SEATTLE, USA - There are many similarities between the communities of Australia’s indigenous people and the people of Papua New Guinea in how we are dealing with the tension between the dreamtime and this modern era.
As you know, in PNG we have gullibly embraced almost all aspects of the western cultural values that landed on our shores.
One of the lasting outcomes of this embrace is how today’s young people regard formal schooling in the getting of wisdom. This change is evident and being played out in the classrooms.
For instance, many schoolchildren’s dramatic presentations depict a village lapun [old] man as "longlong kanaka em nogat save" [an ignorant primitive who understands nothing]. They project lapuns as being ‘stupid’ and ‘inogat save’.
Certainly schooling can teach students knowledge, but wisdom is also to be gained from the lapuns’ tutelage.
Growing up in Enga impacted my view of the world. Watching and hearing the lapuns helped me develop a dimension that is less apparent in formal schooling.
It helped me in navigating the tensions between two diametrically opposing value systems: a foreign system imposed on us and the Enga cultural value system.
I had the benefit of being immersed in the elders’ tutelage at the hausman [men’s house].
Those wisdoms that were passed down became my reliable source of strength as I navigated my way through a fast-changing world.
In today’s Enga, the hausman concept is of the past.
The few remaining lapuns have moved in with the grandkids with a diminished role.
Many live in makeshift shelters in the shanty town at the edge of Wabag town.
The young aimlessly spend each day at the buai [betel nut] and loose cigarette marketplaces along the only road that leads to Porgera gold mine.
As other people have asked, have we gone past the turning point to bring back the best of what was?
Is there anything left of those auu piuu petenge, auu piuu kitenge [gutpela sidaun pasin; noble traditions] that we can revisit as a source of strength, the go-to place, as we recalibrate our journey?