Paying Tribute To The Designer Of The Papua New Guinea Flag, Susan Karike


By Barnabas Orere MBE

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, April 12, 2017) – Papua New Guineans who love history and particularly the flag of the country are mourning the passing of a true champion – Susan Karike – "the Kerema schoolgirl" who designed the national colours.

There aren’t many people who get to design their country’s flag and it does not happen every day. That makes our Susan a true champion. Susan who married and became Mrs Huhume is an outstanding Papua New Guinean by her ingenuity during a time in our history when smart people were not easy to find. She will in time become a folk hero because she was just a schoolgirl when it all happened.

Last year, the Post-Courier visited the late Susan’s family home, an improvised shack on the periphery of the Laloki Psychiatric Centre outside Port Moresby. Would she have been treated differently in another country? She looked embarrassed that there were no furniture for the visitors to sit; a white man, Dave Lornie was with us. She could not offer a cold drink in the hot July sun. The only thing of any value seemed to be a rather large specimen of her handiwork – the Red, Black and Gold. The bare soil was dusty and her grandchildren, unkempt as they were, quickly paraded around the flag of Papua New Guinea.

I was torn between a sense of pity and patriotism. Someday someone’s got to fix this I thought. Susan poured out her heart and soul. She was disappointed her country treated her with indifference. That was a year ago and she may have died a broken woman.

The story of the crest and flag commenced during the life of the first House of Assembly when the Select Committee on Constitutional Development under the chairmanship of the late Dr John Guise called upon the people and schools throughout PNG for submissions about their country’s flag.

Susan Karike’s submission was picked up at Yule Island where she attended a Catholic Mission School. It was done on a page from an exercise book. Deputy Chairman of the Second Select Committee of Constitutional Development, Geoff Littler received Susan’s submission.

"It had an instant appeal and I immediately thought this is the flag," Littler wrote.

The report was presented to and adopted by the House on 4th March, 1971. It said about the crest and flag: "The committee has chosen a design submitted by a young Papuan girl named Susan Karike. In her submission to the Committee Susan described the colours of the flag as being the colours most commonly used by our people in their traditional ceremonies.

The Committee recommended that this flag be adopted as the flag for Niugini."

Evan Evans Pty Ltd of Melbourne supplied the first Papua New Guinea flag.

Les Johnson, the Administrator flew his flag in front of his office at Konedobu. It was the first flag to be flown in the country.

Mr Littler visited PNG in August 2003 and noted the respect shown to our flag. "This reinforced that the decision we made was the correct one," he said.

The national colours is something sacred. The late Susan confided last year that she was directed by the spirit in her work. She said an amazing piece of work like that was the extraordinary work of the Holy Spirit because it was difficult to select something that would be acceptable to everyone. This was where she felt the value did not quite add up.

The choice was narrowed down to two designs. Susan’s design had been presented by Mr Littler to the committee on 1st March. The other, somewhat larger, from a New Ireland group was submitted by Mr Wally Lussick. Said Mr Littler: "The committee adjourned that evening without having come to a decision. I felt a little despondent, as I needed more than a page from an exercise book to do full justice to Susan’s design.

"That evening Ross Johnson took the initiative and had his wife, Pat, put Susan’s design on a piece of cloth slightly larger than a tea towel. When this was shown to the committee the next day a consensus was soon reached. Ross and pat’s flag gave support to my presentation and the committee accepted Susan’s design."

Susan’s passing will most surely be felt by Papua New Guineans who love their country and what the flag means to them. It is this national colour that unites this land of a thousand tribes and provides a common identity. We’re deeply sorry Mrs Huhume that your views were not taken on board but the legacy you left behind will live forever; no one will take that from you.

PNG Post-Courier
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What a truly great school girl and woman was Susan. Hidden and unknown by the people of her country and the world but now I'mbsure she is with the Blessed Trinity in Heaven and greatly prized by the Holy Spirit who inspired her all those years ago to produce the PNG flag which is a beautiful symbol of the country where she was born and raised. Let's hope country do value the ordinary people who contribute so much to the welfare of their country.

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