From where I stand: A poets’ world
Peter O’Neill’s arguments don’t hold water in Court or in public

Guma culture is not what it means to be Papua New Guinean

Model hermit crabFRANCIS SALIAU

An entry in The Crocodile Prize
Cleland Family Award for Heritage Writing

PAPUA New Guinea will soon be celebrating 39 years of independence. We’ve gone from caves to skyscrapers, and we’ve changed in so many ways. Including the way we dress. That’s what I’d like to talk about.

Most of these changes took place simply because of copy-paste.

We copy somebody else’s culture of clothing ourselves and pretend it’s ours. But in fact it is not the real us but a guma.

Guma is Tok Pisin for the hermit crab, which uses the abandoned shells of dead creatures as its own.

They think they look different because of the different sizes and colours of these adopted shells but in fact they’re the same hermit crabs that think, act, behave and look like a guma. And will for as long as they live.

Nowadays, our women especially have gone to the extent of being a guma by wearing male clothes, earrings the size of a dump truck tyre and skirts too tight or transparent or short for public places.

Ladies will argue with me that times are changing and we need to move with them, but I’d argue in a decent manner and not like a guma.

This means a proper skirt and not see-through like a mosquito net. Our women from the New Guinea Islands wear meri blouses and laplaps and still look very pretty. What is the proposition? Does wearing something tightly stretched put you in a high class position or make you prettier?

Guma is an epidemic in our country. I don’t know about you, but I wonder whether we are really moving forward. I think we’re heading backwards to the Stone Age again.

Our grandfathers and grandmothers were strict with guma culture and definitely knew how to dress even in changing from traditional to modern times. I suppose most dressing was a bit guma but done in line with our culture and traditions.

It was still nice and acceptable and is today and in the years to come too.

Our great chief and founding father, Sir Michael Somare, and the other great men of those times still wear the sulu to attend church services or meetings. Not only here but in western countries as well.

To them this is decent and acceptable but the current young male generation will totally disagree. Just like the young women and girls will disagree with their parents buying them laplaps, ladies shorts, proper skirts and blouses.

They want to buy their own clothes and guess what you find when they do? Transparent, very tight, very, very short. This is done because of lack of good parenting and schooling.

The greatest thing is, “Don’t be a guma” Just remember who we are. We are still Papua New Guineans.

It is very embarrassing when I see Europeans come to our country and dressing more decently than us. It raises questions like, “What are this people of this developing nation trying to prove to the developed and more developed nations?”

The gumas appeared recently probably because they wanted to look more like westerners but in fact they do not realise that they are only putting themselves in the western shell.

They are not westerners, they are Papua New Guineans. No matter what you do or how you dress, it will never change you.

My final message is that, as the times do change, guma culture is being heavily adopted and influencing our way of dress. As parents, husbands, wives, caregivers, intending parents and children, we have to sit down, reflect, educate and change our mindset to minimise and control this guma epidemic.

We need to dress right in the right place at the right time and not to be influenced and confuse ourselves with the guma culture.


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Luke Johnson

My father was born to Anglo parents in 1930 in Fiji where he grew up wearing a sulu.
For much of his adult life he lived in PNG and wore a lap lap.
The balance of his life has been lived in Sydney - where he continued to wear a lap lap / sulu.
Tradesmen, or other unknown persons, visiting his house in Sydney were always perplexed at this man in a skirt.
To us children it was completely normal.

The wearing of a lap lap / sulu was fundamental to his sense of identity and belonging.
It was his guma.

John Kaupa Kamasua

Citing our "independence" as a reference point for many of the things that are either going well or getting worse to me is quite shallow, and lacks substance.

Many writers and commentators often do this.

There are better anchors other than the independence. And there should be better indicators.

Does that mean that before independence, things were better or worse?

David Kasei Wapar

The world is changing and so do humans.

And human perceptions also change. Think of how our forefathers define decency and other virtues that kept communities and societies intact. That has changed a lot.

Further, while I support calls for some form of decency in our dress code, I wonder if we ever consider facts such as the climate change particularly global warming which has greatly affected human behaviour also.

Baka Bina

We have been down this road before with this arguments and reasonings.
Any clothing is foreign. The women should not wear bras and wear stay frees. The islanders pontoloons or a variation of the sailors blouse.
We should return to the days when women were bare breasted 'susu i sanap or pundaun' and kiaps oggled their eyes out and where missionaries dreamt of committing adultery and as bush kanakas, we were happy. The grass skirts and the purrpurr should be brought back in.
we must get rid of the dysentries and all the other horde of ill the westerners brought to our shores. We must get rid of corruptions and return back to our tribal wars.
It is not proper to isolate and box what women wear in a corner and label it a guma when the mordern lifestyle in its entirety is all a guma.
Francis Saliau,please dont go down the gutter to say that because she dresses like that she invites being raped. There were virtually no rapes when she was walking around with her susu sanap before.
the result is that treat those guma's, any gumas with respect irrespective. they are humans these men or women guma or other wise.
Remember I am still a Papua New Guinean when I take a high powered gun against my neighbours. It is guma when I should be fighting with an bow and arrow.

Jade Grassket

Well what is standard and acceptable dressing then ? What is acceptable to one might not be acceptable to another. Do we want dressing codes to be regulated in PNG.

The simple trousers or shirt or skirts are still "Guma" culture so what is your argument?

Don't forget our great ancestors wore small tapa clothes with their testicles visible and the ladies were topless with small skirts without bras and undies and that was acceptable then.

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