A Thing Called Freedom
Three medicos say hello to PNG's newest beautiful citizen

‘Isn't that typical?’ The curse of stereotyping in society


TUMBY BAY - Did you know that the most violent and aggressive people in Papua New Guinea come from Goilala?

Or that all the prostitutes and burglars come from Kerema?

How about the highlands being responsible for all the conmen and wife beaters?

On a more positive note you probably know that the smartest people in Papua New Guinea come from Manus.

Or that the most beautiful women come from Tufi.

Stereotyping on the basis of a person’s origins was a popular mythology in pre-independent Papua New Guinea and it still is amongst some people today.

It’s also a worldwide pre-occupation and has been so for however long humans have been on the planet.

If you are black in the United States of America you are much more likely to be convicted of a crime simply because of your colour. The same injustice occurs in Australia with Aboriginal people.

If you are a Muslim you are a terrorist.

If you are a Scot you are mean and frugal.

Fat people are greedy.

I’m Anglo-Irish so it is a foregone conclusion that I am socially repressed (no sex please we’re British) and a dumb Paddy.

There are thousands of examples of these stereotypes in existence, ranging from banal to savage.

Stereotyping is essentially a defensive mechanism. It is a way of denigrating your enemies or opponents to weaken them in your mind and make yourself feel much better about who you are and what you represent.

Stereotyping in the Christian ethos begins with the concept of original sin. According to that doctrine, we are all sinners simply because we are human.

That is one of the silliest propositions ever devised but think of all the hurt, guilt and suffering it has caused.

Stereotyping is also a much used political tool. Perhaps the worst case in recent times was the demonising of Jews by Adolph Hitler. Pogroms had occurred before Hitler but he took extermination to a completely new level.

Despite the horrendous consequences of Hitler’s ‘final solution’, anti-Jewish sentiment still exists and appears to be growing. The human race has very fickle memories.

At any level, be it simply recognising what appears to be a cultural or racial trait, or conducting industrial scale genocide, stereotyping is a not only dangerous but misleading.

At the beginning of this essay, I wrote about the stereotyping that existed in Papua New Guinea prior to independence.

These days, this has been watered down a lot, perhaps because tribalism has weakened and there has been more cross-cultural marriage. But stereotyping still exists, particularly in politics.

One of the reasons there are no women in Papua New Guinea’s parliament can be put down to gender and political stereotyping.

There are even aspects of stereotyping in the current fracas over who should be PNG’s prime minister.

People see Peter O’Neill as largely representative of a particular regional highlands bloc of politicians.

The so-called opposition, on the other hand, has a lot of coastal people in its ranks.

Commentators are drawing conclusions about what Peter O’Neill might do based on his reputation as a devious and stubborn Southern Highlander.

If he was a coastal man people would think he’ll give up and resign fairly soon.

Expecting people to perform according to type is no way to run anything, be it a nation or a book club.

We know, or think we know, there is some truth in stereotyping and often make important decisions on that basis.

But there are always very many people who don’t conform to type. As the saying goes, some people lead, some people follow, but some people don’t.

They are the ones you have to be wary about.

And guess what? They tend to be our heroes and heroines.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Garry Roche

I think Phil is correct in raising the issue of stereotyping. Perhaps the best way to begin to combat this problem is to check if we ourselves are guilty of stereotyping at various times and in various circumstances. Sometimes the jokes we tell perpetuate the stereotypes. Sometimes our presumptions about some ethnic groups reveal our prejudices. Sometimes we are not fully aware of how we are stereotyping.
And we could also learn how to politely let someone know when we discern that they have been stereotyping. I can recall two people who politely let me know when I was basing my comments on stereotypes. Way back in 1971 A Papuan teacher named Moro Kini teaching at a school near Hagen politely corrected me when I made some comments about the local students, and some months later a kiap Jack Edwards in Tapibuga in the Jimi, also politely corrected me on another issue. Looking back, I appreciate what they did. Being, somewhat like Phil, a ‘Dumb Paddy’, I am still learning how not to stereotype.

Simon Davidson

Phil, a wonderful piece about stereotyping. Stereotyping is a sign of pre-enlightenment societies that with enlightenment should cease.

But some half brains continue to perpetuate the myth. People should be educated over and over about the evils of propagating myths based on half baked notions.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)