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At home with my Melanesian values; no matter where I am


AS we do in today’s dynamic employment environment, I recently updated my professional profile or curriculum vitae (CV).

Having gone through this exercise, I realised that I’d omitted a major part of my life.

Like with most people, my CV emphasised the educational institutions I’d attended, the positions I’d held, my career successes and influential people I’d crossed paths with.

It focused on the learning, skills and qualifications an employer might be interested in. It captured what I can do and how I do it.

But it was void on the matters of who I am and why I do the things I do.

The parts I had left out were the experiences that formed the basis for who I am.

They were from the stage in my life that I walked rough tracks to fetch water for the family, shepherded pigs, chopped pandanus nuts 30 feet up with one hand (and no safety harness), climbed rocky peaks with the skill of a mountain goat, and hunted and trapped cuscus.

I walked through tropical rain forest in pitch darkness relying on the moon and stars and identified each bird by sound, not sight.

When the elders wanted to speak, we youngsters gave up our seats, kept quiet and did not engage in argument even if they were wrong.

These experiences have little value to a prospective employer in today’s economy. Even if I explained them, the listener would not understand their relevance.

I am at a stage in life where I am reasonably comfortable placing value on these latter qualities.

Like many Papua New Guineans, my life has been a journey from a mountain home across a social divide of religion, race, culture, and hierarchy.

My childhood experiences are embedded in me and I feel comfortable sitting with friends cross-legged around a fireplace in my village or inside a modern work environment in a country far away.

Even if others don’t share my experiences, I embrace them. They represent a unique, enjoyable, once in a lifetime opportunity which can never be replicated.

I am comfortable with what I do based on the strength I draw from my Melanesian values.

I am at peace with myself. It takes time and a measure of self-acceptance to reach such point.


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Timothy Kevin Yati

From the day that I was born, my parents used to inform me that a person by the name of Joe Herman Pyakori lives in USA now. He had shown a good role model to upcoming generations.

I had already heard your story and your experience of these lifestyles here in Wabag.

So the you know the customs and cultures that we portray here. As you are living in the USA, please maintain these cultures so that people can come there and say we have Andati tribes in USA, Engan in USA maintaining the Engan culture.

Nambanya takange ongo katala.

Arthur Williams

Won’t pass on your praise to her – ‘nogut emi bighet olsem papa!’

Mind you Paul she soon adopted to thumb twitching on her mobile. Actually when I was in Kavieng 2007 that is when the Mobile Revolution arrived. Surely it was one of most incredible events in New Ireland’s modern history.

Suddenly gone were queues from 8 to 4 for one of Kavieng's five only public phones situated infront of the Post Office. Outside those hours Mon-Fr and from 12 on Saturday, all day Sunday the area was sealed off.

Yet now you could talk to wantoks all over PNG and even to Wales. I saw people making sacsac or paddling canoes within a mobile in their spare hand.

I asked one young married guy, “Do you speak to your wife when lovemaking?”

He replied, “Only if she phones me!”

While working in Hagen I lived in an old house for TalAir. Came home to lunch one day and my wife told me about a sad lonely young girl standing outside the high security fencing watching my two little girls playing.

She was there most days so my wife soon got talking to her. Eventually during daytimes she became a regular visitor at our home.

Soon found out that young Agnes, who was from Enga, lived with her uncle. Naturally he came to visit us and we had a talk about the lonely girl.

It was decided that as I was going to work with the APCM missos in Kawito Agnes could safely come with us and be a babysitter there as well as a companion for my wife when I was away from the station.

The young girl enjoyed what may have been her first flight and soon settled down to a new life in the Gogodala’s hot humid swamp.

She seemed unaffected by culture shock and my lasting memory of her is during the Aramia River’s prawn season. For hours she would patiently sit on the river bank using a Gogo trap to catch many of the delectable creatures.

After a year or so the need to see home again hit her and sadly she left us on a MAF for Hagen. Always wonder how she grew into womanhood and where she now is.

Recalling my happy time in Kawito I want to show off with a new word I learnt this week: rhotacism - the inability or difficulty in pronouncing the sound ‘r’.

One learned friend once told me that the Gogodala had this problem and I thereafter I seemed to hear them describing themselves as Gogodara.

When I went to work in Tari I heard the same linguistic story that really the Huli call themselves Huri. Never found out if either linguistic story is true.

I had a tongue problem myself in Grade 5 when teachers were held in awe and fear of their canes. I was whispering to a chum- too loudly it seems because suddenly my name was called out by our master.

“What are you talking about Williams?” [None of your namby-pamby familiarity of Christian names in the 1940s].

Under his stern gaze I trembled and mumbled, “Where I’m going on Thriday sir.”

“What did you say?” he looked really cross now.

“Where I am going Thriday sir,” I repeated.

“Come here lad,” he ordered.

Meekly I went to the front to the class. He went to the corner of the room and I thought ‘It’s the cane for me’. But no he carried back the largest dictionary I had ever seen.

He opened it to the page with words starting with the letters FR…..

“Read those out to the class until tell you to stop, Williams.”

So still quivering I started reading out the columns of words that began with those two annoying letters that had exposed my language difficulty to all the class and Mr. Thomas.

He stopped me and then got me to repeat my Thriday until it eventually morphed into the regular Friday I have used ever since that day.

Wonder if others are ill at ease with FR… as I once was.
What would linguists call it? Frotacism?

Thank goodness I didn’t have a problem with ‘E’ sound- that would be Eroticism!

Oh Daniel, I once tried to learn Welsh as an adult. Enjoyed first lesson or two but gave up when the night school teacher started to tell us about mutation in the Welsh language.

That did it, if I couldn’t use Cymru, Welsh for Wales, which can sometimes according to rigid rules become Gymru, what hope was there for me. I gave up night school.

Guess you just can’t win with languages as they are alive and mutating themselves. See that my 1970’s ‘Bilong’ has now become ‘Blo’.

Ah bro, “Ples daun bai yumi tok wanem?”

Joe Herman

Thank you, John, Arthur, Paul, and Elizabeth. I grew up in the Enga prior to independence. Elizabeth, Kundis village was the closet I got to Kompiam.
Arthur, you must be proud of your daughter. Em “island meri” istret. Kids like your daughter who have had cross cultural experiences are usually miles ahead of their peers in maturity and wisdom.
Paul, a book by Sherry Turkle: “Alone together: Why we expect more from technology and less from ech other” touches on some of the sentiments you touched on.

Elizabeth Bakri Dumu

Arthur, your daughter is a 'trupela meri'.

And Joe, well articulated. That makes the two of us. You spoke for me, too, and I believe others who also grew up in that era.

That is why when I was involved in interviews at one point in time in my life I often listened out very carefully for answers to the "Can you tell us something about yourself" question.

A very good piece.

By the way, the name Joe Herman clicks. I remember hearing it being mentioned by dad whenever he came home in Kompiam back in the early 80's. Were you ever a Kiap in Kompiam at one time?

Paul Oates


In case people think it is only PNG people who have to make a big leap to new customs I can admit to being somewhat in the same position. In my own lifetime I have had to accept that my society has dramatically changed and not for the better in most cases.

Most children and young people that have graduated in the computer and information age and have left me well behind. Mostly, at rare social or family gatherings, (if there are any these days), they consist of rapidly uttered and jargonistic monosylables punctuated by rapid thumb movements as they communicate to each other (who are just standing next to them), via that curse of modern life, the mobile phone.

I can at least remember how pleasant it was when you could sit around the fire at night and talk to each other. As someone in the PNG Parliament said once, “You can have progress forwards but you also have progress backwards.”

Like it was once said of fire, mobile phones are: 'A good servant but a bad master.'

Daniel Kumbon

Arthur, I thought the Welsh language was complicated when I was in Wales in 1989. I couldn't even pronounce 'Cymru' properly.

I think your daughter must be fluent now - her fourth language? (Local Kavieng language, English, Pidgin and Welsh.)

Arthur Williams

Well done Joe, nicely expressed! Surely must be good to be proud of your homeland and the non-westernised childhood you had in Papua New Guinea.

I live here in Wales with my youngest daughter who to date spent 60% of her life growing up in the New Guinea islands.

She is still studying trying to catch up on the education shock of leaving Grade 7 in Kavieng to be put in Grade 9 because of her chronological age with 18 months only before having to attempt the GCSE Examinations; including being proficient in the Welsh language – a compulsory subject foisted on Wales by nationalist elites.

Surprisingly her spoken English is often remarked upon when people ask, “Where are from because you sound foreign but have better English than me and I was born here?”

Yes! Just like you she is proud of her childhood and the many things she did that would never happen to a child in the UK.

The subsistence life of her mother and the extended family have given her the knowledge allowing her to believe in herself and often to wryly smile when she sees or hears the antics of her Eurocentric peers.

Having had no doctor on Lavongai she and I cannot understand the receptionist at the surgery asking, “Which doctor would you like to see?” And if necessary she will swallow any medicine that is prescribed for her – without any grimaces or lolly afterwards. Cuts, sores and bruises are ‘samting nating’ get on with life.

Despite growing personal tastes in western foods she will accept whatever is put on the table by friends or family.
She helps old people in the crowded buses; holds the doors open in the shopping mall or college corridor for the person coming behind her.

She grins and bears the occasional very hot day here which can be five or more degrees hotter than her island home. And despite never having experienced ice or snow seems immune to both.

I have no idea of her IQ but do believe her general intelligence or ability is as good or better than some of her mollycoddled peers.

In her early years in PNG she was able to paddle her own tiny canoe after finding her own bait to then fish with and to provide enough for a good meal; whether it be reef fish, eels, crabs, lobsters.

On Lihir aged just four, she could catch her own freshwater prawns and light a little fire to cook and eat them there and then by the side of our little stream.

She’s planted basic vegetables and fruit and knows how to use them in basic rural ‘haus-kuk’ and carried water some distance to clean the utensils afterwards perhaps using the magical ‘stil wul’ leaf her grandmother had shown her.

Made mats, basket, football or toys from local produce.
Birth and death were no stranger to her even when a pre-teen. How many of the UK kids have ever been in a morgue or seen the raw brutal results of a clan fight with bloody pools in the bottom of a dinghy?

Her future is unknown but to paraphrase a common idiom here: ‘You can take the girl out of PNG but you can never take PNG out of the girl!’

Johnny Blades

You make a very valid point. CVs are expected to have all these technical data about when and who you worked for, institute of study etc. but no one really bothers about laying out the experiences which really mould who one is. This of course should be of critical interest to a prospective employer. Nice article. What part of PNG are you from, Joe?

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