John Rumet Kaputin (1941- ), athlete, businessman and politician. Kaputin was born on Matupit Island, East New Britain (ENB) District, and educated in Papua New Guinea (PNG), Australia and US. He gave up a teacher-training course to establish a business and then joined the staff of the House of Assembly. In 1966 he was the first PNGan to receive a scholarship to study, for two years, at the East West Center of the University of Hawaii. On his return he was appointed manager of a savings and loans society. In late 1969 Kaputin became an active spokesman for the radical Mataungan Association on the Gazelle Peninsula, ENB, and founded the New Guinea Development Corporation, of which he was the managing director, to help the local (Tolai) people establish businesses and invest in property. He was elected to the House of Assembly to represent an ENB seat in 1972.
In the early 1970s Kaputin and Father John Momis, dominated the parliamentary Constitutional Planning Committee. He was an anti-colonialist, radical nationalist and militant supporter of Independence. In 1974 he and Momis formed a pressure group to oppose foreign investment in the interests of protecting natural resources. In 1979 he was sentenced to ten weeks jail for failing to comply with a court order to file a 1977 report of the New Guinea Development Corporation with the Registrar. Kaputin has held the portfolios of Justice (August 1973-March 1975), Planning and Development (March 1979-October 1979), Higher Education (January 1980), Finance (March 1980-July 1982), Minerals and Energy (November 1985-June 1988) and Foreign Affairs (July 1992-1994, December 1999 – 2000). He has been a member of PANGU Pati and Melanesian Alliance. In 1992 he stood as an Independent and became a member of Prime Minister Wingti’s coalition after narrowly retaining his seat. He has represented PNG at international Rugby League matches and overseas conferences. He was named Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George in 1983 and Knight Bachelor of the British Empire in 1997.
Sir John excelled in sports at the Rockhampton Boys Grammar School and was a recipient of the Archer Cup in 1958 and 1959 for being the top junior athlete of the school after winning the long jump, 100 yards, 220 yards and 440 yards. Along with athletics, Sir John’s sporting prowess at school extended to swimming, cricket and rugby league.
Back in Papua New Guinea, Sir John was the first Papua New Guinean national to break the racial barrier when he was admitted to play rugby league for the Kone Tigers Club in the all white competition in Port Moresby in 1960. In the same year he was selected to represent Papua in the annual Inter-Territory Championship against New Guinea. Sir John helped bring Kone a championship in 1961.
Sir John commented on his rugby league playing experiences in those days by saying,
“(if) they want to give it to you, as a footballer you say, OK, it’s your turn. My turn next time. When I was playing, probably the references to my colour and the sort of things that they said hurt me more than the physical contact. But I always maintained my cool rather than lose my temper because if they are psyching you, you can psych them back by being passive, or you can just get up and smile back.”
Sir John was again a trailblazer when along with 21 other athletes; he was part of PNG’s first team to an international sporting event, the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Perth, Western Australia in 1962. As the national sprint champion in the 440 yards, Sir John gained selection to represent Papua New Guinea in this event at the games. He ran a formidable 51.4 seconds in his heat, an effort described by Team Coach and Manager, KevanGosper as “exceeding all expectations.”