The day of a school teacher
God, Covid-19 & remote health

Getting used to culture shock

Pig kill
"Watching over 100 pigs being clubbed to death was an enlightening experience. So too was being handed the gift of a bloody portion of pig meat wrapped in a banana leaf"


TUMBY BAY - While we were in Australia training for our roles as kiaps in Papua New Guinea we were warned about the possibility of experiencing culture shock.

Culture shock is the feeling of uncertainty, confusion, or anxiety that people experience when living and working in a society that is different from their own.

Social norms can vary significantly across countries and regions. Culture shock can arise from an individual's unfamiliarity with local customs, language and acceptable behaviour.

Despite a youthful sense of invincibility, if anyone was going to experience culture shock after arriving in PNG young Cadet Patrol Officers going to bush postings were prime candidates.

Despite dire warnings I think most of us handled it quite well. Those that didn’t quickly resigned.

I don’t recall being particularly discombobulated despite the range of new things I experienced and the rapid and steep learning curves required.

One of the first things we had to get used to was the lack of clothing worn by people. This was the 1960s and traditional dress was still the widespread norm.

As kiaps we were embedded in the communities in which we worked and in close proximity to the local people.

Suffice to say that after a while the sight of near-naked people seemed quite normal, even if the odd comely young lady caught our eye.

I saw my first dead body when I was a cadet. It was the body of a deceased bigman. As the temporary officer in charge of the station I was invited to pay my respects.

His body was lying in state on a bed of ferns in a low and smoky highland round house. Apart from a distinct smell he looked like he was asleep.

Outside I joined the onlookers at a demonstration put on by the tribal warriors in honour of the old man. The men were stripped down to a few tanket leaves and were wielding deadly and razor sharp steel axes.

They were a frightful sight but what was most disarming was the sight of the otherwise mild mannered station interpreter, his eyes a-gleam in his sweat covered face with a glistening axe in his hand. After that I tended to treat him a bit more seriously.

Another fascinating new experience was attending my first pig kill. In Australia the public is assiduously protected from the barbaric nature of meat production but in PNG it was part of everyday life.

Watching over 100 pigs being clubbed to death was an enlightening experience. So too was being handed the gift of a bloody portion of pig meat wrapped in a banana leaf.

Highlanders were great orators. The skills required to speak to a gathering of hundreds of expectant people ready to judge your performance can be daunting but as kiaps we were expected to perform well.

For a basically shy 19 year old cadet my first attempt filled me with trepidation. Nevertheless, I took the bull by the horns and plunged in regardless. Lord knows what I talked about but it seemed to hold my audience rapt.

Strangely enough the experience was quite exhilarating and I came to enjoy such opportunities. I might be tongue tied at social gatherings with other expatriates but addressing 200 villagers from a grassy knoll was a piece of cake.

Slowly but surely all of these sorts of events brought us closer and closer to the Papua New Guinean people.

Culture shock, if we had ever experienced it, faded away and was replaced by what became a sense of comfortable belonging.

And, remarkably, that sense of belonging stayed with us, even when we packed up and sadly left the country.

Not that we would admit it of course. We were tough kiaps and sentimentality was not part of our remit. It is only old age that has made us drop our guard.


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

Philip Fitzpatrick

Your manki masta was on the ball Paul.

I was sitting on the steps of a rest house one day more or less gossiping with a group of people gathered around when the luluai leaned over and whispered in my ear.

He basically said that I should put my legs together and indicated with his chin a group of smiling young ladies sitting directly below me.

It was an interesting experience. Not only did it give me a sense of what many young and not-so-young women experienced the world over but also gave me a new perspective on the female mind.

I used the experience as the basis of a short story that was published in an Australian magazine.

Paul Oates

In answer to your question Daniel, my mankimasta was laughing one day on Patrol and I asked him what was the joke?

He said some village maidens had just asked him: 'Are white men built the same way down below, as our men are?'

But perhaps they were not maidens? Husat isavi?

My biggest culture shock was not experienced going to PNG and living among people of another culture. As often the only Australian among thousands of PNG people for months on end, we had at least been prepared with some appropriate training for what we were required to do.

My biggest culture shock was returning to my original culture and finding that I didn't automatically fit back in. In fact, that part of our experience was never ever covered by any preparation or training especially when we eventually 'went finish'.

I have often realised that until someone experiences something traumatic, it is probably impossible to explain it to someone who hasn't suffered from much the same experience. My father's generation would never talk about World War 2 except to those who had returned from this conflict.

I suspect its the same sort of reaction which is why some of us continue to contribute to this and other websites associated with PNG.

The sad fact of life is that the opportunity to capitalize on our unique understanding and link between PNG and Australia is fast evaporating. Both our nation's governments have mostly just ignored this opportunity due no doubt, to a lack of being able to walk in our boots. Even those PNG people who travel overseas will not receive the same type of perception we were privileged to be presented with.

There has never been a more important time for relations between our two nations and those nations near us to promote a better understanding and to be strengthened wherever possible.

Daniel Kumbon

Culture shock was taught to us by a Dr Garry Weaver when I went to America on an Alfred Friendly Press Fellowship program 29 years ago.

Everything went OK for me but speaking in direct eye contact with people was a problem.

I could manage that with male members of society but very hard with the opposite sex when it came to talking with them on a one to one basis.

Elderly ladies were OK, but with younger ones it was hard to maintain eye contact. I wonder how the ladies felt when I spoke to the opposite wall or somebody else outside the window.

And Phil, I wonder what went through the minds of the 'odd comely young lady' when a male young kiap spoke to her if he had to never take his eyes off her?

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.)