GOLD COAST - When I arrived in Papua New Guinea, I had a basic understanding of Melanesian culture and Pidgin English but I worked hard at it and nearly two years in the bush gave me much better communication and translation skills.
As Philip Kai Morre writes (‘The disorientation of a transitional people in a confused world’), the central issue relates to culture.
Yet, if we take a broader view, there are many similarities that exist between PNG and western culture.
Why? Because we are all human and most of us tend to think in parallel concepts.
If you begin drawing comparisons between traditional PNG cultures and western cultures, it’s a fair bet you will identify differences. If you start looking for dissimilarities, you will inevitably find them.
Sometimes they are glaring, creating a barrier for people trying to manage change and understand new concepts.
If however you start out looking for similarities, the reverse can be true. Looking at the similarities can ease make the cultural change required.
As an example: look at the western concept of cash money where there is an equivalent in traditional PNG ‘money’, whether this be shells, pigs or some other form of wealth. The concept of wealth and wealth transfer is just as important in traditional PNG culture as it is elsewhere.
If you look at the laws and policing, traditional PNG cultures had well developed laws and rules and effective ways of enforcing them.
Looking for similarities is all about understanding how the concept operates rather than how it looks.
The development of cargo cults, and the more recent money cults, is not new and isn’t restricted to PNG.
For example, Australians are susceptible to being conned by charlatans and criminals. Greed knows no cultural boundaries. You only have to go to a club with rows of poker machines or visit the horse races to see how westerners chance their wealth. Sori tumas! Las momo kani!
And consider the world's stock exchanges to see greed in full swing. A visit to Chicago's grain exchange sees people betting on harvests that have yet to be planted. How’s that for cargo cult behaviour?
During the 2008 global financial crisis, many people lost a lot of wealth as a result of global stock markets crashing. This has been going on for centuries. And looksl ike it will continue for many more.
So if you look at the broad concept and intentions and merely translate the methodology, PNG culture has many similarities with many other cultures including western culture. You just have to be careful not to lose sight of the concept and not get lost in translation.
What might help many PNG people move forward is an education process that translates the equivalent western concepts into their home grown perceptions.