Know your place in history

rpt

“I know my place in history”

Children, when born assimilate their parent’s point-of view as their point zero and build their worldview from thereon.  But life is not as temporary as between two generations. The life code swirling in our blood has a memory as old as humanity. This, I found out when I started working on my family tree.

I started my family tree with my maternal great grandmother. If she were alive, she would be 105 years old in the new year.   The year on her graveyard marker says that she was born in 1915. I imagine a tiny babe swaddled in tree bark cape and lying on a bed of moss.

Aspects of her life from 1915 remain a mystery to me.  I cannot begin to picture her growing up, the games she played with her siblings, her duties and responsibilities, the food she ate and how she interacted with the male members of her family. The year 1915 seems a long, long time ago.

The West had transitioned from the industrial revolution and was at the end of the modern era when my great grandmother was born.  While she played with her toes and looked into the sky from the comfort of her sleeping bag woven from the fibre of  tree barks – “bilum”. I wonder if my great grandmother saw aeroplanes because the airplane was already invented before she was born. Kodak products were routinely used by the public to take color “snap shots”. The air condition, the escalator and the roller coaster were features already in existence in the West in the early 1900.

Two years after she was born, John F. Kennedy was born and would become the 35th president of the United States of America. Albert Einstein completed his paper on the General Theory of Relativity.  And Adolf Hitler was a young man – a soldier in the World War I. While the Leahy brothers were teenagers. The gold prospecting brothers in search of gold  would be responsible for opening up the highlands of PNG to the outside world in the 1930s

PNG sidled up from the dark ages, blinked and caught the end of the modern era and got sucked into the vortex of the post-modern era.   In doing so, PNG also skipped all the stages that has shaped the history of the modern era – for we were still transitioning in the agriculture age when the West came upon us.

But did my great grandmother know that?

Two things of significance happened that seem to have shaped Papua New Guinea.

First, in less than 100 years, PNG has been forced to assimilate a new culture – the culture of our colonialists. We were forced to adopt the new way of living without understanding how the Western culture was shaped.

Our rank in the world near the bottom of the pile is based on judgement meted us on criteria we have had less than 100 years to adopt  – criteria which took hundreds of years to develop.

Those who have adapted well become impatient and quick to rubbish those who have had less exposure to the ways of the West. Whose fault is it when people cannot fit in?

Second, we blinked and our world transformed from communal living to one that promotes individualism. We were a thousand tribes at the turn of the century, now forced to live in nuclear families. We have not even had time to consolidate our thousand tribal ways into a one-nation identity.

The conflict observed in modern PNG seems to be one that is between the changing times and the instincts  and the life code imprinted in our genetic memory. It is a struggle for many to make a life as individuals when our genes still have imprints of communal living revolving around the tribal council called the “hausman”or men’s house.

The dissolution of the hausman in colonial times has also resulted in a loss of power and education for our warriors. Our warriors have lost the strength to stand their ground, to defend our ways and our land and resources.  And what more, our “males” have lost their potency because they moved into women’s house too soon.

We need to reclaim our lost identity. We have to put the changes in this era into context within our worldview.  But what is our concept of the world right now? Are we warriors or are we weaklings looking for allies?

But before we can settle on a worldview we must agree on a value system that binds the thousand different tribal values into a one-nation package. What values should we embrace?  Is the Melanesian way enough? What is the Melanesian Way, anyway?

We are confused. Caught between western value system and Melanesian value system. We have lost our confidence and self esteem because we are told that our value system – what works for us and what we intuitively know is wrong. We are told to accept the western value system. But that is an alien culture. In our confusion, most of us, like children, are waiting to be led by the hand, while the most progressive among us are taking advantage of our confusion causing corruption.

According to my elders, the death penalty was the order of the day when the hausman ruled. There was no human rights, there were only clan and tribal rights. Your allegiance was to your clan and tribe. Outside of it was death.

It was rough and tough, but order was maintained. Births, initiations, adulthood, marriages, death all had a place and were celebrated. We did not just exist like animals. Tribal living was the order of the day.

Through oral history, I can trace my matriline 300 years back from my grandmother.  From this perspective, I realize, that the blood in my vein is older that colonialism and the 102 years since my great grandmother seem like yesterday and my 40 years of living a blink of an eye.

The realization that I am as old as the history of my tribe but also as young as my nation is liberating.  I have the ancient wisdom of the land in my blood, but I am also educated in the ways of the West and can participate in the technologically advanced life in this post-modern era.  I feel invincible.

Every young person must take the time to find your roots and build your tree.  For the knowledge you will gain is power. The new perspective will provide a stable foundation for you to build your life on. The next generation need to know this information to keep them grounded to the land.  Once you know your place in history pass this knowledge on as a legacy for the future.

 

*** Reposting a draft previously posted  under the title:  Finding Myself in History

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