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

Commemorating 500 years of reformation in Papua New Guinea

Tanya Zeriga_SYnod Sat011616 (8).JPG

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.

zia 1907 Bono

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.

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.

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?

 

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

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