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.

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The Matriarch 1915 – 1970

Battle of the sexes is a zero sum game.

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

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

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.

Free Education: an analogy

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Walk for Life participants at the Freeway

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

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

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

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

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

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Free Bus for dropoff

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

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

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

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

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

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Getting a hand from inside

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A mad scramble with no quality control.

 

The 2015 Pacific Games in Review

We did it.18-07-15 closing ceremony15 pacific games-Tanya ZerigaAlone (11)

We staged a successful 2015 Pacific Games.

Kudos to the government for the commitment to making an excellent games.

Kudos to Games Organizing Committee for bravery in the face of criticism.

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To the athletes – congratulations if not the medal haul then for representing our great country.

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The spectators – for infusing spirit into the games.
Pride for the national teams in national colours was enough for people to brave rain and sun.

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Spirit of the pacific truly well and alive. The ‘One-nesia’

Camaraderie shown in the field of play despite tough competition.
Friendships outside the field of play.

DSC_0269Volunteers – the muscle that got the game moving.

    People fed, buses run, sports played
The press – late nights to keep the stories flowing in time.

Men, women, boys, girls, young, old, able minded.

Working class, grassroots – all together as one – powered by snax cracker and water.

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The three disciplinary forces working with the people for the people

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And in between – a feast of culture.

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For two weeks, the citizens of NCD bravely put up with the long traffic from sunup to sundown.

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The revelry has come to an end

DSC_0184Until Tonga, congratulations to everyone for a job well done.

The Pledge that should have been.

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On this bible and on my heart;

I pledge to honor the privilege accorded me at the polls to lead this great nation of a thousand tribes.

I pledge to serve my people with all my heart, my soul and my strength.

I renounce any self-interest in this position of power.

I pledge to seek truth and justice and I will respect and trust the authority of the Courts and the legal system to be fair and impartial.

I seek wisdom from God and men in charting a wholesome development pathway for my country using the blessing of natural resources bestowed on this blessed land by God, the source of all blessings.

I seek to promote personal-development among my people so they can become wholesome and productive citizens ,not only of this great land but also of other lands.

I seek godly wisdom and counsel in dealing with other sovereign nations that I may be a peer among peers, contributing meaningfully to the greater good of all the people is this world.

In all my dealings I pledge to put God first, then my people before me and my family.

So God please help me.

Securing food for uncertain days using “kastam”

Traditional knowledge or kastam is the accumulated wealth of human experiences and adaptations over time. Kastam is closely tied to language, social relations, spirituality and worldview, and is generally held collectively. The evidence of the long interaction between the people and nature can be seen in the detailed rituals based on this knowledge and the specific management practices of natural resources.  Indigenous people show reverence for their kastam because their survival depends on keeping this knowledge alive.

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The introduction of the Western Culture as the grander culture has killed kastam by labelling it primitive and out-dated. However, this knowledge is needed for survival for the three quarters of Papua New Guineans who still live a life style reminiscent to that of their ancestors – a lifestyle that requires an understanding of kastam to live off the land.

What should food security in Papua New Guinea look like? In this essay, I show that aspects of our  traditional knowledge or “kastam” can be used to secure food for the rural Papua New Guineans. Appropriate technology and scientific knowledge and the right legislations by the government can complement kastam to secure food for the people.

Customary Land Tenure

Anthropological work shows that indigenous people relate to the bush and the resources within to be their source of personhood, society and sustenance. There is no distinction between the physical soil, the tribal land boundaries and nature contained on it – all these are generally referred to as land. The land is considered a gift from some mystical ancestor and therefore, there is strong emotional attachment to the land.

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The land ownership arrangement in Papua New Guinea is security against hunger.  Having access to a piece of healthy forest allows people to gather and hunt and share the resources they find to meet their dietary needs and food preferences. When forests are protected, water sources are protected and consequently, the health of the people is protected.

The paradox however, is that within the last three decades, environmentally destructive industries have increased. Tribal forests are being lost to development. This is inevitable because, nature is the “capital” for economic development in Papua New Guinea, often as large scale extractive and environmentally destructive industries. Reports show that logging has changed 48.2 % of forest in Papua New Guinea since the 1970s.  The areas accessible for logging are situated in lowland rain-forest which contains high biodiversity richness and high endemics. The lowlands also contain highly dense human population.

Apart from the loss of land for development activities, crook land deals are also marginalising some landowners, making them beggars in their own land. With no economic power, no land, and no influence and status, these landless people are pushed to the fringes of society as well as fringes of productive land. The food that is grown at the fringes is not enough to support an active life. The money given in compensation is not enough to meet family needs and obligations as well as purchase preferred food which is also nutritious.

The government can secure food for the people by preventing the loss of customary land. This can be done through a Protected Areas system. This ensures the land is protected from outside interests.

Protecting the environment using the Protected Area Legislations can stop the loss of customary land. There are several options for Papua New Guinea, including but not limited to; National Parks, Conservation Areas and Wildlife Sanctuaries. These options, however, are top-down processes that remove the forest owner and make the government the custodian of the Protected Area. The land is locked away by the government, preventing local people access and use.

The Wildlife Management Area under the Fauna Protection Act 1966 is an excellent option. Under this option the local people manage their own resources on their land, they make their own laws to protect land as well as use the resources on the land.

Local laws based on social taboos and kastam has advantages that it is voluntary and costs nothing. The self-imposed management laws are self-monitored and are hard to change as opposed to formal institutions that impose rules that are written, designed and enforced by third party and which costs money to enforce.

Currently, the Wildlife Management Area system is voluntarily done outside of the government authority. By erecting appropriate legislations, the government can support forest communities who wish to protect their land using the Wildlife Management Area system. Further support can be given to the local communities by making available science information that shows the link between harvest and recruitment of wildlife. With credible science information, the local people can sustainably manage the resource in their forest.

Strong local Leadership

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Traditionally, kastam is maintained by elders and passed down the generations. There was respect for elders and the rulers on the land. Strong local leadership held communities together by maintaining communal beliefs and ensuring respect and full community participation in cultural practices and rites; strong local leadership also had the power to solve conflicts arising from disputes.

Strong community bonds ensured that all members of the community were accounted for when it came to sharing food, land and other resources. Relationships forged through marriage ensured that even people without land have user rights in land belonging to their kinsman.  Furthermore, elders and clan leaders knew their allies and used that in times of need. The western styled nuclear family system however encourages estrangement from kin – kin groups however, are the best buffer against food shortages.

When the government or any other well-intentioned group choose to work with communities, they work with committees, or bring outsiders or choose the young educated community members. In doing so, they change the power systems in cultural institutions, generating debate and resistance. What is not understood is that; the peoples’ alliance is with elders in their clan groups not committees and outsiders and the young and inexperienced. The role of cultural leaders and institutions to hold communities together must be incorporated in community projects including food security projects.

Barter System

Less than 25% of the Papua New Guinea adult population engage in a cash economy and live in urban and peri-urban areas. These small numbers of people support the national economy through tax, these people also remit cash back to rural areas to supplement the subsistence livelihood of extended relatives in the rural areas.  This system cannot be relied upon to secure food for people in times of prolonged food scarcity.

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Bartering, a traditional transaction in which people exchanged resources they have in excess with others for something of a comparable value ensured people had a variety to their diet. The currency for the transaction was not limited to just food but included wealth from the forest – bird’s feathers, cuscus pelt, canes, tree bark, bark cloths, shells and necklaces.

The use of a single currency has disadvantaged the rural people who have limited avenues to earn money to pay for services and goods including food.  Rice, flour and tinned-fish cannot be bartered; it must be bought with money. Even with a rich wealth of bird feathers, a person cannot access the easily available store-bought food.  By encouraging economic activities in rural areas, rural-based people can participate in it and earn money to buy food and medicine.

If the government cannot support economic activities in rural areas, then it must allow rural people to barter for rice, flour and tinned fish using wealth from the forest when they have no cash to buy those select items.

Swidden system of gardening

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that food security for people who still depend on the land for food can be achieved through a diversified crop garden containing varied cultivars – a concept consistent with the swidden agriculture system.

The swidden system (also slash-and-burn) of agriculture largely practiced in PNG is a system tested over thousands of years and is suited for the nutrient deficient soil of the tropical environment.

In a swidden system, a forest patch is identified, cut, left to dry and burnt to get rid of the leaves and branches and undergrowth before the land is planted. The burning adds vital micro nutrients like potassium and magnesium to the soil. A variety of crops, from herbs to bigger plants like the banana are grown together in a single plot to take advantage of the differing nutrient status of the garden. Importantly in this traditional method, the forest seed bank is left intact in the soil.

Food crops gradually decline in yield in subsequent usage of a plot of land; to avoid this, the land is allowed to fallow. A long fallow is positively correlated to higher crop yield.  During the fallow period, the forest seed bank germinates and through the process of decomposition, soil development takes place.

The tradition system of gardening secures food for the people. The time in between abandoning an old garden and making a new garden is a time of food shortage. The banana always takes the lifetime of the garden to grow; it is always the last plant in a garden to bear fruit after other food crops have been eaten. People eat banana while making new gardens – this is a classic example of a perfected method of gardening that ensures food security when farmers are in transition between the old and a new garden.

There are some food crops that are used as the last resource to see people through times of food shortage. For instance, the sago – though of lower nutritional value, the high carbohydrate content keeps people through times of food shortage.

Food security for PNG lies in strengthening the traditional agriculture method, complemented by improved agricultural techniques. Together with improved agriculture education, food security programs must integrate health and hygiene in food preparation, food storage, and the protection of water resources.

Food Storage

Traditional methods of food storage are limited to the dry storage of yams, coconut and other nuts and desiccation by smoking. Food preserved by this method cannot be stored over a few weeks for smoked food and a few months for dry storage items

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Technology and new knowledge can enable people to store food for long periods. Downstream processing of local staples into forms that can be stored over time is a food security intervention. PNG can easily process local food like sago, kaukau, banana and cassava into flour that can be stored for long periods of time; or even freezing taro and cassava; drying corn, peanut and beans and appropriately packing that can be kept for a long time.

Such vital information can be made available via advances made in the Mobile Technology and Information Communication Technology (ICT). Positive change will happen en masse when more people access scientific information to help them decide their course of action for their land and resources to secure their own food supply.

Conclusion

Many well-intentioned groups including the government envisage they can bring a total solution for food security from outside. However, it should be acknowledged that the people are better suited to helping themselves. Therefore, effort must go into supporting the existing systems of self-help.

Looking for answers from outsiders breeds a dependency habit that is detrimental to the innovative and self-preservation and innate intelligence of the people that has sustained their ancestors for thousands for years. The people must be encouraged to innovate on existing knowledge – the kastam. In that way, the knowledge generated is relevant and implementable and affordable.  Appropriate technology and scientific knowledge and relevant legislation can then complement kastam in securing food for the people of Papua New Guinea.

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