression on the people.  In 1920 Oertel reports that the leading village had given up sorcery and magic.  Some had returned goods previously stolen.  Oertel was strangely regarded as an extra-ordinary rain maker who out-performed all others because on three or four important occasion it started to rain when he appeared in the area.

On many evangelist stations, catechumen classes were started.  (p.176.GNM)  Fourty-two villages helped build a church at the foot of Kaiapit hill.  This church held two thousand.  In 1919 Oertel reported that twenty helpers were at work.  They were all highly regarded, conscientious, and made peace among the people on all sides.  Oertel made many ardouous journeys, holding Sunday services, and assisting the catechumens.  It had taken awhile for the helpers to learn the Atzera language so the first baptism was delayed till 1924.  (p.177.GNM).

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Last Updated on Friday, 08 July 2011 13:34

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