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40 years in the wilderness; let’s head towards the promised land


OUR beautiful country Papua New Guinea has reached 40 years of political independence and its citizens have every reason to celebrate.

In this mood of festivity someone approached me with a green label bottle of SP and punched the air declaring, "If you burn your kunai thatched house knowing you can afford roofing iron, why not!”

He pointed at the onlookers and added: “It’s 40 years of independence and you lot need to live in a high covenant house."

I just stood there and smiled while he preached and he turned and confronted me: "Hey bro, you should celebrate. It is 40th Independence celebration! It's time to rejoice our Independence. Stop standing helplessly as though I am a politician who came here to feed you.”

He came very closer to me and asked, "Bro, where are you from?" I replied, "I am an angra. I am from..."

He interrupted, "Oh, angra, my brother. I love Simbus because they are lovely, caring and charitable. They give without hesitation. They hug you with open arms and never take their cash change back from any purchase they make.

He spoke so highly of my province that I felt uneasy in front of the others who were from so many of the  provinces we live in.

Fortunately one of his drunken friends came along and I fled the scene into my house. Then I heard someone yelling at the top of his voice, "Angra! Angra! Angra blo mi ya where? Kaikai kan angra ya where? Em bai baim bia blo mi ya..." (Bro. Bro. Where are you, bro? He’s supposed to buy me some beers. Where is he?)

And his voice became louder and more aggressive and he came to the front of my house and asked, "Did you attempt to trick me?"

I replied quietly, "Bro, I did not mean to do that but I came home because I have work to do.”

The guy did not want to listen to me and continued, “Em fuckin bisnis blo yu! Yu trikim mi so mi mas kisim wanpla botol lo yu. Wanpla tasol. Mi tok lo wanpla lo lausi K5 or K6”. (This is your fucking business! You tricked me so I deserve a bottle of beer from you right now. Just one! I’m talking about one bottle that cost a lousy five or six kina.)

I remained silent and patient and offered him K10 as I had no single notes. But the guy rejected the money and kept complaining that I had escaped from him.

He became so annoying that his drunken friend intervened to drag him away from the premises, but he punched his friend and the situation began to boil over.

I went into the room and looked in a drawer to see if I had more money. There was about a hundred kina I kept for my personal use. I counted K30 and walked to the nearest bottle shop and bought six bottles of beer.

When I appeared with the bottles, he did not say anything but hung his head down when I approached him and offered the bottles.

He accepted the offer, thanked me and repeated all the commendations about my province. I returned to my afternoon chores.

Anyway it was the 40th Independence anniversary and I recall those who existed on that day when the Australian flag was lowered so we could raise the red, gold and black that carried PNG into the sky in a bustle of the wind but was firmly tied to a pole plunged into PNG's soil.

There guarded by our three disciplined forces and looked upon by our founding fathers Sir Michael Somare, Sir Albert Maori Kiki, Dr John Momis, Sir John Guise, Sir Ebia Olewale and so many others who had carried the flag forward to independence.

The Australians relied heavily on such men and bestowed confidence and trust in them and their sons to carry PNG forward.

Amongst the many criticisms and condemnations of our leaders for corrupt practices, positive developments have happened over the last 40 years. Our nation’s capital, Port Moresby, is growing quickly with buildings and facilities that are of 21st century architectural design.

Other urban centres are also experiencing booming infrastructure development. The country is resource rich and many Papua New Guineans are becoming millionaires through hard work and perseverance.

Communications have changed dramatically from that era when my parents used to call their relatives through smoke-making, shouting, waving brightly coloured cloth or having to pass messages from one person to another from ridge top to ridge top.

It is now a matter of fingering the right digits on a mobile phone whether you are in the bathroom, toilet, garden or on a hunting trip or bus ride or anywhere on this freaking earth. This is development.

Highlanders are courting and marrying coastal partners. New Guinea Islanders are flocking to the mainland and vice versa to start new lives that contribute towards nation building.

Intermarriage has extended far and wide within PNG - and abroad, The bonds of family and relationship extend across the globe.

The issues of accessibility, equality and participation in major developments remain great challenges and many people complain and protest, especially in the disadvantaged areas of the country.

While urban dwellers celebrate with fireworks, drums, sound systems and disco lights, the rural community of this great nation may not be participating.

I went to my provincial capital of Kundiawa last weekend to sort out some family obligations. I came across few youths who came from their home village for a spin in town and asked what they had to celebrate during this independence anniversary.

They laughed off my question. Then one replied that he had nothing to celebrate and there was never any celebration of Independence in their community.

Another told me that he had never sung the national anthem in his entire life in his community. He added he would really like to see this year's celebration in Simbu's capital if there was one.

I explained Independence was time to celebrate our political independence when someone interrupted and asked the other youths, “Yumi independent ah?”  ("Are we independent?")

Another youth replied, “Yumi ino independent, tasol kantri blo yumi independent”. ("We’re not independent but our country is independent.")

A third member added, “Yumi independent tasol why na yumi save borrow lo Australia na China na ol narapela kantri?” ("We’re independent so why are we borrowing from Australia, China and other countries?") I remained silent and allowed them to ask and answer their own questions and comments.

Then there was one who had completed high school who explained to the others that "PNG em kisim politkol independens tasol lo sait blo moni na kisim halivim lo development, yumi nidim suport blo narapla developed kantri olsem Austraila na China. "Yumi olman, yumi ino independent yet tasol yumi stap lo komunity lo kisim helpim lo wanpla na narapela bikos yumi gat kalsa na kastom blo halivim I stap". ("PNG is politically independent but economically dependent. We individuals are interdependent because we live in a society where we depend on each other for survival!")

The group nodded approval and I reflected that coming from a disadvantaged area like Yuri did not deter these young men from conceptualising what independence is all about. They understood it is a matter of accessibility, equality and participation.

Let’s hope the 40 years in the wilderness are over and that we can now head towards the promised land of success and prosperity. Go Papua New Guinea!


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