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Our great negativity: The belief that we cannot do it ourselves


IF we are truly honest to ourselves, we will admit that growing up and living in Papua New Guinea is a negative experience.

As children, we were told that there was once a perfect world that Adam and Eve screwed up sending us all to eternal damnation.

We were told to repent, which we did and continue to do, and then forever ask forgiveness because we are horrible sinners.

Then we grew up a bit and went to school and our teachers scolded us and called us “dumb-dumbs”.

We felt dumb anyway as we watched from a distance as our peers collected end of year prizes; the rest of us being told that we’d go back to our villages and plant kaukau that the smart kids would buy from us.

Then we grew up and realised it was all a lie.

Now we’re miserable because the engineer and the economist struggle to find accommodation at Morata settlement whilst the buai seller who didn’t go to school owns a trade store and a PMV bus.

In addition, if our colleagues at work reckon we’re smart, they plot against us to stop us becoming more successful. We also find that hard work isn’t rewarded unless we have connections.

I have travelled the length and breadth of this country and everyone keeps telling me that they are the “back page” of PNG, the “last people”.

But many of these “back page” communities have better road and water links than the truly remote people of Nomad or Wawoi Falls. Many are only a few hours away from a main centre compared to the number of days it takes for me to travel from Daru to my village.

Why do they therefore perceive themselves as being backward?

Perhaps what I am describing is what is referred to by some as “structural violence.” Structural violence refers to types of economic, political, legal, religious and cultural arrangements that stop individuals, groups and societies from reaching their full potential.

As I ponder this issue, I ask myself, “What are the determinants of the way things turn out in PNG?”

I do not know.

But I can’t help think that perhaps any avoidable impairment of a person’s ability to reach their full human potential is a form of violence.

I have met so many young people around the country and each time we have a chat they talk about what needs to be done or how much help they or their communities need. And when I point out what they can do, I’m usually confronted with a blank stare.

Many of our people have been so beaten down by various forms of structural violence that its ubiquitous nature has been normalised as a stable experience.

Being told they’re dumb constantly gets normalised as “mi nidim moa save” – I need further studies.

If a pickpocket kid is apprehended, the crowd usually shouts ‘paitim em’. Yet some of that same crowd would also be ranting on Facebook about police brutality. What is acceptable and what isn’t acceptable violence, one may ask?

There are so many young people in PNG “doing nothing” when there is so much work to be done. Many are dreaming of “going to school and getting a job” because they “need more knowledge”.

There is also the violence of foreign aid and government.

Last year, whilst filming outside Lae city, the Tanim Graun TV crew came across an aid post near Markham bridge that had a power line just a few metres away but no lights at night.

Everyone of course was waiting for ‘gavman’ to fix it when they themselves could have assisted.

The aid post also had a gutter and tank but no water because there was no downpipe connecting the gutter to the tank. The cost of buying and installing a downpipe would be less than K100 but no one did anything.

PNG does have major challenges in terms of its difficult terrain. Indeed, I think that’s the only physical challenge to tackle – taming the terrain.

The rest of our problems exist in our heads because of the cognitive dissonance arising from the normalisation of various forms of structural violence.

The changes Papua New Guineans want to see in their lives and communities will come when people act based on what they can do rather than dwell on what they’ve been told they cannot do.


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John K Kamasua

Great article Martyn. Confirms what I have been musing on to be included as part of my new year's personal direction.

And many very good responses. I particularly like Elizabeth Dumu's response to the article.

Daniel Doyle

Martyn, Elizabeth, Daniel: step out of web pages into the national arena. Your country needs your kind of leadership

Mathias Kin

Thank you bro Martin for this wonderful piece. I will reiterate on what some have already voiced on, good leadership. We need good leadership now more then ever before. We need an enabling environment for health, education and business to prosper.

Phil Fitzpatrick

I agree with you Martyn; I don't think diversity is an issue. People in PNG are now so interbred and scattered far from their arse place that it no longer matters, except maybe in the more isolated outposts and they are not going to have any major influence on what happens anyway.

The quality of leadership is the key, as it always has been. Get that right and the rest will fall into place.

And, of course, a good leader has to believe in themselves.

Martyn Namorong

Paul no doubt leadership is lacking. The question is everyone is expecting someone to lead and those who step up usually do out of self interest.

Self interest need not necessarily be a bad thing though. For instance, if I am a farmer struggle to have market access due to bad roads, it is in my self interest to mobilize communities to maintain roads and improve drainage so roads get dry quickly and don't deteriorate.

But that kind of leadership is only possible if people have faith in themselves and what they can do.

Most often even the talk of leadership brings up images of "politicians" but we all know many politicians do not provide leadership.

As to the question of diversity, it is indeed a structure that inhibits cooperation amongst people of different cultural backgrounds. Culture and ethnicity in that sense become structures of violence prevent progress ad creating problems that Daniel has given examples of.

But rather than dwell on how diversity is an obstacle I'd rather focus on how it is a non-issue in a sense because the guys I call "bro" are from all around PNG and their cultural or ethnic background doesn't prevent me from working with them.

Its about have a CAN DO mindset instead of lingering on issues and problems and what cant be done.

Paul Oates

Martyn, to those looking from outside the problem the answer seems so clear. PNG desperately needs leadership at all levels.

The essential stumbling block is PNG's own wonderful yet fractured diversity. This is not a problem that has not been conquered elsewhere but the more diverse the nation, the greater the challenge.

Over the years I have worked in PNG and then followed her recent history I believe I haven't until now really understood the actual problem. I've been looking at the results rather than addressing the reason. This is because I was looking at your world through my glasses.

The question that must now be addressed in a simple one. Can PNG overcome her wonderful diversity that has created the very significant inertia that is holding her back?

The only answer is strong and effective leadership. The problem is how to accept that answer (even if it means accepting some reduction in parliamentary democracy), then one must first also accept the inevitable danger that as soon as someone takes power they will inevitably be corrupted due to human nature. On a national level, whenever there's a power vacuum, someone else will seek to fill it.

That's the dilemma. PNG will have to work out its own solution. Regrettably when you look at the history of all human societies and nations there is no easy answer.

Australia is one of the few nations that has never had a civil war. Sorry Phil, events like the Eureka Stockade really don't amount to more than a local insurrection. And look what happened to the leader Peter Laylor? He lost an arm yet eventually became a member of the Victorian Parliament.

Maybe PNG, along with many other nations, will be fast overtaken by world events and struggles that even now seem to be escalating.


Elizabeth Dumu- What a breath of fresh air, My hart bleeds for PNG's
future, And you come along, Tis you and the likes of you that can save
PNG from the Papa Yu Gimme rot.

Martyn Namorong

I admire the resilience and can do spirit of people like Elizabeth and Daniel and I wish that more Papua New Guineans had the kind of resilience and positive outlook to life.

At the risk of oversimplifying the scenario, I'd say there seems to be two mindsets. The Papua New Guineans who are making a difference in there personal lives and/or community look at the opportunities that exist and harness them. Those that don't are real experts at identifying what the problems are and whose fault it is and how inadequate and pathetic things without thinking of how they can solve the issues.

There are two youth Movements that I have met whom I have much hope in.

There are the Tropical Gems in Madang who do community mobilisation and capacity building work throughout PNG without external funding. It is the communities that invite TGems and pays for the TGems facilitators to enter and exit the communities. Tropical Gems have also been cleaning Madang town without asking for any payment or recognition.

Then there are the Oro youth of the Popondetta Youth Development Foundation. They've essentially realized that there is a lot of manual labour work to be done, may it be cleaning Popondetta town or nearby oil palm plantations. There efforts were recognized when the Provincial Youth office helped them register the Popondetta Youth Development Foundation and assisted them in securing a cleaning contract with the town.

The common thread amongst the two movements is that they saw a need and addressed it out of their own initiative and when other saw a problem being solved they want to be part of the success story.

We need more of this in PNG

Ed Brumby

I truly admire your resilience, Daniel. So many others, me included, would have given up were we in your situation. Your enterprise and determination set a great example for us all, not just Papua New Guineans.

Daniel Ipan Kumbon

I built a trade store in my village - it was burnt down in a tribal fight. I built a cow paddock in my village - the cows were shot dead by Mt Hagen Riot Squad police who went to stop the fight.

I bought two brand new PMV buses and left them to my wantoks to run them while I went on overseas study trips. I came back to find them run down.

Now, Iam contemplating on building a guest house and cultural centre in Kandep hoping to run it in retirement. But if in the event that it gets destroyed like it happened to my other property, I will begin to doubt if there is ever going to be a future at all for my village, Kandep, Enga and PNG..

But you know, I will be content I tried to do my part to bring changes to my village and province. And I believe in a famous statement made by John F Kennedy who said 'Ask not what America can do for you but ask what you can do for America.'

Martyn is dead right. Papua New Guineans must 'act based on what they can do rather than dwell on what they’ve been told they cannot do' or wait on their local member to do something for them.

Phil Fitzpatrick

It must be incredible depressing to watch what is going on around you Elizabeth and others. Especially since you know it need not be that way.

The resources are there but the will is not.

This is why I think the 2017 elections will be so crucial. If things can be turned around then a spirit of optimism will emerge.

That spirit will be incredibly powerful and will drive all those changes you know need to happen.

Elizabeth Dumu

I have suffered violence of sorts, structural as well as unstructured. Many of these violence’s I did not choose, they 'happened' to me.

I did not choose to be a female child from a second wife, of a subsistence farming family in a patrilineal society, it happened to me.

I did not choose to be the eldest amongst 11 siblings. It happened to me.

I did not choose to look attractive to that old IT Manager who thought he could easily get away with trying to sexually abuse me. It happened to me.

I live in an area of Morata where water and sewerage are now completely cut off. Eda Ranu and NCDC did it. It happened to me.

However, in all those situations I chose to respond differently.
Although I am a female child from a second wife, of a subsistence farming family in a patrilineal society, I chose to pursue education.

Being the eldest child among 11 siblings from two mothers, I chose to help all my younger siblings to go to school.

Although an attempt was made by some sick old man from Sri Lanka, I chose not to give in.

Although there is no water to my house in Morata, I choose not to do an illegal water connection.

Martyn, we can choose to be different regardless of what has 'happened' to us. You did, I did, and others have. The real problem with majority of the other Papua New Guineans is, we give excuses.

Our generation needs an awakening to stop and take a journey of self-discovery. We need to look within as therein lies the answer. And you said well, it is all up in the head.

‘As a man thinketh, so is he’.

George Kuias

Tru olgeta Martyn. Its happening nowadays. Because of this type of mentality of underestimating ourselves to do things, the pyschos or kongkong as they are called are taking over from locals in running business.

`Robin Lillicrapp

All the more is PNG Attitude a valuable resource for PNGeans to recognize and share common aspirations for the future of their nation.

Clement Papa

Thanks Martyn for these observations. Some of these are real issues we face today in our society. Unfortunately many of us have been schooled into this negative type of education, as what you have detailed. But as you suggest we can make a change. Perhaps we should pay more attention to what we impart to the next generation of Papua New Guineans.
I think PNG’s social welfare system can be better enhanced provided wantok system, may well be integrated into a new mind-set of a National welfare system. That we all have an obligation to contribute to a society bigger than our village, tribe, or grouping, and we all can benefit from what we contribute.

Michael Dom

Our conspiracy of silence is condoning all the violence.

Martyn - what you write has been my experience precisely.

In my line of work I have to deal with these scenario a lot of the time.

It's very disheartening and I understand it is the source much of my frustration and rage.

But every now and then I meet unique individuals who manage to re-inspire me to keep struggling on.

Len Rodwell

I think this as an excellent article that gets a lot of things right. The message is also applicable in Solomon Islands where I now live.

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