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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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

What does the future hold for our culture?

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A singsing group from the Morobe South Coast.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Which way, PNG?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: The Embarrassed Colonialist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simon Pentanu Resident of Pok Pok Island

Bougainville News

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

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

Simon Pentanu Resident of Pok Pok Island

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

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Marry Conservation To Tourism To Increase Conservation Research

This essay is in response to an article titled: Conservation Research Is Not Happening Where It Is Needed Most.  The conclusion in the article published in PLOS Biology, an open-access, peer-reviewed journal  was reached after an analysis of 7,593 peer-reviewed papers.

Papua New Guinea was at the bottom when compared with 5 other high biodiversity countries. PNG contributed only 0.2% (n=7,593) in publication to the world knowledge on biodiversity. None of the publication was by an in-country institution.  In contrast, Costa Rica, another high biodiversity country contributed 0.5% to world biodiversity knowledge, 14 papers from Costa Rica was led by in-country institution. Furthermore, Costa Rica has 4 experts at the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) while PNG has zero representation.

The authors cite many reasons for the lack and offers solutions.  All the solutions are relevant to PNG and when implemented may make a difference.

The paper, however dedicates only one sentence to the role of governments in conservation research. Governments, however are the biggest stakeholder influencing conservation research. And for PNG, the lack of political will by governmants to prioritize conservation can easily be one of the main reasons for the dismal results.

PNG is a developing country and is struggling to attain development. Money needed for development is locked in her natural resources. Currently, priority is in harvesting the natural resources to raise revenue for development.

Conservation is seen as anti-development. Conservation uses money but does not make money consequently conservation is not a priority. These sentiments are not expressed but is reflected in a lot of decisions taken by the government.

A classic example is preservation of Kokoda Track versus dumping of toxic waste into the Basamuk Bay.  Efforts have gone into protecting the Kokoda water catchment. While at the Basamuk Bay, despite community protests, the government allowed the Chinese Nickle-Cobalt Miner to dump toxic waste into the bay. What makes Kokoda special for preservation over Basamuk?

The common denominator in both project is money. Both are paying – the Australians are paying to protect while the miners are paying to dump their mining waste.

Another example in which money comes before conservation is when mining and logging rights are granted to the extractive industry in the areas designated for conservation.

Because it is not a priority, no serious money is budgeted for conservation in PNG.  Conservation groups raise their own funds but have to balance their conservation agenda with the socio-economic and developmental needs of the people they work with.

Because it is not a priority, there is an absence of developmental pathways for human resources for conservation either at the university or in government institutions.  All the skills needed to function as a conservationist is left to individuals to pick up while on the job.  There is also a lack of incentive to utilise local conservation practitioners who have attained advanced degrees.

The Conservation and Environment Protection Authority (CEPA) is the designated authority to implement conservation in PNG. But it also has a contradicting role – the office collects fees and grants permit to developers to discharge waste into the environment.  As seen in the Kokoda versus Basamuk case, money making projects will win all the time.

Making money is a priority in PNG while conservation as it is today is a black hole that consumes money and gives nothing back.

The only way to make conservation a winner in this environment is to frame it as a money making venture for development.

How can we do that? Divorce conservation from CEPA and marry it to tourism to form Conservation and Tourism.

Already there is an incentive to make money with the proposed merger. People now have an incentive to look after their resources. It will be easy to make people understand the need for sustainable management because their income in the long run will depend on it.

This new merger will increase conservation manpower because research information will become a selling point for tourism.  This may improve training for local conservation research and the inevitable outcome will be more publications.

What is good for conservation is good for tourism is good for people. To protect this new development venture, the government will build infrastructure where it is needed. Steps will also be taken to strengthen environment protection policies and laws.

Conservation and tourism spreads money to local people and promotes development. Tourism does not only involve international tourists only. locals can become tourists as well. Local tourism is a viable industry in PNG and needs to be promoted aggressively and researched further.

Tourism and Conservation may be the trigger that will set off a  domino effect of positive changes in conservation and sustainable development. An inevitable end product will be an increase in  conservation research on biodiversity in this country.

Local Volunteers as Development Partners

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These feet are made for walking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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