| Republished in an edited form from ‘Not always easy, not always nice, but look where we are’, PNG Attitude, July 2018
KUNDIAWA - From the north coast our ancestors climbed into the mountains arriving here in Chimbu more than 24,000 years ago.
Organised in small groups, they freely roamed the vast forests of the time, living by hunting and gathering.
Through natural calamity and feuds with others, these early people fragmented and grouped anew, settling on mountain sides and in the valleys, farming the land becoming amongst the world’s first agriculturists.
Then closer to time today, the advent of sweet potato - kaukau ensuring they settled into stability and learned to domesticate animals.
In the 1930s, very near today, Australian gold prospectors stumbled upon our remote villages and, soon after, our people saw their first aeroplane flying high from east to west and back again.
Chimbu’s modern history had begun.
Since then we have undergone many momentous events: the first contacts with of white men Taylor, Schafer, Bergman and Costelloe; the killing of two Catholic missionaries; the shootings of Chimbu people by the colonial Administration.
Then understanding and the construction of the Highlands Highway; great leaders Kondom Agaundo, Iambakey Okuk, John Nilkare and others; Chimbu coffee; self-government and independence; rugby league heroes Joe Gandi, Bal Numapo and others; drought and disease; national elections; and the revolutionary advent of mobile phones.
In the present, the cultural compromise continues and we see the momentous work of doctor-priest Fr Jan Jaworski. Every Chimbu can relate to these events and people according to their own understanding.
The folk of Chimbu travel and meet others in other places. They work on plantations, apply money to commerce, attend schools and colleges, speak in Tok Pisin and English. And marrying into other tribes: Chimbu tribes; provincial tribes; the tribes of white men.
All this making its contribution to speeding Chimbu through modernity.
In our fifth decade since independence, Chimbu still faces many challenges, as does our Papua New Guinea homeland.
We have transitioned from taim bipo to modernity but after all these years cannot truly embrace Western ways.
Our attempts at speaking and writing the English language are not perfect. We use imported tools and equipment we cannot repair. We sell our only cash crop, coffee, for prices we do not understand and cannot control.
Our country continues to receive grants and loans to keep itself nation afloat. Papua New Guinea is in a weak position among the nations of the world.
Even 90 years since first contact and 45 years since national sovereignty, we are still not quite able to bridge many gaps.
Some of our colonisers predicted half a century ago that it could take 100 years to rise to equality in the community of nations.
And we have come so far.
In 2018, our rural Chimbu people continue to suffer from a lack of basic services with many of them migrating to the cities to escape these adversities.
High population growth, gender and sorcery related violence, tribal animosities and other law and order problems and health epidemics like the spread of tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS are issues Chimbu communities continue to face.
These problems are embedded in the informal sector where the citizens are marginalised and their voices not heard. The disparity between them and the rich few is getting wider and more noticeable. Chimbu’s economic resources are meagre compared to other provinces and are more severely affected by national issues.
There have been national crises post-independence: civil war on Bougainville; a malfunctioning civil service; a police force that sides with politicians and foreign business magnates; runaway corruption, hyperinflation and unemployment; deteriorating infrastructure; service corrosion; illiteracy; bad leadership and inequality - all issues that hamper the progress of our nation.
All these issues are evidence that Papua New Guinea has somehow gone off track in her rush to be like the West.
I, and many other Papua New Guineans, blame Australia of a hasty retreat in 1975 leaving a vastly underdeveloped country and an untrained people to fend for themselves into an unfamiliar future. Many say this premature departure is responsible for the chaotic scenes we see today.
In 2018 most Chimbu people still do not understand nationalism. They live in the rural subsistence economy, where their lives revolve around their families and clans, their land, their pigs, their gardens and their attachment to bride price, school fees, haus krai, compensations and a new sensation these days, the nere tere at national elections.
These issues are more important to them than national issues. In essence, the past is not as far back as we think.
The challenge for Papua New Guinea now is to lift itself up from its reputation as one of the world’s most corrupt and poorest nations. This will be difficult while our leaders continue to exhibit bad habits in government. In a country where economics and politics live hand in hand both the elected and their unelected collaborators work together to keep us back.
Despite all this we can draw strength from our people’s resilience and the fact that our tribes now exist in relative peace with roads connecting our villages. Our schools and medical facilities stand on former battlegrounds and parents talk to their children in the cities on mobile phones and on festive occasions our age old singsings still display our Chimbu colours and culture.
Chimbu must continue to advocate the richness of the village subsistence economy and hold loyal to our wantok system, which have both been the foundations of our existence since taim bipo and will continue to ensure our people do not starve, have shelter and do not suffer from the lack of any essentials.
We are blessed with many unique natural resources.
Our beautiful, rugged and scenic landscape, including our tall Mount Wilhelm and the other high peaks that surround us and our many fast flowing rivers, offer great potential for tourism. Our rivers also offer good prospects for the generation of hydroelectric power for the nation. The fertile plateaus of Karimui offer agriculture and forest potential.
Our most important asset is our Chimbu people. Since the 1960s and 1970s, our fathers and mother’s embrace of education has earned great returns for us and our continued endeavour in that direction will ensure our children will rise above all others.
To this end every responsible Chimbu who is able to contribute must endeavour in his or her own way to give every opportunity to our children for a better tomorrow.
During our four decades under colonial rule and another four as an independent state, Chimbu and greater Papua New Guinea have weathered the many storms well.
The impact of modernity has brought our Chimbu people out of obscurity into a nation of 800 tribes.
Our leaders, elected members, public servants and those in the private sector, must take advantage of the experience offered so far and work hard to chart a course for Chimbu towards prosperity for our future generations.