Covid vaccines & social media disinformation
The Irate Adolescent

Decolonisation & the changing of our names

| Aunamelo | Edited

PORT MORESBY - While many people think decolonisation means just breaking away from colonisers and getting political independence, there’s more to it than the average mind can ever comprehend.

I am not going to write on political or economic decolonisation but on cultural decolonisation which I believe is the first step to take in the decolonisation process.

True Decolonisation to my understanding means erasing any trace of colonisation in your country, just like how colonisers erased every trace of your past and tried to make you believe your history started with them discovering you.

One of the African leaders who pushed for true decolonisation was Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso.

When Sankara became president of Burkina Faso, the country was using the name given to it by colonisers - Upper Volta.

In an attempt to rid the country of the influence of colonisation, Sankara changed the name to Burkina Faso meaning ‘Land of the Upright Men’.

Culturally, all colonised countries or regions had their own traditional names which were changed by the colonisers.

Like Africa and many other countries once colonies of European countries, many of Papua New Guinea’s regions and islands were renamed by colonisers.

We had our own names for places, rivers, mountains, islands and other landforms. Colonisers in the exploration era and in the fight to claim undiscovered lands, named them after their kings, queens, emperors, famous men, cities, even themselves.

New Britain and New Ireland were named after Britain and Ireland. Port Moresby and Fairfax Harbour were named by Captain John Moresby after his father, Admiral Sir Fairfax Moresby.

Papua was named after frizzy haired people like Malaysians and New Guinea because our cpuntry was thought to look like Guinea in Africa.

So the colonisers would claim a land for their own country, give it a name and declare that they had discovered it.

They knew there were already people dwelling on those lands who had their own names for it but that didn’t matter.

To them, as the most civilized society in the world, these people they ‘discovered’ were primitives. There was no respect for their culture. To Europeans, all cultures were inferior to their more civilised culture.

Perhaps some of you might remember when John Waiko wanted to rename Papua New Guinea ‘Paradise’. He was called crazy and stupid, but he in fact was trying to erase traces of colonisation in our country. He was seeking true decolonisation even though the name he suggested was not fitting.

I was surprised when I came across Papua New Guinea’s highest mountain’s original name in the native tongue.

I always knew Mt Wilhelm had an original name but later found out it was Enduwa Kombuglu or Kombugl’o Dimbin, meaning ‘black stone’.

I believe the mountain needs to be called by its original name to maintain its cultural connections.

The mountain has no connection with Germany. It is not on German soil; it’s on Simbu soil and should be called by its traditional name.

After foreign invasion and the introduction of Western cultures and religions, most of our people now bear Western and Christian names.

Traditional names, native names, bore meaning and had significance. In the next 20 years, we won’t have traditional names, we will have first names like Simon and second names like John.

Our traditional names are unique and quite unlike Western and Christian names. No different tribe can have the same name. We don’t have a Highlander with the name Kila. Kila is a coastal name.

John is not your ancestor’s name. Kaupa is, Kawage is, Kagul is, Kila is, Renagi is.

It’s time to start cultural decolonisation by embracing your roots and giving our children our own names, names our ancestors carried.

Stop naming your children after someone’s ancestor from Europe or a prophet in the Bible.

I don’t know where my parents got the name Duncan from when they named me. Tumbuna blo mi mas Duncan ya.

I didn’t choose the name I carry, it was given to me at birth but I will choose to have my children carry traditional names.

I will have all my children named after my ancestors and carry the unique names of my people to ensure the survival of this part of my rapidly dying culture.


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

Philip Kai Morre

Decolonisation, including changing names, will not make sense unless we keep our local language alive.

I am a fluent Kuman speaker with no mixture of Pidgin or English but my children are not fluent Kuman speakers. Like most of the children in the village they speak a mixture of Pidgin, English and Tok Ples. Some of the words' meanings get lost and younger generation don't know what they mean.

We make numerous attempts to keep our language alive in the next generation by introducing local dialect at elementary schools but this does not work.

John Kuri

Name change is significant when the undertones of what is intended is fully understood. But name change is one facet of fully decolonising the mind.

While we learn English as the medium of communication, we must also embrace our culture and continue to promote our language.

The effects of not paying enough attention to our own vernacular can be seen today. I have come across many children mixing traditional terms with Pidgin. I am struggling with this myself.

I didn’t know the traditional name for Mt Wilhelm, now I do.

Paulus Ripa

I use the name given by my parents at birth. So my brothers all have different surnames. Attempts by some of my brothers to use Dad's surname was strongly discouraged.

However when I recently tried to apply for my NID card I found that the computer would not accept my application if my surname differed from my Dad's.

As you can imagine I was quite irate but the person helping to fill the form was quite firm.

Dad, wherever he is watching from (probably heaven), will have little choice but to realise that his surname has changed from Pi to Ripa posthumously on the NID data base.

I still cannot accept the fact that a database developed for use in PNG has to follow the rules of an alien culture in terms of names.

Philip Kai Morre

Western influence is so great including using white men's names. We can use traditional names to baptise infants like Sil Bolkin did but when they become adults they have the right to change their names and we have no control over it.

All Lutherans have Kote names when baptised but most don't use them. They adapted to white men's names. Every persons has the right to use whatever name they like.

Michael Dom

I don't think there is any attempt to force people to change their non-indigenous names.

Place names however are a different think altogether.

Personally, the name Mt Wilhelm disgusts me - being provided for some royal brat who never set foot in PNG.

Simbu saw it first and made a home in its foothills.

The mountain belongs to us and we belong to it.

Not some....[expletives here about the German colonials back in the day].

How about the title Enduwa Kombuglu (Mt Wilhelm in the colonial era)?

And no. Changing names does not mean we need to regress into arse tanget wearing wannabes. That will never happen.

If you think about, we are less physically able to tolerate the living conditions of our ancestors so let's not think about it.

What we can maintain is the language which our tumbuna created to communicate in, sing, argue, make speeches for war and peace, chant poems, recite their history and make a life together under some of the toughest conditions to live let alone raise families.

We can at least honour them that way, and respect our heritage and find pride in who we are reaching back 50,000 years.

I'm not sure if that's logical but it sure as hell sounds valuable.

Kela Kapkora Sil Bolkin

Mr Gabi, thanks for raising this issue about 'decolonising the mind'.

I am a practicing Roman Catholic but all my eight children have traditional Simbu and Aroma Coast names.

When I took the first two children to the priest and enrolled for baptism the priest asked for their names.

I said the first is Apa Bikegale and the other is Gorku Dama.

The priest enquired about their Christian names and I politely told the priest that he can baptise them with their local names and make them Christian.

He refused and asked me to choose two biblical names.

I bluntly told the priest we have both saints and sinners in Simbu. The names I chose for my children are saintly names from Simbu. The priest still refused.

I took the issue to the Archbishop of Port Moresby and the theologians at the Catholic Seminary in Bomana. The scholars in Bomana all agreed that children with local names can be baptised and made Christian.

Now, all my eight children have been baptised with uniquely Simbu and Aroma names and they are Christians.

This is called inculturation and the Second Vatican Council between 1964 and 1968 allowed for this change.

The same concept can be implemented in other aspects of life too.

Philip Kai Morre

Changing our names is OK but what is our real logic and commonsense behind this. It's our individual right to use whatever name we want. Some of us have traditional names as well as Christian names.

If one feels that every name should be changed, then we can change other things as well. Dress up in traditional clothes, live in customary ways, feed from the garden, live in kunai houses, invent our own writing, use our own language to communicate and at the end we could go back to the stone age and live in caves.

Isabella Mariaki

“Decolonizing the Mind”, by Ngugi wa Thiong’o (Kenya), is a piece of written literature that lives in my heart and fuels the fire in me to be a responsible citizen of PNG.

The Kenyan wrote something similar to what Mr Gabi has expressed. Thiong’o talks more on the importance of language and culture.

At one point he mentions his experience in colonial school. The first time he went, the harmony between him and his culture was distorted. The language of his education was no longer the language of his culture.

I think this is what we experience in PNG today too.

It is understood that change is inevitable, we have to adapt but holding steadfast in mind our cultures.

This does not mean we drop English and resolve back to our respective languages immediately. We can use the language given to us to restore the value of our cultures.

The important thing is to make the language one’s own, to incorporate rather than to being incorporated.

Michael Dom

Using local nomenclature is one part of a larger action of 'decolonising' our minds.

The core task is reclaiming our local languages, by utilising them and transferring them to the next generation.

One step on this task is to start using our vernacular, the three national languages, in literature, poetry, stories and maybe some day novels.

I have been traveling down this path.

Three leads are here:

Here, where I am reclaiming Enduwa Kombuglu in poem (recently translated to Tok Ingls na Tok Ples Sinesine).

"Ooo Enduwa Kombuglu,
Ol man bilong narapela hap
Ol givim nem bilong ol iet long yu
Na paulim tingting bilong ol tumbuna pikinini
Ol i bagarapim graun ol iet i silip long em
Na ol i raun nating olsem dok ino gat haus."

Published at the heyday of the Crocodile Prize in 2014 the poem sadly received little feedback for an initial foray. Clearly I was not discouraged.

See what I'm up to now:

And here where other literary agencies agree with the idea of revitalising the use of our own languages in local community news articles not often covered by the MSM:

I was paid for the original English version, translated into Tok Pisin, and my translator Gemona Konemamata, was paid to translate the article into Hiri Motu.

The article was further translated to Deutsch, i.e. German language. Yeah that happens too.

Incidentally, when I was first introduced to my Hiri Motu translator he told me his name was Gemo Kone.

I'm glad I asked if that was his full name because Gemona Konemamata is waaaaaay cooler!

Philip Fitzpatrick

There was a fairly spirited public debate in the early 1970s about what the new nation should be called.

In its report to the House of Assembly in March 1971, Paulus Arek's Select Committee on Constitutional Development submitted a design for a national flag and crest and recommended that the name of the new nation should be Niugini and the people Niugineans.

This name upset a lot of people in Papua.

The committee's report was adopted by the House of Assembly with the exception of the recommendation for the national name.

In June 1971 the house passed the National Identity Bill which provided for a provisional national name of Papua New Guinea.

The Bill confirmed the design of the red and black flag and the emblem of the Bird of Paradise, spear and drum.

I'm not sure that tinkering with the national name at this late date would be very productive. As in 1971 with so many different languages it would be impossible to find a name that would suit everyone.

That said, I don't see why a lot of the cities and towns couldn't have local names. Even the capital, Port Moresby, could be renamed or co-named Hanuabada for instance.

As for people's Christian names that is a personal choice. If you are proud to be a Papua New Guinean use a Papua New Guinean name.

This became very popular in Africa as decolonisation occurred. In the USA many African Americans are reverting back to African names. Aboriginal names are popular in Australia too. Even the decolonised Irish do it.

Chips Mackellar

I agree that Papua New Guinea should have a name change. The very name itself is divisive, in that it divides the population into Papuans and New Guineans - not conducive to united nationhood.

When the Condominium of New Hebrides attained independence the name was changed to Vanuatu, the name by which we now know it. It means "My Country" - a good name to give your country.

For PNG, the Motu equivalent would be Tanoegu - my country, or Tanoeda - our country - which sounds a lot better than Papua New Guinea, and a new name like this would automatically shed the country's colonial mantle.

The people would then cease to be Papua New Guineans and instead would be Tanoedaians. Sounds better, don't you think?

Garrett Roche

Duncan - The name Duncan most probably originates in Scotland, it is an Anglicised form of the Scottish Gaelic ‘Donnchad’. ‘Donn’ meaning ‘dark-haired man’ or ‘dark man’ and ‘cath’ meaning battle.

Some say the name means ‘dark-warrior’. A positive name. Maybe in the Hagen (Melpa) language the name Pombra would be the equivalent ?

I agree with you that where possible local names should be used and retained. I used to find it annoying when a young student was given his fathers first name as a family name, e.g., Luke John, as then his traditional heritage became obscured.

There were local names for the places where Hagen City is now located. Palimrui, Kimininga, Kala, Kumkala, Debra, Gormis, were all local names.

The name Hagen itself is from Germany. However at least in Hagen town, if I remember correctly, many of the streets are named after early Local Government councillors, e.g., Kuri St, Moka St. Kuminga Rd, Pena Plc. etc.

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.)