Root Causes of Sorcery and Witchcraft in PNG: Part 3

Part 3 : Root causes – this section is informed by the late Dr Kemung – an eminent preacher and scholar in the Lutheran Church of PNG for over 35 years. 

 

Before we can find the solution to the sorcery issue, we have to know what we are dealing with.  Current efforts like death penalty and imprisonment are but our efforts to control the symptoms. To find a lasting solution requires us to identify the root causes. Only when we know the root causes can we then look for the solution.

In a seminar to the Lutheran Students Congregation, the late Dr Kemung identifies primary causes and secondary causes. Regardless, these causes are intertwined and to find a solution requires great wisdom and leadership.

A. Primary Causes

i. Satanic attack

The practice of sorcery has been in existence even before the birth of Jesus Christ and is still in existence after His death and resurrection. There is evidence in both New and Old Testament of both male and female involved in this craft. These sorcerers execute this powers through invisible spirits called demons.

As Christians, we believe that the devil Lucifer is working tirelessly to disrupt the establishment of the kingdom of God here on earth.  The kingdom of the evil one seeks to disrupt peace and harmony and families. The devil is described as a thief that comes to steal and destroy (John 10: 10). Humans become co-workers with evil by rejecting God’s Salvation plan to reconcile the world to Himself.

The church has a role in addressing the chaos caused by sorcery and witchcraft.  Teachers and preachers of the word must denounce sorcery and witchcraft from the pulpit. When pastors are not preaching about sorcery and witchcraft or sin, they are allowing demons into the church.  Obstructing the work of Jesus Christ is a sign of demon possession in the Church.  This is a symptom of loss in Christian leadership.

Christians must take personal accountability for our lives because, self-knowledge is the beginning of change.

ii. Psychotic Causes

Paranoia occurs in many mental disorders, where a paranoid person can becomes delusive when irrational thoughts and beliefs become fixed. Nothing can convince such a person that what they think and feel is not true.  Anxiety and paranoia  are mental disorders and require the services of a trained physician.

Koning (2013) (1) coins the term “social paranoia” and proposes that human social dilemmas have led to the evolution of a fear system that is sensitive to signs of deceit and envy. In PNG, the fear of the unknown, the result of a very small world view leads to suspicion and paranoia. Because of lack of information and education, people makes links and connections where none exists. This event can trigger conflict and violence.

People living in paranoia, live small lives because of their irrational fear. They distrust other people and cannot achieve their full potential because fulfilling ones full potential means opening to other people including people from different tribes and clans and to different experiences.

Paranoia is a tactic devil Satan uses to keep human beings from living fulfilled lives.  Paranoid people makes links and connections where none exists.   This can become a source of conflict and violence when innocent people are blamed for bad events.

While the owner of the bad spirits may feel powerful because they have a secret weapon that can be used in their advantage, others that are outside the circle of trust are fearful and very watchful because they could be the victim.

Like all other inherited outlook on life, this feeling of power or the psychosis of paranoia gets passed down the generation from parent to child resulting in a continuous cycle of bullying and fear and repression.

iii. Culture

PNG has over 800 tribes and cultures with beliefs that are unique to the different tribal groups.  The traditional tribal people display a general fear and  distrust from anybody outside of the tribe.

Since colonial days, the tribal living arrangement has changed. In the urban and peri-urban setting, a community is now made up of different tribal groups who are clustered around government outposts in communities to access government goods and services.  The distrust for outsiders however, is still apparent in such mixed group settlement.

People are so deeply rooted in their belief systems that they are not able to accept alternative world views. Even, people with positions of authority and responsibilities, such as medical workers, police, church pastors and educated elites, continue to believe in the power of sorcery and witchcraft. They sometimes become a party to sorcery violence through direct involvement in it, or through their influence on others. This implies that in PNG the level of education, social standing, profession and leadership of many people do not play a significant role in influencing people’s belief systems.

The lack of positive knowledge leads to the increase in sorcery violence.

B. Secondary Causes

As a developing nation, PNG has a lot of developmental challenges. Desiring the benefits of economic development, but unable to take part in development due to various reasons, most people return to the beliefs of spirits to help them acquire cargo. Without understanding how development happens, these groups believe if they carry out certain rituals, spirits will make their desires come true.

The sorcery practiced in the contemporary society has its root in jealousy, suspicion and ignorance and paranoia.

This challenge is compounded by a lack of education, a lack of inclusion in development activities. In the absence of vital services including law and order, the people live in fear. The more cunning community members are capitalistic on wide-spread ignorance and lack of education in the community to instill fear so that they can steal and pillage properties by using violence and force.

Massive amount of resource has been focused on trying to stop the results but the root has not been addressed. The solutions required to address the secondary causes of sorcery and witchcraft violence lie wholly in the government’s jurisdiction.  It will require massive political will to address the solutions.

The problem of sorcery and the related violence is a leadership challenge. Where there is no leadership, there will be lawlessness, no respect for life or property. The breakdown in leadership can be seen in a unstable family, a disorganized community and a uncaring and corrupt government.

i. Lack of government presence

The escalating problem of sorcery and witchcraft is most evident in rural and remote places where government presence is lacking. These rural areas are also places where people are still holding on their traditional beliefs. The people have little choice but to turn to   traditional powers and beliefs, in hope of better living.

According to the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, self-actualisation only comes about when certain basic human requirements are met. At the moment PNG is a long way from achieving self-actualisation. Most people today are caught up in trying to survive day-to-day, by any means including framing innocent people and then killing them and taking away their property as compensation for ridding the community of evil people. The government services must be delivered to the people.

Mixing the desire for cargo and the belief in spirits has resulted in another very perverted belief of “cargo-cult”. Cargo-cult is born in an environment where people desire cargo but do not know how to get it, but a belief that good spirits will make it happen. It is a blessing when needs are met, but when needs are unmet, jealousy and suspicion can lead to problems including sorcery.

One of the contributing factors to the problem of sorcery and witchcraft the lack of government presence in rural communities.  The government’s presence is seen through its service delivery in communities.

For instance, the ‘Black Jesus’ cult group was organised and led by Steven Tari (2) (alias ‘Black Jesus’). This occurred in the less developed inland communities of Madang province and lasted for 7 years till his death in August, 2013. Steven Tari claimed to be the messiah lured about 6000 people into believing in him and following him in the hope of receiving gifts, goods and services from God.

This cargo cult belief has created a favorable environment within the victimized communities and gave rise to sorcery and witchcraft related killings, child abuse, human sacrifices and all forms of sexual perverseness and indulgences beyond imagination.

Cargo cult has become one of PNG’s most persistent problems.

ii. Jealousy and Envy

Since traditional days, jealousy exists because of economic/wealth/resource imbalance. People who have more than enough are always vary of people around them because some unfortunate members of the society may bring them down using sorcery.

Fueled by this paranoia, every misfortune is blamed on sorcery.  Even if the cause of death may be of natural causes like a cardiac arrest.

A distinguishing character of areas where people fear sorcery is abject poverty and dilapidated infrastructures and buildings. No-one wants to seem well-off.

iii. Lack of Education

Education breaks into societal barriers and taboo’s and change the perception and world views in a society.  According to Global Partnership for Change, education is an agent of transformation. Education broadens peoples understanding of cultural bondage and fear of sorcery, and allow citizens to change. Education in general helps citizens to be matured in discussing and addressing personal issues and also issues in the family, the society and the nation as a whole and provide proper solutions to those issues. (3)

iv. Ignorance

When people are ignorant about their rights, they can be deceived.  Most rural people do not know about their human rights and rights as citizens of a sovereign nation.

Ignorant of health issues

Lifestyle diseases is a major killer in contemporary PNG. Lifestyle-related non-communicable diseases are estimated to account for 75% of deaths compared to communicable diseases with 14% of deaths in the Western Pacific region.

The availability of imported food like lamb flaps, alcohol and fast food, which contain too much sugar and fat, affects the health of many people and causes new sicknesses. Many people also lack knowledge about health, hygiene and healthy lifestyles. As a result, when people die of lifestyle diseases, innocent people are blamed. People die young due to risky behavior and unhealthy lifestyles, however are also blamed to be caused by act of sorcery.

In remote and rural villages, poor dietary habits: like lack of essential nutritional supplements; lack of a balanced diet; over load of pathogens in body may be some causes of death. Living in unhygienic places, lack of proper toilets, living with animals, no taking preventative measures, no seeking first aid are some contributing factors for death, yet it is always blamed on sorcery and witchcraft.

The lifespan of most old people in the rural areas is 55 years. Because of ignorance, death due to old age is also blamed on sorcery.

v. Breakdown in community leadership

Tribal and community leaders have lost their position of leadership in communities. The evidence is in the kangaroo courts – which are mostly led by young men and it is young men that sexually assault suspects, torture them and eventually commit murder.

There is no respect for local leaders anymore.  Local leaders are not seen to be leading communities when the young people show disrespect by disregarding the leadership of the elders in communities.

The breakdown of leadership is also happening in the church. The evil spirits are very blatantly manifesting their presence because the leaders in the church seem powerless to speak them into submission.

The governments’ absence in rural areas have also resulted in a breakdown in trust for the government. Without the consistent presence of conflict arbitrators like the police and the courts, people have taken up the job of solving their own problems often in violent and inhuman ways.

vi. A broken justice system

Law and order in the society makes people feel safe. They feel they have a voice and they can do things with their life because there is justice system that will ensure that justice prevails. People are free and can conduct their business in a fair manner. They rise and fall because of hard work. They do not have to live in fear. Because fear cripples able bodied man and woman. It cripples their minds as well as their body.

vii. Lack of political leadership

Political leadership is the oil that runs all the government interventions. The slow and minimal breakthrough so far is a lack of political will by those responsible for addressing issues that are breaking families apart and destabilizing communities.

Since the Sorcery Act 1971 was repealed, the UN proposed that;

“The enforcement of legislation that prohibits all forms of gender-based violence is the key to ending sorcery-related violence,”

~United Nations, 2013

Also in 2013, the Family Protection Act was drawn up. However, the follow up to support this Family Protection Act has been dismal. No effective support has been given to improving social services, access to health care, counselling and women’s shelters.

Even the police force remains understaffed and under-resourced to deal with the high volume of family violence reports, preventing many women from accessing justice. Lack of government services in remote areas disproportionately affected women in rural locations from accessing health care and other services.

Another lot of notable recommendations came from the Mendi Conference. Bishop Don Lippert, Catholic Bishop of Mendi organised a conference titled “A stand against sorcery related violence.”  The outcome from the Mendi Conference outlined actions that needed to be taken including the role of the church in the face of this.  The law enforcers need to develop a mechanism to better work together to ensure that the justice process is followed in sorcery/witchcraft cases so those torturing, assaulting and killing are charged, prosecuted and convicted.

All the recommendations and all the background work has been recorded in the 2015 edited volume titled: Talking it Through Responses to Sorcery and Witchcraft Beliefs and Practices in Melanesia.

All it requires from hereon is the political will to implement the recommendations.

References

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23649744

(2) Cargo and condescension – An article by Nancy Sullivan, p.g.2, 2007

(3) Global Partnership.Org

About the Late Dr Kemung

The late Dr Kemung, was an eminent preacher and scholar with over 34 years in the Lutheran Church of PNG.  His interests was in the Lutheran Faith and Melanesian philosophy, Melanesian Theology, Melanesian cultures, including sorcery and witchcraft and developing strategies to resolve the sorcery related violence and social issues in the communities. The Late Dr Kemung had extensive knowledge and experience of this issue because he was actively involved with brokering community peace from sorcery related unrest.
The Late Dr Kemung had a Master of Sacred Theology at Wartburg Seminary USA 1986, and a Doctor of Theology from the Augustana Hoecschule Germany, 1986.
The late Dr Kemung at the time of this talk given to the Lutheran students at the University if PNG was a Senior lecturer in Systematic Theology at Martin Luther Seminary.
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Putting Sorcery in PNG into perspective: Part 2

Part 2 of the Report by the Lutheran Students attempts to put the belief in sorcery in Papua New Guinea into perspective.  Part 3: will be discussion of identified root causes of sorcery

A. Traditional PNG

Traditional Papua New Guineans were animists[i].  The belief system was that natural objects, natural phenomena, and the universe itself possess souls. And that natural objects have souls that may exist apart from their material bodies.  Without the underlying scientific knowledge about the forces of nature (eg bush fire, floods, volcanoes, tsunami, disease,  etc), the traditional people search for ways to control those force by controlling the spirits which they believe animate these forces.

Members of communities who could control and command spirits were revered. These sorcerers could protect the community from spells and curses or instill hope in situations of war and despair. On the other hand, warring spirits were called upon as a weapon in times or conflict these sorcerers had the dark power to kill and destroy and bring harm.

Traditional people rarely ventured outside of their tribal lands because of fear of the unknown spirits. Most Papua New Guineans are very superstitious about outsiders and the unknown. Even in the 21st century, households still have rituals that are touted to protect them from unknown or malevolent spirits.

The belief in sorcery had advantages. The fear kept societies free of rubbish and squalor. People deposited human waste as well as any other waste carefully disposed. The people were careful and tried not to anger the spirits. People were vary of outsiders but best hospitality was extended to them.

Within the clan, the fear of being at the receiving-end of a jealous spirit kept societies equal. Everyone had equal rights and had equal duties. Getting ahead in life was frowned upon and the fear of jealousy and sorcery was used to ensure no-one became wealthy. Most traditional societies in PNG are still egalitarian societies.

The sorcery practices in PNG is unique to each traditional custom and culture and differed from one part of the region to the other. The varying customs and cultures determine technique and style a sorcerer or a witch uses either for good or for bad.[ii]

As Christians, we believe that the bad use of spirits, opens the doors of hell for Satan and his demons to manifest supernatural and evil powers.

B. Contemporary PNG

Papua New Guinea is a developing country. A developing country is a poor agricultural country that is seeking to become more advanced economically and socially.  Common characteristics of a developing country include a large base of low income earners, inequality, poor health and inadequate education.  PNG is ranked 157/188 in the Human Development Index[iii].  Which is way behind other smaller Pacific Island countries like Fiji and Samoa (90 and 105 respectively).

About 80% of the 7.5 million population live in rural areas where government services is unreliable or absent [iv] . In terms of Law and Order, reports indicate that there is five policemen to 8,000 people in PNG, whereas in Australia there are 5 police officers per 2,084 population. For health services, there is one doctor to 17,086 people.

The population in PNG is semi-educated, with the level of literacy much lower than the other Pacific Countries (UNCEF)[vi]. According to UNICEF only one in three children in PNG complete their basic education; most do not stay in school long enough to know the learn basic literary and numeracy. PNG has a net enrollment rate of 63 per cent – the lowest in the Asia and Pacific region.

Bulk of the young people who are unable to continue in the education system are left to fend for themselves. Mostly, they are not skilled enough to find an office job, and most have forfeited cultural education when all their formative years were committed to a formal western education. Consequently, there are many young people who cannot find gainful employment in a town and cities, but who also cannot fit back into a village lifestyle. This has contributed to a society of people who do not have a value system and are just floating at the whim of circumstances.

While the basic needs of a traditional society and a contemporary society are still similar, the contemporary society has a few more requirements. These include, goods and services that satisfy a Western standard of comfort and glamour.  A standard which is very unattainable for bulk of population who still live subsistence lives and have limited opportunities to earn enough money to purchase this Western standard.

Even though tribal people may have achieved some level of self-actualization (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs)[vii]  in their traditional societies, the imposition of the materialistic culture from the West makes people feel impoverished when they do not accumulate the type of cargo that meets the standard set by the West.

The arrival of Christianity since the late 1800s has eradicated some of this belief.  In the 1982 census, about 2 million people (68 %) out of the 3 million population identified themselves as Christians[viii].  After 18 years, the 2000 census states that the number of people who profess to be Christians has risen to 5.8 million (97%) out of 6 million population[x].

The Lutheran church has been in PNG for at 130 years. The missionaries brought the good news of God that liberated people from the power of evil spirits.

It is in this environment that the struggle against sorcery related violence is taking place.

REFERENCES

[i] Mundhent Kent 2006, Common Threads of Animism, Melanesian Journal of Theology, 22-1

[ii]Gairo Onagi.(2015) Sorcery and witchcraft related killings in Papua New Guinea_ Talking it Trough- Responses to Sorcery and Witchcraft beliefs and practices in Melanesia (Miranda Forsyth and Richard Eves), pg 8.

[iii] http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/ranking.pdf

[iv] http://data.un.org/CountryProfile.aspx?crName=Papua%20New%20Guinea

[vi] (UNICEF.ORG)

[vii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs

[viii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Papua_New_Guinea

[x] http://biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/mjt/02-2_208.pdf

Sorcery in PNG: Part 1

This is Part 1 of a 4 part series containing excerpts from a contribution by the Lutheran Students Congregation at the UPNG to the CLRC to inform the Action plan against sorcery issues in PNG.

Part 1 is the introduction

Sorcery related violence in Papua New Guinea (PNG) made international headlines in 2013 when footage of 20-year-old Kepari Leniata being burned alive atop a pile of tires went viral[1]. The young mother was accused of using sorcery to kill her neighbour’s 6 year old son. The mob made up of mostly young men, set her alight in a very public place, in front of onlookers who did not make any attempt to save her.  It was violent and the horror and disgust both within PNG and overseas was fierce.

We acknowledge that Papua New Guinea is a nation with culture that is submerged in spiritual beliefs. The traditional people practiced animism and ancestor worship[2] .  The fear of the unknown, the fear of spirits and strangers and the fear of real or imagined enemies have resulted in a diversity of beliefs that is as varied as the 800 different cultures that make up the nation of PNG.

The difference between now and the past is that the violence related to sorcery has increased in numbers and the level of violence is horrifying. The United Nations estimated that in 2016 in one of Papua New Guinea’s twenty province alone, there were approximately 200 sorcery related killings[3].  International groups such as Amnesty International[4], the United Nations (UN)[5], and Oxfam[6] have condemned the practise of sorcery in Papua New Guinea.

The Sorcery Act was enacted in 1971 by the Parliament to address this issue. The purpose of the Sorcery Act 1971 was to prevent and punish evil practices of sorcery and other similar evil practices, and for other purposes relating to such practice.

In retrospect, the legislation had unintended effect. Among other reasons, the Sorcery Act 1971 legitimized the act of sorcery even if the action was just malicious accusation from evil-intentioned people. [7]  Under this law, a suspect could be prosecuted based on mere suspicion.

A conundrum for the court of law was that the action of sorcery is spiritual in nature and cannot be defended in a court of law, where physical evidence is required for decision making[8].

The PNG Constitutional Reform Committee (CLRC) when formed in 1975 had the responsibility to review the Sorcery Act 1971.  The CLRC meeting of 1977[9] did not have any firm recommendations on the issue. It was later in 2013, on the eve of Leniata Kepari’s death that the CLRC recommended that the Sorcery Act 1971 be repealed and sorcery related violence be tried under the Criminal Act Law[10].

Two years later in 2015, following several national conferences on the sorcery, a committee led by the PNG Department of Justice and Attorney General (DJAG) was tasked to develop a Sorcery National Action Plan (SNAP) to address sorcery related violence. The plan was approved in a National Executive Council (NEC) decision on 21 July, 2015[11].

The Sorcery National Action Plan (SNAP), while approved, still requires implementation. The CLRC is an implementation partner. Given the nature of sorcery as a spiritual matter, the CLRC agrees that the approach must be holistic and particular focus be given to churches as an active partner to find solutions for sorcery belief and related violence. Revisiting the Sorcery Act 1971 is not feasible, and other alternative ways should be considered to address this issue.

The CLRC has invited the Churches to participate in identifying solutions to address the problem.  The power of the resurrected Christ put Christians on the victory side (Revelation 1:5-6). This power includes power over Satan and his kingdom.  The kingdom of darkness is against peace and happiness, but brings with it fear, that sabotages human beings from living fulfilled lives to achieve the great commission of God which is to reconcile all people back to God – our creator.

Efforts so far in addressing the issue include, an Institute of National Affairs (INA) workshop[12] in 2013 in Goroka titled, Sorcery and Witchcraft Accusations: Developing a National Response to Overcome the Violence. A conference in Mendi sponsored by the Catholic Church in 2015[13].  Non-government Organisation have held meetings including the Oxfam[14] proceedings from Gumine, Chimbu Province.  All the recommendations and all the background work has been recorded in the 2015 edited volume titled[15]: Talking it Through Responses to Sorcery and Witchcraft Beliefs and Practices in Melanesia.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gYAp-6abtZs&t=50s

[2] http://biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/mjt/22-1_06.pdf

[3] http://www.seedstheatre.org/punishments-for-alleged-witchcraft-in-papua-new-guinea/

[4] https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/asia-and-the-pacific/papua-new-guinea/report-papua-new-guinea/

[5] http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=44096#.WBbwmfl97IU

[6]https://www.oxfam.org.nz/what-we-do/where-we-work/papua-new-guinea/gender-justice/confronting-sorcery

[7] Sorcery Act 1971

[8] “Sorcery and Witchcraft-related Killings in Melanesia: Culture, Law and Human Rights Perspectives

[9] http://www.paclii.org/pg/lawreform/PGLawRComm/1977/2.html

[10] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/30/world/asia/papua-new-guinea-moves-to-repeal-sorcery-act.html

[11] https://www.policyforum.net/confronting-sorcery-accusation-violence-in-png/

[12] http://www.inapng.com/pdf_files/PNG%20Sorcery%20Workshop%20Draft%20Program3-5%20Dec%20RevPB.pdf

[13] http://www.mendidiocese.com/index.php/news/item/117-stand-against-sorcery-violence

[14] https://www.oxfam.org.nz/sites/default/files/reports/Sorcery_report_FINAL.pdf

[15] http://press.anu.edu.au

Gender equality: Women must not be victims of a zero sum game

LIFE is a series of cycles.  The mitosis, the circadian cycle, the menstruation cycle, gestation, and the big one that encompasses them all is the life cycle – birth, senescence and death.

This is as nature intended; that we successfully pass on our genes.

Humans have developed habits to give our genes the best chance of survival. These habits become culture; culture, both good and bad becomes a way of life and children are immersed in it from birth.

The women used to be a revered gender because she was the garden that grew the tribe. Sex was just a holy dance for procreation.

She struggled for monogamy as a way of ensuring her investment for a better future is secured. He hunted while she nurtured the future generation. The man and the woman complemented each other.

But the circumstances that has shaped our genes and culture has changed. We are not living tribal lives anymore.

Gone are the days of wild animals and caves and the unknown. The woman does not need a protector anymore.

In the context of evolution, indeed, the world as a whole, has evolved to be a woman’s world.

In the safety and security of this era, the woman is given opportunities to reinvent herself. This is because she has time – time she did not have in the past being involved with child rearing.

Today, she is encouraged to get an education and a job and become independent before considering marriage and children. She is encouraged to take on more male roles.

The life code of humans, however, has not changed at the same rate as the passing circumstances. The DNA from our forefathers is still swirling in our life blood: that man is built for hunting and protecting and leadership while woman is crafted for nurturing and supporting her man and family.

Even if she can now pay for what she wants with money, her dilemma is that she is still bound to her culture and her DNA.

Though liberated through education, yet not expunged from her duties; though liberated from gender restrictive ideologies, yet not free from the gender specific instructions in here genes.

It is in the woman to want to submit, to serve and to follow the lead of a man, but the catch: the man has to lead.

While giving more opportunities for woman to grow, the world seems to have assumed that man needs no adjustment and are doing just fine.  How wrong can we get?

In the absence of leadership by man, including leadership on women’s issues, she is getting restless and frustrated. It seems the harder she pushes for equality, the force of domination coming back is equally hard.

There has been increased injustice against woman perpetrated by man. Some of these include using woman as scapegoats in sorcery and witchcraft cases, polygamy, sexual assaults and using girls as a tribal bargaining chip.

Even the government seems powerless to stop violence and injustice against women.

The increased domination of women seems to be a signal that the opposite gender needs attention.  As a race, the male species have been neglected more than the female.

While she has programs for empowerment, he is expected to lead by instinct.  But boys also need to be interned into the ways of life.

With the loss of the ‘hausman’ (traditional men’s house – source of cultural heritage and instruction) and extended kin, the man has lost the training and initiation rites that signify that a boy has now become a man with a man’s responsibilities.

This loss of purpose has not been replaced adequately in a way that lacks equivalence to that which is happening with the women.

To empower and accept the changing identity of woman, therefore, is a societal issue. It is an issue that cannot be tackled by any one gender.

Because the disruption of the power balance signifies one winner and one loser, but life intended a complementary balance.

And action must be taken soon.

bagarapim-meri

Battle of the sexes is a zero sum game.

“To empower and accept the changing identity of woman is a societal issue. It is an issue that cannot be tackled by any one gender. Because the disruption of the power balance  between men and women signifies one winner and one loser, but life intended a complementary balance. ”  T.Zeriga-Alone

Read more here:  http://asopa.typepad.com/asopa_people/2017/01/gender-equality-women-must-not-be-victims-of-a-zero-sum-game.html

What does the future hold for our culture?

DSC_0200

A singsing group from the Morobe South Coast.

 

When I was growing up in the late 70s and early 80s, culture was still in the domain of adults.  Adults were the rightful custodians of  societal values and norms, ceremonies and even singsings.

Adults sang and danced, while the uninitiated watched and learnt. Adults were responsible for securing an authentic future by deliberately imparting this knowledge to the next generation through initiation rites that sometimes lasted up to a few years.

These days however, singsings are but entertainment provided by children. Children beat the drums, children chant the magic words. Children, lead the songs. And these are children, uninitiated, and most often, too young to even understand what they are doing.

It can be argued that, involving children  is a way of keeping culture alive.  What about the values associated with culture? Are we also teaching children the nuances of our culture such as respect, honor, integrity or  are we just teaching them to entertain?

It is a dilemma for the fathers. How much can one impart to children in a matter of six weeks, except how to beat the kundu and how to shake those hips and make the grass skirt jump. How much culture can one impart when in any one location, there may be just 1 or 2 adults – initiated in the ways of old – who represents any one culture is this big melting pot of 800+ cultures. What can they teach in the absence of support from tribal kinsfolk.

When the true meaning of culture is lost, we also lose authenticity.  There is no restriction, no taboo, no meaning, no honor bestowed to rites and rituals and the physical manifestations of those values. The female is now adorning herself with the male bilas, and vice versa. We wear designs and markings alien to our tribal grouping.

Indeed culture is very porous at the edges of its extent. Just like language we borrow from neighboring tribes, we mix and match.  But the authenticity is lost when what we want to represent is diluted by borrowing from everywhere, including from the West.

 

What does the future hold for our culture? What does this say about our fathers and their role as custodians of culture?  If the true meaning of our culture gets lost, who will we blame – the fathers or the children?

 

Which way, PNG?

DSC_0200

Zia, Suena, Yekora tribes of the Waria Valley, Morobe South Coast

Getting ahead in life by cheating the system is extolled as the smarter way, smarter than following rules and regulations that keep societies fair for all citizens. This is observed on PMV buses to taxi to political leaders. Even smart lawyers divulge that information to business prospects.

How did this mentality come about? Maybe this lack of respect is a carry-over from the lack of trust pervasive along tribal lines. Everyone wants to get ahead at any cost but cannot trust anyone outside of a tribe.

We need more common sense. But which one?  Common sense is actually not common, it is a product of culture. If by common sense we mean the western custom – this alien custom needs to be learned. It is not captured through association or by watching reruns of Neighbors on Ramsey Street.

Education in ethics and civics is the way forward. But the fruits of education has a time lag of 10 to 15 years.  And what about those outside the education system?

Our leaders think that siding with a powerful ally can cause us to absorb some of their power, intelligence and superior attitude.  Israel for instance. Maybe by acquiring a Jewish artifact from the US of America  via the courts of the English monarchy may cause us to find favor in the eye of their deity.

Others think Australia will bring about the change – after all Australia colonized Papua New Guinea, surely they have tender regard like a devoted mother for her strong-willed but irrational child.

Once upon a time, PNG even went to Africa to import an African model.

Others say let us look north where business is number 1. Damage done to health and environment are necessary collateral damage in the name of development.

Despite our valiant efforts to fit into the standard set by the world, many reports still rank PNG somewhere at the bottom for all the good and desirable things while ranking us in the top for all the bad things – domestic violence and porn and murder and robbery.

We are caught in crosswinds of clashing values and standards from culture, church and the West. The leaders give lip service to ideal values on paper but do not seem to trust those ideals enough to make them work.

Anxious to fit in, we have trampled on the most basic foundation of society – respect. Respect for self, respect for the dignity of the individual as well as respect for community interdependence.

There is no respect for self. Go to the fringes of society and people tolerate squalor and unhygienic lifestyle. Drinking homebrew with unknown alcohol content. This also happens on the other side of town behind closed doors, but people just call it a different name.

There is no respect for fellow citizens. Call it the green eye monster or individualistic attitude or whatever – but when an individual tries to do something, the support is absent. No-one likes to sing others peoples praise. No-one thinks anyone is better than them.   There is a lack of appreciation for local talent and intelligence.

But we sing loudly the praises to mediocrity because it is related to us. We give business to ourselves and the standard gets lower and lower. As long as we do not value ourselves and our intelligence, consultants will run our country.

Our leaders see citizens are trouble makers – lazy bludgers always depending on wantok system.  Laws are made that criminalizes people.

Evidence of disrespect for citizens is everywhere.  No public toilets, no facilities for the disabled, substandard or absence of vital medical facilities, substandard roads and buildings.

In turn people show no respect for law and public property.  There is no ceremony. People do not respect each other.

In the same token citizens lack respect for our leaders.  The leaders are viewed as greedy people out to enrich themselves. We criticize and link them to bad things. The more we badmouth them, the more they want to evade us and it becomes a competition, a game of chicken. Who will hold on the longest?

In the absence of clear leadership, people set their own standards – most often an imitation. But an imitation is a fake – a counterfeit without the foundation that makes a real deal, real.

The solution however, lies closer to home than anyone has ever imagined.  Look in the mirror and see the solution.

Unfortunately, all mirrors have a perspective. All the colonial mirrors need to be smashed and ground to dust, same for religion, and for aspects of the outside cultures that bring more confusion than solutions.

The political leaders of this nation must choose if indeed the preamble of our constitution is the mirror that best reflects the collective values of the thousand tribes, as we take our place alongside other people of the earth.

If we do not have respect ourselves, how can others show us respect? We set the benchmark so low. It makes it easy for Asians and Australians and Indonesians and the rest of the outsiders to disrespect us.

Life in PNG must be put back into perspective – the PNG perspective, the PNG way, the ‘kastam’ way.   We have to stop being anxious about passing trends. The right way to live is the way we think is right. Let us examine the ways of our fathers. Let us glean the good and throw away the bad.

The mirror I wish for my society reflects a resilient people, survivors, intelligent and capable, unassuming, respectful and brave citizens reflecting the cohesion and resilience of a thousand tribes onto the world.

Free Education: an analogy

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Walk for Life participants at the Freeway

On the 15 of May, I took part in the  NCD Walk for Life. The walk every Saturday morning, is an initiative by  the NCD Governor to promote healthy living in the city. During the walk, the Governor also talks with his constituents. The walk normally starts at 4:30am from the Jack Pidik Park and ends at Ela Beach at 6:00am.

That morning, the walk was in conjunction with The Leniata Legacy. The Leniata Legacy is a NGO working to  end violence against women in PNG.

I was the volunteer photographer for the Leniata Legacy that morning. Despite being so unfit, I eventually completed the 8km walk.

At the end of the walk,  free buses was provided for people to return to their suburbs.  While waiting, I took a few pictures of people trying  to get a space on the bus.

It was a mad, mad rush to get on the bus. There was no proper procedure to mount the bus, it was indeed survival of the fittest.

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Free Bus for dropoff

The strong and ruthless managed to get seats while the  less aggressive stood at the edges, dejected – most were women and girls.

While majority were squeezing through the door, handful were climbing through the windows. These window climbers were either getting a leg-up from those outside or getting pulled from those already inside.

For every person in the crammed bus, there was five more outside.

Those that were  outside had the option to wait for the return trip or catch a cab or public buses, if they had cash.

Eventually, every body did get home but for those in the bus it was at the expense of loss of personal space, sweaty and sticky bodies and an exotic mixture of body odors.

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Getting a hand from inside

While looking at images of that day,  it dawned on me how the mad scramble for the NCDC buses was so similar to the free education initiative in PNG.

Education is a big and important investment for any country because getting an education and training is how we build leadership for the future.

The free education initiative in PNG came at the back of the introduction of the Outcome Based Education (OBE). OBE had its own problems. Due to citizen campaign, OBE was eventually changed to Standard based Curriculum in 2015.

Since the free education initiative by the O’Neil Government, there has been a mad, mad rush for “free education”.

There was no preparation prior to rolling out the free education initiative hence, the number of teachers, and resources were not adjusted to address the increase in the number of students.

Stories abound of class numbers increasing from 20 to 50 and even 60 such that some students perch on whatever space they can find in the classroom.  Some students resort to sitting on the floor because the two-man desks  are occupied by four people.

Due to lack of space, some students learn under make-shift tents.

The current education system in PNG may seem fair for everyone, but without the necessary resources to cater for the increased numbers of students, only the aggressive are taking advantage of this system.

This environment has introduced a lot of corrupt practices. Because of an increased number of students but without good record systems, parents and guardians are paying bribes to get the names of their students into schools. People are also using tribal connections to push their own students into institution and this is hurting others who have the grades to go through but do not have the money and the connection.

We are setting up our society up for failure  when we  choose quantity over quality of students. Education resources are mostly based in the urban areas, Libraries, access to internet, and information. In this manner,  the rural students are automatically disadvantaged in the race to secure spaces for future education.

Urban students fare no more better than students from rural areas. Improvements in ICT has made technology a big time waster for young people. They are turning out to be a non-thinking generation. What kind of leaders are we breeding for the future?

The solution?  To provide a fair and great free bus service, the governor has to buy more big buses, train more drivers and build more better bus deports. Likewise, for a better future, our leaders must invest in more classrooms and teachers and education resources to satisfactorily train our future leaders and human resources.

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A mad scramble with no quality control.

 

Book Review: The Embarrassed Colonialist

embarrassed colonistI was intrigued by the title of this recent publication by Sean Dorney, a long time  journalist to Papua New Guinea (PNG). The 140 paged book, titled, The Embarrassed Colonialist was published in 2016 for the Lowy Institute of Australia by the Penguin Press.  The book is small and easy reading but the 8 chapters is packed with so much insight about the Australia-PNG relationship.

I was curious about the title.  Who was embarrassed for what? In PNG, there is already a feeling of shame and anger at being labelled a lot of names including  a failed state, a violent nation and even a hellhole.   Since the author is married into a PNG tribe, was he embarrassed at the way PNG has turned out – a 40 year old wayward man-child? Or was the author just being a mouthpiece for the collective view held by Australia – PNG’s former colonial master. Or was he expressing his own embarrassment about the deteriorating state of the PNG-Australia relationship forged at colonial days.

I had these questions running through my head, so when I received a copy at the Joint PNG and Lowy-Institute Bung Wantaim meeting at the Lamana Hotel, I tore into the book.

It was an interesting read for me. I was born after PNG independence and therefore had no memory of time and events before independence and the two decades thereafter. Therefore, this book put into perspective the Australia-PNG history.

The main emotion that ran through my veins was pride but when I eventually closed the  book, I was angry…. then sad …and then resolute that change for the better must take place in my lifetime.

Change has been very rapid for PNG since independence. The vortex of change has sucked PNG from isolated primitive tribes into the global village already made small by virtual reality.

The physical change has been enormous in the last 80 years but sadly the psyche of the Papua New Guinean individual is yet to assimilate the changes.

The continuous transition from a thousand cultures to the western culture is indeed  a growing pain for PNG. As rightly stated by the author, the symptoms of this transition are everywhere – corruption, poor development policies, law and order challenges and attitude problem. But PNG has made commendable progress in other fronts: economic development, the justice system, the free media, women empowerment, to name a few.

Indeed, the PNG challenges started at independence. At independence it was a big ask for thousand tribes to exist as one. In retrospect, the author observes that the Australians including the Kiaps packed up and left  too soon. But they left a legacy behind.

They left behind their colonial policies – policies that are outdated for the 21st century, policies that favor colonial power. Translated to this day: policies that favor those in power (i.e. modern day kiaps) and outsiders.  This is most obvious in the natural resource extraction policies.

Given this insight, it is indeed not ignorance, but self-serving and blatant indifference to PNG, when Australian projects and even in some case AID money is given to implement projects based on such old policies.

Australia also left behind a leadership vacuum.  The kiaps were a government unto themselves in the villages . But when they left, they transferred everything to a committee  of parliamentarians in Port Moresby. Without direction, people came up with their own definition of leadership – mixing the new and the old. This may have also contributed in the self-serving, undefinable  concept of the “Melanesian Way”.

I disagree that PNG is Australia’s illegitimate child as asserted by the author. The inhabitants of the island of New Guinea were nations running their own affairs until colonialism  unceremoniously dumped this land of a thousand nations onto Australia.

At the time, the island of New Guinea was made a territory of Australia, the white Australia had declared Independence less than 5 years prior. Australia was a very young nation of united colonies  when it was given the task of rearing a unruly and primitive nation of a thousand tribes.

Unlovely it may have been, the island had natural resources for exploitation. Australia had forsaken the caste system of their motherland and was embracing  capitalism – they needed a chicken that could lay golden eggs. Even before the World War II, Australians were prospecting for gold, timber, and oil in New Guinea. These prospectors were the ones that opened the New Guinea interior to the world.

Then World War II broke out.  The Japanese threatened the newly independent country, and Australia needed to win that battle away from their home front  in New Guinea.

As valuable as it were, PNG was reared at arms length. The evidence is in the many policies from the colonial days. Then again, in defense of Australia, PNG was their first born, and like new parents they were unsure how to bring it up.

What I still don’t understand is why in this day and time, Australia is still keeping PNG at arms length when compared to how they treat other Pacific Islanders? How else can we explain the unjustified challenges faced by Papua New Guineans in issues such as visa and the fruit picking scheme and the latest project – the Colombo Plan?

It is true that so many Australians love and have adopted PNG as their second country and like the author, may have married into the Melanesian culture. But the collective machinery in Australia used in dealing with PNG still seems so-old fashioned and racist and patronizing.

Evidence? How else would one describe the 5 word admonishment by a representative of Australian High Commission to the author … “Stop thinking like a PNGean” (pg 76). I have read and reread but the author does not elaborate anywhere in the book, what it means to “think like a local”.

Unfortunately for white people who have been in the PNG sun too long, they start thinking different-like Papua New Guineans.

So at the end, who was the embarrassed one? Sean Dorney is an Australian, with  over 40 years of family ties to PNG. He may be regarded as a renegade to his birth country because he has started to think like a local. This inside knowledge  however, makes his voice one of the most authentic voices to discuss PNG issues. With his leg in both societies, he has judged for himself and has spoken.

The rules for re-engagement as recommended by the author are spot on.  Seeing eye-to-eye is very important for the way going forward. PNG has been forced to grow up fast in the last 40 years. At 40, PNG is old enough to navigate its own waters, but put into nation building perspective – 40 years is still infancy. Indeed, PNG needs a guide, if not Australia then who  else will do it?

As a re-engagement recommendation, PNG also needs to take responsibility for its own growth and start behaving like an independent nation.

This book even though written by an Australian, is the PNG voice speaking to Australia.  It will serve Australia well to take this work seriously. I also highly recommend  this book to Papua New Guinean readers. Young people, you need to learn your history and only then can you chart a better way forward for your nation

#Bougainville #PNG News: Environmental disaster is waiting to happen in Bougainville port

“The person, group or authority responsible for bringing in these supply and storage vessels must immediately get these vessels out of the old government wharf, out of Kieta and out of Bougainville waters.

There is an imminent risk and danger from all the signs and indications and from information from the security staff and some of the crew on the vessels that one or both vessels are developing leaks. The worst that will happen is for the vessels, especially the fuel supply vessel, Pacific Trainer, already under stress and in a state of disrepair, to sink where it is berthed. Both vessels are aged, rusting away and under stress and duress.”

Simon Pentanu Resident of Pok Pok Island

Bougainville News

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“The person, group or authority responsible for bringing in these supply and storage vessels must immediately get these vessels out of the old government wharf, out of Kieta and out of Bougainville waters.

There is an imminent risk and danger from all the signs and indications and from information from the security staff and some of the crew on the vessels that one or both vessels are developing leaks. The worst that will happen is for the vessels, especially the fuel supply vessel, Pacific Trainer, already under stress and in a state of disrepair, to sink where it is berthed. Both vessels are aged, rusting away and under stress and duress.”

Simon Pentanu Resident of Pok Pok Island

The environmental contamination and pollution from the leakages is already evident. It will destroy one of the most beautiful harbours in the world. It will affect the Kieta harbour shoreline, the shores…

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