Friday, September 19, 2014

Don't chase them help them

Meet Nathan, Steward and Nixon my new friends. It is just another ordinary day for them hanging out with each other. My other friend in red shorts decided he was sick when I asked for his name.

On our way to find magistrate Bernard Siloi they told me about how police had come to their settlements and burnt down their houses in July. We are not from here but have come to live near where we can access services, especially school.

As we walked they pointed to the remains of the houses that were burnt. "The police came and burnt our houses and cut down our fruit trees and even dug up our gardens. We were scared and ran to the bush,” said 12 year old Nathan.

They are part of about 300 people who were recently forced out of a land area currently under RD Tuna Canners title. This land has drawn a lot of controversy as it is being developed while landowners want this land (their land) back.

“Many evicted settlers have left and returned to their villages but those of us who are still here are hanging with relatives and friends. We are here because we want school,” said Steward.

The three boys said they will run if police returned. They said all they want is to be able to go to school.

As PNG eyes development growth every year hundreds of children like these are pushed to the edges; their dreams challenged every step of the way. Many must take time off of school to help make ends meet. Many have chosen to stay out of the classroom as the burdens of life takes its toll on them but as living beings they must find ways to stay alive.

Nathan, Steward and Nixon are spending their holidays mourning the loss of their friend but also happy that they know next week they will go back to school.

On our trip today we met young Siloi and his sisters helping their father make roofing mats for their new house after they lost their house in the eviction fires in July. Siloi's father, Bernard, who has been magistrate for 12 years now of Ward 8 of North Ambenob in Madang Province was also woken rudely that July morning as he stood watching his house burn to the ground. 

Young Siloi is building his house with his father and hopes that the police will not come again.

Happy 39th Papua New Guinea and our young are calling

It is independence day in Papua New Guinea today. I am lost in a pool of red, black and gold T’shirts, merikolos, laplaps, bilums, hats and flags at the Ambarina Primary School in Madang on this 16th day of September 2014.

Yesterday the celebrations began at this school with words of prayers to say thank you for the free Papua New Guinea that we so enjoy. The pastor extended his prayers to remember our brothers and sisters in West Papua who for 50 years now continue to struggle to be free from oppression and Indonesian rule.

The pastor told the students how they are able to celebrate their independence day without police and military presence. “Thank God for this and work to keep it that way,” he told these young people and their teachers and parents.

It is 39 years on and seeing the bright smiling faces of these young people it took me back to 1975 at the then Queen’s Park in Rabaul, East New Britain Province where I stood still with hundreds of other children as we sang happily our national anthem together and watched our PNG flag ascend into the skies of Rabaul for the first time. Then two police officers took their place on each side of the flagpole and together as we held our hands to our chest we recited the national pledge.

Thinking back and reciting the national pledge again today with the children it felt good. It made a lot of sense now to me more then ever before. Those words are deep and right for Papua New Guinea. ‘We the people of Papua New Guinea, united in one nation…’

Few years on from Queen’s Park I found myself at the Mercy College Yarapos, the girls only high school in East Sepik province wearing merikolos and laplap every Friday. I didn’t understand why but I remember being told it was our ‘toana day’. Thank you to the Sisters of Mercy who believed in the building of a nation and helped us Mecoyas grow up to be Papua New Guinean women. Nation building isn’t about waiting for someone to work for us… we had to shape this country the way we want it so that it blended our cultural roots.

I want to remain in my childhood and teen days but life’s not that way and looking into the future my eyes are teary. What have those of us who were shown the way done to our children? We gave them an education curriculum imported from elsewhere that give our cultures only the bilas – and keep back from our children the true meaning of our purpur, malo and feathers. What are the stories behind those headwear and the waste-bands and all? What are the stories behind those colours, songs, the dances and the toana day?

We have chosen processed food over real food. We are feeding our children convenient fast food because we are busy making money. I mourn for those whose life must end so quickly from lifestyle diseases. We rubbish our yams, taros, bananas and kaukau and choose shorter lives and unconsciously help our children to contract diseases that require outrageous expensive care.

In urban Papua New Guinea we have chosen to drive our children to school and close their walking vicinities to the houses and the vehicles. How do we suppose they can look after their health if their muscles are sitting idle in vehicles and sofa chairs? We then work to sell this lifestyle to our thousands of children in rural villages and make them think less of their healthy lifestyle.

For work we have chosen to offer manufactured work for our young only to make them go through stringent selection processes to take only a few. Then we end up sending the rest to the edges of the cities without giving second thought to how they will get by and how they will respond to the challenges of a modern world. We send 15 year olds out of our education system and onto streets and expect that they will know what to do with their lives.

We want an urban lifestyle fitted with ready made housing but then turn around and let real estate companies reap our own people off with greedy uncalled for costs in rentals and purchases. Our public service can’t even house decently its police force, teachers, nurses and lawyers that they are forced to live in settlements. Isn’t this a call for action to make settlements home to those Papua New Guineans who for better and for worse continue to diligently serve this country?

We have created a fear system that fears our own people. We tell our children to stay in the houses and not go to the settlements. Even our cousins in the settlements are to be feared we tell our children. But do we ever ask why negative behaviours are cause of our fears?

Our children dream of better lives and living standards and we make them believe these dreams will become reality only with help from far off lands. We make them believe their land, their cultures and their histories have little to offer and show them paths that demand millions of kina from other people. In doing so we disempower them and make them sit and wait for ‘development’ to come.

For a young nation of 39 years we have the opportunity to make things right for our future generations but it cannot wait another 39 years. Our young are calling and they need us now.

Happy 39th birthday.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Land grabbing destroys indigenous knowledge systems

The best teachers are those who show you where to look but don’t tell you what to see. This quote by Alexendar K. Trenfor sounds true for students of nature and land.

For Papua New Guinea it is by watching how a village woman carefully lays her bilum down on the ground and gracefully sets herself down on a patch of garden tells us she is not alone. Sitting a few meters away and in eye shot one can see she is saying something.

In the end she speaks up. “The land is alive. It has many virtues and one of them - an archive of knowledge. ”

Not many people see land as an archive of knowledge or as a teacher but it has been one of our silent teachers for many centuries.  Many indigenous communities understand this and respect land the way it respects all others that exist with it.

Papua New Guineans found meaning to their existence as a people, and discovered and designed some of the most complicated systems in this world that many thousands of years on they are still very much part of their lives today.

From it their ancestors learnt about the food system, life cycle systems, relationships and many more and from it came kastoms and rituals that protected the land and celebrated the gifts; not only food but knowledge, health, the gift of life and more.

Kastom ways have intricately woven many systems into a way of life that today it is difficult for many to understand. Still in many urban communities there is the question, ‘how did a woman in a remote rural community know about gardening, birth control, rains and contentment? In search of this understanding many have returned to the natural archives of the land; to live with it so that it will open up a different world of knowledge and learning.

This natural way of knowledge acquisition is under threat as many individuals choose lifestyles dictated by commercials in the airwaves and everywhere in urban centers.  For a few dollars, a trip overseas and a few cartons of beer some are willing to give up their life support system. In Papua New Guinea already 5.2 million hectares were lost under a land grab scheme and despite a government order to cancel these deals, not much has progressed.

Throughout the human journey artistic forms of creations have been seen and many recorded as some of the most sophisticated. Imagine, back then the number of learnings going on in those thick jungles or out on the reefs or down on the kunai planes of their mighty rivers. Some people argue that land is idle and not doing anything but to see food come from land and to feel the healing powers of the sea or the Sepik river or the green hills of Madang one could only wonder how did our ancestors know about various types of food, the transport system or the healing powers of the trees and the sea and the land? How did they acquire their knowledge systems?

It is by gently touching the soil and listening to the sound of birds and the rivers that knowledge pours out of it into the human person.

To be dependent on western knowledge is erasing bit by bit from the indigenous knowledge base. To combine both is world class. To grab land from indigenous communities is doing injustice to humanity.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Lalita learns her traditional flute history

Dressed in her traditional Bosmun attire two and half year old Lalita Ware listened attentively to the
sound of the flutes behind her as she watched her father Melchior Ware give out instructions for the day.

It is 6am. Her mother had woken her earlier and dressed her for this very important event in her history. The flutists had just made their entry back into the village after a two year training and are giving the Dongan people and guests a taste of what they had learnt.

Last night in her father’s kitchen Lalita practiced her dance steps as she and other children prepare to receive the flutists in their community for the first time after a two-generation gap.

As a girl and later in her life she would never have the opportunity to see the flutes. However, she will have a lot to do with the safe keeping of these flutes. Through her paternal lineage her father is now the custodian of the flutes that are said to be as ancient as 600 and 400 years ago and a curriculum written by his father.

Too young to remember everything that’s happened today, Lalita will grow up knowing this story as her parents give her bites through out her life and it will be up to her and her generation to keep this history alive. 

Her father and other elder men and women in their Dongan village have committed to making sure Lalita’s generation learn the art of sustaining themselves in a traditional rural village of Papua New Guinea. Every music have their stores and these sacred flutes were nature’s gifts to the people of Bosmun.