Heritage & culture Feed

Praying to ‘Gote’ at a time of coronavirus

Daniel in Manus
Author Daniel Kumbon in Manus before his failed attempt to return to his family in Wabag. He is now in Port Moresby


PORT MORESBY - The woman next door continues to pray day and night pleading with God to take this pestilence away from Papua New Guinea because the people are innocent, they did nothing to bring the virus into the country.

Alone in her house, she prays and sings worship songs in both Tok Pisin and the Enga language.

Continue reading "Praying to ‘Gote’ at a time of coronavirus" »

The hind foot competition

The Peië grasshopper

| Transcribed by Emily Bina

KOTIYUFA VILLAGE 2013 - Gholou-e valley, before human beings arrived, was occupied by two tribes of grasshoppers. One was the dull brown coloured Ganu tribe. The other was the multi-coloured Peië.

During the dry season, as leaves of plants matured and died, the food source for grasshoppers would diminish. As the dry season got longer, the competition for good green leaves to eat became intense.

Continue reading "The hind foot competition" »

Death of the ‘bosboi’

Paul Kiap Kurai sitting as his father(centre) towers over him  after Form 4 examinations in 1975
Cr Paul Kiap Kurai (sitting) as a schoolboy in 1975, his father, Joseph (Bosboi) Kurai towering over him


WABAG – That night in Wapenamanda, Mathew Kandamaine had a strange dream in which he saw his father, Joseph Kurai Tapus, come to his house and ask for a single K5 note so he could attend a party in heaven specially prepared for him.

Early next morning, Mathew woke with a start. He was glad the dream wasn’t real. But he had a sinking feeling, worrying it might turn out to be true.

He shared it with his wife, from Ialibu in the Southern Highlands.

As Mathew and his wife finished talking, they heard a car honk its horn several times from where it was parked on the highway near his home.

One of his brothers, Timothy, had driven their father down from Wabag. Mathew’s heart sank when he saw his father. But Joseph Kurai Tapus was his normal self.

Continue reading "Death of the ‘bosboi’" »

Our special green axes

Traditional green axes by Simeon Nikints (Peter Kinjap)
Traditional green axes by Simeon Nikints (Peter Kinjap)


PORT MORESBY – For thousands of years before the first Australian patrol reached Mt Hagen in 1933, stones axes (known as ‘green axes’) were used daily in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, and were widely traded often in the context of ceremonial exchanges.

In more recent times, a group of ‘factories’ located in the Waghi and Jimi Valleys accounted for the bulk of production of green axes.

Continue reading "Our special green axes" »

The story of Joseph, once Kurai

Lutheran Church pastor Ango Panao with his son and grandson
Lutheran Church pastor Ango Panao with his son and grandson


WABAG – “Call me Joseph. I am not Kurai anymore,” Joseph Kurai Tapus said to his friends, associates - and anybody he met - soon after Fr Peter Granegger SVD baptised him at Sari Catholic Mission on 8 April, 1977.

Not many Christian converts are known to have done that, but Kurai made public announcements of his conversion and subsequent name change.

Continue reading "The story of Joseph, once Kurai" »

Kurai Tapus: Tribal war refugee

Daniel Kumbon with Paul Kurai
Daniel Kumbon with Paul Kurai at the Lian Border overlooking the Waghi valley covered in Kandep's morning cloud


WABAG - In a recent article, I wrote how Pingeta’s daughter, Tukim, sang a victory song in a lonely pulim anda (birth house) at Kaiap village in Wabag, Enga Province, to celebrate the birth of her firstborn son in 1946.

Tukim celebrated but some words she used were carefully selected to mortify her husband Kurai’s relatives, who had openly declared her unfit to be first his wife.

Continue reading "Kurai Tapus: Tribal war refugee" »

Warlords enter 2020 striving for peace

A faction arrives for the peace ceremony
A faction of warlords and fighter arrives for the peace ceremony


PORT MORESBY – People using the Okuk highway that ploughs through the New Guinea highlands know only too well the frequent tribal skirmishes that have caused fear to the travelling public this past 20 years.

The fighting has erupted violently and unpredictably at Ganigle in the Kerowagi district of the Simbu Province.

Continue reading "Warlords enter 2020 striving for peace" »

The view from down here

Philip Kai Morre
Philip Kai Morre - "Culture is meant for change and we are in a global village adapting to new ways of doing things"


KUNDIAWA - As a son of a Stone Age man, and having experienced the beauty of cultural heritage, I tried to hold back in my naturalistic fallacy of retaining good cultural values, norms and a belief system in the traditional mode. But conditions did not, and do not, allow.

So I go with the current cultural, economic, political and ideological changes and embrace modern science and technology.

Continue reading "The view from down here" »

Sex, yams and cricket

| New Zealand Herald

AUCKLAND - If the Trobriand Islanders were allowed to take part in the 2019 Cricket World Cup, they would have caused quite a stir, surpassing the razzmatazz of the modern game.

From the boundary at Yalumgwa's cricket ground I'm watching a violent tribal encounter at the crease without the slightest hint of sportsmanship.

Continue reading "Sex, yams and cricket" »

Pingeta’s daughter & bigman Kurai Tapus

Kumbon - Wigged villager  Wabag patrol post  when Kurai Tapus was a bosboi (Fryer Library UQ)
Wigged villager at Wabag patrol post when Kurai Tapus was a bosboi (Fryer Library, University of Queensland)


WABAG - Her voice was like the sound of angels singing joyous melodies in the starlit Bethlehem night in celebration of the birth of Jesus in a manger on that first Christmas Day.

In January 1946, in a very different place, a similar earthly celebration took place in a lonely pulim anda (birth house) among the casuarina trees at Kaiap village, where a young mother sang a victory song when her son was born.

Continue reading "Pingeta’s daughter & bigman Kurai Tapus" »

Those POM suburb names

Hotel moresbyGOBI DON GUREKI
| Skerah PNG

PORT MORESBY - Unlike the street in Port Moresby's central business district, named after many prominent people of the colonial era, the suburbs have more local and traditional names.

The Koitabuans along with Motuans are the traditional landowners of Port Moresby, the Koitabuans hunters while the Motuans were more associated with the sea.

Continue reading "Those POM suburb names" »

Dear James Marape, we writers await you

Betty Daniel and Caroline
Betty Wakia, Daniel Kumbon and Caroline Evari in Port Moresby writing the letter to prime minister James Marape


PORT MORESBY –If anybody close to the prime minister reads this, and if you think it’s as important as we do, please mention it to James Marape.

Please tell him that a letter on behalf of Papua New Guinea’s writers, editors and publishers sits waiting in his office.

The letter is from three writers who represent many hundreds of our authors, poets, essayists and other writers.

We are Caroline Evari, Betty Wakia and me, Daniel Kumbon.

Continue reading "Dear James Marape, we writers await you" »

It was truly a night to remember

Kumbon - 2 of Lisa Arut's designs
Models showcase two of Lisa Arut's original designs at the PNG Fashion Week grand finale


PORT MORESBY – “Last night’s Papua New Guinea fashion week extravaganza was mind boggling.

“It was a night of cultural renaissance, an awakening of another kind. Fashion has never been my forte but last night was a night to remember.”

These are the words I entered in my diary last Sunday morning after attending the memorable fashion week grand finale, named appropriately ‘The Awakening the Night Before’.

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50,000 years of culture & heritage

It is believed that the Lapita people, who inhabited PNG for perhaps 2,000 years before moving on, were great navigators.

| An entry in the Crocodile Prize

PORT MORESBY - Papua New Guinea is blessed with a diverse culture and heritage. But where do these amazing cultural values and behaviours come from? How did they originate and evolve? Not much is known about the prehistory of PNG.

Written records go back to the 1500s when Portuguese sailors named the island Ilhas dos Papuas, the land of the fuzzy-haired men.

Continue reading "50,000 years of culture & heritage" »

Bride price needs re-examination

Negotiating bride price on Bougainville
Negotiating bride price on Bougainville


PANGUNA - Indigenous Bougainvillean wealth was different from what we practice in this era where Westernisation has so disrupted and polarised our societies.

In that context, the three ‘G’s colonisation presented us - God, Gold and Glory - need better alignment with the traditional culture of bride price we still practice.

Continue reading "Bride price needs re-examination" »

Sharing culture with foreign friends

Kumbon - PNG flag in NYC
“Nothing makes me happier than to lift up the glorious flag of a thousand tribes here in the heart of New York City"


WABAG - My mind was blown away to see the young man display the Papua New Guinea flag on Times Square in New York City during recent independence day celebrations.

The choice words he used to express his genuine love for this country truly touched my heart. And he was a foreign national.

Continue reading "Sharing culture with foreign friends" »

The unearthing of 10,000 years of agriculture

Jack Golson (second left) and Philip Hughes (second right) with workmen from Kuk village  1974
Jack Golson (second left) and Philip Hughes (second right) with workmen from Kuk village, 1974

| An entry in the Crocodile Prize

PORT MORESBY - The history of agriculture in Papua New Guinea goes back about 10,000 years, with the country recognised as one of the global birthplaces of plant domestication.

The Kuk swamp in the Waghi valley of the Western Highlands has provided archaeological evidence of the agricultural practises of the people of that time, who probably first occupied the region 50,000 years ago.

Continue reading "The unearthing of 10,000 years of agriculture" »

Lessons learned from my mother & my culture

The cultural mandate of the hausman - the elders must instruct young men to learn wisdom and work hard

| An entry in the Crocodile Prize

SONOMA - My mother was my first life coach, teaching me the importance of work for personal success and thriving in a competitive world.

She emphasised the importance of working hard, but I was young, restless and naïve - not ready to listen and pay attention. In one ear and out the other.

Continue reading "Lessons learned from my mother & my culture" »

Hela: Will the people avenge Big Pig LNG?

Prized big pig in the main street of Tari (Albert Tagua)
Prized big pig in the main street of Tari (Albert Tagua)

| An entry in the Crocodile Prize

SONOMA – The highlands province of Hela is host to a multi-billion dollar liquefied natural gas project. But operating alongside the wonders of modern technology is a culture full of rich tradition and custom.

Hela functions on the patrilineal system, where the man owns everything: the land, the pigs and he is the heir of the father’s riches, knowledge of the sacred rites and traditional history.

Continue reading "Hela: Will the people avenge Big Pig LNG?" »

Lady in mourning captivates me at the Enga show

Kumbon - Engan woman in mourning
"The mourning woman brought back vivid memories of my own mother dressed exactly the same when my baby brother, Nuamb, died nearly 60 years ago"


WABAG – It’s too easy to forget and slowly lose some of Papua New Guinea’s authentic traditional practices.

This realisation came to me at the recent 25th Enga Cultural Show as I stood intrigued by a lady covered from head to foot in white clay who was sitting with four other women in a booth at the far end of the showground.

She was wearing many white necklaces made with ripe seeds - or Jobs Tears - harvested from a plant called waku that grows wild in old abandoned gardens.

Continue reading "Lady in mourning captivates me at the Enga show" »

Remarkable ‘Melanesians’ found in Malaysia jungle

Batek Melanesian people of Malaysia (Dr Patrick Pikacha)
The Batek people of the Malaysian hinterland  who bear a striking resemblance to the people of Melanesia (Dr Patrick Pikacha)


DUBLIN, IRELAND - Earlier this year, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation published an article by Caroline Tiriman in Tok Pisin entitled, ‘Ol Melanesian Pipal blong Asia ['The Melanesian People of Asia'].

I was struck by the resemblance of the Batek people of Malaysia pictured in the article to the Melanesian people we know in Papua New Guinea and nearby countries in the Pacific.

Continue reading "Remarkable ‘Melanesians’ found in Malaysia jungle" »

The real people of Papua New Guinea


TUMBY BAY - There are many good people in Papua New Guinea. We often hear their stories on PNG Attitude. They are a welcome respite from all the doom and gloom that otherwise reaches our ears.

Papua New Guinea is a Melanesian society that is founded on the concept of community, as opposed to the concept of the individual, and one shouldn’t be surprised by these stories.

These good people exist in most communities. They are working quietly and without any expectation of reward in all sorts of ways and in a huge variety of different fields.

Teachers work in remote communities without resources and sometimes even without a salary. Aid Post orderlies and health clinic workers toil under similar conditions in many areas.

Sometimes we forget about all these good people and concentrate too much on what we hear is wrong with Papua New Guinea.

Continue reading "The real people of Papua New Guinea" »

Enga - where, without history, people are not people

A gourd used to store tree oil
An Enga gourd used to store tree oil


WABAG - Enga is the only province where a rich cultural history is taught in all schools to help students draw knowledge and wisdom from past traditions and apply them in their lives.

In 2017, American ambassador to Papua New Guinea, Catherine Ebert-Gray, launched two important text books now used in a pilot project across Grade 6-12 in the province.

One of the books, ‘Enga Culture & Community, Wisdom from the Past’, is an ethnography that provides an overview of Enga culture including stories, songs, poems, kongali (words of wisdom), nemongo (magic formulae), drawings and early photographs.

The second book, ‘Teachers Guild for the Enga Cultural Education Pilot Program’, provides recommendations, questions and activities to help teachers integrate material into the curriculum for Grade 6–12 subjects.

The two books are the result of 30 years hard work, research and study on Enga culture by Professor Polly Wiessner, Akii Tumu and Nitze Pupu.

The pilot project is the first major attempt in PNG to teach the rich and fascinating oral traditions that have been passed down from elders to youths over so many generations.

Continue reading "Enga - where, without history, people are not people" »

Women’s road to parliament can start with 50% of the bureaucracy

Tanya Zeriga-Alone
Tanya Zeriga Alone - "Hard to change men stuck in a culture that dictates women have no space in decision-making"


PORT MORESBY - It was just 80 years ago that the hausman [men’s house] ruled.

Some of those men have just transitioned from the village hausman to the national hausman, also known as our parliament.

In Papua New Guinea’s paternalistic society, no woman sits in the hausman with the men.

This current generation of women is just one generation removed from PNG’s cultural past, and women in this age and time are still bound to the cultural roles of women, no matter how educated they are.

It is hard to fix culturally indoctrinated women and men. The present push to get women into parliament has never worked in the past – it is hard to liberate women who still live beneath the shadows of a culture of deferral to men.

It is hard to change men who are still stuck in a culture that dictates that women have no space in decision-making.

Our hope for change is in the next generation. Our hope rests on our girls and boys.

Continue reading "Women’s road to parliament can start with 50% of the bureaucracy" »

Writers of PNG - Now is the time to look your govt in the eye


TUMBY BAY - Perhaps the time has come for the writers of Papua New Guinea – authors, journalists, poets, commentators and others including publishers and illustrators - to look your government in the eye and make a statement.

Perhaps it is time to petition prime minister James Marape and other ministers and seek the government’s support for an authentic and home-grown Papua New Guinean literature - a literature that will help turbo-charge the serious nation-building task that lies ahead.

I propose here a draft form of words that can be sent to Mr Marape, together with the names of all the writers and readers who believe that PNG literature needs more than a thumbs up, it needs real practical support.

Continue reading "Writers of PNG - Now is the time to look your govt in the eye" »

Amazing Moresby: more attractions than you dreamed of

POM - National Parliament House Waigani
The Haus Tambaran - PNG's national parliament house


PORT MORESBY – National Capital District governor Powes Parkop has branding Papua New Guinea’s capital as ‘Amazing Port Moresby’.

It’s his contention that this city goes far beyond just being another big town in the Pacific.

And it’s true, when you look around the city you’ll notice many of the modern buildings have been inspired by traditional totems.

People who appreciate architecture will rejoice in some of Port Moresby’s iconic buildings which boast innovative design and impressive mosaic facades. The striking national parliament is one such.

Built in Haus Tambaran [spirit house] style, the towering mosaic façade depicting Papua New Guinean motifs. Inspired by the traditional sacred houses of the Maprik region of East Sepik Province, the rocket-shaped roof pointing to the sky gives the building a futuristic look.

Continue reading "Amazing Moresby: more attractions than you dreamed of" »

Some advice on getting married young – don’t do it


PORT MORESBY - Family relationships is a hot topic. It bothers me. In the workplace and at home, I frequently think and talk about marriage and family life.

Even at public bus stops and shopping centres or while travelling, I’m always bothered. Honestly, I’m suppressed by thinking too hard on this issue.

This dilemma started after I got married in 2008. In my young life, I did not experience this phenomenon.

All I thought about, talked about and did was dream, wishing I could find out what best the world could offer me.

Sometimes I’d dream I was in a graduation hall receiving double degrees. At other times that I was a mechanical engineer or aircraft engineer. Or maybe in the hangar fixing aircraft engines.

Continue reading "Some advice on getting married young – don’t do it" »

‘Nuba Towa’: Death & compensation on Fergusson Island


PORT MORESBY - When the conch shell was blown to announce my grandfather’s death in 2015, everyone in Lyaupolo village stopped what they were doing and returned to the village to mourn.

All day and night, friends, relatives and church members from other villages arrived on foot and by canoe and dinghy to mourn for my grandfather.

Some of them expressed their grief by chopping down several betel nut, coconut and breadfruit trees that grandfather had planted.

One of my uncles wrote down the names of all the mourners. In the past, before formal education, when my ancestors had no knowledge about pen or paper, they would memorise every mourner for the nuba towa (‘sitting in the cold’), it being a customary obligation to compensate everyone who leaves the comfort of their homes to mourn for a deceased family member.

Continue reading "‘Nuba Towa’: Death & compensation on Fergusson Island" »

Karkar Island bilum festival strives to maintain cultural values

Students parade with bilums
Karkar Island students parade with bilums


PORT MORESBY - With all the hype of tourism as a sleeping giant for Papua New Guinea economic prosperity, the community-based cultural festivals throughout the country remain a major asset.

In a recent statement, tourism, arts and culture minister Emil Tammur said a policy submission to the parliament is pending for the national government to fund major cultural events, shows and festivals throughout the country.

“Maintaining and promoting cultural events and festivals is not only important for tourism but also for our identify as a unique and culturally-diverse national in the world,” Mr Tammur said.

Continue reading "Karkar Island bilum festival strives to maintain cultural values" »

The Chambri tribe of the Sepik - where gender roles are flexible

Crocodile scarification
Crocodile scarification is an age-old initiation ritual practised by the Chambri people

CHISOM NJOKU | The Guardian

LONDON - The Chambri people of Papua New Guinea are located in the Chambri lakes area of the middle Sepik River.

There are three Chambri villages: Indingai, Wombun, and Kilimbit. Together these communities contain only a few thousand people.

When the Chambri first came together, though isolated, they located communities close together so as to make it possible for cultural interaction and growth.

The Chambri people are more relaxed with gender roles as both their men and women fully engage in business and economic activities.

Chambri women are responsible for fishing which is the community’s major occupation and fish-for-sago barter markets are still regularly held in the Sepik Hills between Chambri and Sepik Hills women.

Continue reading "The Chambri tribe of the Sepik - where gender roles are flexible" »

Land, culture & the limitations of western interpretation

Angry locals  gold mine (Jethro Tulin)
In 2013, angry people massed in their thousands at Porgera, forcing the gold and silver mine to curtail operations. One man was killed (Jethro Tulin)


TUMBY BAY - One of the inherent problems of western-based disciplines like anthropology, sociology, politics and history is that they tend to interpret concepts and practises in terms of their own societies and experiences.

Further than this, they have become the dominant arbiter when it comes to such interpretations.  Even non-western practitioners seem to default to western concepts as a matter of course.

And when a serious attempt is made to interpret something in a neutral way, western ideas interfere and inevitably colour the result.

If you add the western proclivity to render as much as possible into black and white rather than hues of grey the result gets even worse.

There is an argument that, because of the academic strength and reach of its canon, a western interpretation is the best way outsiders can understand what happens in non-western societies.

Continue reading "Land, culture & the limitations of western interpretation" »

Hiri Moale Festival pays tribute to a great seafaring tradition

Hiri Moale - celebrates culture of Motu Koitabu people (Kinjap)
Hiri Moale is an annual celebration of the culture of the Motu Koitabu people


PORT MORESBY - In many parts of Papua New Guinea, tribal boundaries and customs remain barriers for the progress the country desperately seeks.

A traditional fear of enemies still imprisons many people from pursuing progressive outcomes.

But the Hiri Moale Festival breaks down obstacles that hold back PNG from becoming a prosperous and respected nation.

The success of the Hiri trade was based on the Motuan tradition of daring to explore the unknown for the collective benefit of the people.

And in September each year, amongst the many cultural events coinciding with PNG’s independence celebrations, is the Hiri Moale Festival and the Hiri Hanenamo beauty contest.

Continue reading "Hiri Moale Festival pays tribute to a great seafaring tradition" »

From back then: Historic PNG film footage uncovered


NEWCASTLE - I have had all my old New Guinea films, shot in the early 1960s, expertly digitised by the Australian Film and Sound archives.

I am now editing them, adding captions and putting them, about five or six minutes at a time, on my Facebook page.

Here are two shorter clips of several films taken in Papua New Guinea from 1961 to 1963. Part of my job at the Australian School of Pacific Administration in Sydney was to take students to PNG for practice teaching experience.

Continue reading "From back then: Historic PNG film footage uncovered" »

Kundu & Digaso festival is restored after quake disaster

Kinjap - Kutubu women nearing Daga village on canoe (Pekinjap)
Kutubu women nearing Daga village by canoe (Peter Kinjap)


PORT MORESBY – In February 2018, Daga village located in the midst of tropical forest near Lake Kutubu in the Southern Highlands, was the scene of a devastating earthquake.

The quake was a disaster for more than 40 villages, claiming many lives, destroying houses and food gardens and displacing hundreds of people.

The remote Daga village was unknown to the outside world until nine years ago when it hosted a traditional party known as the Kutubu Kundu and Digaso Festival.

The event is hosted at the centre of Daga village, which lost its traditional Kutubu long house, to the shocking earthquake. Buildings surrounding the outdoor area where the festival takes place were also damaged.

Continue reading "Kundu & Digaso festival is restored after quake disaster" »

Two cows and a pig & the proportionality of status

A pig
The minister's pig: Was it gift enough or should it have been a horse?


VERONA - It is no secret that university governance in Papua New Guinea has been completely politicised.

Rules are not respected and there is no transparency or accountability.

Now it seems all this has been thrown out of the window, and traditional justice practices are being used to resolve university governance issues.

As a foreigner, even after having mastered the relevant anthropological literature, I found it hard to understand how wonderful customary justice principles based on restoration of social harmony, reciprocity and proportionality worked out in practice.

Continue reading "Two cows and a pig & the proportionality of status" »

Enga’s annual show highlights people, tradition & identity

Kinjap - Sili Muli girls prepare for the show
Sili Muli dancers prepare for the Enga show


PORT MORESBY - We can safely say there is enough evidence for us to know that more than 25,000 years ago the Melanesian people crossed land bridges from Indochina to inhabit what we refer to as Papua New Guinea.

When Engan son and prolific writer Daniel Kumbon paused at the display of Engan artefacts at the African American Cultural Centre in Dayton, United States, he addressed black Americans with the words:

“Like some of you, we too are black. Like you, our roots are rich and deep. We are your distant cousins, sharing a common African heritage but now scattered in different parts of the world.”

“Maybe black Americans have appreciated the [Engan] display more than others,” said Dr Paul Brennan, the American anthropologist, when he saw the love and admiration of his culture on Daniel’s face.

Continue reading "Enga’s annual show highlights people, tradition & identity" »

Australian multiculturalism: Is there a salient lesson for PNG?

Sing-sing-papua-new-guinea (Pinterest)
A united and multicultural PNG will require eliminating top level corruption and a fair approach to sharing resources


TUMBY BAY - I first became aware of the idea of multiculturalism in the late 1970s when South Vietnamese boat people began to arrive in Australia.

At that time, and probably because of Australia’s ill-fated involvement in the Vietnam War, the government under Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser actually welcomed boat people and refugees.

Those that arrived on our shores brought horrific stories of the perils of their escape from Vietnam, including pillaging and rape by pirates on the high seas. Many Australian hearts went out to these people and they were given much assistance to relocate here.

In South Australia many of them settled on the northern Adelaide Plains where they engaged in market gardening alongside the Italian and Greek migrants who had come here after the horrors of World War II.

Today South Australia’s governor, Hieu Van Le, is Vietnamese as are many professional people like doctors and lawyers. Vietnamese Australians act and sound just like any other Australian and through intermarriage have greatly enhanced the national gene pool.

The arrival of Vietnamese refugees probably heralded the start of Australia’s embrace of multiculturalism. Over subsequent years people from many different parts of the world came here to live and we developed into a happy polyglot society.

There are still hangovers from the old days of the White Australia Policy but thankfully its adherents are in the minority.

Continue reading "Australian multiculturalism: Is there a salient lesson for PNG?" »

Wisdom from the village: Thoughts from the hausman

The hausman
The hausman (men's house) - traditional seat of learning


SEATTLE - We had an uncle named Etepe. He was a bachelor and commanded respect from nearly everyone, including our neighbouring tribe members.

Among his attributes were his fighting skills and the display of some wisdom.

During tribal fights, his ability for long-distance accuracy in hitting his targets with bow and arrows kept many of the opposing tribes at bay.

When we built a house, certain critical phases - especially placing the beam on the ridge that that ran the length of the roof – were put on hold until his approval.

One of his behaviours I found peculiar was his incredible ability to take action that was entirely opposite to his emotion. For instance, he would carry a very heavy load of firewood, that weighed more than his body weight.

Continue reading "Wisdom from the village: Thoughts from the hausman" »

Revisiting the PNG LNG project landowner problem

Colin Filer
Colin Filer

COLIN FILER | DevPolicy Blog

CANBERRA - On 25 January this year, Papua New Guinea’s Post-Courier newspaper reported that the national court had just overturned a decision made by a provincial land court magistrate in 2006.

The decision in question was meant to resolve a dispute between two members of a Huli clan about the ownership of land in the Moran petroleum development licence area, which is one of eight licence areas that now form part of the PNG Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project.

But it seems that the magistrate ‘mistakenly’ granted one of the disputing parties rights to land in an adjoining licence area that belonged to a Fasu clan, and this had led to unlawful encroachment by members of the Huli tribe, onto land that rightfully belonged to members of the Fasu tribe.

Continue reading "Revisiting the PNG LNG project landowner problem " »

The end of the benign Papua New Guinean 'Big Man'

Big_manPAUL OATES with a comment from Phil Fitzpatrick

GOLD COAST - Traditional Melanesian custom required the accumulation of wealth and influence to be a notional practice - referred to as ‘social capital’ to differentiate it from capital measured in terms of money. 

This is because traditional wealth in Papua New Guinea was often measured in highly perishable items like food and animals.

In a tropical climate, with no means of preserving food, it had to be given away, creating recognised wealth in terms of obligation to the giver by the receiver. This wealth became measurable.

Giving away food animals was also important since there was a limit of how much fodder could be grown in most villages to feed a large number of food animals. By giving the animal away, this relieved the original owner of the need to continue to feed the animal while creating an obligation.

The benefit of sharing resources in small communities also helped create cohesion and the survivability of the whole community.

Continue reading "The end of the benign Papua New Guinean 'Big Man'" »

A fine project to preserve the fine art of Motu pottery

Mother-and-daughter-making-pots-hanuabada-1920s (Australian Ceramics Association)
Mother and daughter making pots, Hanuabada, 1920s (Australian Ceramics Association)

TOMÁS DIETZ | Project Gida

CANBERRA - Project Gida [pronounced GHEE-da] is the umbrella name for activities designed to protect and invigorate fading Motuan traditions.

‘Gida’ is the Motu word for 'embers’ - remnants of a fire.  This name was chosen to signal the idea that the embers of Motu culture can be either left to die to cold ashes or fanned back into flame.

As one activity towards retaining these cultural traditions, I am starting an experimental pottery group in Canberra to teach Motu pottery techniques. It will include Canberrans who share a fascination for this ancient tradition.

This group will experiment with the techniques of Motu pottery-making that I acquired in Gida's pilot visit to Boera village.

The point is to gain a practical understanding of Motu pottery construction and will thus make a huge difference in the future when I implement revival programs in the Motu villages.

Continue reading "A fine project to preserve the fine art of Motu pottery" »

Nearly 60 years ago we attended the famed Chimbu pig kill

Craig - Pikinini bilasDAVID CRAIG

KUNDIAWA - In 1961, when I was head teacher at Gon Primary T School on the edge of Kundiawa, I was privileged to be allowed to attend a ‘bugla inngu’ pig killing festival.

The ceremonial pig killing was held at the village of Pari on the slopes adjacent to Kundiawa.  The talk had gone out into the surrounding villages that it was Pari’s turn to celebrate. 

We heard the message at school and wondered what implications it had for us.  We soon learned that the school children were expected to be there.  I made enquiries to district education head office in Goroka whether we could declare a school holiday but was told no.

Further discussions took place and I explained that, if I said no, the students would go anyway and it would be impossible to discipline them, even if I wanted to.  Eventually permission was granted.

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Polygamy has become a destructive force in PNG

Tribal chief with wivesPHILIP KAI MORRE

KUNDIAWA - Polygamy was relevant to traditional societies in Papua New Guinea, especially in the highlands, as part of a patrilineal tradition passed from generation to generation as a means of gaining wealth, prestige and social mobility.

It was also recognised that marrying multiple wives would also increase the labour force to ensure enough pigs were raised and enough gardens were established to maintain the status of the husband and the clan.

Sometimes when the first wife bore no child, the man found a new wife to bear children, especially male children, to increase the male population who could defend the clan and its land from enemies.

The extra wife or wives could be young women, divorcees or widows.

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The making of a bilum (and why not to buy fakes)

Bilum weavingPETER KRANZ

MORRISET – Krungutim lain (twisting rope) is not a lost art. You have to twist the wool to make it stronger and reduce stretch. It’s also the world’s sexiest craft.

Cuban cigars used to be advertised with the catchline that they were 'rolled on the thighs of dusky maidens'. Well the same is true of traditional PNG bilums [strong bags].

And as the proud partner of a dusky maiden, I believe I have the right to reveal a few trade secrets.

When you have your rope you have to get weaving. This involves umbrella spokes. If you don't have any old umbrellas, wheely-wheely spokes will do. Then you just need a pair of pliers to make a hook. Then thread your rope.

Now comes the clever part. In the western world, it’s called crochet or tatting, but PNG women need no fancy words to ply their trade.

You interweave colours and patterns to make a basic shape and weave up from that to make a bag.

Then you add handles and stitch it all together.

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The curse of territoriality: Human instincts & their consequences


ADELAIDE - As an enthusiastic amateur historian, I spend far too much time puzzling over why human history has worked out the way it has. Usually, the facts are not in dispute: it is their interpretation and meaning that creates problems.

Many historic events seem to defy an agreed explanation amongst historians because so many personal, cultural, social, economic, geographic and other factors have interacted to shape and drive those events in particular directions.

Even worse, just when broad agreement is reached, it is often the case that new facts emerge that tend to confound or at least call into doubt the agreed interpretation of events. Just ask any paleontologist or archaeologist if you think this is not a problem.

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