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18 January 2018


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Growing up during World War II, I lived in an extended family. This was pre-TV and radio was mostly used for news and programs like ‘Forces Favourites’ midday Sunday and ‘Dick Barton Special Agent’ 18.45 Mon-Fri - steam-radio’s James Bond. Far more talking with one another was the norm.

After we moved to a new Council house in the late 1940s, it became the custom for my mum, dad, sister and I to visit the grandparents almost every Friday evening and after chapel on Sunday evening. Thus our rich conversations continued for a few more years.

Then came the era of rediffusion cable TV and eventually wireless beamed from tall transmitters for the masses. One of my earliest memories is of watching the Queen's coronation.

As we moved into the 1960s, our patriarch went blind and I can recall him asking my nanna, “Who is that loudmouth women with a horrible voice?” He couldn’t see Violet Carson acting as Ena Sharples in Coronation Street.

So our routine conversations began to be dominated or slotted into times when the famous soap was not aired or some of the other game shows; even the Welsh language but very popular ‘Land of Song’, starring Ivor Emmanuel.

Poor old Granddad gave up the will to live as ‘the box’ took over family lounges and with it the demise of conversation.

Thus I felt lucky then when I eventually married a Lavongai young woman and we set up home in her family’s little camp on a hillside overlooking Meterankang Harbour.

Once again the outside world only intruded via radio. We had ‘Maus bilong sol wara antap’ from Radio New Ireland and the national service which may have been beamed from Rabaul.

I could also get BBC London Overseas news which was always introduced then and apparently still is by the stirring march, 'Lillibullero'.

Batteries are expensive and far better employed for fishing at night, so often we didn’t even have radio and were left to the age old habit of sitting in the open area near our hut – talking!

Those are evenings to be cherished as I began to learn a little about the real lives of the people for whom I had once been ‘Advaisa’ and when I had been the new boy finding my way on their island.

As a city boy I don’t think I knew that in the empty phase of the moon you could still see quite a bit in the beautiful silvery starlight. I then could understand how all our tambuna must have sat and gazed at the same heavenly displays and pondered similar questions of their raison d’etre.

My new extended family would talk of their more exotic ancestors; family news both good or bad and general gossiping of all the things people everywhere do.

Many evenings we would be roaring at tales of the habits of Pupu Kongkong Masung or the village longlong’s latest public misadventure.

Pupu Inis could easily be persuaded to tell tales from the ‘Jap War’ when he had been beaten for taking food from the Jap’s garden which he had planted and tended.

“So why shouldn’t I get some benefit from my hat-wok? Eh tambu?” He seemed to relish telling of the time when he had been very young lad and had eaten bits of the neighbouring Tigak islanders his tribe had tricked into a so-called ‘reconciliation feast’.

I believe I was so lucky to arrive in PNG just at such a moment in time when traditional life was still all around the island prior to the advent of modern western things for the ordinary citizen such as outboard motors, small generators which soon were used to raise cash with a movie night, tape recorders etc.

But it wouldn’t be until 2007 that the mobile phone reached Kavieng and soon were available to most citizens.

To calm the little ones we would get them to lie down on a mat in the open asking them to try to be the first to spot a shooting star or a satellite and sometimes the more steady slower light from a jet miles above their heads.

All these things led to questioning ‘natposok’ (white boy) who had entered their social setting. I loved their amazement in knowing that when we were getting up at six in the morning my father would be going to bed in Wales. Surely that was whiteman’s myth.

Yes, Phil, the art of conversation is diminishing. A recent UK National Health report claimed a million over 75 year olds never get the chance to talk with anyone for over a month or more. A sad reflection of modern living.

Nowadays it is not unusual to see several people who obviously form a group but each individual in the group is immersed in their own smart phone, and there is little or no group interaction.

I think a fascinating part of PNG experience in the past is that people were so direct person-to-person in day to day life. People were interested in who you were and your were interested in who they were.

Phil, we've reached a time where conversation really is the pits!

Along with Twitter it is destroying language and creating a culture of individualism.
Andrew Keen has written extensively on the subject and his books The Cult of the Amateur and The Internet is not the Answer are quite thought provoking:

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