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Two cows and a pig & the proportionality of status

A pig
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VERONA - It is no secret that university governance in Papua New Guinea has been completely politicised.

Rules are not respected and there is no transparency or accountability.

Now it seems all this has been thrown out of the window, and traditional justice practices are being used to resolve university governance issues.

As a foreigner, even after having mastered the relevant anthropological literature, I found it hard to understand how wonderful customary justice principles based on restoration of social harmony, reciprocity and proportionality worked out in practice.

For people not interested in the arcane legal details of university governance, this story may help focus the mind.

In 2014, then higher education minister Delilah Gore gave two cows to Unitech because the university council allowed me to remain as lawfully appointed vice-chancellor and did not impose another.

A professor would be valued at one cow, an associate professor a pig, a senior lecturer a goat and a lecturer a dog or cat. Two cows for a vice-chancellor kind of worked out.

In 2018, however, higher education minister Pila Niningi received only one pig from the University of PNG academic staff association to say ‘sori’ for their strike, which a judge had declared illegal on a technicality.

The strike occurred after the minister tried to impose an unlawfully appointed vice-chancellor on the university.

Under the university ‘sori’ system I previously described, a vice-chancellor was valued at two cows, a professor one cow, an associate professor a pig, a senior lecturer a goat, a lecturer a dog or cat, a tutor a mouse and staff member a mere ant.

Following the principle of proportionality minister Niningi should have been worth at least two cows.

But he received only one pig.

We can see clearly how kastam is no longer respected.


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Philip Kai Morre

A cow has four stomachs and eats grass every day even during the night. The first and second stomachs are for storing grass, the third stomach is for digestion and the fourth completes the digestion process.

So a cow is a great eater, like politicians and bureaucrats.

Politicians have an animal character, like a cow that destroys food gardens, the politicians are destroying our economy.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Do you mean Golding's 'Lord of the Flies' or Tolkien's Lord of the Rings' Harry. Or is this a private joke whose punchline I've missed.

There is a "Lord of the Fries' in Adelaide but it's a fast food joint. Don't know whether it sells porkburgers.

I reckon I know who AG Satori is Paul - he's just given himself away.

Paul Oates

Thanks AG Satori err... whoever you are? I never knew about the need for blood to be spilled and soaked up by the ground to be the important part of the ceremony.

It was somewhat like the ancient Roman tradition to sacrifice an animal prior to when important decisions were about to be made. The importance of that tradition however called for the inspection of the liver.

AG Satori

The size of the pig and the status of a person may have some relevance but it does not matter.

Most of Papua New Guinea is a consensual society and by consensus we take things by imputing untold message into an act.

Now if a person of lesser means were to find animals to equate to the status of men in the ‘tok sore’ ceremonies that happen all the time in PNG, we all will be broke for trying.

A ceremony is never complete without the ‘the soil eating up the blood of the animal at the end of the ceremony’. When that happens people have some satisfaction and it does not matter the size of the animal, it is only the spilling of the blood.

Live animals were never meant to be exchanged live. They were a means to an end. They were clobbered and the very act of the blood spilling on the ground erased whatever animosity that brought about the ‘tok sore’. It brought the ceremony to an end and ‘bel isi’ ensued thereafter.

You can take a live animal and return it. No problems, only that the animosity will rekindle and with much more vengeance, this time because you have belittled the people, time it took to ensure the ceremony took place and process itself.

It is just that you cannot return a dead pig after it had done its duty in the very act of spilling blood. It is only on the blood of an animal that there is closure.

There are plenty of instances in the villages where a man of simple means will have that same ceremony using chickens.

The notion to equate the size of the pigs and cows to a person status is a new norm and that is not custom. It is a misconstruing of the concept of spilling blood and misconstrued and banded around by those who fail to understand the customary rationale for it in the first place.

If at the next 'tok sore' you are given one, only know that the people are being polite, they do not want you to mess with the carcass of a dead animal so they pass over a live one.

The intention that 'the soil should eat up the blood and enable bel isi' is there and so you, the big man because of your status, can go in peace.

The giver if he is of no status, now has the bragging rights that he could come up with a big animal and he doesn’t care about your status.

AG Satori is the pen name of a senior Papua New Guinean public servant whose identity is known to the editor - KJ

Harry Topham

Albert - Perhaps Goldings's 'Lord of the Rings' might apply?

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