Know your place in history

rpt

“I know my place in history”

Children, when born assimilate their parent’s point-of view as their point zero and build their worldview from thereon.  But life is not as temporary as between two generations. The life code swirling in our blood has a memory as old as humanity. This, I found out when I started working on my family tree.

I started my family tree with my maternal great grandmother. If she were alive, she would be 105 years old in the new year.   The year on her graveyard marker says that she was born in 1915. I imagine a tiny babe swaddled in tree bark cape and lying on a bed of moss.

Aspects of her life from 1915 remain a mystery to me.  I cannot begin to picture her growing up, the games she played with her siblings, her duties and responsibilities, the food she ate and how she interacted with the male members of her family. The year 1915 seems a long, long time ago.

The West had transitioned from the industrial revolution and was at the end of the modern era when my great grandmother was born.  While she played with her toes and looked into the sky from the comfort of her sleeping bag woven from the fibre of  tree barks – “bilum”. I wonder if my great grandmother saw aeroplanes because the airplane was already invented before she was born. Kodak products were routinely used by the public to take color “snap shots”. The air condition, the escalator and the roller coaster were features already in existence in the West in the early 1900.

Two years after she was born, John F. Kennedy was born and would become the 35th president of the United States of America. Albert Einstein completed his paper on the General Theory of Relativity.  And Adolf Hitler was a young man – a soldier in the World War I. While the Leahy brothers were teenagers. The gold prospecting brothers in search of gold  would be responsible for opening up the highlands of PNG to the outside world in the 1930s

PNG sidled up from the dark ages, blinked and caught the end of the modern era and got sucked into the vortex of the post-modern era.   In doing so, PNG also skipped all the stages that has shaped the history of the modern era – for we were still transitioning in the agriculture age when the West came upon us.

But did my great grandmother know that?

Two things of significance happened that seem to have shaped Papua New Guinea.

First, in less than 100 years, PNG has been forced to assimilate a new culture – the culture of our colonialists. We were forced to adopt the new way of living without understanding how the Western culture was shaped.

Our rank in the world near the bottom of the pile is based on judgement meted us on criteria we have had less than 100 years to adopt  – criteria which took hundreds of years to develop.

Those who have adapted well become impatient and quick to rubbish those who have had less exposure to the ways of the West. Whose fault is it when people cannot fit in?

Second, we blinked and our world transformed from communal living to one that promotes individualism. We were a thousand tribes at the turn of the century, now forced to live in nuclear families. We have not even had time to consolidate our thousand tribal ways into a one-nation identity.

The conflict observed in modern PNG seems to be one that is between the changing times and the instincts  and the life code imprinted in our genetic memory. It is a struggle for many to make a life as individuals when our genes still have imprints of communal living revolving around the tribal council called the “hausman”or men’s house.

The dissolution of the hausman in colonial times has also resulted in a loss of power and education for our warriors. Our warriors have lost the strength to stand their ground, to defend our ways and our land and resources.  And what more, our “males” have lost their potency because they moved into women’s house too soon.

We need to reclaim our lost identity. We have to put the changes in this era into context within our worldview.  But what is our concept of the world right now? Are we warriors or are we weaklings looking for allies?

But before we can settle on a worldview we must agree on a value system that binds the thousand different tribal values into a one-nation package. What values should we embrace?  Is the Melanesian way enough? What is the Melanesian Way, anyway?

We are confused. Caught between western value system and Melanesian value system. We have lost our confidence and self esteem because we are told that our value system – what works for us and what we intuitively know is wrong. We are told to accept the western value system. But that is an alien culture. In our confusion, most of us, like children, are waiting to be led by the hand, while the most progressive among us are taking advantage of our confusion causing corruption.

According to my elders, the death penalty was the order of the day when the hausman ruled. There was no human rights, there were only clan and tribal rights. Your allegiance was to your clan and tribe. Outside of it was death.

It was rough and tough, but order was maintained. Births, initiations, adulthood, marriages, death all had a place and were celebrated. We did not just exist like animals. Tribal living was the order of the day.

Through oral history, I can trace my matriline 300 years back from my grandmother.  From this perspective, I realize, that the blood in my vein is older that colonialism and the 102 years since my great grandmother seem like yesterday and my 40 years of living a blink of an eye.

The realization that I am as old as the history of my tribe but also as young as my nation is liberating.  I have the ancient wisdom of the land in my blood, but I am also educated in the ways of the West and can participate in the technologically advanced life in this post-modern era.  I feel invincible.

Every young person must take the time to find your roots and build your tree.  For the knowledge you will gain is power. The new perspective will provide a stable foundation for you to build your life on. The next generation need to know this information to keep them grounded to the land.  Once you know your place in history pass this knowledge on as a legacy for the future.

 

*** Reposting a draft previously posted  under the title:  Finding Myself in History

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

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A village setting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Estimated squatter population from the three PNG cities.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reference

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

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

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

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

 

 

This face, my face

mercyzStory of my life on this canvas,

This face, my face.

Kinks in the hair.

The serious brows.

The eyes – windows to the soul;

The sweep of the cheeks

… & the quietly determined chin

& the button nose.

In my smile,

I see my beginnings,

I see my grandmother,

& I see my mother.

In my reflection,

I see my sisters,

..& all the little girls of the future.

I recognize the smile, the chuckle,

Mannerisms and preferences.

It is all too familiar.

I have come home, yet I am home.


** A Poem celebrating family. Dedicated to the sisterhood.

 

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