Are PNG men really savage? A balanced view about PNG
PNG’s brush with the infamous Baader Meinhof Gang

So much to say, but let me begin: Some words come from pain

Vanessa Gordon


BRISBANE - I have so much to say. I don't know where to begin. I'll start with I do not think all men are savages.

I am not a misandrist in any way, shape or form. I appreciate that Papua New Guinean men play a pivotal role in PNG society. I get it. Mi save tu lo pasin lo ples ,na kastom. Iau nunure. Mi save!

Secondly, I will always support a PNG writer, male or female. I will read, share and buy your work. I will wave my PNG flag beaming with pride around the world. Your words come from a place from deep within.

Ward Barry, you have this thing called freedom of speech and right of assembly. You are able to express your thoughts. You can express your thoughts and creative gifts through poetry. And others that read your work can respond with the same rights.

I have enjoyed your poetry in the past. Did I enjoy this particular poem? I am indifferent. I feel nothing.

My indifference is not against you personally. My problem is not with your poem. My problem is the way you have responded to the many women who have had valid and clear points regarding your poem.

Your perspective has been heard and read multiple times. Your message is loud and clear. You have proven a point. You are a great guy we get it. You love women. You love PNG women.

Thank you for not raping us; thank you so much for not molesting our daughters; thank you for not man-handling and groping us on PMVs, in the markets and on dance floors in the clubs. Thank you for not burning us at the stake.

You are commended. Did you want a medal? Or a certificate of appreciation?

Jordan Dean, you too are commended for defending your brother. I presume you don't understand what all the fuss is about? Why are so many women up in arms? What's the big deal?

Let me flip the scenario for you. A white guy writes a poem. Yes, I'll use white guy as an example because, Ward, I've seen your comments against the white man.

Apparently we PNG women folk need to "rausim galas blo waitman".

So maybe you will relate to this analogy.

White guy thinks to himself, "Hmm I'm a decent guy. I have never owned a slave. I have never used the N word. These 'people' have had so many atrocities and horrendous stories of mistreatment, brutality and death because of the colour of their skin."

Then he thinks, "I'll write a poem depicting how great I am and how kind and loving I am to my black brothers and sisters."

Sounds absurd, right? This is how you have made women feel this week.

Now I am only one woman and this is only my perspective. I appreciate yours. I don't expect you to appreciate mine.

Violence Against Women (VAW) and Gender Based Violence (GBV) are raw and sensitive subjects in PNG.

Women and men have been fighting for change. I won't fight battles that aren't mine to fight. However the fight against GBV and VAW in PNG is a personal battle.

You don't know me personally; you don't know my story just as you don't know the stories of the many women your comments have hurt and caused discord.

Before you dismiss my perspective or judge me, possibly berate or ridicule me for speaking out..... You see my words come from a place within.

My words come from real pain. They are not irrelevant. Just as your words have relevance, so do mine.

The scar between my inner thighs caused by a stab wound, that has relevance. Stabbed by a PNG man.

My permanent drooping eye caused by a man's fist, that has relevance. Punched by a PNG man.

My permanent injury caused by a kick in the head, that has relevance. Kicked by a PNG man.

And still not one part of me feels or thinks that all PNG men are abusive.

That's just my story. There are hundreds of women with similar stories. All relevant.

Let’s just leave it. You have spoken. The women have spoken. Your friends have spoken. And now I have added my opinion, thoughts and liklik two toea.

Enough now. Nur vue.


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Peter Kranz

I don't know if Rashmi is reading this, but our friend would like her story published in the next edition of 'Our Walk to Equality'. She now had a job as a volunteer at a local shop and is well on the road to recovery.

Peter Kranz

Yes it is beyond belief. But as long as such atrocities happen I believe it is our duty to report them and be ashamed for all mankind.

Lindsay F Bond

Michael true
Martin too
exercising opinion.

Ward words
Jord jots
exercising ability.

Senses where swollen
Silence is golden
exercising adage.

My thanks to all for civility
My thanks go most to Vanessa.

Philip Fitzpatrick

These sorts of accounts are very sobering Peter.

Despite their harrowing nature I wonder whether it's worth publishing more of them.

Peter Kranz

I am forwarding this story on behalf of a friend who is currently staying with us. She wishes to remain anonymous but would like it to be told as an example of the suffering experienced by many PNG women.

My name is SJ. I am 21 years old and come from a family of eight. I was the last born and am from Mount Hagen.

The following is an account of my personal experience.

From my birth to around 5 years old my birth parents nurtured me. But a bit later my dad and mum encountered marital problems. These got worse and it seemed that every night they argued and fought.

During one of those conflicts my father got violent and physically attacked my mother who sustained severe injuries. He broke her legs and arms and as a result she could not walk or hold things. She was hospitalised for four months.

When she recovered enough to return from hospital she ran away and abandoned all of her children. I and my brothers and sisters lived in the hope of her returning to us. But after a year we knew she had left us for good.

My father was a simple village man and could not manage to look after us or provide adequate food, clothing or education. When I turned six my Uncle's family adopted me.

I thought things would be better and I would enjoy life with my new family, but I soon realised it was worse. When I was in grade 2 I came home from school one day and my new mum was in the kitchen cooking dinner.

But when I went to say hello she said she hated me and didn't want to feed me and poured boiling hot oil on my arms. They had to rush me to hospital where I was treated for severe burns. When I returned home, they treated me worse than ever with beatings, abuse and what I can only describe as child labour.

I was terrified and had to obey everything they said or I would suffer more abuse. One time my adopted mother beat me so badly I had to go to hospital again. This mistreatment continued until I was in grade 8 (aged 15).

But I did manage to look after a piglet, and he was grown I managed to sell him for K1,000 and used the money to escape to Port Moresby in search of my grandmother.

Eventually I found her and she took me in, but while I was staying with her my cousin brother raped me. In my struggle he cut my leg deeply with a machete. Again I was taken to hospital and had to have 30 stitches. That case is still pending.

After a year I managed to get a job as a security guard. I used to work night shifts, but never felt safe from my male colleagues who continually harassed me sexually. I complained to the bosses but they didn't listen, and said I was making up stories, so I resigned.

Despite all of this, I have never lost my faith in God. But as a young woman I can never feel safe in Port Moresby. We can never feel safe to move around freely or live a normal life due to the high level of violent crime, especially against women.

I cannot live there by myself anymore. I just want to stay in a place where I am safe and all these problems can be forgotten once and for all.

Sometimes I feel like giving up.

Ward Barry

I have poured cold water on the subject and moved on. Like Jordan Dean said elsewhere, perhaps women’s rights, gender-based violence and some other things women, are just not my cup of tea. I ignored this comment precisely because of that. But since it has been published as a separate article, I feel obliged to respond. (Maybe that’s the intention.) I will, as much as possible, respond to your comment/article line by line.

Firstly, I am not a misogynist, far from it. If anything, my poem demonstrates my appreciation, respect and the value with which I regard women. It is not men alone who play a pivotal role in our society. Women are an integral part of it and they play an influential role too. Society thrives because of women. No one can (and I certainly didn’t) deny that the world is a better place because of women. The way I see it, women are the spine of our society; men merely flex their muscles because women hold them up. I get it. Mi luksave tu lo displa. Iau nunure bula. Mi save!

But my poem is not about the role men play in society. My poem is about the role men play in the life of a woman. It is about how some PNG men treat the women in their lives. That they are treated badly by men (all men or not all men is subject to the reader’s discretion) has been highlighted by Michael Dom’s poem – which is true. That they are treated well as well by men (all men or not all men is also at the reader’s discretion) is the aspect to which I attended. And I assumed both perspectives/observations will be appreciated – they did but in starkly different ways. Somehow Dom’s poem is an apt description of the situation of women in PNG while mine is an insult to them. I just couldn’t understand why both observations (and some others too) cannot exist side by side. Maybe I am not well versed on this particular subject.

I’d like to commend you on your commitment to support PNG writers, male or female. I think writers in PNG are quite underrated and your support is an encouragement. I concur that the freedom of speech and the right to assembly allow for the expression of thoughts and emotions through literature and other mediums and that readers can respond with the same rights. Discussion informs the decisions of a democratic society and that is something writers are thankful for.

I am glad to hear that you enjoyed my poems in the past. You can be assured my poems will continue to appear in PNG Attitude so long as Keith allows it. I am quite surprised though that you felt indifferent regarding my poem – and that has nothing to do with me or the poem, but the way I responded to “valid and clear points” raised by other women. I’ll respond to that below.

I appreciate the fact that my perspective has been heard and read multiple times, and that my message is loud and clear. But I have a problem with you saying this is about me. This poem is about the men who treat the women right and the women who have benefitted from a man’s help. Now, that number (20–30% according to statistics thrown around) may be small and insignificant, but it still represents a people. Is it wrong to write about the few PNG men who are kind to womenfolk?

It’s so low for you to think that PNG men who treat women right want medals for their efforts. It’s an insult to every hardworking, caring, father who go out of their way to help and protect the women in their lives – wife, mother, daughter, sister, etc. They don’t do it for medals or certificates. That is cheap. They do it for something much grandeur, so pure and more noble, love. Yes, love, and it comes from a genuine place within. Some feel a deep sense of obligation to care for women, others do it for the hack of it but what drives them is love and genuine concern. (Kastom blo yumi PNG tu i tok sapos bubu meri laikim, kulau o pis, yu pikini man mas kisim blong em.) My poem is not about giving medals to such men; for them, the sparkle in their daughter’s eyes is of a more lasting value than a bling. My poem is merely saying these men do exist in PNG. That’s it.

For my comment on “rausim galas blo waitman”, please refer to the opening lines of Jordan Dean’s recent article: Are PNG men really savages? A balanced view about PNG. That is exactly what I meant. I believe this view is prevailing still in our society. The evidence is everywhere.

As far as your analogy goes, comparing slavery to gender-based violence is a little like comparing apples and oranges. While they both entail oppression of the weak, slavery was legalized whereas GBV is not. There is not law in PNG that legitimizes the abuse of women. So yes, your analogy is absurd. And again, this poem is not about me being the decent guy. It’s about the thousands of decent guys out there. It’s about your father, your brother, your uncles. Don’t you say boina tuna to them when they do something that makes you feel appreciated? No, they are not savages. They are good men. Na yu save lo displa. And I ask again, what’s so wrong about writing for them? What’s so wrong about saying such good men exist?

My poem does not deny the existence of GBV or VAW. As you noted, these are raw, sensitive and pressing issues that demand our immediate attention and concentrated efforts to end it. It is a relief to see that “women and men have been fighting for change”. If you haven’t realized it, that is also an underlying theme in my poem.

It’s true GBV and VAW are personal battles women fight every day. It’s true also that I don’t know you personally: I don’t know your story or the story of many other women who may be hurt by my poem. The same is true too that you and I don’t know the story of every other woman in PNG, some of whom are grateful for the men in their lives, women who are loved, respected and valued by the men around them. Moreover, you and I don’t know the story of every man in PNG, men who actually care deeply about women. (Ask some of the men here.)

Your personal experience is hard to dismiss. You carry a scar that will remain with you for the rest of your life, a scar left there by one PNG man. I feel for you. I understand where you’re coming from (trust me when I say I understand you because you don’t know my story too). But remember it was only one PNG man. Don’t put a blanket over all PNG men because one fool doesn’t treat you right. That’s my point and I’m glad you understand that.

Does my poem nullify your experience? Does it deny similar experiences of many other PNG women? No. Again, my poem is merely offering another valid and relevant observation: there are PNG men who treat women well. That’s it. If anyone makes it seem otherwise, that would be the genius of a colonial cargo boy.

I’d like to end by recalling an incident that happened a while back. In early 2018 The Telegraph ran an article about a young couple from Britain and America being attacked by “cannibal kidnappers” from Papua New Guinea. You can imagine the uproar it caused. Many took to social media and other platforms to express their outrage over such ill-informed, ignorant headline. You know why? That article implied that cannibalism is still practiced in PNG. It was a blanket, stereotypical, bigoted representation of PNG. The fury was justified.

Michael Dom’s We Are Dying One by One is a somewhat simplistic representation of the situation of women in PNG. My poem (I Am a PNG Man) is also a simplistic representation of how men treat women in PNG. I meant my poem to serve as parallel observation to Michael’s. It’s up to the reader to choose which one to embrace. Apparently, mine got a lot of people worked up and received quite a lot of whack. And I loved it.

As I said elsewhere, it’s a matter of perspective: we see what we choose to see. I see men beating women. I see men helping women. I see both. Hence, my most recent poem Pigs of PNG. If that doesn’t make some people happy, I don’t know what will.

Yes, yumi larim olsem nau. Cheers sawi!

Martyn Awayang Namorong

This is gold! Absolute gold! If there is one piece on gender issues in #PNG you have to read this year, this is the one! Sharing this widely!

Michael Dom

While Wardley and Jordan may continue arguing to educate us learned fools, I've already found my evidence.

It is you Vanessa Gordon.

You show me that while there is savagery in PNG there is also tranquility: peace, hope and love manifest in your words.

In the very front line of gender based violence, among the victims who have fallen prey, after doors were opened, the chocolate all eaten and still wearing their gold necklaces; there stand strong and resilient women.

Where there is a struggle to achieve equality when the odds are clearly stacked against them, there we will find strong and resilient women. This year 111.

That such women are the future of PNG, I have no doubt.

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