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29 February 2016


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Appreciate your comments, Chris.

I think that Joe Herman has done a great job in talking about the persistence of an internal masta, at least for some Papua New Guineans.

I interpret this as an undue deference towards Caucasians, irrespective of their personal behaviour or merit.

Of course, this type of behaviour is neither new nor exclusive to Papua New Guinea.

In centuries gone by undue deference was given and expected by people who, by accident of birth, occupied a certain position in society or came from a certain social class.

In ancient Rome, the members of the ruling Patrician class wore togas marked with a broad purple stripe, with the next ranked Equestrian class sporting a gold citizens' ring. The lowest ranked Plebian class, if they wore a ring at all, had to wear one made of iron.

During the mediaeval period heaven help the serf or humble freeman who did not immediately recognise and defer to the nobility and their henchmen. Insults, a beating or worse could result, depending on the mood of the person whose pride had been offended.

In fact, for most of human history undue deference to those of higher rank was necessary, even when they behaved very badly or were obviously stupid.

Fast forward two millennia to modern Australia and deference based upon birth or social class or position has largely disappeared. Nevertheless, there is still undue deference given to many people who do not deserve it including radio "shock jocks", sports stars, celebrities of all kinds, certain religious figures and so on.

Many of us seem to recognise merit where none, or very little, actually exists.

I hope that Papua New Guineans will heed Joe's call and reject the inner masta once and for all.

By all means defer to those whose knowledge, expertise and wisdom clearly warrant it, but merely being a Caucasian is not evidence of any of these qualities and, conversely, being a Papua New Guinean does not mean that you do not or cannot possess them yourself.

In relation to Trevor Shelley's comments about the imminent demise of Neo-Melanesian Pidgin, I think that he is entirely wrong. The language is far too useful, adaptable and, sometimes, lyrical, to simply fade away.

I think that it will further evolve, co-existing with English as the working language of ordinary people.

Some of the poems in Pidgin published on this site are exquisite examples of just how marvellous a language it is and I look forward to reading many more.

This might interest you also.
Tonight on ABC TV Four Corners.
Hope you can tune in.

Monday 29 February at 8:30pm

"I ended up with nothing but the clothes I had on. I lost everything I had at home, documents, photos of my children." Survivor
"Of course it will affect our bottom line." Andrew Mackenzie, BHP CEO
The Melbourne headquarters of Australian mining giant BHP is a world away from the small Brazilian village of Bento Rodrigues, but what happened in this faraway place will cost BHP billions.
"The mud would come and drag me down, I would come up, it would take me down again...I screamed, calling my children, calling them, but nobody answered." Survivor
Three months ago a horror mudslide swept through the towns and villages in the Gualaxo River Valley in Brazil, destroying homes, businesses and taking the lives of 19 people.
A tailings dam, holding back more than 50 million cubic metres of mining waste collapsed, unleashing a wave of mud several metres high. The waste in the dam came from the huge open cut Samarco iron ore mine, half owned by Australia's BHP Billiton. Brazil's chief environment officer calls it the biggest environmental disaster in the country's mining history.
"This mud wave has killed anything that was alive in these water systems." Marilene Ramos, Brazilian Environment Authority
Brazilian police have announced they will seek the arrest of six Samarco executives and managers on charges of negligent homicide, and offences against the environment.
"A dam doesn't break by chance...There is repeated, continual negligence in the actions of a company owned by Vale and BHP." Brazilian Prosecutor
Reporter Ben Knight arrived in Brazil within days of the dam collapse as the search for victims continued in atrocious conditions. Now in his first report for Four Corners, he returns to Brazil to investigate whether multiple warning signs were ignored. What he finds is a catalogue of failure, where even the emergency alert system didn't work.
BHP has distanced itself from the operations of the mine, but the company's bottom line has taken a hit. This week BHP announced a $US5.7 billion half year loss, writing off more than a billion dollars due to the dam disaster.
And in a feature interview with the BHP CEO, Ben Knight asks if BHP is making good on the promises they have made to rebuild the lives and communities affected, and what responsibility it will take for the disaster.
Catastrophic Failure, reported by Ben Knight and presented by Sarah Ferguson, goes to air on Monday 29th February at 8.30pm EDT. It is replayed on Tuesday 1st of March at 10.00am and Wednesday 2nd at 11pm. It can also be seen on ABC News 24 on Saturday at 11.00pm, ABC iview and at .

Excellent article Joe and may the Melanesian Way flourish big time.

Thank you for sharing your experience, Trevor. But my article has little to do with the expat community or the English language. Even if you replaced English or all the expats tomorrow, the symptom I described would still play out.

It is about us understanding our motivations and the possible underlying factors about how we project our selves.

Thank you for your comments, Phil. I know enough to say that the Kiaps command tons of respect from the grassroots people of PNG.

The Kiaps, along with the teachers, didiman, missionaries, etc did more with few resources in a short period than our politicians with billions of kina have over the last 40 years.

Thank you for your comments, Paul. Gaining wisdom is indeed a lifelong process.

I am talking from a position of being embedded on both remote sites and around the country with PNG Nationals of all persuasions and I think that this Masta Syndrome you talk about is overrated and a cop out. Your quotes about the expat women not being searched does happen but generally these days PNG is overzealous on its expats and often an expat will get the rough end of the pineapple It balances out and is generally down to the expat and his behaviour. I almost always speak pidgin, but that's for clarity. It is a common known fact that Pidging is a dying Language and within 50 years it will have generally died out and you will have English and some of the larger Ples Tok groups as the language of the country. That is just evolution.

A very interesting article Joe.

It cuts both ways too. As a European in PNG I have often been asked for my presumed expertise on a range of subjects for which I don't have any real knowledge. The assumption is that because I'm a 'masta' I will know.

This is currently very evident in the assumption by many of the PNG writers I interact with that I know what I'm doing and can offer advice when the reality is that I'm simply another writer feeling his way.

Environment makes a difference too. In an urban environment Europeans seem to dominate but in a rural environment it's the other way around. As a kiap I was often in situations where I was the babe in the woods and the patrol police were the 'mastas'.

Things are changing slowly I guess. I'd be very wary about trying to tell Michael Dom anything about poetry these days. And heaven forbid telling him how to feed pigs!

Congratulations Joe. A good, thought provoking piece.

As you know, it's not a PNG custom to point the finger and anyone who does forgets where the other fingers are pointing.

I suggest you have identified a real issue in today's PNG and one that has yet to be fully confronted in many other nations.

The issue I suggest is one of culture. It takes a long time to change an entrenched culture. The mistake that was made and is still being made is that simply by showing and educating a person from another entrenched culture that in order to cope with a new culture, 'Just do as I do.'

If we were to travel back in time for many hundreds of years we would see much the same situation as you describe occurring in Britain and Europe where priests and the nobility spoke different languages and interpreted the laws and religious texts into the local language as it suited their purposes at the time.

It is only by understanding that we as a people can progress. The first step along that journey is often self examination.

Well done Joe.

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