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Cool heads prevail in PNG as carvings are returned

Front facade of PNG's parliament before heads were removed (Johnny Blades)JOHNNY BLADES | Radio New Zealand International

THEY were branded as ‘evil’ and ‘ungodly’, and removed from Papua New Guinea's parliament, but after two and a half years, the carved heads are to make a comeback.

This week, PNG's national court ruled against the speaker of parliament's removal of cultural carvings and a totem pole from the national parliament in 2013.

The speaker, Theo Zurenuoc, had ordered their removal after claiming the cultural adornments were associated with a pagan, animist background, and therefore "evil and ungodly".

The court however concluded the removed objects were protected under the National Cultural Property Act, and ordered they be repaired and restored.

The ruling comes in the same week that Port Moresby hosted Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and other leaders in a summit of the European Union-linked African, Caribbean and Pacific group.

It also comes at a time when PNG is experiencing one of its relatively frequent periods of political chaos.

The prime minister Peter O'Neill is facing mounting pressure to resign, while a cash flow crisis and other court rulings have put him on the back foot - a far cry from the relative comfort of his position in late 2013.

He might well wonder if the removal of the heads triggered some sort of hex on him.

The lintel above the front face of the building featuring nineteen gargoyle-type carved heads in a row was one of a number of striking features on PNG's majestic parliament building, a massive Haus Tambaran.

The anthropomorphic heads originally represented each of provinces in the country at independence, and hinted at the complexity of PNG as a nation of many different tribes, with over 800-plus distinct language groups.

However, Mr Zurenuoc, one of a cabal of devout evangelical Christian MPs in the house, ordered the removal of the heads in 2013 as part of his campaign "to restore, reform and modernise parliament".

"Papua New Guineans have a very close affinity to the spiritual world," he told RNZI .

"We believe in spirits, but there are good spirits and bad spirits."

Certainly, some local commentators at the time saw merit in the speaker's claim that the removal of the carvings and art work was a stepping stone to change.

But many saw it as an attack on PNG cultural heritage.

"The things that are removed, they are representing a culture. So he is trying to remove the culture" said Father Victor Roche of PNG's Catholic Bishops' Conference.

Others felt the 19 carved heads were being wrongly blamed for the transgressions of MPs themselves.


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Peter Kranz

Shall I worship Zarathustra
just the way we use ta?
Be a Zarathustra Booster
What a thing to be!

Or maybe Aphrodite
She’s beautiful but flighty
and doesn’t wear a nighty,
now there’s a sight to see.

Or perhaps I’ll choose Apollo
a decent god to follow
I’d grovel and I’d wallow
Brought low on bended knee.

Elohim or Yahweh?
Allah or the highway?
I think I’ll just go my way.
That’s good enough for me.

(Apologies to Joseph Campbell and the Golden Gate Quartet)

Of course you have to hum it along to Gimme That Ole Time Religion.

Peter Kranz

Reminds me of this -

“If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

...then you'll be a man my son!"

Johnny Blades

Full article here, featuring Elvina Ogil, Andrew Moutu and the PM's favourite cabinet minister.

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