By ALFREDO P HERNANDEZ
STEVEN RAMOS, then a 31-year-old employee at the Electricity Commission (now PNG Power) in 1975, was manning the company’s customer counter when a Filipino expatriate came in, approached him and inquired something about opening a residential account. Newly-arrived in Papua New Guinea, the customer excitedly talked in Filipino while Steven, quite amused, just listened for a while.
Then, Steven excused himself and went inside the office. When he came back, he was with a senior Filipino staff who later attended to the expatriate. Steven went back inside.
“I was telling him (Steven) about my little problem at home regarding my power connection, but he just listened, nodded, smiled … what’s wrong with him?” the expatriate customer, almost out of patience, told the employee in Filipino.
“He won’t understand you … he’s Papua New Guinean ...” was the employee’s reply.
The expatriate was agape and could not believe that this guy, who was Filipino however he looked at him, was in fact a Papua New Guinean.
“How did it happen …?” the customer asked, but his compatriot could only say, “I really don’t know …”
Intrigued by his physical look as well as his non-Papua New Guinean-sounding name, Steven decided to look into his past. Finding about it later, he was truly amazed.
HOW STEVEN RAMOS and the many Filipino-looking Papua New Guineans have populated this part of the earth dates back to 1800s.
It was during this period when 14 Filipino Catholic lay missionaries and some European priests came to PNG in several batches to teach catechism to the natives in their quest to evangelize the country and settled on Yule Island, then the seat and nerve center of the Catholic mission.
Individually, the Filipinos fanned out into the villages of British New Guinea (aka Papua, the southern half of the mainland) where they introduced Christianity, particularly Catholicism, to the natives.
In later years, some of the Filipinos returned to home base on Yule Island while others opted to stay in villages where they were stationed, married local women and raised children.
These days, on Yule Islands and in many villages in the mainland, several locals possess distinct Filipino features – light complexion, straight hair, brown eyes and thin lips, among others – a stark contrast to the rest of the Papuans.
Port Moresby’s old-timers usually referred to them as “Lost Filipinos”, to mean that they were the generations of Papua New Guinean-Filipinos who are clueless about their Filipino ancestry.
From five to seven generations of these inter-racial offspring, a number were said to have carried Filipino-Hispanic surnames spawned by Catholic mission workers Emmanuel Simplicio Natera, Marcello Fabila, Nicolas Albaniel, Telesforo Babao, Gregorio Ramos (Kevin’s ancestor), Diego Randall, Bernardino Taligatus, Basillo Artango, Francis Castro, Juan Malabag, Cirilo Espinosa, Gregorio Toricheba, Anastacio BuenSuseso and Juan de la Cruz.
Many of these descendants were educated in Australia, became prominent citizens and held distinct positions in government and in business and industry. At present, several of them reside in Australia, US, New Zealand and Europe.
Asked by their “wantoks” (relatives) why they have straight hair or light complexion, many of these descendants would say they did not know, “although we were told something happened in our ancient past …”
But Steven Ramos, now 62, found out later about that incident 31 years ago.
“Our family began with Gregorio Ramos who came to PNG in mid-1800s as an employee of the Australian colonial government … he worked as a warder in a prison camp at 7 Mile outside of Port Moresby, then a small port.”
Gregorio married Loa Goka, a girl from the Kwara Dubuna clan in Hanuabada, who gave birth to an only child, Sebastian Gregorio, in 1908. In later years, Gregorio returned to Queensland with Sebastian and continued to work with the Queensland government. Now grown-up, Sebastian returned to PNG, settled on Yule Island and worked at a coconut plantation and taught catechism to the natives under the supervision of the missionaries. Later, he married an islander and raised six children, among them Steven Ramos, who was born in 1944. Steven married Emily Curry Alice who was of Scottish-PNG ancestry and raised eight children, five of them boys.
OF THE EARLY Filipinos who came to PNG, it was Marcello Fabila who gained much prominence as a mission worker. Born in 1869 in Dancalan, Antique in central Philippines, Marcello was a seaman and an adventurer who traveled widely in Southeast Asia, Australia and British New Guinea (aka Papua).
A knowledgeable and devoted Catholic, he decided to join the early missionaries of the Yule Island’s Catholic Diocese in the Bereina District of the British New Guinea in 1898 then headed by European Bishop Alain de Boismenu. Then 29, Marcello worked as seaman on “St Andrew”, the mission ship.
Later working as a catechist-teacher, he met a Yule Island girl Raurau Ke’e and married her in 1901. They had two children – Mika (Michael) Marcello Fabila and Kala (Salvatore) Marcello Fabila. Both Marcello and Raurau worked in many villages within the Berina district of Papua.
Widowed at 52, Marcello married in 1919 a Filipino-Papua New Guinean girl Anna Natera, then 18, the fifth child among the 14 children of Filipino Emmanuel Simplicio Natera and Papuan woman Maria Aiva Ume. Emmanuel Simplicio was a Catholic mission worker in PNG during the mid-1800s.
Marcello Fabila was said to be of a pleasant personality, a dedicated and tireless worker, an advocate of peace and love, and a person quite eager to see the people of Bereina district develop integrally in the mid stages of colonization.
In those days, he tremendously contributed to the religious, political and administrative developments of British New Guinea/Territory of Papua. While being a mission worker, he declared the district of Bereina his home. He died on November 30, 1942 at the age of 73 in Poukama, Central province and was buried at the mission cemetery on Yule Island. Anna died in 1989 in Brisbane, Australia, at the home of one of her children. She was 88.
The Marcello Fabila-Anna Natera union produced nine offspring that included Mary Ann Fabila-Sereva Mou, now 82, and Ildefonso Fabila (aka Pontoy), now 79.
My father was a terrible disciplinarian and a brave man … he caned me occasionally …” Pontoy recalled during a chat with this writer. “But he was admired by the natives for his intelligence and practical approach to solving conflict at the village.”
Pontoy recalled that in 1930 when he was just three-year-old, his father intervened between two tribes – the Oriro Petana and Alpina in Mekeo, Central province – living on the opposite banks of St Joseph River. The tribes were plunged into a fight after a man from Oriro eloped with a girl from the other clan.
Immediately, the chief of the Oriro tribe declared that the first man from the Alpiana tribe who will cross the river to get the girl back will die. Told about the raging conflict, the 63-year-old Marcello, who lived in a nearby village, rushed to the war zone and crossed the river, carrying his shotgun with blank cartridges but tipped with rock salt.
Reaching the Oriro side of the river bank, he confronted the clan chief: “I’m the first man to cross the river, you can kill me now…”
Cowed, the clan chief backed off and ran away with his men as Marcello fired several shots, peppering them with rock salt pellets. After the incidents, the two tribes made peace and allowed the young lovers to get married.
Pontoy had been married twice, with the first marriage producing an only son, the Australian-educated Henry Tomas Williams Fabila who became the general manager of the PNG Bank of Commerce and later the Lord Mayor of Port Moresby. He died at age 53. Pontoy’s second marriage (to Papuan Margaret Pantung, deceased) produced nine siblings – Pedro-Joseph, Hubert, Anita-Faustina (Alarcos), Emmauel-Rafael, Maria-Anuncia, Eduardo, Gerardus-Archie, Gellian-Karen-Olive, and Francis Robert.
Anita is the wife of Filipino entrepreneur Freddie Alarcos, maker of Port Moresby’s famous “lechon” (Filipino roasted pig). Pedro-Joseph (Joe) is a colonel in PNG Defense Force who then worked as director for Logistics.
Mary Ann Fabila, who married Papua New Guinean Francis Sereva Mou (deceased), has children who included Bernadette-Sereva Ani, Christine-Helen, David-Gerald and Edmund.
THE NICOLAS ALBANIEL group of PNG has blood lines connected to the Fabila family. This bloodline link begins from Kala Salvatore Fabila (second offspring of Marcello and Raura Fabila),who married Ligouri Albaniel, daughter of Nicholas Albaniel and Rosy Bombay of Indian and Western Australian origin. This bloodline covers at least seven generations.
Nicholas Albaniel, born to Marco Albaniel and Ignacia de la Rosa of the Philippines, was a seaman and adventurer before becoming a Catholic cathechist-teacher volunteer at the Catholic diocese (Bereina district) on Yule Island. He made his way from Thursday Island in North Queensland, Australia.
Coincidentally, a certain Rosy Bombay of Indian and Western Australia aboriginal original origin also arrived on Yule Island to start missionary duties as catechist-teacher. In the courts of missionary duties, Rosy and Nicholas met and were married on November 28, 1903 at the Bereina Catholic diocese on Yule Island.
Similar to that of Marcello and Raura Fabila’s religious activities, Nicholas and Rosy continued missionary duties within the village communities around Bereina District. Later, the couple had children – Emmanuel (Manu), Joseph, Nicholas, Mary Mercedes, Katherine (Katie) and Ligouri. Unfortunately, Joseph, Nicholas and Mary Mercedes all died between the years of 1925 and 1956. Nicholas II was born in 1923 to Nicholas Albaniel’s second wife, Anna Emu.
From the Marcello Fabila-Raurau Ke’s group and that of the Marcello Fabila-Anna Natera union evolved seven heavily populated generations, where two-thirds of them could not be accounted for to date due to complications in communication and the absence of actual registration of live births, something foreign to the natives during the colonial days and even up to the recent years.
It fact, was revealed by two local dailies here sometime ago that about 90 percent of Papua New Guineans “are not considered citizens for lack of official records showing they actually existed”. But that’s another story.
PNG visitor Kerry Smibert (left) with Madam Lynda Babao, wife of Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O'Neill. – Picture by By dirksmibert
A prominent citizen, Lynda Babao, who is a psychologist and the executive director of PRD Realty Ltd, is a direct descendant of Catholic mission worker Telesforo Babao. She’s the wife of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill.
“My dad told me about our great, great Filipino granddad who was then a merchant before working as missionary on Yule Island and we’re proud of our heritage,” Lydia, who has two other siblings Crystal and Shun, told this writer.
Several years ago, Pontoy went to Dancalan, the native home of his father in Antique province, in the Philippines, to meet his Filipino relatives. He discovered to his amazement that the Fabilas and the Nateras were both big families spread to all over the province. For the first time, Pontoy felt being home with his long lost family.
Franco Natera, a civil engineer at the Works Department, told this writer the five-to-seven generations of the Filipino-Papua New Guineans that began in the 1800 could easily yield from 15,000 to 20,000 descendants, here in PNG and overseas. Franco is one of the two sons of Joseph Natera, the youngest of the 14 children of Emmanuel Simplicio and Maria Aiva Ume.
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