Finding myself in history

If she were alive, she would be 102 years old this year.   The year on her graveyard marker says that she was born in 1915. I imagine a tiny babe swaddled in bark cape and laid on a bed of moss.

Other aspects of her life from 1915 remain a mystery to me.  I cannot begin to picture her growing up, the games she played, her duties, her diet, her adornment and the other details.

According to history books, the turn of the century was the dark ages for PNG.

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Zia Warriors early 1900s. Source: Lutheran Church Archives

Professor John Waiko, one of Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) educated elite – a Binandere man, describes warfare, cannibalism, payback killing, and sorcery in my part of the world around the time my great grandmother was born.

My people, the Zia tribe held prime land along the Waria river, Morobe South Coast. My people were fierce warriors who defended our land from other hostile tribes.  These other tribes include the Binandere, the Mawae, The Suena and the Yekora.

A few decades earlier, the German and the British and Dutch, oblivious to the existence of the thousands of tribes, had drawn lines all over the island of New Guinea and were enforcing their colonial governments and disbanding “hausmans”  aka tribal parliaments.

The “hausman” that could not fight their own battles were looking for allies. That included accepting the colonial government in a hope, the guns of the colonial masters could help them fight their battles. The self-sufficient tribes initially rejected all colonial advances. But eventually succumb to the colonial powers.

While she played with her toes and looked into the sky from the comfort of her “bilum”, I wonder if my great grandmother saw aeroplanes because the airplane was already invented before she was born. Kodak products were routinely used to take color “snap shots”. The air condition, the escalator and the roller coaster were features already in existence in the West since the early 1900.

Around the time, she was born, Albert Einstein had completed his paper on the General Theory of Relativity.  And Adolf Hitler was a young man – a soldier in the World War I.  Micheal Leahy was a teenager: Leahy and his team of explorers and prospectors would be responsible for opening up the highlands to the world in the 1930s.

The West had transitioned from the industrial revolution and was at the end of the modern era around the time my great grandmother was born.

But she know that?  Did she care?

Two things of significance happened that seem to have shaped PNG.

First, in less than 100 years, PNG has been forced to assimilate a new culture – the culture of our colonists. 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.

Second, the power centers of our tribes aka the ”hausman” were disbanded. The dissolution of the “hausman“ resulted in a loss of power and education for our warriors. Our warriors lost the pride to defend our ways and our land and resources.  And what more, our men lost their potency because without a “hausman” they moved into women’s house too soon.

According to my elders, the death penalty was the order of the day when the “hausman” ruled. There was no individual 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 dirty, but order was maintained. Births, initiations, adulthood, marriages, death all had a place and were celebrated. Diseases, deaths, and uncertainty were all part of life.

Fast forward time to 2017, PNG a construct of colonialism, has survived as a united nation for 41 years. But what identity are we projecting to the other nations of the world? Are we a united nation of warrior tribes or are we a tribe of weaklings looking for allies?

All the power we need to take back our pride as warrior nations is inside us. Just take a look in the mirror. 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.

What then, should be our true reflection? Look beyond your mother and your grandmother (or your patriline). Seek the image of your great grandparents and back.  Consider the stock you are born from.  Consider your tribe of proud warriors who fought all their battles for survival. Consider their honour and pride and resilience.

Where we are right now in space and time is a snapshot of the long walk our people have been on since our ancestors became custodians of the land we call New Guinea.  The walk will continue even after we are dead and gone. The lives and times of our ancestors is our history, and in time we will also become history and our descendants will judge us accordingly.

They will judge us for our betrayal to our warrior way of life. Indeed, we erred when we accepted as time zero the time Whitman stepped on our land; we erred when we accepted the colonial story about us as our story; we erred when we accepted that we are lesser people because it is a challenge to fit into an alien culture. We think that here and now is play school and that real life is after we have mastered a culture. While we tarry, our story is being written.

Cultures die when we lose pride in the ways of our ancestors. Cultures die when we undermine what we are and give up our place in time.  When culture dies, we lose our land, we lose our families and we lose ourselves.

Change is the only constant in the world and we will eventually evolve, but it should be on our terms.   Given so much that has happened, do we have time to salvage our history and pride?

My oral history takes me about 300 years back into my matriline. I am taken back 300 years of resilience. When I put my life into perspective, the 102 years since my great grandmother seem like yesterday and my 40 years of living a blink of an eye.

I am the fourth generation since my great grandmother, but the first generation since PNG became a nation in 1975.    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 my 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.

The life we are living is not our own, we are to defend the legacy of our ancestors and pass that spirit on to our descendants. Are we living up to our warrior spirit? If not, then, go home and dig your roots beyond your great grandmother and put yourself in perspective. Only then, can you set your priorities going forward.

When you find your place in history, ensure that this becomes the legacy your next generation builds on.

matriach

The Matriarch 1915 – 1970

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Were traditional Papua New Guineans conservationists?

LSC1 (220)This essay is based on three papers. These papers document practices  of seasonal hunting and harvesting and protection of certain species of importance to three communities in Papua New Guinea.

Kwapena (1994) documents the hunting practices of the Moapa people of the Mashall Lagoon,  Central Province. Foale (2002) records the “tambu” reef system of the New Ireland while Silitoe (2001) provides insight into the hunting practices of the Wola of the Southern Highlands.

In two of  the three case studies, the authors documented that a hunting ban was imposed periodically on their  respective communities.

The Maopa people in Mashall Laggon Area, Central Province had a hunting ban that would last over three to four years.

On the coast, the “tambu”reef involves the closure of fishing on a particular stretch of coastline for a specific period of time, usually from a few months to a year or in some cases a few years. The closure was quite often associated with a death within the clan that controls rights to that stretch of coastline and is a ritual component of a cycle of feasting associated with that death.

The hunting ban would then be followed by an intense period of hunting, where even the grassland is burnt to force animals out into the open (Kwapena 1984).  In the “tambu” reef, the accumulated stocks of many species, particularly benthic invertebrates are then removed, often with alarming efficiency (Foale 2002).

The local knowledge of these people was directed to identifying patterns that maximise capture success. They did not show concern for aspects of  biology (recruitment etc) that conservationists are interested in.

In the case of the Wola,  Silitoe (2001) observed that the Wola people, who were not “enthusiastic” hunters, would at times expand high energy to capture high value animals like cassowary and wild pigs for customary activities. From his study, Silitoe (2001) observed that in their hunting sprees, the Wola treated the forest as having …” an infinite buffering capacity”  to their destructive hunting activities.

Melanesian’s exist through relationships, and these relationships needs to be maintained all the time.  Value has been placed on nature to facilitate these social relationships. Resources are stockpiled only to be harvested to facilitate social transactions and to maintain relationships and alliances (Silitoe 2001). The hunting spree with the Maopa of Marshall Lagoon was to strengthen and reiterate family relationships (Kwapena 1984). Tambu reef was also a means of stockpiling resources, often for a specific purpose, such as a feast; and had nothing to do with maximising and sustaining yields for conservation (Foale 2002).

So, how did people coexist with nature for thousands of years?

Silitoe (2001) proposes that unintentional conservation  may have been achieved indirectly because these traditional knowledge and practices were created in conditions of small population, large forest covering and richer biodiversity and hunting tools which were less deadly.

Fear of spirits also ensured sacred areas became refuge and replenishing grounds for wildlife.  For instance,   most of these cultures attribute their hunting capacity to spirits and not human hunting skill. In this instance, hunters let game go if they miss after a few attempts, taking this to indicate the spirits are discontent.  Beliefs that spirits governed everything contributed to unintentional management of resources

This system however, will not protect nature which is now threatened with with pressure from, high human population densities, new and efficient hunting technologies and a readily available market for wildlife.

That is why the indigenous people of Papua New Guinea must learn the concept of conservation to ensure that food security and the currency for maintaining relationships  is available both now and into the future.

References

Foale, S. (2002) Commensurability of scientific and indigenous ecological knowledge in coastal Melanesia: implications for contemporary marine resource management strategies. Resource Management in Asia-Pacific Working Paper No. 38

Kwapena, N. (1994). “Traditional Conservation and Utilization of Wildlife in Papua New Guinea.” The Environmentalist 4(7): 22-29.

Sillitoe, P. (2001). “Hunting for Conservation in the Papua New Guinea Highlands.” Ethnos 66(3): 365-393.

And it is called Spiritual Ecology

From Ladakh to Bhutan, Buddhist nuns and monks from 60 centers in the Himalayan region work on environmental protection. From cleaning up rivers, to installing solar panels, the nuns and monks approach the environment with a sense of compassion, recognizing the interdependence and inter-connectivity of all things.

http://www.filmsforaction.org/watch/compassion-is-action/

Tourism and conservation makes sense

DORT Sat_2008 (31).JPGEarly in 2017, The National Geography  Travel listed Papua New Guinea as one of  the top 5 cultural destinations to visit. Papua New Guinea was described as the Garden of Eden, where time has forgotten, where people live like they have lived for centuries.

The PNG culture was depicted as one that still maintains an authentic link to nature, to earth, to life, to the “mama graun”,  with a spirituality that is pure, unswayed by the panoply of civilization. This culture evokes images of awe and wonder and respect.

And to the Papua New Guineans on Facebook, there was a general feeling of pride all around at the announcement. But do we need permission from the National Geography to feel  pride for culture?

Colonialism had a name for our culture – Cane hacker aka kanaka, primitive, less-advanced –  name tags with negative connotations has been carried forward into independence and even at 41 years on.

Even religion that came from America and Germany called it paganism, heathenism, a source of evil and made people sever the link to earth to their “mama graun”. Religion has forgotten that inspiration for religion also has its beginnings in nature.

For the last 100 years, culture has been a source of shame and fear. The brain washing is so deep that even the 21st century parliament of Papua New Guinea vandalized its cultural heritage at the Parliament House and called it an act of cleansing.

But all along, our culture has been our our identify. It is who we are. It is what makes us unique. It is our pride and the heritage we should be passing down to our children.

When we begin to understand more of the world around us, we begin to realize that we are like square  pegs trying to fit into round holes. In our anxiety to fit into the box  given to us by special interests groups, we have been suppressing and denying our identity.

With or without permission from National Geography, we should know that what we have is what the world is looking for.

The world may have achieved mind-defying technological feats, but in the process they have lost the original design of man.  Men was part of nature with a spirit connection. Men lived off nature. Men got inspired by nature. Men revered nature, respected nature and worshiped nature as the source of life. Man had responsibility to protect nature.

The more complex a society becomes, the more averse they are to dirt, to ground, to  earth, to soil. Just look at the jungles of concrete, steel and glass in places where giant trees, grasslands and forests once stood.

But man is spirit and the spirit of our “mama graun communicates via bare skin connected to dirt, to earth.  This makes existing indigenous cultures – the earthy cultures such as ours, an existing conduit for re-connection to nature. A pathway for revitalizing the spirit aspect of a human life.

Earthy cultures offers an opportunity for people to reconnect to the original design of men. These are places one can get away from the hectic hustle and bustle of the 21st century; it is a a place for rest and connection to earth. Walk bare feet on dirt and  feel the heartbeat of “mama graun”. People are looking for the peace, opportunities to reconnect and they re paying to do it.

Tourism and cultural conservation therefore, is the way to go for Papua New Guinea.  Cultural conservation also requires nature conservation.

But firstly, we must be enlightened enough to know where to draw the line. The line between putting on a show for money and being authentic to sharing the embrace of mother earth.

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?

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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?

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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.

Local Volunteers as Development Partners

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These feet are made for walking

He walks the entire coastline, along the picturesque beaches when the tide is out. And when the tide is in, he takes  the long detour through thorny swamps, over cliffs and over sharp gravel beds.  From one coastline to another. From one side of the bay to the other – one step at the time.

Sometimes the road takes him up the river, over high mountains, down steep valleys and though wind swept grasslands into cold dark forests.

Meet him – middle-aged, average height,  tough, wiry and bronze from being chiseled by sun, rain, wind and salt;  limbs – lean and tough, disciplined to walk from sunup to sundown. Not a trace of body fat – a body that has accepted that humans eat to live not live to indulge the stomach.  Soles of the feel toughened up in layers that can withstand sharp gravel and even coals of fire.

Who is he? He is a man on a mission – a crusader. His message: nutrition. Sago grubs, green frog, wild yam and other lost food of the ancestors.

His mission: rekindling confidence in the ways of the fathers that had sustained generations prior to colonisation. Putting confidence into mothers, showing them the difference between eating sago grubs versus a can of tinned fish from Taiwan that costs money, which she may not have.

Why does he do what he do? I asked and he replied that he believes that what he is doing is his calling. If he does not document the secrets of the fathers, who else will? If he does not teach his people to survive, who else will?

No, he is not a shaman. He has a diploma in catering. He has had the taste of the high life, working for city hotels to well stocked mining camps. At the pinnacle of his career, he was even a head chef.

But then he started noticing the trend. Taro yield has decreased both in size and quality.  There seem to be a positive correlation between taro yield and the stature of young people. Even the energy levels and creativity and leadership capacity seems to be at an all-time low.

The river valley was being turned to rice fields, killing all seed bank consequently turning it into a river highway when it flooded. The river was getting killed – no more prawns and no more fish but algae greening the warm waters of the river during dry seasons.

Despite that, the people where still too far away from opportunities to earn money to buy food. His people were destined to suffer malnutrition.

Something had to be done. So he retired from cooking for money and put his life into service for his people – teaching mothers about nutrition using local food sources.

His  total budget is zero. All his expenses paid for with information that he carries in his head. For his pay, he appreciates a smile, a cup of hot sweet tea, food for his stomach and a place to lay his head for the night.

There are so many just like him. Walking bare feet, with a well-worn jacket and raincoat that also keeps cold away at night. A trusty torch, a bag full of buai and a heart that beats for the people.  Reaching one person at the time. Walking all the steps.

He may not win the men of valour award but he is the champion. He is a hero. Even with the taste of the high life of town still mellowing in his memory, he chose to return to the village and is destined to die in the village. Another statistic in the government books. Despite that, the likes of him are conduits of hope for building self-esteem and confidence among the rural masses.

Volunteers such as him are the unsung heroes who are working without recognition. There are so many of them, all in the ministry of dispensing hope. Pastors, health workers, nutritionists, conservationists, elementary school teachers, peace officers and the list will go on.

These people are the hope for educating rural PNG. People like him bring direction to the confusion of a people caught between the past and the present – a people lost in transition between cultures.

These volunteers are not looking for recognition. These volunteers approach what they do as a calling, a purpose for being born into this country for this day and time. They are the real patriots, a shining beacon of example to many who expect pay to do the minimum required to serve this great country.

In the hand of a wise government, local volunteers represent a workforce that can accomplish a lot of government plans in the rural and remote places in PNG. At the moment, these group of people act on their own, with their own resources and at their own time.

They struggle, but they continue because they believe it is their calling. Blessed are the feet of those, who bring good news and hope.

Re-wire the Brain: New Conservation Direction

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A singsing group from the Zia Tribe of the Waria Valley, Morobe South Coast.

Whittling it down to the bare bones of it all, conservation has been about satisfying human values: protecting and or restoring ecosystem services for the benefit of humans, preserving a super market for human needs, protecting aesthetic values for human pleasure, securing nature for posterity value – especially in pharmacology for the benefit of humans, and protecting the inherent value of nature as deemed important by humans.

When conservation efforts is human centered, the underlying philosophy is that of a custodian.  Human beings make themselves lord over nature, the rule maker – they take on the responsibility for protecting nature by making the rules to safeguard  nature and to reverse the negative impacts caused by members of their species.

The ideology of custodianship is absent in a lot of indigenous groups.  For example, people in traditional Melanesia consider themselves part of nature. The relationship is one of awe and respect and fear because of the intricate relationship and interdependence that exists between humans and nature.

Conservation proponents from the West who brought conservation to Melanesia brought in the custodian ideology.  Melanesians were thoughtlessly taken out of nature and crowned as lord over nature.   Their fear of the spirits and the unknown was revealed as petty and expelled as myth.

Knowledge and technology which was supposed to protect nature instead liberated voracious consumers.  The fear of the unknown and the fear of spirits expunged from his existence, the semi traditional man has run amok  in the forest, lighting fire and cutting trees and  over-harvesting  wildlife.

Western project proponents wrongly assumed that  forest owners shared their  values for conservation.  In reality, the forest owner have never wasted sleep on issues of climate change and extinction. Any change in nature was taken in stride as nature being nature.

The West also brought with it the concept of development.  A concept that contradicts their idea of conservation. Development is measured by  an accumulation of material wealth and money, while conservation promotes frugality.  When judged through western eyes , the forest people were pitied as a poor people.

Desiring  ’development’ but being so far from development opportunities,  the forest owners readily embraced conservation as a development option. The conservation proponents misread the enthusiasm of forest owners and pledged goods and services in exchange for a piece of the bush.  In the long run, the good intentions become a liability when conservation proponents become  engrossed in community development issues that had nothing to do with conservation.

The custodian mentality will not begin to sink in until forest owners achieve self-actualization as per Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  Self-actualization will come about only when these forest people are satisfied with their station in life. Only then can they appreciate the custodian philosophy of looking after nature.

The irony of the preceding paragraph is that, indigenous people had achieved some level of self-actualization in their own societies. People had reached a point where all their basic needs were taken care of that they had time for activities outside of survival. Evidence is in the complexity of  customs and cultural rites and adornment.

Despite that, indigenous people are judged against the introduced culture of materialism and individualism, this causes them to lose confidence and trust in the system that worked for their forefathers and which has been passed down through generations.  They lose confidence in their innate knowledge of their environment.

With misplaced priorities, people shun the real keepers of knowledge – the elders, and put their faith in high school graduates who can speak English.

For progress, there is a need for indigenous communities to re-kindle pride for culture. A re-wiring of the mind that helps them realize that development is relative and that they are not as destitute as they are made to feel and they can keep their culture and live in a village and also enjoy the benefits of Western inventions such as medicine and countless technology.

The onus is now on indigenous people to reconcile their indigenous way of life with ideas from the outside.  A balance must be found between the two because conservation has become the last lifeline for indigenous people in maintaining and sustaining a livelihood in the face of rapid loss of culture, climate change, rapid population growth and loss of water sources and cultural lands.

 

 

Poverty in PNG. What did they measure?

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According to Oxfam Australia, poverty has increased in PNG since the mid-1990s. It now stands at 37%. In other words, just over 2.6 million people out of a population of 7.5 million total population of PNG live on less than USD $1.25 per day.

To get a picture of the 2.6 million poor people in PNG – combine the population of the five highland provinces plus Morobe Province.

At today’s exchange rate, being poor in PNG means, having less than K3 at the end of any given day.

Indeed, in an urban setting, a K3 cannot buy the standard daily town meal of rice and tinned fish. A K3 is only enough for an unhealthy lunch of one deep fried flour ball and one boiled sausage. Similarly, at the market, a K3 can only buy a small heap of kaukau or potato for just one meal.

In contrast, in the rural area, a K3 has more value at the market but dramatically decreases at the trade store. At the market, a K3 can buy kaukau, greens and a piece of fruit or a coconut. However, a K3 in the village is not enough to get anything, except a packet of biscuit or two. A rural family wishing to eat both rice and fish need to have at least a US$7 or K20.

The K3 has different value at different places. Economists may explain this as the impact of supply and demand. The value of a K3 is high in the rural market because the demand for vegetables is low where supply is high. Demand for store bought goods however, is high in the rural areas. The price hike is probably because of freight charges as well as the fact that imported stuff including food are luxury items in rural area.

A luxury item is not needed for survival but is acquired for various reasons including to make life more pleasant or as a status symbol. Luxury goods are typically more costly and are often acquired by people who have more money than an average person.

What is money when people maintain their livelihood from the environment at no charge? This reason makes the current definition of poverty irrelevant in a place where cash is irrelevant.  The question now is, who are the 37% poor people in PNG?  What did they measure to come up with that number?

Definitely, the poor people are not the politicians and their cronies, who make up 1% of the population. It definitely is not the 10% working class who get paid enough to eat more than just rice and tinned fish until the next pay day. Because of the reasons above, the 75% rural people are out. The only group remaining are the vagabonds – the village runaways who have left the village for a life in town.

The absence of good data makes it hard to verify the Oxfam data if indeed, vagabonds when rounded up can fill up the highlands region and spill into Morobe province. Current assumption elsewhere put vagabonds at around 15% of the total population. Where then, is the other 22% of poor people as reported by Oxfam Australia?

Making lists and ranking people according to an irrelevant target can affect the psyche of human beings.  When people are made to feel helpless, they stop looking at ways to help themselves. They become dependent, feel impoverished, and disillusioned.

Change your mind and change your life. That is all it requires for us to take our life back from dependency. Since time immemorial, people have depended on their environment to maintain a livelihood. The instinct for turning soil into food is not lost to even the urbanites. Go to any house with a yard and you will see banana, or cassava or even fruit trees incorporated into the landscape. Go to any settlement and you will see people tending any piece of soil they can find.

Therefore, poverty in the PNG context is not about money. Living in poverty in PNG is when households go to sleep hungry because they are not willing to turn soil into food.  Poverty in PNG is when people forsake food security in the village for town where cash is king.

The use of a single currency as the only legal tender has disadvantaged the rural people. If the government cannot support economic activities in rural areas for people to earn money, then it must allow rural people to barter using wealth from their environment. They can barter for food and especially medicine using wealth from the forest when they have no cash to buy those select items.

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