Sir Michael Somare (1936)



Dr. Sir Michael Somare (born 09.04.36) was Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea from independence in 1975 until 1980, from 1982 until 1985, and again since 2002. His first two terms were as a member of the Pangu Party, but he is now leader of his National Alliance Party.


Michael Somare was the son of Ludwig Somare Sana and Kambe Somare. Ludwig Somare was a policeman from 1922 to 1947, rising to the rank of sergeant. Having taught himself to read and write, he was subsequently active in encouraging formation of small businesses and cooperatives, founding the Angoram Cooperative Society which he chaired from 1961 until 1967, and remaining active in trading until his death in 1972. In all he had four wives and six children, of whom Michael was the eldest.


Born in Rabaul where his father was then stationed, Michael Somare grew up in his family village of Karau in the Murik Lakes district of East Sepik Province. His earliest education was in a Japanese-run primary school at Karau during World War II where he learned to read, write and count in Japanese. Meanwhile his father was in hiding and fear of his life from the Japanese in Rabaul, but Somare remembers the Japanese with affection. Two of his earliest overseas trips, first as a parliamentarian and then as Prime Minister, were to Japan.


From 1946 he attended Boram Primary School, then Dregerhafen Education Center and Sogeri High School, graduating with a Leaving Certificate issued on behalf of the Australian state of Victoria in 1957. This was a teaching qualification at the time, and Somare then taught at several primary and secondary schools, returning to Sogeri High School for further training from 1962 to 1963.


Transferring within the Public Service, Somare became a radio broadcaster based in Wewak in the East Sepik Province. He received further training at the Administrative College at Waigani in 1965. Following numerous conflicts with his superiors concerning his outspoken political comments, he was transferred from broadcasting to administrative roles, and left the Public Service to contest the elections for the second House of Assembly in 1968 as a member of the Pangu Party which he had founded with other like minds in 1967.


Somare and eight other Pangu Party members were elected. They declined invitations to join the coalition government, and he became the first official opposition leader. Following the third House of Assembly elections in 1972, Somare was able to form a coalition government which included Julius Chan of the People's Progress Party, himself later a Prime Minister, as Minister for Internal Finance. Somare was Chief Minister, becoming Prime Minister when self-government was granted in 1975, and was a key figure in the preparations for subsequent independence and the preparation and adoption of the Constitution.


Overthrown by a parliamentary vote of no confidence in 1980, he was again Prime Minister from 1982 until 1985, and won the office a third time in 2002.


Somare has always had an interest and a pride in his background and culture. Although his initiations were interrupted several times by his career, he returned to his village regularly and completed them, culminating in his appointment as sana or peacemaker, a title inherited from his father and grandfather and conferred on him by his uncle Saub in 1973. He often chose to wear melanesian rather than western dress in parliament and on similar occasions, and in many old photographs is the only political leader so attired.


Somare's political style was both fiercely nationalistic and conciliatory, following the tradition of Sana as he sees it. One of the roles of Sana is to invite enemies to a feast before any fight. Somare often appointed political enemies to posts in which they could exercise their interests and passions. In the lead-up to independence, he argued for and won citizenship and residency requirements which were both more severe than the outgoing Australian administration recommended and more moderate than most of his party wished. His economics have aimed for betterment of the people rather than simple economic growth.


In his autobiography Sana (1975), Somare describes many fascinating incidents. He tells how in 1971, he was concerned that the sacred objects, the ornately carved sacred spears or kakars and the sacred flutes, were being lost, destroyed, sold or stolen. After much negotiation with the gapars or priests he arranged to have the kakars of his village photographed. The kakars were only handled by the senior gapars, and only left or 'came down' from the haus tambaran on the occasion of the gapars handing over the priestly function to another orob or generation. Somare himself was too young to be allowed to even see the kakars, but was included into the coming down ceremony as the interpreter for the photographer, who was of a suitable age to be attached to the next orob. Only after the ceremony was complete did Somare realise the enormity of the sacrifice made by the older priests to allow these photographs to be taken. Over the following days they completed the initiation of the new orob, thus denying themselves the privilege of serving as gapars ever again.


Reflecting these interests, in 1969 he was appointed chairman of the board of trustees of the Papua and New Guinea Museum.

Somare married his wife Veronica in 1965, having courted her in traditional fashion, and then immediately left to take up his scholarship at Administrative College. They have five children, Bertha, Sana, Arthur, Michael junior and Dulciana. Somare is head of both his own family and that of his wife, who initiated him into their title mindamot two days after his initiation as sana.


He has received several honorary doctorates, the first being from the University of the Philippines in 1976. He was appointed a member of Her Majesty's Privy Council in 1977, and was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (GCMG) by the Queen in the Birthday Honour List of 1990.