2013 PNG-Australia forum: one step forward, one step back
Providing PNG’s women & girls the safety they deserve

What kind of “reformation” does the Speaker have in mind?

Fr Giorgio Licini, Rome, 2011FR GIORGIO LICINI |Catholic Reporter

AN ARTICLE ENTITLED ‘Speaker breaks silence’ in the PNG Post Courier newspaper has shed some light on the lead up to the recent controversy on the decorations of the House of Parliament. Unfortunately the light is dark. Here are my humble observations.

I maintain that there are a lot of decent, educated and well mannered people among the members of parliament elected in July last year. To the best of my limited knowledge, I include among them the Prime Minister and the Speaker of the House.

This national leadership, however, was born with an “original sin” which has come to light on several occasions: the sacking of the vice-chancellor of the University of Technology, the agreement with Australia on refugees, the probable implementation of the death penalty and now the removal of Parliament decorations as a first step for a special project aimed at “uniting” the country under the common denominator of “Christianity and faith in God”.

The original sin I am referring to I will call “contempt of public opinion”. At this moment the parliament is a rubber stamp of the government and public opinion is considered irrelevant for democracy. The idea of the current political leadership is that “you have voted us in for five years; we will talk to you again in 2017”.

What the Speaker intends for “Christianity” is not clear. He was raised in the Lutheran tradition, which all of us respect very much. Apparently the composition to replace the totem pole in the Grand Hall of Parliament has the Bible at its centre.

But is it really convenient for the State to meddle in religious matters independently of the churches, and to promote a sort of Christian theocracy at the dawn of the 21st century?

For those who like it, Christianity is already a unifying factor for PNG, along with the Constitution, the National Anthem and Pledge.

Papua New Guinea is a peaceful country. There is no political violence. No threat of military takeover. Non-Christians also feel at home in PNG. What does the Speaker intend to “reform”?

Does he want to rid the country of sorcery related violence and all sort of fears deriving from ancestral beliefs, spirits, carvings and masks? This is commendable. But is he on the right path by avoiding public debate not only in the country but even in the House of Parliament?

And is it really credible that corruption and ill conceived decisions in Parliament stem from the power of those carvings as some evangelical leaders seem to imply? Can somebody realistically believe that bad political behavior will go away when the carvings go?


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

David Gonol

Giorgio Licini, you got it all wrong. Was Jesus Christ not a 'fundamentalist' in the eyes of the Pharisees? He turned upside down tables in the table, & preached against complacency & compromise. You now term Christians who are so sold out for Christ as fundamentalists. That's okay. May the Lord God Almighty judge them wrong for being fundamentalists. Otherwise your views are no different to Pharisees of the Bible.

If you are a true Christian, then you would not get jealous of those who are so passionate about Christ Jesus. It is utter hypocrisy for you claim to be a Christian & yet turn around & persecute Christians who do the right thing.

You know full well that carvings were used in sprit houses (Haus Tambrans in Tok Pisin) for worship of ancestral sprits during traditional PNG. Carvings in the Parliament, therefore, represent ancestral sprits. Do you want PNG Parliament to give prominence to carvings which represent ancestral sprits? Further, do you want prayers to be offered to God Almighty for guidance & wisdom before Parliament session in a hall surrounded with symbols of foreign gods & ancestral sprits? Is that not compromise?

If you are truly a follower of Christ,,,then you would be teaming up with the Speaker in removing the carvings from the Parliament. However, your words clearly show that you are not speaking for Christ or the Christian fundamentalists (as you call) but you are speaking for the world. Therefore, the world will listen to you but not the true followers of Christ Jesus whom you brand them as 'Christian fundamentalists'.

Michael Dom

So Corney, let's take Parliamentary Committee as a theocratic oligarchy and PNG will be saved?

Well, that should be easy then, because we're on the right track.

Let's just trash a few more democratic rights and we should be there.

Who needs democracy when we have hypocrisy?

Steven Gimbo

It would be interesting to read Corney's response to Fr Giorgio's response. Thank you Fr Giorgio for that well-written piece.

Corney Korokan Alone

Thanks Peter,
The Parliament Committee(consisting 5 MPs) made the decision - so it's not a unilateral move.

Merry Christmas to you and your family and a great new year to you all as well.

Peter Kranz

Corney - we all have our opinions, and must respect other's rights to theirs. But taking unilateral action to cut down some carvings is not respectful (in my opinion anyway).

But let's move on. Happy Christmas and may you have a great new year!

And can some Highlands sisters and brothers enlighten me as to panpan? The edible fern used in many mumus.

Michael Dom

The Speaker has spoken. Welcome to theocracy PNG.

Giorgio Licini

Corney, thank you very much for your notes. About your question, if I understood it well, of course I believe that the worship of the only one God, in line with the Jewish-Christian tradition, is beneficial to everybody including PNG.

It probaly remains to be clarified waht in PNG traditon is really worshipped or just feared or respected or honoured... This you will know better than I do.

It seems to me that it is not clear as well if the artefacts in the House of Parliament have ever been considered objects of worship or if they have ever evoked any object or action of worship... Many seem to deny that.

Of course, today there is a religious "revival" all over the world, something that could not be imagined twenty-thirty years ago... It's a revival that in Islam, Christianity, Induism and Buddhism inlvoves minorities which, however,are very vocal, sometimes extremist, even violent...

They are easily labeled as fundamentalists for the absence of interest in dialogue, research, sharing, frequently replaced by a strong sense of security and certaintly and no worry of the opinion of other groups or the majority ...

Can the recent events in PNG be read and understood against this backdrop? And what about this strong reference to Israel, the God of the Old Testament and the Covenant with Moses? This is not really Christian. Is PNG a "Jewish" country or a "Christian" country...

For Christians the last word is that of Jesus Christ and his Father, who raised him from the dead, not that of the God of Moses and the Temple...

It's the same God, who spoke to his people over a long time, but whose final word in Jesus Christ is now kept and carried forward by the Church; though for many the Bible may be an inspirational book independently from the Church.

Johnny Blades

The Speaker certainly has a deep conviction in his actions.

Here is an interview with Theo Zurenuoc focussing on the issue:


Michael Dom

Thanks Corney.

I suppose there is some relativism in my thinking. But I like to think of it as being realistic.

What bothers me is when people try to enforce their idea of absolute truths on someone else.

One such way is to destroy carvings that a particular group says are evil spirits, while another may argue that they are ancestral spirits (guardians if you like) and yet another say that they were the representation of ancestral spirits of the past but adorn the Haus as an identification of our heritage.

It will be a sad day indeed to have parliament sit in a room that no longer reminds us of our proud heritage.

Put another way,"Ating ol waitman tasol kam na lainim yumi long gavman, ah? Nogat. Long taim bipo mipela bin gat haus man na insait long dispela haus ol bikman bai sindaun na skelim tingting bilong lukautim ples na manmeri wantaim".

I would honor that memory in our present day.

To worship is another thing altogether.

Some of us have been fortunate to dine with Muslims and Hindus. When we sat down to eat, it was each through his own belief that he offered thanks.

Harry Topham

The Bible also says "the road to hell is paved with quotations from the Bible".

So less dogma and more constructive and objective viewpoints please. Em Tasol.

Bernard Yegiora

Goodness, Theo Zurenuoc has opened a can of worms.

Corney Korokan Alone

How do you define hypocrisy?

You jumped at the priest's piece as a Chuck Norris punch as the first commentator and label other's comments as bigotry?

Tambu, you've got a nerve!

Mrs Barbara Short

Sorry Michael, if I appear to have assumed that you were very westernized.

I belong to the Presbyterian Church which is evangelical but not Pentecostal. But for two years I was Headmistress at Manggai High School in New Ireland which was very Pentecostal. I did not join in all the Pentecostal happenings. When I left some of my staff thanked me for showing them what a "mature" Christian is like.

My Papua New Guinean friends, who I have helped in Sydney, have taken me along to Pentecostal Churches in Sydney. They like them especially and I feel there is something about a demonstrative church service which is important for PNG Christians.

I was not judging you Michael. I thought you were being critical of the Pentecostal churches and I felt I should point out that they have a role to play. But in this case they may have over-stepped the mark. But the removal of the carvings is now quite complex and many people are involved and I shall shut up!

Peter Kranz

This is not a forum for religious sects to proselytise. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but give it a rest guys. The best way to piss people off is to badger them incessantly with religious bigotry.

That's why I won't open the door anymore to my weekly visits from the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormons.

Dad used to sing that great spiritual, "Gimme that ole time religion", and then paraphrase Joseph Campbell by saying, "Yes gimme the ole time religion of Zeus and Apollo and Buddha the Ahura Mazda."

Corney Korokan Alone

Now, I understand your "relativistic view".

There are absolute truths in life that only the "Holy Spirit of God can reveal.

One is set free when they know the truth (John 8:32)

So yes. We don't need our "ancestors spirits" to guide us.

Papua New Guinea has been committed to the God of Israel and rightly so, the Holy Spirit of God's truth prevails over all.

Corney Korokan Alone

Thanks Francis,
God's Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways to enlighten all of us for God's glory.

Corney Korokan Alone

Thank you Fr Giorgio Licini,

We are happy to hear your engaging views on this discussion.
We appreciate that. Our people need to be informed.....and correctly.

Let me quote a bigger chunk of what the Hon. Speaker of Parliament has said in his press release. The whole press release is on Face book. I read it at Sharp Talk yesterday.

The totem pole, as the picture here shows, has three heads representing the god of witchcraft on the left, the god of immorality on the right and the god of idolatry in the middle. While the carvings are harmless and lifeless wood, they symbolically represent ancestral gods and spirits of idolatry, immorality and witchcraft. I am not making this up. I am paraphrasing what the Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare said on the eve of Independence.

Recorded in the book Living Spirits with Fixed Abodes: The Masterpieces Exhibition of the Papua New Guinea National Museum and Art Gallery, edited by Barry Craig, published in 2010, Sir Michael declared that wooden carvings and cultural artefacts are “living spirits with fixed abodes.”

Barry Craig interprets this to mean that the Chief “was referring to the prevailing belief of Papua New Guineans that everything is invested with spirit, not least the objects carved, modelled, or constructed for ceremonial, and often every day, use.”

Some would scoff at this and dismiss it as a joke, but I am stating what Sir Michael said when he was then Chief Minister in order to provide you the context of his important declaration in 2007.
Belief in cultural symbols such as carvings as abodes of living spirits is not isolated and prevalent in PNG, but many authorities on symbolism affirm it. For example, Tom Deliso points out that “Symbols are very powerful and can be extremely useful tools in the creation of your world. The Ancients understood the power of symbols and used them extensively in and out of their culture for protection, fertility, wealth, crop germination, death and birth rituals.

Papua New Guineans know that this is true, so we cannot pretend that it is not so. Therefore, our Founding Father was correct in what he said.

But what is important is that our Grand Chief on his behalf and on behalf of the people of PNG as Prime Minister and Founding Father repented of our sins and renounced all idols, ancestral gods and evil spirits, and rededicated this country to the God of Isaac, Abraham and Jacob. For full effect and meaning, let me set out his prayer and declaration:

“Now, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the power of the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, I the Prime Minister and Founding Father of Papua New Guinea on behalf of the People of Papua New Guinea repent our iniquities and transgressions, and rededicate our nation to your Almighty God.

I renounce the worship of all IDOL and all EVIL gods. I renounce all covenants with the evil spirits and demonic powers. I renounce and reject all their actions and I reverse all their evil effects.

Almighty God and eternal Good Shepherd, forgive our sins against you and against one another. Deliver us from evil, heal us, heal our land, and grant us your peace and joy. Make us a holy people, pleasing to you in every way.

Today, as the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea; and on behalf of the people and the nation of Papua New Guinea, I make this New Covenant with you and Almighty God, we acknowledge you as One and the ONLY God, we acknowledge you as the only God in whom Papua New Guinea stands.

We acknowledge the Lord Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, we acknowledge the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives in the nation of Papua New Guinea.

On this day I pledge our allegiance to serve No other gods but YOU, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Eternal God, our good Shepherd, as Prime Minister and Founding Father of Papua New Guinea, I submit Papua New Guinea today, its people, its leaders in Church, leaders in the villages, all its leaders of the country into your almighty hands.”

We trust you to lead us into this new beginning; to the fulfilment of your plans and destiny for our nation.”

In essence, our Founding Father had, by this declaration and prayer, reformed our nation, restored us back to God and showed us the new direction. In the case of economic development and policy direction, he has given us Vision 2050. For cultural, spiritual and religious direction, he has disconnected us from our ancestral spirits and idols, and joined us with God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

I am a Christian, with backgrounds in the Catholic Church, the Pentecostal movement and am happily married to a granddaughter of a pioneer Lutheran Missionary to the Highlands.

However, I follow the teachings of Jesus Christ - who some labelled, as a man from Galilee, and a Nazarene whose teachings and behaviour conflicted with those of others, especially the "teachers of the law" greatly. He (Jesus) finally had to pay the ultimate penalty for humanity's sin (including beloved PNG) by dying on that Roman cross - with the two robbers. Thankfully He triumphantly rose again on the third day setting all captives free.

No wonder His resurrection and appearance to his fear-stricken disciples and others for 40 days infused such an incredible confidence and boldness that, they turned the world upside down with the Gospel - just 12 simple men.
Let me assure you that, Papua New Guineans greatly appreciates what our early missionaries have done, amidst the risks of death, sicknesses and isolation from their loved ones.

I went to a Catholic church established Community School.
You can read about my story here http://asopa.typepad.com/asopa_people/2013/04/my-story-from-arse-grass-to-corporate-sales-executive.html

I have also read many "Bible verses" that mentions about idols and graven images and what God's specific instruction were in how his people should handle them.

Could I humbly request you Fr Giorgio Licini to do another follow-up piece on why those specific instructions were given, why His people did what they had to do, and indicate whether those biblical instructions are not applicable or relevant to Papua New Guinean Christians.

I find it rather odd to see and read characteristizations of some of our Christians as "fundamentalists" when what they believe and stand for is clearly recorded in the Word of God, the Bible - a collection of 66 unique books that is so unique that it is sold in billions of copies around the world.

"The Word of God" is pure, and has been refined seven (7) times in the furnace of the earth. (Psalms 12:6).
The Word of God is precious beyond measure. It’s the author of creation.

I would greatly appreciate it if Fr. Giorgio Licini, can shed light on the “Reformation” that occurred in the church, led by a smart lawyer, none other than Martin Luther – after whom the Lutheran church worldwide got her name from.


Michael Dom

Barbara perhaps you assume too much.

Despite what you may believe of my Westernized and secular ways, I too have felt the presence of evil I could not explain rationally, fought and defeated a 'ghost' (broke his jaw for jumping me in my sleep), and have the spirit of my ancestor watching my home (he scares some people).

Welcome to life on earth. Shit happens.

My arguments are not based on lack of faith. Far from it.

What is true for me is Truth for me.

Humans are contradictory creatures no matter how rational we try to be. I have learned to understand my contradictions and so have others. It's what makes me, Me.

I believe what God expects is for us to be as good as we can despite our contradictions.

Francis S Nii

Interesting comment, Corney. It gives me an insight information to the whole saga. The speaker has done the right thing and the task must continue to completion.

Mrs Barbara Short

Michael, I looked up "superstitious" and it said - "irrational fear of the unknown."
One of my Brandi students was frightened when she heard that the village sorcerer had worked magic against her and she became sick and went home to die.

I decided to help this girl and it dragged out into a long battle against “false teachings”, against the “lie”, which I have come to see in synonymous with evil.

I placed the poor girl in Wewak Hospital and the lady European doctor began a course of antibiotics to cure her poisoned leg. But her family came and took her back to the village and told her that her sickness was due to the fact that she had sent a bead necklace to a boy from the village, whom she liked, who was studying at Madang Technical College.

This boy’s family did not want this girl to interfere with their boy’s studies, their way to their future wealth, so they had asked the village sorcerer to work magic on her. For a price he did! And the girls’ family believed that this poisoned leg was due to the sorcery.

The European lady doctor knew that the poison in her leg had probably come from swimming in polluted waters in the nearby Brandi River. She had seen it all before in Africa and she knew which antibiotic could cure it.

Well, for a few weeks it went like this. I would put the girl into the hospital then the parents would remove her. This happened a number of times.

The doctor grew fed up with her, she had seen it all in Africa, it was the power of sorcery, and she told me to forget about the girl. But I was determined that she should live.

I remember one day she came to see me after she had run away from the hospital. I told her that if she believed it was sorcery and went home to the village she would surely die.

She slowly sank down to the ground in some sort of strange state. Then I said, but if she put her faith in the doctor who knew what was wrong with her, and went back to the hospital and took the medicines, then she would live.

On hearing that, she rose up again to her full height and looked at me with hope. I then repeated myself and found that with the tone of my voice and what I was saying, I could made her go up and down like a yo-yo!

Well, the sorcerer’s power won and she went back to the village. But I wasn’t to be outdone.

I was angry by now. On the Saturday I drove down to her village. There were not many people about when I arrived but someone pointed to a certain house and we went in.

Here we found the poor girl lying on a table with all the villagers gathered around while the sorcerer was working his magic over her.

I had been told what they did. They have a half coconut shell of murky water and they proceed to pretend to take out sticks and stones from the sick person by slight of hand.

This is just what was happening to my schoolgirl! Well, I let fly and let the whole village know, in “dramatic” pidgin English, that it was all “gammon!” trickery. I did my best to let them all know about what the doctor had said and demanded that the girl be taken back to the hospital otherwise she would die of septicemia.

The sorcerer stopped what he was doing and eventually, sheepishly, the parents obeyed me.

She went back to hospital. She complained that she could not eat the hospital food so each day I would take some school food in to the hospital for her to eat. I checked up on her every day and talked the doctor into treating her again. We saved the leg and she ran again in the Athletics Carnival!

Several months later she came and thanked me for saving her life and presented me with a beautiful rooster, the sort you see wandering around the villages, with magnificent colours in their long tail feathers.

This was duly killed and cooked for many hours, then I insisted that all the girls share some and give thanks for the fact that their friend was now well again. The other girls knew that my reason and the doctor’s skills had won over sorcery!

I have a feeling that people with "superstitious" beliefs probably feel at home in Pentecostal churches because they know the pastors will not make fun of them.

These pastors are willing to help them in their battle against the supernatural. I wouldn't make fun of them as maybe one day you too might have need of their help.

Peter Kranz

It seems Post Courier staff were harassed yesterday while trying to cover this story. This a sad turn of events.

From today's editorial...

WE condemn in the strongest possible terms yesterday’s verbal attack and harassment of our reporters and photographer within the precincts of the Papua New Guinea National Parliament.

The incident confirms what the mainstream churches have warned us of: the debate on the controversial removal and partial destroying of intricate carvings in the parliament is leading to tension and confrontation that is totally unnecessary and unwarranted.

The Post-Courier will not yield from the position that it has taken from the start of this controversy, we believe that the decision by the National Parliament Speaker Theo Zurenuoc and his House Committee to remove and partially destroy the intricate carvings was a direct attack on the cultural heritage of this great nation.

We have in the last two weeks appealed to the Speaker to halt the work and to note and listen to the wide public condemnation as well as opposition from Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, former PM and East Sepik Governor Sir Michael Somare, current MPs led by the Public Service Minister Sir Puka Temu, former speaker Timothy Bonga, the National Museum and Art Gallery, the PNG Trade Union Congress and the PNG Council of Churches (PNGCC).

The decision by Mr Zurenuoc yesterday to refuse to dialogue with the PNGCC marks a sad day in the history of PNG’s parliamentary democracy, the offer by the council to a roundtable to dialogue to look for a way forward is a mature and responsible way to seek a solution to a problem which could turn nasty in a culturally diverse nation.

Giorgio Licini

Yes. If i may, I would like to refer also to my comments yesterday on the article of Bernard Yegiora below. After the first reaction of surprise and indignation, we indeed discover that the issue is extremely complex. It includes implictations of all sort: religious, historical, anthropological, political, social, ethnic, etc. That's why I believe that discussion and sharing is vital. Respect also must be there. The only wrong thing to do is denying others of a chance to speak. Thanks God this doesn't seem to be happening. My impression is that the outrage din't derive much from the fact the carvings were being removed, but that they were being destroyed. Also the fact that things were done only upon instruction of a small Parliamentary Committe didn't help. In other words now the issue is no more that of a few carvings that in any case are damnaged beyond repair and are not goint to come back. In my observation now the debate is on State and Religion, coexistence of mainstream Churches and new evangelical/pentecostal movements,role of the Constitution and public opinion in the political process, and how properly achieve the noble goal that every man and woman in PNG is freed from all real or perceived evil "spiritual" forces stemming form ancient beliefs, practices, carvings, masks, etc... In my opinion by addressing these issues, though born of an unfortunate incident, PNG can take a positive and significant step ahead.

Michael Dom

Barbara, why is it that these new age Christians perpetuate superstitious beliefs?

Is it good for profit margins?

The carvings have spiritual value.

And for those of good will there's no charge.

David Wall

All this nonsense about the carvings in the Parliament makes one think of Schiller's famous quote: “Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.” And it must be also said that often the worst kind of stupidity is found amongst religious cranks!

Mrs Barbara Short

Good morning Father Giorgio. It is good to read your comments which, as Peter Kranz says, have "attitude" similar to "us" of PNG Attitude.

I think it is obvious that the PNG intellectuals are divided over whether these carvings in the Parliament House have actually played some sort of role in the history of corruption that has taken place there.

Pastor Joseph Walters has been on the ABC telling us that it is possible that these carvings have had the power to cause evil in the House. And I think he is a Sepik and would know about these things.

I have seen Pastor Walters in action in a great rally in a Cairns park. He had a large group of prayer warriors with him and he carried out a mission to the people of Cairns. Hundreds came to hear him preach, especially many from an aboriginal background.

I was very moved by what I saw and experienced at the meeting that I attended. Joseph is another on my old Keravat NHS students so I have been interested in him.

Having spent four years in the East Sepik and studied the region and visited many parts of it I have a good understanding of the current problem.

During my time at Brandi I also had the experience of going into a nearby village and standing up to the local witchdoctor over a matter of life and death and I won!

I am strong in my Christian faith and know that what Rev. Walters is doing is giving his flock a similar strength. But, it is possible that some members of parliament do not have this strength to stand up to the wiles of Satan and the very presence of these carvings could have some effect on them.

It must all boil down to faith. PNG has come a long way in its journey from darkness to light. If the removal of these carvings to the local museum is going to help the few who are still under occult powers , well, then, I say, do it.

The intellectuals, who are very westernised, and who are no longer influenced by these occult objects should be very grateful for their lot. Pastor Walters would have the ears of those who are still struggling with inherited beliefs involving the occult and he would better understand the problem.

During my life I have had to deal with a situation where good friends of mine were murdered by a person who I believe is under possession by an evil spirit. Sadly, there is still a lot of evil around in our world today and if removing these carvings is going to stop some of it, then I say go ahead.

Of course there will still be corruption. They need an ICAC to stop that. Many members of parliament in PNG don't understand democracy. They are calling it a "dysfunctional democracy".

In my observation, the debate on the legitimacy of destroying Parliament's carved objects is not 'between intellectuals' but between fundamentalist Christians and many other people concerned at their superstitious response, which so far, thankfully, has not extended to destroying the entire Haus Tambaran itself - KJ

Peter Kranz

Holy Chuck Norris! A priest with attitude! (and a PNG Attitude at that).

But beware the fate of one Thomas Becket, who also took on the rulers of the time and came to a sticky end.

More power to you bro!

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)