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Regionalism mentality is belittling the learned big-men big time


IN Melanesian societies it is usually the aspiration of men to ascend the social scale in a quest to attain ‘big-man’ status and its strong influence.

Since the dawn of Melanesia, accumulation of traditional wealth, knowledge and wisdom, and the later reapplication of knowledge and wisdom coupled with the masterful redistribution of wealth, have been the means of gaining recognition and influence as a ‘big-men’.

It is the same in today’s PNG society where the learned are increasingly earning advantageous positions that easily allow access to modern wealth and ‘big-man’ status.

I am an eager student of our ways, especially the Melanesian Way and its applications to contemporary PNG society.

I am not against the honest attainment of wealth, knowledge and ‘big-man’ status as these have been the cultural norms which have kept our isolated societies functioning in the business of life for thousands of years.

However, I am concerned about the negative influence of regionalism and ethnicity perpetrated by our modern learned ‘big-men’, who may not necessarily be wealthy but are of reputable standing and influence.

The intellectual Papua New Guineans preaching from the dais of regionalism with the intent to provide leadership for Papua New Guinea.

Increasing urbanisation is cramping Papua New Guineans; citizens in the land of many tribes, hundreds of languages and many different ethnicities crowding into a national village.

In these cities and urban melting pots, away from our provinces, strong undercurrents of regionalism and ethnicity prevail.

While regionalism and ethnicity are something all Papua New Guineans will readily identify with and are passionately proud of, they also present a unique challenge and an opportunity to the aspiring learned ‘big-men’ to provide true contemporary Melanesian leadership.

In this contemporary setting, learned Papua New Guineans and those aspiring to become ‘big-men’ are challenged every day to lead the way by projecting national views.

They are also constantly challenged to be impartial in decision making and in the redistribution of public wealth.

Will the modern learned ‘big-men’ transcend the regionalist and ethnic mentality of to provide true Melanesian leadership?.

The learned ‘big-men’ have got to be more assertive in nurturing the nationalistic mentality by providing visionary leadership and strategic direction for our country.

They have got to start being authentic and doing things differently; thinking, acting and writing differently. They have got to stop following the crowd.

The challenge facing ‘big-men’ today in providing leadership in this big PNG village is to courageously denounce the current rampant practice that favours regionalism and ethnicity.

Regionalism and ethnicity are old ways of thinking and not consistent with progressing our country.

Relying on regionalism and ethnicity as foundational principles for leading this country of many ethnicities is fundamentally flawed.

Papua New Guineans living abroad think less of being Momase, Highlander, Papuan or New Guinea Islander. When they move back to Port Moresby, however, regional and ethnic lines become more pronounced.

At the political level regionalism threatens disintegration. At district level ethnicity prevents equal distribution and hinders trickling down of basic government services.

I am yet to see a practical demonstration of politicians putting their campaign differences aside and working together by complementing each other’s strengths and weakness, physical resources and networks to bring much needed basic services to our people.

At the district and local level government levels, where it matters most, why cannot these brainy ‘big-men’ work together!

As Papua New Guinea increasingly becomes urbanised, more and more Papua New Guineans are becoming learned.

Our ethnic members are now found living and interacting with other Papua New Guineans more often than before.

Aspiring learned ‘big-men’ should not alienate themselves from these realities and start to live and ply their persuasive influence for good in this national village of Papua New Guinea.


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Barbara Short

From the Sepik Forum -

Another interesting book to read is entitled, "The Death of the Big Men and the Rise of the Big Shots: Custom and Conflict in East New Britain", by Kler Martin.

Martin comes close to acknowledging this towards the end of the book when he suggests that the image of big men may be idealized, rather than reflecting actual practice.

What is perhaps more important is that the rise of big shots has been accompanied by the emergence of an increasingly restive generation of grassroots youth.

Today’s Papua New Guinea has more than its share of big shots, but the lives of many Papua New Guineans are more often characterized by a pervasive sense of decline.

What The Death of the Big Men and the Rise of the Big Shots suggests to me is that the problem facing not only Tolai but also communities throughout the country is whether or not it is possible to maintain connections between those at opposite ends of the scale.

Barbara Short

Thanks for that well written article, Gilbert. Keep up with your writing. The Sepik needs a few more good writers who can put their thoughts to paper.

Over the past two weeks PNG has held its PNG Games in Lae where everyone saw how regionalism and nationalism have to exist side-by side but, in the end, nationalism has to be the more important.

So it doesn't matter if your province did not win many medals, just so long as the various "tribes" of PNG enjoyed spending time together and learning more about each other.

They can all go home to their various provinces and know "they are all one". But at the same time they will be keen to go home to their province with more gold medals next time.

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