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

Call of the Mama Graun to West Papua

****** Anthropological work shows that indigenous people in Melanesia 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 also Mama Graun or the great provider. The land is considered a gift from some mystical ancestor and therefore, there is strong emotional attachment to the land.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

Mama Graun.

Soft earth, hard rocks, round river pebbles, sharp karanas.

Yellow, black, white, red coloured earth.

Blue distant mountains, white sandy beach, and fiery sunsets.

Birds of Paradise, Kwila, dugong, tuna and gold.

My land, my identity, my soul, my being.

Mama Graun drank my life blood, spilled when I was born.

My umbilical cord buried in her

A promise in blood to remain close to her.

An oath only to be broken by death.

Mama Graun thriving on fat from my forefathers.

Warriors, hunters, gardeners, dancers, lovers

All born, breathed, died and offered back to nourish Mama Graun.

Their stories, my inspiration.

Their exploits, my pride.

Their secrets, my power.

Mama Graun, the custodian of my life force.

The tubuna songs we sang,

Shoulder–to-shoulder we stood

United by blood and history.

Pride rising in our voices,

Chasing the kundu beats above the highest canopies,

A rhythm that put fear into many hearts.

Together with my brothers, in my heartland

 I was invincible.

But how can I sing my song,

In a strange land, without my brothers

My ancestors bid me avenge my brother’s blood.

For his blood call to me,

From the swamplands, rivers, mountains, ditches

Where he lay, slain.

An altar of sacrifice – sacrifice of blood for freedom.

What song can I sing?

For I cannot even honour my brother with a decent burial.

While I weep, Mama Graun persists.

I must return to honour my pact;

To mama Graun, to my ancestors,

To my descendants yet to be born.

Together with my brothers, we will face the morning star,

To defend my Mama Graun,

For a free West Papua.

fee west papua selma

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