Spiritual breakdown: What happens on Fridays
22 September 2011
This week, like other weeks before and the weeks to come; like months before and months to come; like years before and years to come; some kids get drunk on Friday.
Many will have to starve themselves by saving their lunch money in order to ‘koins koins na baim bia” [contribute to buy alcohol].
A couple of years back the Squatters Band of Morata squatter settlement sang Take Me to Paradise and it became a hit.
It didn’t make sense to me at the time - why a song with what I thought were meaningless lyrics seemed to strike a chord with the mere mortals.
I was at medical school and socially illiterate. Of course, being a medical student, I thought I knew the difference between what was cultured and what was plainly mediocre.
It wasn’t until I was out of medical school and selling betel nut on the street that I became socially literate.
And the punch line of that song, ‘Wik i kam pinis em wiken nau / Taim bilong kisim wara wantaim ol poroman’ [It’s the beginning of the weekend / So get drunk with your friends] says a lot about what happens on Friday.
Just in case you imagine this is just an urban phenomenon, think again.
Last month, as I travelled on Friday along the North Coast Road in Bogia District, I saw adolescent males; totally drunk and carrying generators, extension cords, speakers and light bulbs to set up somewhere in the coconut plantations. It was an eye-opener for me.
Indeed the mantra that is faithfully recited each weekend is ‘kisim wara, kisim laif na pati’ [get drunk, get sexed, get partying].
For many, em normal ya – it’s become routine.
I have had discussions with friends here in Madang and the obvious question was “Why?” It isn’t an easy question to answer but here’s a summary of the suggestions put forward.
One of the interesting connections my friend Gary made was that there may be a link between what is happening with the Australian Aboriginal people and what’s happening here.
With that in mind, I had an interesting discussion on religion with another friend. Barry said it was not wise to take away someone’s faith in Christianity without replacing it with something good or else the person would resort to alcohol.
Boom! It hit me! What experiences do Aborigines and Papua New Guineans share? Colonisation!
Colonisation wasn’t just a secular process but a religious one as well. Many churches destroyed cultural practices that were deemed unchristian; perhaps justifiably so in some cases, but not all. So animism was replaced by Christianity/Capitalism.
Christianity and Capitalism are two sides of the same coin. You worship God every Sabbath or worship Alcohol every Friday or both.
Spirituality is about relationships from self through the world to the Universal Being. Those who are spiritually void find comfort in alcohol, religiously observing Friday or Saturday as the day of worshipping alcohol. Many have left the Christian churches and have no traditional religion to fall back on, thus they fill the void with alcohol.
Instead of giving an offering to the Christian God, they sacrifice their lunch money to the gods who own the alcohol factories.
Yes, this is the modern nation of Papua New Guinea – a country that is spiritually void.
First we lost our gods to the Christian God, now we’re losing our World [our land and the resources/environment] to Capitalists, and in doing so we are losing our lives to alcohol.
Remember, spirituality is about the relationships between – self (individual person), world (land and environment) and the universal being (God or gods or powers).
The Aborigines of Australia have lost their land, their traditional religions and are now losing themselves to alcohol to fill that spiritual void. That is exactly what happens on Friday in PNG.
Martyn Namorong last week won the 2011 Crocodile Prize for Essays. His blog, The Namorong Report, is at http://medicmangi.blogspot.com
Alcohol has proven incredibly destructive in many indigenous societies.
I believe the indigenous peoples of Canada and the US have seen a similar scourge amongst their own.
We need to start looking at educating our people on the benefits of responsible drinking before we start losing our best and brightest to this blight.
Posted by: Monpi | 26 September 2011 at 01:03 PM
"Give unto Caesar..."?
Thank you for the thought-provoking writing, Martyn, but I am not convinced of your argument from the suggestions put forward.
The Aborigines (when are we gonna use a more appropriate term for these people?) were so in tune with their ecosystem that colonisation for them was a catastrophe. But not so for PNG.
I'm not defending colonisation; hey why bother, shit happens, right? Nor am I letting Christianity off the hook.
I don't believe we can or should continue down the path of blaming colonisation or early Christians/Capitalists for our social ills.
Let's be proactive and take responsibility for some things - which is also a good lesson we may provide for our wayward youths too.
Alcohol abuse is a social disease and needs to be handled by individual decision before community action, for which the law provides a balance. And we like to call that a democracy.
The best societies, and more importantly families, can do is be proactive in addressing alcohol consumption.
It is my conviction that making alcohol consumption the villain will not lead us anywhere where we'd be free from ourselves and the choices we make.
Free choice is a blessing. We should teach our youth to use it wisely before we bring down the hammer on all our heads.
'Aboriginal Australians' is probably a better descriptor, and certainly less harsh than what has become the pejorative 'Aborigines' - KJ
Posted by: Icarus | 23 September 2011 at 11:23 PM
Teachings to learn from, Martyn.
You've just written about a parasite that is far worse than the much feared HIV virus. It is eroding the very roots of the sanity of men, women and children.
Friday in Bougainville.... It began as a sort of a feast day where people for their own reasons are joyful. Now, for what? The drink that I often hear preachers calling, 'Satan's urine'.
It is the only drink to release stress, ambiguity and so on. God or elders? Sorry, no to them!
I can't deny that I am the worst slave of alcohol across the Panguna district. Though I know it is wrong, I still do it.
Being from a religiously and politically high profile family in Bougainville, I still bring the wrong message to the youth of Bougainville.
As my leaders preach independence for Bougainville, sadly my people and me keep saying, 'To hell with nationhood. Friday night is beer, dance and unprotected sex in the dewy bushes - our Bougainville's future.'
Humanity is falling apart before our very eyes
Posted by: Leonard Roka | 23 September 2011 at 03:13 PM