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

And it is called Spiritual Ecology

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

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

Gender equality: Women must not be victims of a zero sum game

LIFE is a series of cycles.  The mitosis, the circadian cycle, the menstruation cycle, gestation, and the big one that encompasses them all is the life cycle – birth, senescence and death.

This is as nature intended; that we successfully pass on our genes.

Humans have developed habits to give our genes the best chance of survival. These habits become culture; culture, both good and bad becomes a way of life and children are immersed in it from birth.

The women used to be a revered gender because she was the garden that grew the tribe. Sex was just a holy dance for procreation.

She struggled for monogamy as a way of ensuring her investment for a better future is secured. He hunted while she nurtured the future generation. The man and the woman complemented each other.

But the circumstances that has shaped our genes and culture has changed. We are not living tribal lives anymore.

Gone are the days of wild animals and caves and the unknown. The woman does not need a protector anymore.

In the context of evolution, indeed, the world as a whole, has evolved to be a woman’s world.

In the safety and security of this era, the woman is given opportunities to reinvent herself. This is because she has time – time she did not have in the past being involved with child rearing.

Today, she is encouraged to get an education and a job and become independent before considering marriage and children. She is encouraged to take on more male roles.

The life code of humans, however, has not changed at the same rate as the passing circumstances. The DNA from our forefathers is still swirling in our life blood: that man is built for hunting and protecting and leadership while woman is crafted for nurturing and supporting her man and family.

Even if she can now pay for what she wants with money, her dilemma is that she is still bound to her culture and her DNA.

Though liberated through education, yet not expunged from her duties; though liberated from gender restrictive ideologies, yet not free from the gender specific instructions in here genes.

It is in the woman to want to submit, to serve and to follow the lead of a man, but the catch: the man has to lead.

While giving more opportunities for woman to grow, the world seems to have assumed that man needs no adjustment and are doing just fine.  How wrong can we get?

In the absence of leadership by man, including leadership on women’s issues, she is getting restless and frustrated. It seems the harder she pushes for equality, the force of domination coming back is equally hard.

There has been increased injustice against woman perpetrated by man. Some of these include using woman as scapegoats in sorcery and witchcraft cases, polygamy, sexual assaults and using girls as a tribal bargaining chip.

Even the government seems powerless to stop violence and injustice against women.

The increased domination of women seems to be a signal that the opposite gender needs attention.  As a race, the male species have been neglected more than the female.

While she has programs for empowerment, he is expected to lead by instinct.  But boys also need to be interned into the ways of life.

With the loss of the ‘hausman’ (traditional men’s house – source of cultural heritage and instruction) and extended kin, the man has lost the training and initiation rites that signify that a boy has now become a man with a man’s responsibilities.

This loss of purpose has not been replaced adequately in a way that lacks equivalence to that which is happening with the women.

To empower and accept the changing identity of woman, therefore, is a societal issue. It is an issue that cannot be tackled by any one gender.

Because the disruption of the power balance signifies one winner and one loser, but life intended a complementary balance.

And action must be taken soon.

bagarapim-meri

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?

 

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