Icarus' flight was short-lived
Half castes & hypocrisy in pre-independent Papua

Is kastom the elephant in the room?


‘ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM’ is an English saying for an obvious truth that is being ignored or goes unaddressed. The idiomatic expression also applies to an obvious problem or risk no one wants to discuss.

It is based on the idea that an elephant in a room would be impossible to overlook; thus, people in the room who pretend the elephant is not there have chosen to avoid dealing with the looming issue.

Extending idiomatic English, the picture of prime minister O’Neill shaking hands with Michael Somare at last week’s court hearing is the epitome of the expression ‘kiss and make up’.

In a recent political contest that has some people claiming PNG as being on the brink of revolution, it behoves all Papua New Guineans to ask where their nation is going and why?

At the risk of being accused of insensitivity, I suggest the essence of the problem is the equivalent of the elephant in the room.

And what is the elephant’s name?

‘Lack of direction’ some might say; yet there has been any amount of planning by successive PNG governments.

‘Corruption’ many see as the problem; yet this is nothing new and is a problem way beyond the shores of PNG.

“I think maybe the spear needs to be fully thrown at the greedy politicians first before any else. You want something here, just pay enough graft and it is yours,” said Joe Deledio in PNG Attitude on 10 February 2012.

“The worst disaster, though, that continues since 16 September 1975 to this very day, is that of our lack of good governance,” said Garry Juffa in PNG Exposed.

Yet are these just excuses masking the real conclusion?

Previous essays in PNG Attitude have raised the cultural differences between the so-called Western world and PNG. If one could identify the main pivot point between the two systems, it would probably be kastom, the Tokpisin term for PNG culture and traditional values.

Can PNG advance as a nation using what Michael Somare referred to as ‘The Melanesian Way’?

If PNG kastom is applied to a modern city or town and not a village, can it work in practice?

If you work hard and bring your wage back to your family only to find it has suddenly expanded to share your good fortune, what does that do to incentive?

If you are a supervisor and find an employee you are responsible for isn’t turning up for work, do you report or sack him if he’s from your own area and strong cultural bonds urge otherwise?

If you know of someone who has done something illegal, do you report them to the authorities if you don’t know that they are also in on the deal?

The PNG Police Commissioner reports that at least half the nation’s budget is stolen each year. Yet apparently little was done to stop it happening or to hold the villains accountable.

US President Harry Truman had a sign on his desk that read: ‘The buck stops here’. That referred to the fact that he was ultimately responsible for everything that happened in his country.

What it didn’t mean however is that everyone else could sit back and let their nation collapse.


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Moais Gabuar

I dare Bob Carr to implement his threat. He and his insensitive countryman have done it to Fiji and now they're looking to do the same to PNG.

With Fiji now courting China, only a dumb politician could not see the likely implications if PNG takes the same path.

Even after all these years it still amazes me that Aussies like Bob Carr have a limited grasp of PNG or Melanesian mentality. Only for this once I will agree with Belden Namah's comments.

Peter Donigi

Richard Cranston,
Did you send an inquiry about the Kondra Bills to www.png-wealth-creation.com? If so your email address bounced back. Please give us a valid email address, if you want answers to your questions.

Mrs Barbara Short

Maybe the problem is that "kastom" varies from one PNG area to another so confusion reigns.

Someone needs to work hard at cementing in a process for ascertaining an accepted "PNG modern-day kastom" that works in the modern world and is fair to all.

Surely it will be a "blended kastom" and include ideas from all parts of PNG.

They need to have a good look at their attitudes to "money". Some of them had it traditionally, to others it is a new "invention".

I was reading about a recent funeral for a "big man" in East New Britain where thousands of dollars worth of traditional money was handed out to all who came to his funeral, the tradional custom in that area.

There seems to be an element of this type of action taking place everywhere in PNG all the time.

The way they view money and the way money is handled seems to be influenced by their belief that money needs to be spread evenly amongst everyone.

So if someone is wealthy you need not worry about paying him for something he has done for you.

But if you follow this kastom then money that should be used for investment in infrastructure ends up in the hands of private individuals who just use it for their own self-aggrandisement.

I'll leave it all up to the PNG experts. Just my little tingting tasol!

Paul Oates

The link between this information and the above subject seems a little obscure.

Richard, as a former female politician said: 'please explain!'

Richard Cranston

And then there is the saga recently announced regarding BHP's re-entry to PNG.

The story, about these applications is rather interesting.
Apparently the former Minister, John Pundari, rejected BHP’s applications.

Thereafter the matter was closed, finished, end of story, etcetera.

The rejection of theh applications was sent to the Chairman of the Mining Advisory Council in a formal Ministerial Correspondance in the normal course of government business under the Mining Act.

Then, apparently, BHP got to Kepas Wali, Chairman of the Mining Advisory Council, through the Chamber of Mines.

My belief is they reached an agreement to ignore the Ministers decision and try again with Byron Chan.

This would be, of course, both illegal under the Mining Act, a clear abuse of process, and a corruption of the independence of the the Mineral Resources Authority.

Not to say, an utter contempt of the critical independence vested in the office of the Minister, who, under the Mining Act, is the only party legally entrusted by parliament with the decision to grant or not grant.

The Chamber of Mines has too much influence over the deliberative process under the Mining Act.

In this case, once the Honourable John Pundari made his decision, and directed that to the Chairman of the Mining Advisory Council, as a matter of Law, that was the end of the matter.

There is no review process available to neither BHP nor the Mining Advisory Council, who themselves, now have no jurisdiction under the Mining Act to consider the matter.

Nor can the Chairman of the Mining Advisory Council ignore the Ministers decision, which he clearly has.

Clearly, Kepas Wali, surrounded by all this money, is living in a fantasy land.

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