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Melanesian beauty is now ashes in our mouth


TUMBY BAY - If you speak to any of the diminishing band of old kiaps they will probably tell you that Papua New Guinea changed their lives.

In most cases they will put a positive spin on the nature of the change and tell you that being there opened their eyes to a whole new concept of society and what it meant.

However, not all could see what they were looking at.

The change had more to do with how they perceived themselves, how it opened up opportunities they might not otherwise have had and how it positively altered their fortunes.

I was thinking about this during all the razzmatazz surrounding the coronation of King Charles and the issues it raises about equity, opportunity and class.

I won’t deny that my own experience of Papua New Guinea opened up opportunities I might not otherwise have had.

But at a deeper level it was the direct engagement with Melanesian society that was the most profound element of the experience.

That observation has never faded in my mind, and indeed has come into even sharper focus over the last few years.

The striking thing about Melanesian society as it existed back then was the sense of community and sharing.

No-one was above anyone else and loyalty was to the greater good of the community rather than to any one individual.

That was the overriding theme but, like any concept, there were a few aberrations. Nothing is ever perfect. But, that said, the aberrations were few and far between.

That sense of community now stands in stark contrast to how society works today, particularly in the developed world where neo-liberalism has had its way.

Neo-liberalism has profoundly shifted the onus on to the individual not the community, and in the process has brutalised the poor, the innocent and the underprivileged.

Many of us have observed this pernicious system slowly taking root in PNG. It is a highly disturbing experience.

Nowadays, the sight of an obese and sweaty Papua New Guinean politician or shifty-eyed would be entrepreneur creates a feeling akin to nausea.

Having seen something innately good and life-changing trampled and trashed is an unpleasant feeling at the best of times.

When that something has contributed to how you styled your life, treated those around you and inculcated its values in your children, the loss is deeply profound.

It turns that life-changing experience on its head and replaces it with something altogether unpleasant.

That nastiness then evolves into a deep cynicism and a sense of fatality and hopelessness.

I write not only of Papua New Guinea but of society at large.

As the years go by, any thin hope that the old Melanesian spirit of community will reassert itself grows dimmer and dimmer.

What happened reminds me of something US president John F Kennedy said in a different context during the Cuban missile crisis – “….even the fruits of victory would be ashes in our mouth”.

For Papua New Guinea and all those now very old kiaps and others who worked so hard for it to succeed, what PNG has become indeed feels like ashes in our mouth.


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Lindsay F Bond

Don't take it too hard, Phil. If not you, then it would have been another person, even another nationality, even other persons as (what we now see brandished) racially identifiable.

Yet the thrust of your contention is worth reflection.

And again today, is a pervading threat of nuclear engagement.

Trade stores in villages were attempts at participation, though with stock on shelves being accessed out of back doors, the model of participation was at risk.

Milking the many by enriching the few (relatives who were) enterprising, was an assault on hitherto values of Indigenous societies and only likely to have success when implemented by business entrepreneurs who had no intention of those traditional values.

While tears may be seen, some tears too are of mirth at knowing you might be 'on the money' at appealing to readers about some 'aspects of optics' of persons potentially perniciously (but unfortunately not so easily categorized) in trade at retail and wholesale.

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