The popular song Magi Highway sung by Steve Lahui of the once famous Memehusa Band of the Central Province is always a fitting inclusion in my playlist whenever I get the chance to drive on the Magi Highway. It has a catchy happy tune to it and driving along the stretch of road always puts a positive and joyful vibe to the trip. But it’s more the lyrics to this happy go lucky number that brings more meaning to it and for the Motuan speakers living along this highway, it brings out a sense of pride.
Part of the lyrics to this number goes “Magi Highway oh Magi Highway, Labana gabuadia uma gabudiana unu senia boaitamu”. Translated, it means Magi Highway oh Magi Highway, you’ll see hunting and gardening places there. In a way, the song is intended to bring out the beauty of the place as well as an historical account of it.
There’s a lot more to the song than these lyrics but basically the highway brings a sense of pride to the people of Central Province. There are so many villages that run along the highway the song seems to speak for all those residing along it. No one person can claim over it and as the lyrics of the song points out Magi Highway, emai gabu (Magi Highway, it’s our place) without specific reference to any particular village or group of people.
The song and its meaning might give a hint as to why the recent renaming of part of the highway has hit a “speed bump” so to speak, particularly for those who claim the highway as emai gabu.
However, someone who might come close to making a claim (although we doubt he would make any official claim to it let alone publicly raise an issue of it) is Joe Polonsky or more commonly known by the locals as Taubada Joe.
Polonsky is believed to be of Polish descent who ran a logging business in the Central Province during Papua New Guinea’s pre-independence era. According to son Joseph who is now based in Cairns, his father had entered into a “handshake” agreement to walk through the thick jungle and build the highway to link Kupiano to Kwikila and from the Aroma turnoff near Matairuka and on towards the whole Aroma Villages in the Marshall Lagoon area. It is not entirely clear as to who he made the “handshake agreement” with.
Considering the mass area to cover, the rugged terrain and the lack of proper tools to commence construction, Taubada Joe kept his word and laid the foundation to building the highway. Taubada Joe was a local contractor, knew the place well and with his reputation known for delivering and staying true to his words, it is unsurprising that he was approached.
The senior Polonsky married a woman from Elevala who accompanied him for much of the time he conducted business in the Central Province. The couple have three biological children. Joseph his second born son was brought up in the business and as he says he was raised in a caravan in his early years given the nomadic lifestyle of his parents.
Having met the Taubada personally in Cairns he was a quiet sort. It was clearly visible that his body had had enough and his rather large body frame showed signs of wear and tear. At first, the impression he gave of tiredness was simply a result of age catching up but little did I know that much of the exhaustion was a result of the many years of work building what we now know as Magi Highway. It’s almost a decade since his passing and little has been known about the man who started building the highway that would become so important to the people of Central Province and indeed Papua New Guinea. The importance is not just the convenience of commuting from village to town and back but of even greater importance is that labana and uma produce by farmers can now be transported easily to the main markets in Port Moresby using the highway.
An interesting question to consider is why Joe Polonsky named the Highway Magi Highway. Was it after the name of a person? One possibility is that the Highway may have been named after the Magi Magi tree which also grows in the Central Province.
Irrespective of the name, the name will always be Magi Highway, emai gabu!
Thank you Taubada Joe!