By Pauline Mago-King
In a world that has become profoundly overcome with technology, social media has been normalized as an aspect of one’s life. The introduction of social media has meant that people are able to keep in touch despite the distance; businesses are able to market themselves; and the marginalized issues are brought to light for the world to see. Yet the use of social networking sites (SNS) like Facebook has given rise to problems such as defamation and up until recently, cyberbullying. In saying that, the use of SNS comes with great responsibility and people like Gideon Kakabin remind us of this truth. While others are consumed with adverse effects of SNS, Gideon is using Facebook to preserve history and at the same time inform and educate others through the page, New Guinea Islands Historical Society (NGIHS).
Like most Papua New Guineans, Gideon’s interest in history began at home, listening to historical accounts told by his parents, aunty and uncle. It wasn’t until 2004 when Gideon, of East New Britain origin, became deeply engrossed with history and hence sent him on his way towards the creation of the NGIHS.
“This interest [in history] became acute when in 2004, I was diagnosed with some illness which the doctor advised that I do a family tree to try and trace the hereditary link to the disease,” explained Gideon.
In 2011, while Gideon was working as a Information Technology (IT) specialist, he saw an opportunity to share history. Although his profession lay in a field that was totally disconnected from curating history, Gideon began sharing history that was lost, forgotten or swept under the mat.
“I began writing material and sharing it on Facebook to pass the time in the evenings. Initially I shared this on my home page until Bob Hall, a long time friend, told me to start a new page… I called it ‘NGI Histerical Society’ [then].”
Since then, Gideon’s historical society continues to resonat with many Papua New Guineans. Gideon stated that the page has not only increased the collective knowledge of New Guinea Islands history but also his knowledge and understanding of the society.
To date the NGIHS has an astounding 11,700 members. While Gideon doesn’t specifically write for his audience, his historically centered articles run on a common thread: documenting history that hasn’t been narrated from a native perspective such as oral history.
“This, I think is the issue that keeps the audience interested because in most cases of history being published on the net, it is more or less regurgitated. [That us why] I conduct interviews to ensure that oral history is documented; a task that is becoming more difficult as older people pass on,” said Gideon.
Of course in trying to revive and document history on social media, Gideon has met his fair share of challenges. With SNS allowing people to instantaneously voice their opinions, the NGIHS has had to endure spam and frivolous discussions based on arguments that are void of documented facts. And if it’s not the former challenges then the NGIHS is confronted with rising internet costs. Yet Gideon remains optimistic in his endeavor to share history and still manages to find his way around these challenges.
“Sometimes when [frivolous discussions] get out of hand, I simply remove the offending member. With spam, I delete the posts and members then broadcast the information to help others who might be facing the same issues.”
Gideon added that although the internet charges are horrendous, he has managed to reduce the cost of downloads through friends in Australia who’ve assisted him by downloading and then sending historical material through electronic media.
Challenges or not, the NGIHS has allowed Gideon to uncover so many wonders and fortunately, bring closure to departed souls, like Joe Comachio, whose stories were once whispers in the wind.
“[Through the NGIHS] I discovered and confirmed the cause of the disappearance Joe Comachio, a Manusian who had disappeared during WW2. I discovered that he was murdered on the Akikaze 60 miles off Kavieng. The family had been searching for 70 years for information on the fate of their relative and this discovery was able to bring closure for this family,” recalled Gideon.
As Gideon connect us all with the past, he also looks to the future with plans on other projects like public lectures; a history workshop; increasing the membership of students in the NGIHS; and archiving and classifying history on the NGIHS onto a separate webpage. In the meantime, however, Gideon continues his timeless work while on the lookout for a younger historian who can take over the reigns.
If you’d like to become a member of the NGIHS, click on the link below:
Picture (courtesy of Gideon Kakabin): A Tolai adoption ceremony that Gideon documented on the New Guinea Islands Historical Society page on Facebook.