Another foreigner’s view of PNG
Another foreigner’s view of PNG
By SIR PAULIAS MATANE
PAPUA New Guinea is no longer an isolated nation. It is today known more around the world mostly through the media, books, Internet, visitors and businesspeople, for its rich natural resources, unique cultures, unspoilt beaches and rich fishing seas just to name but a few positive things. Unfortunately, it is also known for its increasing law and other problems that scare many visitors from coming here to visit our country.
Many such foreigners are doing their best to encourage visitors to come here to enjoy the country’s beauty. In February and March this year, I shared with you a three-part article entitled ‘A Foreigner’s View of PNG’s Problems’ sent to me by an Australian reader of this column.
In response to the articles, another foreigner, John Leah, whom I do not know but was told that he taught at Sogeri, Kwikila and Kilakila High Schools, and later he worked with 9PA, the forerunner of NBC, made positive comments about what he and many other foreigners think about our good nation. I requested John, and he kindly agreed to allow me to share his comments with you. Let me quote parts of his comments about what he and many other foreigners think about our good nation.
“As a former expatriate resident of PNG (from 1967 to 1974), I was delighted to discover that a person such distinction as yourself, one whose name has been well-known to me for many decades, is writing a column in The National. It is typical of your statement-like approach to public service that you should enlarge the debate on the future of PNG by publishing the views of a foreigner even if that foreigner is or was a resident.
“Well here is another foreigner with a different point of view. I put it to you that many of the feature of PNG social life about which your correspondent writes are in fact not negative qualities, but positive including ‘tribalism’ and the ‘wantok’ system. In the West, we lost our tribal, kinship and village roots long ago with the onset of the industrial revolution, which accelerated the population drain from the country to the city. The result has been a society populated by individualistic people, living either in small nuclear families or alone, who required incredibly expensive government services to sustain them if they fall ill or become unemployed or aged.
“In traditional PNG society, a person’s tribal or kinship ties province a guarantee to security that we in the West lack. Our security depends on taxing our incomes and comes as a cheque, without love, friendship and care of a whole community.
“We have hundreds of thousand of people, even in a small nation such as Australia, who cannot stand the stress of life, lack a cohesive family or community around them, and end up seriously mentally ill, or get addicted to drugs which amounts to about the same thing.
“When I was a resident between 1967 and 1974, I do not recall seeing any mentally ill people, although I am sure you have some people who suffer from various brains disorders because your people are generally free of stress related mental illness and depression and are happy and well-adjusted at village level, since they are surrounded by a supportive community.
“It is only when PNG citizens end up in large cities that the kinship system collapses under economics stress and pattern of life and mental illness more like that of Western society becomes apparent. So you kinship and ‘wantok’ system has many, many advantages. My advice to PNG people would be to cling to that system as best they can and to simply adapt it in some ways to make it more compatible with the competitive, acquisitive and rather destructive Western system that the previous writer seems to think you should embrace.
“In all my years in PNG, I was so impressed by the delightful children of the villages, who were happy, well adjusted, respectful to their elders and younger siblings alike. The older children frequently took care of their younger brothers and sisters. There seemed to be a total lack of aggression and a sweetness of nature, which I attribute to the fact that your children have many parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents. Each child always had adult watching over it, and teaching and guiding it every minute of the day. Children’s education in how to live a good life, with positive values was really quite impressive.
“In our system, we rip children apart from their families at an early life, then send them to school where one poor ‘teacher’ tries to ‘educate’ 30 to 40 sometimes badly behaved children. A real impossible task. Small wonder teenagers in the West are frequently unruly, destructive and prone to drug taking. Clearly to me, at least, your villages have retained a treasure that we have lost. Perhaps in the cities, PNG has now seen enough of the evils of urbanisation to ponder how the wonders of the kinship and ‘wantok’ system can be retained and perhaps modified and harnessed in such away that ‘modern’ life is possible, but with traditional values.”
When I sent John an e-mail thanking him for the above thoughtful comments, and asking him for his permission to use parts of them, he replied immediately saying some very good things about me. I prefer not to quote what he wrote about me - they are too good to be true! I will however, quote more of what he wrote about PNG, his ‘home’ and people both here and the West.
“I have forgotten how many years have passed since I sadly left PNG to return ‘home’. Little did I know that PNG had become home and I would suffer ‘culture shock’ when I experienced my own harsh culture once again. Surprisingly, while training for my stint in PNG, one of the subjects was designed to prepare us for ‘culture shock’ on arrival in PNG. I experienced none, largely because I found the PNG people to be friendly, open, honest and warm, compared to Europeans. And I said, the shock came on my return.
“Secondly, your writing reveals the mind of a very youthful person, so if your body is ageing (and all bodies do, alas!), then your mind certainly has not. Although I dare say that you may have mellowed somewhat with the years and grown even wiser (as we all hopefully). Anyway, with a good diet and modern medicine, I think that one may expect to live to 90 or even 100 years of age these days.
With happy memories of PNG, and with a tribute to my late colleagues Sevese Morea, Mair Mahutu, Jonbili Tokome, whose deaths I still mourn, I send a greeting to all my old high school students and those children (now adults) who remember ‘Doctor Kanini’, which I produced at the former 9PA radio station.”
Thank you so much John Leah for the above thoughtful comments. I know many of your former students and colleagues are happy with the above and will further be happy to get in touch with, or hear from you, John’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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