I just missed this young Sepik girl from Parimbe
Let's make an individual effort for the collective good

Providing hope to our people in this hybrid land

Martyn Namorong on cameraMARTYN NAMORONG

AS A student I grew up reading about the doom and gloom of Papua New Guinea being a failed state.

Then PNG's fortunes changed and we were one of the few countries on earth that didn’t need a fiscal stimulus during the global financial crisis.

Maybe we got cocky after that and have borrowed heavily.

Now we're in huge debt but the ship is still steady. Not because of politicians but because of the complexity of life in PNG.

Many people recognise that we live in a hybrid of tradition and modernity.

Customary land tenure and the subsistence economy cushions the majority of the population against poor monetary or fiscal policy or global economic downturns.

In failing to account for data or variables that do not fit western political or economic theory, many make wild predictions like Professor Helen Hughes did when I was a primary school student.

Despite all her intellectual arguments about PNG becoming a failed state, we never ended up being one.

After gaining independence many predicted we would go down the coup path like African states. We didn’t.

Time and time again experts of western narratives fail to take into account Papua New Guinean nuances.

I am reminded of Maya Angelou's poem of defiance 'And I rise' because I know that, despite whatever challenges PNG may face in the near future, we will rise above those challenges.

"Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave."


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Chris Overland

Martyn has put the finger on a critical point about PNG: it is fundamentally reliant upon a subsistence based economy.

As a corollary of this, the fate of PNG's cash economy cannot and does not significantly influence the situation of the vast majority of Papua New Guineans because they are not part of it.

This is great news in one respect because, no matter how badly the politicians, bureaucrats and business leaders mismanage things, the bulk of the citizenry are safely insulated from their leaders' venality and incompetence.

The downside is that the same citizens are mostly excluded from any benefits that may derive from the cash economy, certainly in a direct sense. A few lamb flaps and bottles of SP every few years is not much compensation for this exclusion.

Martyn is right to say that PNG's "ship of state" has not sunk but this does not mean that Professor Hughes was wrong.

The ship floats because, despite the antics of the people on the bridge, the vessel is inherently buoyant, thus keeping what amounts to a ghost ship above the waves.

So, much like the legendary Flying Dutchman, the ghost ship called PNG sails on, never actually getting anywhere but never quite managing to sink beneath the waves.

Thus, I would submit, both Martyn and the good Professor are both simultaneously right and wrong.

Now is that not truly the Melanesian Way?

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