Know your place in history

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“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

Reason why Taripex Settlement is a better option than the village.

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A village setting

According to the 2011 census, the total population of PNG was 7.1 million. About 89% (6.3 million) were the rural people while 11% (770,600) lived in urban areas.

Sharp et al (2015) defines the same population based on economic criteria. The formal sector (13%) is the segment of society who receive a fortnightly wage. While the 87% informal are those involved in any activity that does not factor in the calculation of the country’s gross domestic produce.

Within the formal sector, Cox (2014) throws in a third group – the “predatory elite” – those “who wield real influence in PNG: senior public servants and powerful political patrons or the landowner rentier millionaires who capture the benefits of resource developments.”

When put under scrutiny, the informal sector is a blanket name for two groups: those who remain in the village and those that have migrated to towns in search of opportunities. The villagers are either selling cash crops or just concentrating on subsistence agriculture in the village (Kopel 2017) The village runaways are rural dwellers who have runaway from the village in search for opportunities in the city.

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Groups of people in PNG as classified by different researchers and estimates for this essay.

Papua New Guinea has three cities: Lae, Mt Hagen and Port Moresby with Port Moresby being the biggest and the center of business for PNG.  The 2011 census estimates that the Port Moresby population to be around 320,000.

A report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) assessing the fragility of urban settlements estimated the number of people in the informal settlement population in Port Moresby to be over 50% of the city’s total population (ADB  2013). These settlers are engaged in the informal sector – mostly as vendors.

For the purpose of making our point, and  based on ADB data, we assume that squatter settlements contribute to 50% of city population in PNG. According to this assumption, the settlement population in the three PNG cities may be estimated to just 3.3% of the 2011 PNG population.

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Estimated squatter population from the three PNG cities.

According to estimations,  the predatory elite has the smallest membership (2% or less). Membership of this group have been described as the parasitic group’ because they ‘act as if the control   access to education. The truly elite powerbrokers of PNG monopolise the resources of the state and ensure that those outside their patronage networks are locked out of access to education, employment and other prerequisites of social advancement.”This is made up of politicians and senior bureaucrats and landowners of resource rich provinces and their cronies.

The second group is the working class (10%). These are mostly those in the government’s service (public service) and those in private workforce and businesses.   The public service implements the government directive –  which is to serve the people. The clustering of government service in the urban areas show that this group serve themselves and others in the urban areas.  A tiny percentage of this group struggle to serve the rural masses. These include the teachers, nurses, the police force and the few dedicated  local government bureaucrats.

The third are the villagers and they make the biggest proportion (86%) of the population. The villagers are scattered throughout the country. The government’s mandate is to serve the villager. In reality, the villager is so far outside the government, they seem invisible. The villagers depend on their own system for making it day-to day, the villager uses the most authentic system that has supported life for PNGeans since the dawn of time: kin, custom and barter. In good times, the villager has food, family and shelter and is content living a life with less cargo and little money. In times of disaster, the village needs government support in terms of technology, medicine and food. If not for large scale disasters, the villager will remain invisible.

The fourth group are the urban settlers – the 3.3% of people who escape the village in search of opportunities. The settlers often realize very soon that they need money to survive in the city. This group relies mostly on street vending to raise their income. Their lack of education and qualification keeps them from more technical and decent paying jobs. These people pay no taxes, but they are the most demanding from the government system. Not engaged in meaningful employment and with relatively more free time on their hands, membership in this group are the main mischief makers in the city; causing petty crimes in the society. These group absorbs most of the law and order effort and budget in the cities

Why is it better to be in Taripex settlement than in the village? Despite the hard life and the absence of support from kin, the city is a big market for the village runaway to earn money from street sales. With money they can support themseves. They may have access to running water and light, even if illegally connected. They can access health care. They can send their child to a school where the teacher is always present. Importantly, through hard work, the membership of this group may get an education or make enough money to advance in life. Such opportunities do not exist in the village.

Indeed, people living in cardboard shacks in cities get more charity than people living in the village. Most often donor money for development projects in the country is used up in this group – even though their number is less than the villager.

The government system has lost sight of its duty to its biggest constituent – the villager. It is a contradiction when money for development is earned from resources belonging to the villager, but no goods or services goes back to the village. The money is stuck in the urban areas to maintain a self-serving system that is of no use to the villager. The settler by positioning themselves closer to the government system can punch a hole in the system to get some form of assistance to trickle down to them. The same cannot be said for the villager.

And that is why, it is better to be in Taripex and raising a family than in the village.  It is every person’s human right to seek better opportunities. The movement from the village to the settlements will continue until government services and opportunities for development becomes available in the village.

Reference

ADB (2013) Fragility Assessment of an Informal Urban Settlement in Papua New Guinea

COX, J. (2014)  ‘Grassroots’, ‘Elites’ and the New ‘Working Class’ of Papua New Guinea. State, Society & Governance in Melanesia ips.cap.anu.edu.au/ssgm

Kopel , E., (2017) The Informal Economy In Papua New Guinea: Scoping Review Of Literature And Areas For Further Research . www.pngnri.org

SHARP, J. COX , C. SPARK, S. LUSBY, & M. ROONEY (2015) The Formal, the Informal, and the Precarious: Making a Living in Urban Papua New Guinea. SSGM DISCUSSION PAPER 2015/2

 

 

Women in Parliament

It was just 80 years ago that “hasuman” ruled. Some of those men have just transitioned from the village “hausman” to the national “hausman”aka parliament. In this paternalistic culture, no woman sits in the “hausman” with the men. This generation of women is just one generation removed from PNG’s cultural past, women in this age and time are still bound to the cultural roles of women, no matter how educated she may be. It is hard to fix culturally indoctrinated women and man.The current push to get women into parliament has never worked – it is hard to liberate women who still live under the culture of deferring to men, and men who are still stuck in a culture that dictates that women have no space in decision making.

Our hope for change is in our next generation. Our hope rests on our girls and our boys. The real measure of an equal society is when little girls can go to school and have same privilege as boys. Young women can run for office of student rep., same as young man. When she can stand up and speak her mind in a big meeting. The strategy going forward will be build confident little girls who are assertive; same time build confident little boys who accept that women are as good a leader as they are. In time, confident boys and girls, transition into adults and function in an environment where women are judged based on leadership potential and not on their gender. That is the transition we should be pushing for as our 15-20 year strategy.

An immediate activity that may fast-track positive change right now: the parliament by law, ensure 50% of senior bureaucrat- ‘decision making bureaucrats’ positions go to women. The rubber hits the road at the bureaucrat level not in politics. Politicians are rubber stamps. Real decisions makers and implementers of government programs are in the decision making level of bureaucracy. When a women is in decision making role, she will be inclusive. That’s just a women’s trait – after-all we run households; we are aware of and cater for all in our households. Even if parliament is 100% men, decision making will include woman who will be considerate of the plight of women. Women bureaucrats can change the society in 5 years, compared to 20 years in the life of a woman politician.

And in time – it is easier for a senior woman bureaucrat to transition to parliament because she will be good in what she is doing, she knows the working of the government, she has the respect of her male colleagues and she is confident in what she knows.

APEC Haus-Ela Beach

APEC Haus-Ela Beach

Take Back PNG

As we immerse ourselves in local politics, let us not forget that we a part of a bigger world political system. We may want to believe we hold the reins to our political system, but we are in a school of small fish caught between the “clash of the titans” – the EU, USA, China, Japan. Is that reason enough for us to sit back and resign to our fate and go where the tsunami of world politics take us??

Absolutely not. Our smallness in the big pool also means we can go under the radar. Our lack of dependence in the big global machinery means,we are immune to some of the effects of global politics.

We may be small in the eyes of the world, but 8 million is big enough to sustain a local market. We should concentrate on our local markets.

As PM JM said in his address to the nation – let us build on our strengths. Let the islands specialize in island things, let the highlands specialize in highlands commodities and let the coastals do what they are good at.

If Kina fails us one of these days, we can always revert to the 50,000 year system that had always worked for us – the barter system. Specialization allowed barter to take place and that kept our traditional economies buoyant. Family, kinship, tribal alliances – those are our strength. We survived 50,000 years, we can go another 50,000 if only we believe in our selves and our systems to take care of us.

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We need to grow our population

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Bona or  food sharing by the Zia Tribe, Morobe. Papua New Guinea.

Survival is a numbers game. More people means more heads, more ideas, and a diverse and resilient gene pool. More numbers mean more work force, bigger markets, bigger army, bigger fire power. Louder protests. We increase our human potential when we increase our numbers.

Population growth is good for us. If you disagree then you have been brainwashed. Wake up. Think for yourself. Or else when you die, you will do so  without realizing your potential.

All the life-force you will ever need to live a meaningful life – you are born with all that intact.  You inherit your unique potential from two very resilient people – your mother and your father.  Combining this genetic mishmash with the unconscious piling of knowledge from the past that we call instinct. On top of that, the memory bank  inherited from past lives that is passed down through blood. All these are your latent potential.

But wait!  And because you are alive, everyday you can choose to add new tools to your expanding repertoire of arsenal by availing yourself to new experiences.

It has been proven: Your potential can take you from your backwoods, splitting firewood   to splitting genes in a cryonics laboratory. All you need is a razor sharp will.  Your will is your mental power to control and direct your thoughts and actions despite circumstances. If you will it, it will. If you will it not, it will not.

How is all this related to growing a population?

In statistics – the bigger the sample size, the more refined the result. Your potential can only be buoyed and lifted to the next level by sheer force of number. How? Because many people share your value system and history. The same reason why Miss PNG keeps winning the Miss Internet in the Pacific beauty pageant.

Many people means a bigger thinking and reasoning population.  In the face of competition, the life-forces  keep reinventing self to become  more and more  potent. 

In a bigger gene pool, the genetic variation is large. In a bigger genetic pool, we have increased buffer against erosion. In a bigger genetic pool, there is a bigger potential for everything . Why reduce our gene pool? For whose benefit?

The most quoted reason why we should not grow our population is that we do not have enough resources.

What resources? Land is not the problem, we have enough for 8.5 million people… compared to Bali and Sumatra and Lombok – all squashed on a pinhead.
Food? Everybody eats from a garden…. it is in our genes to work the land. Only lazy people do not work the land. Money? There will never be enough money ever, but we can learn to live within our means.

The problem is when we become dependent , our will power is dampened and our power for self-governance is eroded.  The ‘true  north’ of our Melanesian compass is despised as primitive and discarded  for the Eurocentric one. So we become like children, wanting to be like ‘them’, but not knowing how to do, must be led by the hand.

The irony: living a fulfilled life by trusting your instinct based on a value system and time-tested principals is not a new phenomena. In the days of old, our forefathers had principals in war as in peacetime. So which one is authentic for you – you decide.

The human potential aka the life-force shimmering under the surface ready is ready to be ignited into action. We need to take our potential back. A bigger population can withstand the erosion of our cultural pride.

What should we do?

First, we need a more smarter and radical leadership.  A leadership that is selfish about PNG. A leadership that is dependent yet independent. A leadership that has pride for country. A leadership that can see the potential that is locked in us. A leadership that understands that, all of us – all people of the world – red, yellow, white or black – we are sojourners:  here today and gone tomorrow.  We need a radical leadership that understands that all cultures and value systems are equal wherever God placed us.  We are built for our environment – like fish, we need water and we do not have to judge ourselves harshly for not becoming a tree climbing fish.

We need a leadership that uses their head and heart to make good long-term decisions for the country and not for their pockets for short-term gain.  Afterall, where in the world will you you say at the end of the day: I have come home; I am home – but here – where your umbilical cord is buried.

In a bigger population, competition will cull mediocrity and the cream of leadership will rise to the top.

Then we need education. Education that gives us pride  in the basics, the laws and principals that opens our eyes to our innate life-force. When we have acknowledged our innate power, then we will start living to our full potential. We will believe in ourselves and not be swayed by latest trends that go against our values.

A good education system provides a negative feedback loop to population growth. A good education  gives people options to do many things including the information to control their fertility.  In 2019, the guesstimate is that we have close to 10 million people – a badly educated 10 million people will become 20 million in the next 20 years. A radical education initiative can half  that predicted number.

In a smaller population, this idea will be scoffed and left to die. In a bigger population, with a bigger thinking capacity, this idea will be buoyed by debates and  criticism until it makes sense, to be embraced and acted upon. And when this idea become common knowledge, generations will just acquire it at birth. People will live it. There will be no need to justify it.

We need to take our country back. It is up to us to decide to grow our population or not and shouldn’t be determined by outsiders.

 

My Culture, my Pride.

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No-one can teach you how to be a Melanesian, the unspoken nuances we intuitively know – it is flowing in our blood, the blood of a proud people, warriors, headhunters , refined over thousands of years.

Our culture grounds us in our environment, for it was built for us and and suits us and it served our ancestors and is still serving us today. In our domain, among melanesians, we can maintain our own –  the Sepik is as good as New Ireland is as good as Enga and so on.

On a bigger stage, our culture is as good as any in the world. We can proudly take our stand with all other cultures in the tribal council. We are survivors, for we have survived as one nation made up of a thousand tribes.

But the fact of the matter is that the western culture has taken over the world. Their domination of the world is very thorough that all other cultures must be westernised to even register as a nation.

The western way of life has merits and demerits. The thrust of the western culture is to homogenise all cultures – from clothes to language to unit of transaction. Cultures are judged harshly for not fitting in. For instance, the nations of the world are ranked by the height of their stash of cash. If your stash is small, then you are a failed nation. But what is money to cultures who have no need for it? The western culture seeks to perpetuate their criteria –  a criteria shaped by their  value system.

The demise of our culture is perpetuated further when we  shun our culture as ‘kanaka’, because we have been brainwashed that ours is primitive and the glamour of the West is the standard.  In our  haste to fit in, we are found wanting because we will never become ‘westernised’ enough.

But the fact remains, our culture is our identification marker, suitable for us and it defines who we are. Our culture can only be as strong as we make it to be.

Our challenge now is to give prominence to our very own culture regardless of pressures from outside.

When people come to our land, let us show them that we are proud of our culture because it is our identity and it is worth the prominence of place we give it.

Commemorating 500 years of reformation in Papua New Guinea

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Flags at the 3oth Synod at Heldsbach Finschhafen, Morobe Province.: Lutheran Church flag, the PNG flag and the Morobe Provincial flag. Photo Tanya Zeriga-ALone

This year 2017, marks the 500th year since Martin Luther, a German monk and doctor of theology was excommunicated from the Roman Church at that time for suggesting changes  based on the Bible. Through study, Martin Luther was convicted by these four gospel truths: Scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone and Christ alone: salvation is a free gift from God  given to those who seek after it  in faith and cannot be bought or achieved through good works.

Martin Luther’s purpose was clear – to correct the erroneous teachings on sin  and salvation and to  take believers back to a faith as was intended by  the forerunners of the Christian faith.

Martin Luther’s followers are called the Lutherans. Protestantism was born from this action in history. Protestants believe that only Jesus is the head of the church.

The Lutheran Church was in existence for over 3 centuries by the time it arrived on the shores of Papua New Guinea (PNG) in the late 1800.  PNG was a dark and unknown place at the turn of the century – tribal fights, sorcery, payback killing were common. Isolated in their own little worlds, Papua New Guineans were animists, believing that spirits controlled their life.

The gospel arrived with Reverend Johannes Flierl, a Neuendettelsau Missionary from the Kingdom of Bavaria, Germany.  The gospel in PNG began in the Finschhafen and Madang area and spread into the rest of Papua New Guinea. As it was in the days of Luther, the gospel liberated people from the fear of the unknown and freed multitudes from the power of spirits and death.

The pioneer missionaries both local and expatriates paid a price for the freedom we enjoy today. In those early days, missionaries risked their lives for the sake of the gospel. They crossed tribal boundaries, brokered peace between tribal enemies.  These pioneers also uprooted their families and moved them far from the security of kinsman – all for the sake of the gospel.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of PNG (ELCPNG) of the 21st century grew out from the work of the Neuendettelsau and Rhenish Missionaries from Gemany. When the World War II reached the Pacific in 1942, most of the early German missionaries were repatriated. After the war, the Lutheran Churches of Australia and America were tasked to reconstruct the church, which the parties did together as the Lutheran Missions New Guinea.

It was in 1956 that the indigenous church was formed and called the Evangelical Church of New Guinea (ELCONG). The first Bishop was Rev. Kuder from the American Lutheran Church.

It was in the 1970s, that the ELCONG changed to ELCPNG. The first indigenous bishop was elected in 1973 and since then, the church has been run by the nationals. At the 500th year of reformation, the ELCPNG has had 30 synods.  The current ELCPNG Bishop is Reverand Jack Urame.

Earlier this year, the ELCPNG celebrated 131 years off Lutheranism. The ELCPNG is the second most popular church in PNG with 1.2 million members out of the 8 million population.  The ELCPNG is made up of 17 districts. These districts are further grouped into circuits, parishes and congregations is the lowest church unit recognised by the church.

The freedom to worship we enjoy today  is because this reformer broke the chains of oppression that kept people in slavery for lack of access to the truth. The message of hope and freedom in this act of reformation is timeless – it was real then, as it is now.

Papua New Guinea’s position in the reformation history is similar to the parable of the Labourers in Matthew 20: 1-16. We are like the worker who was recruited at 4pm to work in the garden only to get paid same wage as the man who started work at 7am. We are privileged to be born at a time when the gospel is free. We have not sacrificed for the gospel, no blood was shed like in the days of Luther.

The gospel may be free, but we are faced with new challenges. In this age and time, the church is under pressure to conform to the standards of the world.  Fatigue has also set in. As one of the last workers in the field, maybe we are called to re-evangelise the church. Maybe with our youthful exuberance, we are called to keep the 500 year old flame alive into the future.  May we seek Gods will about our place in the reformation story.

As we celebrate this momentous occasion let us remember that reformation is not just an historical event rather it is process of continually walking in faith according to the word of God. Reformation in this day and time is about testing passing trends against the timeless wisdom in the bible. We as individuals as well as the body of ELCPNG must step up and take our place in the reformation story.

Amen.

 

..on educating girls

DSC_0240When you educate a girl, you educate a nation.

When you give opportunities to a girl to evolve to something higher than her current state, she inevitably raises everyone around her to that new standard.

Her man or any potential male out there wanting her attention has to raise their standard to meet hers.Same for other women in her life, be it girlfriends, aunties, mothers. And when she has her own family she raises them up to the standard she has been exposed to. She has become a role model.

Change happens just like that – one female at a time and when more women get an education, it totally lifts up our game.

If you have a daughter,niece, granddaughter – champion her education and personal development. Your investment will not be wasted.

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

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.

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