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Witch Hunt

There is a need to rethink our wasteful customary practices


OUR customary practices in Papua New Guinea are mostly geared towards wealth consumption not wealth generation.

Whether it's haus krai, compensation, bride price or Moka, all are designed to consume wealth.

There is no wealth transfer during these customary exercises nor is there wealth generation.

All these 'big name' and 'feel good' customary traditions are inhibiting our progress yet we continue to practise them without realising their regressive consequences.

The price our people pay has now increased tremendously, adding to the financial burden on us to participate.

The wealth gets redistributed among the recipient group and is diluted. It does not make one person rich.

The original ideals of maintaining peace and strengthening relationships through these customary practices are no longer the primary consideration.

In effect, these practices have been commercialised.

We need to rethink custom.


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Michael Dom

Today funerals are highly competitive big business in the Highlands Provinces.

Most graves nowadays have a 'house' built over them, complete with tiled floors and curtained glass louvre windows and night lamps.

It's a kind of death cult and I hope the churches are aware of it. But then again Christian denominations are most likely profiting from this new trend because someone has to go bless the grave.

There are shrines built on many graves of the dubious big men that match the war memorials to fallen soldiers and great leaders of the world.

These mausoleums are usually built on prime real estate, which is pleasant for the occupants I'm sure.

Meanwhile the villagers eat grass and ask for government hand outs from their local MP who can't understand why he has to give the family more money after he'd already contributed to burying the bastard that he knew.

The simple act of entering a haus krai now comes with the expectation of a cash donation. At many haus krai's the gate fee is above K50.

Anything less than that and you're liable to end up a laughing stock or at the very least be frowned upon as a 'poorer' relative.

Suzie Maki

Papua New Guineans should distinguish between PNG customs and practices and those of Western culture.

I mean money is a western material, how do we include money in our custom practices whilst still valuing the significance of what our forefather practiced in the past as part of PNG culture.

I personally think the use of money has totally diluted the meaning of our wonderful and unique cultural practices.
PNG is a culturally oriented country, we should promote and preserve our culture and not eradicate it.

Daniel Kumbon

There is too much waste in contemporary PNG society.

I made mention of this in my recent book ‘I Can See My Country Clearly Now’ in reference to a missionary from Europe who came to Enga Province in the early 1960s who still maintains a full healthy lifestyle at about age 83 thanks to his children contributing towards paying for heart surgery at a well-equipped hospital in Australia.

Sample these few lines from my mentioned book.

“Alois has had the good fortune to live a full life. He understood the essence of life and looked after his health well.

And when he needed their help most, his children and other relatives paid for his medical bills and added more valuable years to his precious life."

Nowadays in Enga Province, a long line of cars of all descriptions travel in convoys with their horns and sirens blaring escorting bodies of loved ones home for burial as inquisitive by-standers whisper to each other to find out whose body it is that is being taken home for burial.

At the haus krai tons of food and drinks - cartons of lamb flaps, coke, cooking oil, bags of rice, cartoons of fish, noodles, sugarcane and bags of sweet potatoes are heaped up by friends and relatives.

Heaps of cash amounting to thousands of kina are also contributed as a sign of their ‘last respects.’

It was customary to give in times of need but isn’t this exercise more time consuming and costly than the medical bill the deceased would have desperately needed to prolong his or her life at a well-equipped hospital?’

Garry Roche

I am a bit out of touch with Hagen Central, but my experience there not so long ago was that the Moka system had all but disappeared and instead at funerals (haus-krai) large sums of money were often being handed over to the mourners - with the understanding that there would be a return.

John K Kamasua

If you take the bride price and other customary practices to the extreme level, then it becomes a burden.

But such cultural practices are "communal" meaning that they bring all families and friends together to pool and share resources. Not one person bears the burden in all of these.

In the absence of a national or social safety net, families and friends have found solace, comfort and strength in some of our communal ways of looking after one another.

Still Sam Koim has a point. We need to re-look at some of our excessive and expensive practices.

But we have unique cultural and customary practices that if blended with modern and observed in moderation can strengthen our society.

Lets be careful not to throw the bay out with the water!!

Paul Oates

Jack, thanks for your views and I appreciate where you are coming from.

It’s entirely true that many of our western societies have largely dispensed with our traditional family get togethers and celebrations due to the family being split up by divorce, dispersal due to work or just being too exhausted and busy to make them possible.

When I was growing up, I was part of a large extended family that often got together and enjoyed each other’s company. Many families however still do have gatherings and have everyone contribute to the expense and effort. However, ‘Hatches, Matches and Dispatches’ have now regrettably taken over for many as the reason all the family and friends get together.

The essence of point I hear Sam Koim making is that this traditional Melanesian concept has become confused by the introduction of a cash economy. This has led to the beneficial aspects being taken over by those who have made or want to make money and/or prestige (by whatever means), and who now wish to use these wonderful, traditions for their own personal gain.

The mere fact that this negative has now been recognised by some in PNG must surely be the practical starting point for everyone to move forward and not let this aspect hold back PNG from enjoying her traditions. Those who still want to use these traditions for their own selfish advantage should be subject to that most equally effective Melanesian custom called public shame.

Jack Klomes

Sam Koim should rethink what he has said and be more specific, he should have stated that the Politicization of our culture by Politicians and those who have become bikman by Money mostly those highly western educated ones who go back to the village to flaunt their wealth in order to buy support and recognition which is a total abuse of these customary systems itself.

I am stating these as someone who comes from a simple background and who was privileged to have witnessed and experience the benefits of these customary practices like haus krais, bride price ceremonies and the benefits that it has on the society. Papua New Guineans mostly living in the rural areas are self reliant, they rely on themselves and their family extended families in times of need to see them through hard times.

Thus it is important to show your face, make a contribution in any customary ceremony whether it be a death, a bride price payment or a customary reconciliation ceremonies. If they or someone does not contribute in one way or the other no one is going to help you when you face problems, the government will definitely not help. Its a way of life for most simple Papua New Guineans.

I am not sure if most Westerners or Western influenced Papua New Guineans will understand these or see its importance until you actually live in a traditional village Society. I mean traditionally our Melanesian way of life is never about getting rich or wealth generation it has more to do with maintaining family ties and looking after each other. An illustration of one such custom and the positive impacts in our society is captured by Arnold Mundua in his book "A brides Price".

Philip Fitzpatrick

I'm not sure you need to 'eradicate' these customs James. They once provided very useful purposes. Perhaps remodel them as Sam Koim suggests so that they are not commercial propositions. How you do that I'm not sure.

James Brul

Absolutely, we need to eradicate them and see it as an historic relics and adopt the saving culture for the good of individual and the nation as a whole.

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