IS POLYGAMY TO BLAME for some of Papua New Guinea’s social ills, or is it that some men treat women like property? And, if so, who are the guilty parties?
I recently visited some good friends - an Australian man and a PNG highlands wife - who have been happily married for around 30 years.
The wife had an interesting story to tell.
She was alone and friendless, having been rejected by her family, and was wandering the streets of Port Moresby at risk of falling into a life of degradation when (being an attractive young girl) she was befriended by an expatriate Australian
He became infatuated and asked her to join him in Australia. He left PNG and, after three abortive contacts by the girl, he eventually provided references for a visa and the wherewithal to come to Australia.
So she made the big step of travelling to Australia and met her husband to be.
But he had changed his mind – perhaps because of racism or the embarrassment of having a black wife - and told her she should find another man to marry and he would happily “hand her over”.
She had the great fortune to meet a good man, and was duly 'handed over'.
This story has a good ending as the two married, have three lovely kids and are still living in a blessed relationship in Australia.
What irritates me, though, is that the expat she first met thought he could get rid of his obligations by palming her off to another man, like an unwanted second hand car.
There are many like stories of PNG women in Australia, some with much sadder endings. The stories should be told.
So who can criticise polygamy in PNG with good conscience when Australians have treated Papua New Guinean women like this?
The reason I relate that story about our friend is that is closely mirrors my wife, Rose’s, experience.
Some years before we met, Rose was befriended by an Australian expat, who took her in as a haus meri, 'gud taim girl' and babysitter. Rose looked after and loved his two kids for three years.
He regaled her with promises that he would take her to Australia to become his wife. But then his contract expired and he left PNG with his kids.
That was the last she ever heard from him - except to find out later that he already had a wife and family in Brisbane.
She has had no contact or knowledge of the children she learned to love and helped bring up. But she still has their photos and remembers them fondly to this day.
I have heard many similar stories. Shameful.