Wantok Almanac: Jesse Utul, Bilas, Gideon Kakabin and East New Britain

Wantok Almanac is a collaboration between Wantok Musik’s David Bridie and The Footy Almanac’s Jarrod Landells. Both share an affinity with our Pacific neighbourhood and its stories, of which several on music, sport, culture and history will be published on The Footy Almanac.



Jesse Utul, a key figure in Papua New Guinea’s and East New Britain’s independence processes is featured in a video clip shown below. She explains in depth to the late Gideon Kakabin (a renowned historian and artist of the Pacific, also from East New Britain) the methods and reasons behind the design of the provincial flag of East New Britain (ENB).


Flag of East New Britain Province, Papua New Guinea. [Still image taken from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yOs3fzNVU9E]


In this retelling of history, Jesse (in her role as Women’s Representative to ENB’s Provincial Government) shares how she was the one who applied suggestions of colours into a powerful representation of the region’s past, peoples, culture and future in the wake of Independence, an event which is being celebrated for the 45th time in 2020.





Those with keen eyes may notice the choice of fashion Jesse sports in the video – a Carlton scarf appropriated into a “Bilas Beanie”.


The tradition of wearing bilas adornments has a rich and colourful history…in recent times the chosen method of displaying bilas has been expanded to the humble footy scarf.



Groom wearing bilas at his Namata (Wedding ceremony), Matupit Village, Rabaul [Garret Low]


Wargi Apelis in traditional Gunantuna/Tolai bilas [A Bit Na Ta – David Bridie]


Wargi Apelis in less-traditional bilas before Womadelaide [David Bridie]


As a endnote to this video, Jesse mentions three distinct Tubuans (spirit masks) in her story, located in the middle of the flag she designed and made to celebrate the occasion of Independence in 1975/76. They are Tubuans of the Pomio, Tolai (also known as the Gunantuna) and Baining peoples. If you look at the PNG Government’s website for its provincial flags in 2020, you will notice that only two remain – those of the Tolai/Gunantuna and Baining.





Much of the significant actions towards ENB’s independence movement stemmed from the Tolai/Gunantuna in particular, who have been considered an influential group within the greater region for many generations. From the Mataungun Association’s role in reshaping colonial representation in the late 1960s until today’s periodic discussions of future further autonomy or even secession, the Tolai/Gunantuna feature prominently.


It is not without controversy that the Tolai/Gunantuna hold such sway – the Baining in particularly have had historic runctions with them over the contested residence of coastal lands on the Gazelle Peninsula. Much of the Baining’s large territorial area now extends through the mountainous heart of New Britain, though in the past, the Tolai/Gunantuna hailed from shores to the immediate east of New Britain, making a home on the island within the past few hundred years.


The Pomio area is further south and borders West New Britain Province.



Uramat Fire Dance, Gaulim (Central Baining) East New Britain Province [Gideon Kakabin]


Where did the Pomio Tubuan go? Considering Jesse’s statement that the images were included to represent East New Britain unity, it’s a mystery worth thinking about. Perhaps while listening to a quintessential sound of much of Melanesia, PNG and most of all Rabaul, the stringband…







The late Gideon ToBeovaira Kakabin, at Vunaulul, East New Britain [David Bridie]

Gideon Kakabin (1956-2018) was an artist, historian and elder of the Tolai/Gunantuna peoples of East New Britain, his work was incredibly appreciated around the Pacific but especially in his home country of Papua New Guinea.


This interview by Gideon with Jesse Utul helps to shine a light on an important part of our shared history. As members of the Pacific community, stories like Jesse’s personalise the lifting of the yoke of colonialism and the expression of free peoples of Melanesia in the 20th and 21st centuries.



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A classic jack of all trades & master of a couple, Jarrod started his footy career as a gangly ruck after a growth spurt catapulted him to the lofty heights of 177cm as a 12-year-old. Forward pocket off the bench was where he ended up as he topped out at 178cm eight years later. The trajectory of a career in health fortunately didn't peak during the pre-teen years & a keen interest in footy has turned from playing to coaching, volunteering and writing.


  1. Jesse Utul’s comments about “The Darkness” of sin and traditional belief being erased by the coming of the Light (Christianity and the Colonialists-Germany and then Australia) is a common metaphor used by many Lotu (church going) going Papua New Guineans.

  2. Along those lines David, it’s notable that some young women in Vanuatu receive public shaming for wearing pants and taking up other “modern” pursuits like going to bars, playing sports and entering the political arena in lieu of wearing traditional aelan dres (Mother Hubbard-esque dresses) and attending church services…despite those traditions of course only having existed for ~150 years after being imported by the colonialists.

  3. Thanks for this.
    Most enlightening for someone like me, who really should know more about a part of the world so close to home.
    Great pics, and great music!

  4. Glad you liked it Smokie, it really is a place of mystery for so many of us in Australia. Perhaps David and I can crack a few windows into the incredible sights and sounds that abound there…maybe a few other Almanackers have their own experiences to add too.

  5. Really interesting stuff Jarrod, thank you. Like Smokie, I wish I knew more about our PNG neighbours. Look forward to following this interesting project.

  6. Very happy to oblige, Shane.

    Speaking of our PNG neighbours, they are celebrating 45 years of Independence today!

  7. Luke Reynolds says

    How magnificent is that East New Britain flag!

    I’m quite interested in the region as a result of PNG’s rise as a ODI and Twenty20 International cricketing nation (they qualified for the now delayed T20 World Cup) and following the plight of the West Papuans under the horrible rule of Indonesia.

    Really looking forward to learning more in this series. Thanks Jarrod and David!

  8. Luke Reynolds says

    PS- My 12 year old son Gavin is an absolute whiz on world flags. Show him any flag and he’ll name it. I got much joy out of showing and stumping him with the ENB flag.

  9. I’ve been looking forward to the mighty Barramundis playing in the World Cup too Luke! The whole region is coming along in leaps and bounds with cricket – I’m sure you’ve seen a bit of Vanuatu’s recent exploits? Watch this space for some sport-related stories in the weeks ahead also.

    I’m tipping Gavin will remember ENB now! How does he go with Chad, Romania, Moldova and Andorra?

  10. Luke Reynolds says

    At least the Barramundis are still qualified for the 2021 edition in India (or the UAE).

    Chad and Romania are the only ones that give him a bit of grief, he usually answers with “Chad or Romania”!

  11. Fair enough! I don’t know that there officially is any difference, which makes it tough. Some of the pan-Arab flags are tricky to remember too.

    Two of my faves: Dominica is the only flag with purple on it and Jamaica is the only without red, white or blue.

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