SIL BOLKIN’S RECENT VIVID article on the ‘one-day millionaires’ captured what is happening on the streets of Kundiawa, and probably other places in and around Papua New Guinea.
Slang like lida (leader) or ‘daddy boss’ are used excessively by two-faced people to boost the ego of the gullible one-day millionaires.
These displaced people are streetwise and analytical, selecting carefully who they pick to romance into feeding their need for alcohol.
They know who consumes alcohol and who does not, scanning their targets carefully before moving in for the con.
These people are like the Nigerian scam artists who say they are so and so and their partner or parent died and left a great amount of money in a bank in Bukina Fasso. They need someone to help them financially to get the money, promising a large share when the funds are released.
An episode of 60 Minutes showed how young Nigerian men based in Malaysia and other Asian countries were using the internet, especially online dating sites, to scam people. They pretended to be middle aged Australian men and targeted middle aged divorced women needing love and care. Using flattery they were able to solicit money from these unsuspecting women.
The art of conning and scamming is not new. For generations human beings have done it in different circumstances to survive and profit. The great philosopher Thomas Hobbes argued that men by nature are brutish and it is in our nature to lie, steal, kill and destroy.
In PNG, the concept of credibility is not really important. People are prepared to tell a blatant lie to look good or get away with things.
People are expert at twisting the truth and reports about an event or a problem can be very different. The need to make themselves look good or advantage them compels them to lie.
In the case of Sil’s ‘lazy buggers’ they lie with the aim of getting money or goods like beer from the one- day millionaires.
Since their victims are educated individuals with well-developed egos, the ‘lazy buggers’ know how to stroke them. Having little or no education is not a barrier because they operate on guile. They know what to say to psyche up these individuals.
Are these behaviours caused by the changes that were brought by the West? I have a slightly different view of colonialism. When I first started reading history, I disagreed with how the Western world absorbed ideas from different civilisations, especially Islamic and Chinese, to initiate a mental revolution during the renaissance leading to the enlightenment and the industrial revolution.
I realised that the whole process was unavoidable and would have happened to any civilisation. I was also enlightened by the fact that it had happened previously - in the case of the Ottoman Empire and other notable empires that rose and fell before the European colonial era.
When digging into my own origins, I came to realise that I am a by-product of colonialism. Thanks to the European powers, my grandfather was able to leave his native Sepik to travel all over the country and end up with the kiaps in inner PNG, known as the highlands region.
I also came to the realisation that, even if the Europeans had not come, eventually the isolated pre-colonial societies would have developed and changed.
Like what happened all over the world, individuals on top of the leadership hierarchy, like the paramount chiefs or big men, would have seen their own society as superior, motivating them to advocate ideas of cultural and economic domination of weaker and inferior cultural groups leading to conflict.
According to John Waiko, the Maliuans are an example of this phenomenon. Their superior skills in canoe building and fighting aided them in their quest to dominate surrounding groups of people along the Papuan coast. They were able to establish a kind of tributary system until the Spaniards came and challenged their dominance.
If the coming of Europeans was delayed for another 100 years, pre-colonial societies would have undergone major changes anyway because of factors like population growth, intermarriage, trade and so on.
The Simbu hausman tradition would have been replaced by a different traditional practice native to a powerful tribe from the Goroka area. The Western Highlands pig killing ceremony known as Moka would have been replaced by a cultural practice native to a powerful Engan tribe who rose to power because of the superior fighting skills of both men and women.
The Bible, the greatest book of all and the most widely read book ever, tells us a good story about how God did not want the Hebrews to mix with the other cultural groups that inhabited the promise land.
However, that was not the case; the Hebrews over time through intermarriage were able to absorb the cultures of surrounding groups.
The Jews in the time of Daniel were taken to Babylon. The Babylonian empire under Nebuchadnezzar was at that period in time so powerful and was able to dominate all other surrounding groups of people. Most of the Jews prisoners were forced to worship Babylonian Gods similar to their experience in Egypt.
It is a pattern that has happened throughout the world and I am sure it would have happened within PNG either through cultural assimilation or cultural integration. The hausman tradition of Simbu that maintained order in traditional times would have disappeared as different societies evolved.
Michael Dom has commented that what is happening in PNG is not new but has happened all over the world. He said in the context of a poem, Culture is My Identity, written by Chris Kumie published in PNG Attitude.
True, pre-colonial PNG societies would have evolved in the same way other groups evolved all over the world from China to the Americas to Europe to the Middle East.
The logic of the relationship between the ‘lazy buggers’ and the ‘one day millionaires’ would have happened but in a different context. The weak and the gullible have, since the existence of men, been outmuscled and outwitted by the strong and the smart.
In my reflection of Sil Bolkin’s fascinating article, I believe that, with or without European colonialism, our cultural practices would have died a natural death due to the unavoidable forces of change.