OF late, there have been reports of tourists and visitors labelling Papua New Guineans as “primitives” or “cannibals.” Certainly such labels hurt and anger our people.
Let it be known that such labels are deeply insulting, degrading, debasing and represent the worst form of racism.
Much of what people believe and say are fuelled by a lack of knowledge and understanding of PNG and its people. It is unthinkable ignorance still persists in the space age and with the opening up of global information superhighways.
Visitors and people who have been to this country many times, or have lived here, know that Papua New Guineans are not cannibals. Not in this age and time, not even further back in the distant past.
Those who enter this country as guests or visitors with preconceived notions about the people are dangerous. They are probably more damaging to our country’s image than threats from terrorism and other social ills.
If outsiders are merely here to exploit us, to make a name for themselves or to test some theories they have formulated about us, they are not welcome.
We may appear simple, ‘primitive’ and rudimentary on the outside, but within – as has been tested by time - we are a complex people with complex human systems and organisations.
It is no wonder that anthropological interest in the country was phenomenal after outsiders came to our shores.
World-renowned anthropologists and ethnographers like Mead, Malinowski, Strathern and many more lived and worked in our societies. They did not set out to prove that our people were cannibals. Instead they were genuinely interested in the complexities and dynamics of our people and societies, and the interactions between themselves and their environment.
We appear different only because we live in a different world – a world that suits our social institutions and way of life. But, today, Papua New Guinea has caught up with the space age.
And despite the problems that face our country, our people are progressive and forward looking.
For millennia, people in this country were farmers, domesticated animals and utilised often complex agricultural systems. Like many of the first peoples of the earth, our ancestors were been in exploiting their environment, innovative in their social organisations and humane in their relationships with their kind.
Scientific evidence of the earliest agriculture in this country dates back more than 9,000 years.
Of course there were wars and killing; they belonged to that time.
Let the world also know that our ancestors were not blood thirsty cannibals who fed on human flesh to survive.
During the opening ceremony of last year’s Pacific Games in Port Moresby, a young male athlete from New Zealand posed with some local dancers. He posted the photo on social media calling those in the picture cannibals.
Immediately there was a backlash and he left for home the very next day.
In 1998 I was sent to Melbourne in Australia for a one week training course. The family I stayed with went out of their way to make me feel welcome and treated me to the best the city had to offer.
Over dinner one evening, the couple asked me innocently whether there were still cannibals in PNG. I was quite naïve at that time and simply said there was none according to my knowledge. Actually I had no idea what they were asking about.
I now see they were genuinely interested to find out, but not in a negative way. Looking back, I would have reacted differently if I was asked the question again. Like the couple, many people enquire or ask out of ignorance and curiosity.
In the past, there were exceptions in remote areas and in isolated cases of ritualised behaviour where head hunters would bring back the heads of their enemies as trophies. This does not mean they were cannibals.
It is encouraging to know that many people who have lived and worked in PNG come out against such labels. It is time to contribute to a greater and better understanding by others of our people in this country.
A contribution that we as Papua New Guineans can make to that greater understanding is to write more about our culture, our social organisations, our way of life and our proud heritage.
Tell the truth to the world that Papua New Guineans are not cannibals.