Putting Sorcery in PNG into perspective: Part 2

Part 2 of the Report by the Lutheran Students attempts to put the belief in sorcery in Papua New Guinea into perspective.  Part 3: will be discussion of identified root causes of sorcery

A. Traditional PNG

Traditional Papua New Guineans were animists[i].  The belief system was that natural objects, natural phenomena, and the universe itself possess souls. And that natural objects have souls that may exist apart from their material bodies.  Without the underlying scientific knowledge about the forces of nature (eg bush fire, floods, volcanoes, tsunami, disease,  etc), the traditional people search for ways to control those force by controlling the spirits which they believe animate these forces.

Members of communities who could control and command spirits were revered. These sorcerers could protect the community from spells and curses or instill hope in situations of war and despair. On the other hand, warring spirits were called upon as a weapon in times or conflict these sorcerers had the dark power to kill and destroy and bring harm.

Traditional people rarely ventured outside of their tribal lands because of fear of the unknown spirits. Most Papua New Guineans are very superstitious about outsiders and the unknown. Even in the 21st century, households still have rituals that are touted to protect them from unknown or malevolent spirits.

The belief in sorcery had advantages. The fear kept societies free of rubbish and squalor. People deposited human waste as well as any other waste carefully disposed. The people were careful and tried not to anger the spirits. People were vary of outsiders but best hospitality was extended to them.

Within the clan, the fear of being at the receiving-end of a jealous spirit kept societies equal. Everyone had equal rights and had equal duties. Getting ahead in life was frowned upon and the fear of jealousy and sorcery was used to ensure no-one became wealthy. Most traditional societies in PNG are still egalitarian societies.

The sorcery practices in PNG is unique to each traditional custom and culture and differed from one part of the region to the other. The varying customs and cultures determine technique and style a sorcerer or a witch uses either for good or for bad.[ii]

As Christians, we believe that the bad use of spirits, opens the doors of hell for Satan and his demons to manifest supernatural and evil powers.

B. Contemporary PNG

Papua New Guinea is a developing country. A developing country is a poor agricultural country that is seeking to become more advanced economically and socially.  Common characteristics of a developing country include a large base of low income earners, inequality, poor health and inadequate education.  PNG is ranked 157/188 in the Human Development Index[iii].  Which is way behind other smaller Pacific Island countries like Fiji and Samoa (90 and 105 respectively).

About 80% of the 7.5 million population live in rural areas where government services is unreliable or absent [iv] . In terms of Law and Order, reports indicate that there is five policemen to 8,000 people in PNG, whereas in Australia there are 5 police officers per 2,084 population. For health services, there is one doctor to 17,086 people.

The population in PNG is semi-educated, with the level of literacy much lower than the other Pacific Countries (UNCEF)[vi]. According to UNICEF only one in three children in PNG complete their basic education; most do not stay in school long enough to know the learn basic literary and numeracy. PNG has a net enrollment rate of 63 per cent – the lowest in the Asia and Pacific region.

Bulk of the young people who are unable to continue in the education system are left to fend for themselves. Mostly, they are not skilled enough to find an office job, and most have forfeited cultural education when all their formative years were committed to a formal western education. Consequently, there are many young people who cannot find gainful employment in a town and cities, but who also cannot fit back into a village lifestyle. This has contributed to a society of people who do not have a value system and are just floating at the whim of circumstances.

While the basic needs of a traditional society and a contemporary society are still similar, the contemporary society has a few more requirements. These include, goods and services that satisfy a Western standard of comfort and glamour.  A standard which is very unattainable for bulk of population who still live subsistence lives and have limited opportunities to earn enough money to purchase this Western standard.

Even though tribal people may have achieved some level of self-actualization (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs)[vii]  in their traditional societies, the imposition of the materialistic culture from the West makes people feel impoverished when they do not accumulate the type of cargo that meets the standard set by the West.

The arrival of Christianity since the late 1800s has eradicated some of this belief.  In the 1982 census, about 2 million people (68 %) out of the 3 million population identified themselves as Christians[viii].  After 18 years, the 2000 census states that the number of people who profess to be Christians has risen to 5.8 million (97%) out of 6 million population[x].

The Lutheran church has been in PNG for at 130 years. The missionaries brought the good news of God that liberated people from the power of evil spirits.

It is in this environment that the struggle against sorcery related violence is taking place.

REFERENCES

[i] Mundhent Kent 2006, Common Threads of Animism, Melanesian Journal of Theology, 22-1

[ii]Gairo Onagi.(2015) Sorcery and witchcraft related killings in Papua New Guinea_ Talking it Trough- Responses to Sorcery and Witchcraft beliefs and practices in Melanesia (Miranda Forsyth and Richard Eves), pg 8.

[iii] http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/ranking.pdf

[iv] http://data.un.org/CountryProfile.aspx?crName=Papua%20New%20Guinea

[vi] (UNICEF.ORG)

[vii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs

[viii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Papua_New_Guinea

[x] http://biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/mjt/02-2_208.pdf

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Commemorating 500 years of reformation in Papua New Guinea

Tanya Zeriga_SYnod Sat011616 (8).JPG

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.

 

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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