AT A TIME WHEN THE FOCUS of the world is upon Papua New Guinea and its attitude toward women, I have been reflecting upon the male influences in my life.
I know there are good men in PNG and we need their support and encouragement in order to create a safer more equitable society for both sexes. I want to introduce to you three such men who have impacted my life - my grandfather, uncle and father.
These men influenced me in unique ways and the lessons learned were not from longwinded lectures (although they were prone to those too) but rather from observing how they lived their lives.
What my grandfather taught me
Every individual is unique and must be accorded dignity.
My grandfather had a soft spot for the scorned and oft ignored of our clan and would strive to let them know they mattered. He had a way about him which made it seem that you were the favoured one, that you were special.
Most times upon his return from a feast, often the best meat cuts were quietly slipped to the widows, divorcees or the least favored wife of a clansman. He would cut smaller portions, wrap them in banana leaves and hide them in various locations then give their children riddles to find them – a treasure hunt of his creation.
This was something he did regularly with his grandchildren and we thought we were the only ones with whom he played this game. At his funeral however I was overwhelmed by the amount of people (most I did not know well) who told of his generosity and recalled his treasure hunts.
He also made it a habit to every so often, visit the homes of the aforementioned women. He would ask them how they were and if there was something that needed doing. If they required assistance, appointments were made and at the set time he and his family would team up and help; fencing gardens, making new gardens, harvesting kunai to thatch roofs.
To us children he made such outings an event and would teach various chants and games turning work to play. Firewood distribution was another duty he took upon himself and would ensure that not only his own household was provided for but that of those who did not have a man to look after them. He never made any help seem like charity for he would call on those assisted to reciprocate by helping him in his garden etc.
Words cannot describe the bond I had with him and even though he has left us, his memory and the continuing of this legacy gives life a feeling of completeness.
What my uncle taught me
The most fun you will have in your life is when you take the time to make life fun for others.
My uncle Dau was always looking for ways to make life interesting and fun for the children in his family. He didn’t need money or sophisticated gaming devices; his props were long bamboo sticks, an old trap made from a mishmash of chicken wire and wood and his own self.
I recall on twilight evenings squealing with glee as he would cut bamboo poles to our size and race around wildly with us hitting at small bats that came out just before dusk, flying low over our huts. If we were successful in catching any he made them seem like the best “snacks” we’d ever had.
Other times we “helped” prepare his trap and he would make a great ceremony out of it. We would take it to a “special” place and stand some feet back whilst he would sneak further with exaggerated caution then dramatically chant a loud rhyme (usually thought up right there) and set it.
The fun was in preparing the trap, if he caught something we all rejoiced if he didn’t we were disappointed but it was always the affair of the preparation that got us all excited. And oh he could tell stories.
His stories engrossed us. Some were fables and rhymes, others he just thought up but it had him singing, crying and gyrating in the dim smoke filled hut grabbing our imaginations and flinging them to far of places where mythical beings and men lived, fought and died.
Sometimes his stories were epics and would be told night by night. At such times he could get us to do anything to ensure that the story would be continued in the evenings.
Like my grandfather he too has left us but the simple act of bringing fun and wonder into the lives of others is a legacy which I cherish.
What my father taught me
Love God, Seek Justice, Pursue Peace.
There was an incident when I was about 12. We had gone into town and were driving home when we saw two women savagely fighting each other. This was not our area and there were a lot of spectators surrounding the two women - watching, cheering, jeering.
All of a sudden dad stops the car, reverses and shouts at the people to stop them; they give him a weird look and continue watching. He can be fierce when he chooses and he chose to be so at that moment shouting at the crowd, asking them where the fun was in watching two mothers bash themselves to death?
People were stunned that a stranger would stop and scream and some of them moved to stop the women. He then told them to take the two women to the nearby hospital, started the car and we drove of. I knew that he would have gone out and physically separated the two himself if people had not listened.
He never mentioned the incident and we went about our holiday pursuits but I never forgot what he did. There was a wrong, it was a choice of being passive or responding; he responded.
Another time when we were on holiday our clan got into an argument with another clan and the war cry went up around our area telling us that they were coming to fight. I recall my father racing out of our house to gather those whom he knew were short tempered and would rush out to fight and calling to our clansman to meet at our place.
In a short time all the men had assembled and most wanted to fight and I vividly remember my father announcing that he would go face them alone because our tribe knew him to be a Christian and a neutral person.
Trembling and praying fervently for his safety I watched him run unarmed to meet the approaching menace, two younger men flanking him (likewise unarmed). After an eternity he came home weary but triumphant having talked with the other clan and securing an agreement to dialogue for a peaceful solution.
Later when we were alone I accused him of not thinking about us when he rushed off like that and what would we do without him? He replied that it was because of us that he did what he did and that sometimes the greater good of the community would push him to take risks.
Peace, he told me, was too precious a commodity to standby and let it be destroyed. I learned then that life is not always about me and my comfort but that there are some ideals that were worth striving for even if it costs us something.
My father did what he did because of his love for his God and his people. It was the right thing to do and his faith moved him to pursue it.
These life lessons (and others beside) have influenced me greatly. I saw them consult with my mothers on family and clan decisions- saw how they listened and cooperated with them to create harmony in our lives.
In doing this they were respected at home and in their community and in this was one more lesson learned; The character and qualities of each sex can be so much more enhanced when mutual respect and dignity is practiced.
My fathers are not perfect for we are all human and have our flaws, but I do see in them a sincere desire to pursue good; that is why I honour them.