Heritage & culture Feed

Lady in mourning captivates me at the Enga show

Kumbon - Engan woman in mourning
"The mourning woman brought back vivid memories of my own mother dressed exactly the same when my baby brother, Nuamb, died nearly 60 years ago"


WABAG – It’s too easy to forget and slowly lose some of Papua New Guinea’s authentic traditional practices.

This realisation came to me at the recent 25th Enga Cultural Show as I stood intrigued by a lady covered from head to foot in white clay who was sitting with four other women in a booth at the far end of the showground.

She was wearing many white necklaces made with ripe seeds - or Jobs Tears - harvested from a plant called waku that grows wild in old abandoned gardens.

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Remarkable ‘Melanesians’ found in Malaysia jungle

Batek Melanesian people of Malaysia (Dr Patrick Pikacha)
The Batek people of the Malaysian hinterland  who bear a striking resemblance to the people of Melanesia (Dr Patrick Pikacha)


DUBLIN, IRELAND - Earlier this year, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation published an article by Caroline Tiriman in Tok Pisin entitled, ‘Ol Melanesian Pipal blong Asia ['The Melanesian People of Asia'].

I was struck by the resemblance of the Batek people of Malaysia pictured in the article to the Melanesian people we know in Papua New Guinea and nearby countries in the Pacific.

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The real people of Papua New Guinea


TUMBY BAY - There are many good people in Papua New Guinea. We often hear their stories on PNG Attitude. They are a welcome respite from all the doom and gloom that otherwise reaches our ears.

Papua New Guinea is a Melanesian society that is founded on the concept of community, as opposed to the concept of the individual, and one shouldn’t be surprised by these stories.

These good people exist in most communities. They are working quietly and without any expectation of reward in all sorts of ways and in a huge variety of different fields.

Teachers work in remote communities without resources and sometimes even without a salary. Aid Post orderlies and health clinic workers toil under similar conditions in many areas.

Sometimes we forget about all these good people and concentrate too much on what we hear is wrong with Papua New Guinea.

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Enga - where, without history, people are not people

A gourd used to store tree oil
An Enga gourd used to store tree oil


WABAG - Enga is the only province where a rich cultural history is taught in all schools to help students draw knowledge and wisdom from past traditions and apply them in their lives.

In 2017, American ambassador to Papua New Guinea, Catherine Ebert-Gray, launched two important text books now used in a pilot project across Grade 6-12 in the province.

One of the books, ‘Enga Culture & Community, Wisdom from the Past’, is an ethnography that provides an overview of Enga culture including stories, songs, poems, kongali (words of wisdom), nemongo (magic formulae), drawings and early photographs.

The second book, ‘Teachers Guild for the Enga Cultural Education Pilot Program’, provides recommendations, questions and activities to help teachers integrate material into the curriculum for Grade 6–12 subjects.

The two books are the result of 30 years hard work, research and study on Enga culture by Professor Polly Wiessner, Akii Tumu and Nitze Pupu.

The pilot project is the first major attempt in PNG to teach the rich and fascinating oral traditions that have been passed down from elders to youths over so many generations.

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Women’s road to parliament can start with 50% of the bureaucracy

Tanya Zeriga-Alone
Tanya Zeriga Alone - "Hard to change men stuck in a culture that dictates women have no space in decision-making"


PORT MORESBY - It was just 80 years ago that the hausman [men’s house] ruled.

Some of those men have just transitioned from the village hausman to the national hausman, also known as our parliament.

In Papua New Guinea’s paternalistic society, no woman sits in the hausman with the men.

This current generation of women is just one generation removed from PNG’s cultural past, and women in this age and time are still bound to the cultural roles of women, no matter how educated they are.

It is hard to fix culturally indoctrinated women and men. The present push to get women into parliament has never worked in the past – it is hard to liberate women who still live beneath the shadows of a culture of deferral to men.

It is hard to change men who are still stuck in a culture that dictates that women have no space in decision-making.

Our hope for change is in the next generation. Our hope rests on our girls and boys.

Continue reading "Women’s road to parliament can start with 50% of the bureaucracy" »

Writers of PNG - Now is the time to look your govt in the eye


TUMBY BAY - Perhaps the time has come for the writers of Papua New Guinea – authors, journalists, poets, commentators and others including publishers and illustrators - to look your government in the eye and make a statement.

Perhaps it is time to petition prime minister James Marape and other ministers and seek the government’s support for an authentic and home-grown Papua New Guinean literature - a literature that will help turbo-charge the serious nation-building task that lies ahead.

I propose here a draft form of words that can be sent to Mr Marape, together with the names of all the writers and readers who believe that PNG literature needs more than a thumbs up, it needs real practical support.

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Amazing Moresby: more attractions than you dreamed of

POM - National Parliament House Waigani
The Haus Tambaran - PNG's national parliament house


PORT MORESBY – National Capital District governor Powes Parkop has branding Papua New Guinea’s capital as ‘Amazing Port Moresby’.

It’s his contention that this city goes far beyond just being another big town in the Pacific.

And it’s true, when you look around the city you’ll notice many of the modern buildings have been inspired by traditional totems.

People who appreciate architecture will rejoice in some of Port Moresby’s iconic buildings which boast innovative design and impressive mosaic facades. The striking national parliament is one such.

Built in Haus Tambaran [spirit house] style, the towering mosaic façade depicting Papua New Guinean motifs. Inspired by the traditional sacred houses of the Maprik region of East Sepik Province, the rocket-shaped roof pointing to the sky gives the building a futuristic look.

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Some advice on getting married young – don’t do it


PORT MORESBY - Family relationships is a hot topic. It bothers me. In the workplace and at home, I frequently think and talk about marriage and family life.

Even at public bus stops and shopping centres or while travelling, I’m always bothered. Honestly, I’m suppressed by thinking too hard on this issue.

This dilemma started after I got married in 2008. In my young life, I did not experience this phenomenon.

All I thought about, talked about and did was dream, wishing I could find out what best the world could offer me.

Sometimes I’d dream I was in a graduation hall receiving double degrees. At other times that I was a mechanical engineer or aircraft engineer. Or maybe in the hangar fixing aircraft engines.

Continue reading "Some advice on getting married young – don’t do it" »

‘Nuba Towa’: Death & compensation on Fergusson Island


PORT MORESBY - When the conch shell was blown to announce my grandfather’s death in 2015, everyone in Lyaupolo village stopped what they were doing and returned to the village to mourn.

All day and night, friends, relatives and church members from other villages arrived on foot and by canoe and dinghy to mourn for my grandfather.

Some of them expressed their grief by chopping down several betel nut, coconut and breadfruit trees that grandfather had planted.

One of my uncles wrote down the names of all the mourners. In the past, before formal education, when my ancestors had no knowledge about pen or paper, they would memorise every mourner for the nuba towa (‘sitting in the cold’), it being a customary obligation to compensate everyone who leaves the comfort of their homes to mourn for a deceased family member.

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Karkar Island bilum festival strives to maintain cultural values

Students parade with bilums
Karkar Island students parade with bilums


PORT MORESBY - With all the hype of tourism as a sleeping giant for Papua New Guinea economic prosperity, the community-based cultural festivals throughout the country remain a major asset.

In a recent statement, tourism, arts and culture minister Emil Tammur said a policy submission to the parliament is pending for the national government to fund major cultural events, shows and festivals throughout the country.

“Maintaining and promoting cultural events and festivals is not only important for tourism but also for our identify as a unique and culturally-diverse national in the world,” Mr Tammur said.

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The Chambri tribe of the Sepik - where gender roles are flexible

Crocodile scarification
Crocodile scarification is an age-old initiation ritual practised by the Chambri people

CHISOM NJOKU | The Guardian

LONDON - The Chambri people of Papua New Guinea are located in the Chambri lakes area of the middle Sepik River.

There are three Chambri villages: Indingai, Wombun, and Kilimbit. Together these communities contain only a few thousand people.

When the Chambri first came together, though isolated, they located communities close together so as to make it possible for cultural interaction and growth.

The Chambri people are more relaxed with gender roles as both their men and women fully engage in business and economic activities.

Chambri women are responsible for fishing which is the community’s major occupation and fish-for-sago barter markets are still regularly held in the Sepik Hills between Chambri and Sepik Hills women.

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Land, culture & the limitations of western interpretation

Angry locals  gold mine (Jethro Tulin)
In 2013, angry people massed in their thousands at Porgera, forcing the gold and silver mine to curtail operations. One man was killed (Jethro Tulin)


TUMBY BAY - One of the inherent problems of western-based disciplines like anthropology, sociology, politics and history is that they tend to interpret concepts and practises in terms of their own societies and experiences.

Further than this, they have become the dominant arbiter when it comes to such interpretations.  Even non-western practitioners seem to default to western concepts as a matter of course.

And when a serious attempt is made to interpret something in a neutral way, western ideas interfere and inevitably colour the result.

If you add the western proclivity to render as much as possible into black and white rather than hues of grey the result gets even worse.

There is an argument that, because of the academic strength and reach of its canon, a western interpretation is the best way outsiders can understand what happens in non-western societies.

Continue reading "Land, culture & the limitations of western interpretation" »

Hiri Moale Festival pays tribute to a great seafaring tradition

Hiri Moale - celebrates culture of Motu Koitabu people (Kinjap)
Hiri Moale is an annual celebration of the culture of the Motu Koitabu people


PORT MORESBY - In many parts of Papua New Guinea, tribal boundaries and customs remain barriers for the progress the country desperately seeks.

A traditional fear of enemies still imprisons many people from pursuing progressive outcomes.

But the Hiri Moale Festival breaks down obstacles that hold back PNG from becoming a prosperous and respected nation.

The success of the Hiri trade was based on the Motuan tradition of daring to explore the unknown for the collective benefit of the people.

And in September each year, amongst the many cultural events coinciding with PNG’s independence celebrations, is the Hiri Moale Festival and the Hiri Hanenamo beauty contest.

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From back then: Historic PNG film footage uncovered


NEWCASTLE - I have had all my old New Guinea films, shot in the early 1960s, expertly digitised by the Australian Film and Sound archives.

I am now editing them, adding captions and putting them, about five or six minutes at a time, on my Facebook page.

Here are two shorter clips of several films taken in Papua New Guinea from 1961 to 1963. Part of my job at the Australian School of Pacific Administration in Sydney was to take students to PNG for practice teaching experience.

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Kundu & Digaso festival is restored after quake disaster

Kinjap - Kutubu women nearing Daga village on canoe (Pekinjap)
Kutubu women nearing Daga village by canoe (Peter Kinjap)


PORT MORESBY – In February 2018, Daga village located in the midst of tropical forest near Lake Kutubu in the Southern Highlands, was the scene of a devastating earthquake.

The quake was a disaster for more than 40 villages, claiming many lives, destroying houses and food gardens and displacing hundreds of people.

The remote Daga village was unknown to the outside world until nine years ago when it hosted a traditional party known as the Kutubu Kundu and Digaso Festival.

The event is hosted at the centre of Daga village, which lost its traditional Kutubu long house, to the shocking earthquake. Buildings surrounding the outdoor area where the festival takes place were also damaged.

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Two cows and a pig & the proportionality of status

A pig
The minister's pig: Was it gift enough or should it have been a horse?


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.

Continue reading "Two cows and a pig & the proportionality of status" »

Enga’s annual show highlights people, tradition & identity

Kinjap - Sili Muli girls prepare for the show
Sili Muli dancers prepare for the Enga show


PORT MORESBY - We can safely say there is enough evidence for us to know that more than 25,000 years ago the Melanesian people crossed land bridges from Indochina to inhabit what we refer to as Papua New Guinea.

When Engan son and prolific writer Daniel Kumbon paused at the display of Engan artefacts at the African American Cultural Centre in Dayton, United States, he addressed black Americans with the words:

“Like some of you, we too are black. Like you, our roots are rich and deep. We are your distant cousins, sharing a common African heritage but now scattered in different parts of the world.”

“Maybe black Americans have appreciated the [Engan] display more than others,” said Dr Paul Brennan, the American anthropologist, when he saw the love and admiration of his culture on Daniel’s face.

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Australian multiculturalism: Is there a salient lesson for PNG?

Sing-sing-papua-new-guinea (Pinterest)
A united and multicultural PNG will require eliminating top level corruption and a fair approach to sharing resources


TUMBY BAY - I first became aware of the idea of multiculturalism in the late 1970s when South Vietnamese boat people began to arrive in Australia.

At that time, and probably because of Australia’s ill-fated involvement in the Vietnam War, the government under Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser actually welcomed boat people and refugees.

Those that arrived on our shores brought horrific stories of the perils of their escape from Vietnam, including pillaging and rape by pirates on the high seas. Many Australian hearts went out to these people and they were given much assistance to relocate here.

In South Australia many of them settled on the northern Adelaide Plains where they engaged in market gardening alongside the Italian and Greek migrants who had come here after the horrors of World War II.

Today South Australia’s governor, Hieu Van Le, is Vietnamese as are many professional people like doctors and lawyers. Vietnamese Australians act and sound just like any other Australian and through intermarriage have greatly enhanced the national gene pool.

The arrival of Vietnamese refugees probably heralded the start of Australia’s embrace of multiculturalism. Over subsequent years people from many different parts of the world came here to live and we developed into a happy polyglot society.

There are still hangovers from the old days of the White Australia Policy but thankfully its adherents are in the minority.

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Wisdom from the village: Thoughts from the hausman

The hausman
The hausman (men's house) - traditional seat of learning


SEATTLE - We had an uncle named Etepe. He was a bachelor and commanded respect from nearly everyone, including our neighbouring tribe members.

Among his attributes were his fighting skills and the display of some wisdom.

During tribal fights, his ability for long-distance accuracy in hitting his targets with bow and arrows kept many of the opposing tribes at bay.

When we built a house, certain critical phases - especially placing the beam on the ridge that that ran the length of the roof – were put on hold until his approval.

One of his behaviours I found peculiar was his incredible ability to take action that was entirely opposite to his emotion. For instance, he would carry a very heavy load of firewood, that weighed more than his body weight.

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Revisiting the PNG LNG project landowner problem

Colin Filer
Colin Filer

COLIN FILER | DevPolicy Blog

CANBERRA - On 25 January this year, Papua New Guinea’s Post-Courier newspaper reported that the national court had just overturned a decision made by a provincial land court magistrate in 2006.

The decision in question was meant to resolve a dispute between two members of a Huli clan about the ownership of land in the Moran petroleum development licence area, which is one of eight licence areas that now form part of the PNG Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project.

But it seems that the magistrate ‘mistakenly’ granted one of the disputing parties rights to land in an adjoining licence area that belonged to a Fasu clan, and this had led to unlawful encroachment by members of the Huli tribe, onto land that rightfully belonged to members of the Fasu tribe.

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The end of the benign Papua New Guinean 'Big Man'

Big_manPAUL OATES with a comment from Phil Fitzpatrick

GOLD COAST - Traditional Melanesian custom required the accumulation of wealth and influence to be a notional practice - referred to as ‘social capital’ to differentiate it from capital measured in terms of money. 

This is because traditional wealth in Papua New Guinea was often measured in highly perishable items like food and animals.

In a tropical climate, with no means of preserving food, it had to be given away, creating recognised wealth in terms of obligation to the giver by the receiver. This wealth became measurable.

Giving away food animals was also important since there was a limit of how much fodder could be grown in most villages to feed a large number of food animals. By giving the animal away, this relieved the original owner of the need to continue to feed the animal while creating an obligation.

The benefit of sharing resources in small communities also helped create cohesion and the survivability of the whole community.

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A fine project to preserve the fine art of Motu pottery

Mother-and-daughter-making-pots-hanuabada-1920s (Australian Ceramics Association)
Mother and daughter making pots, Hanuabada, 1920s (Australian Ceramics Association)

TOMÁS DIETZ | Project Gida

CANBERRA - Project Gida [pronounced GHEE-da] is the umbrella name for activities designed to protect and invigorate fading Motuan traditions.

‘Gida’ is the Motu word for 'embers’ - remnants of a fire.  This name was chosen to signal the idea that the embers of Motu culture can be either left to die to cold ashes or fanned back into flame.

As one activity towards retaining these cultural traditions, I am starting an experimental pottery group in Canberra to teach Motu pottery techniques. It will include Canberrans who share a fascination for this ancient tradition.

This group will experiment with the techniques of Motu pottery-making that I acquired in Gida's pilot visit to Boera village.

The point is to gain a practical understanding of Motu pottery construction and will thus make a huge difference in the future when I implement revival programs in the Motu villages.

Continue reading "A fine project to preserve the fine art of Motu pottery" »

Nearly 60 years ago we attended the famed Chimbu pig kill

Craig - Pikinini bilasDAVID CRAIG

KUNDIAWA - In 1961, when I was head teacher at Gon Primary T School on the edge of Kundiawa, I was privileged to be allowed to attend a ‘bugla inngu’ pig killing festival.

The ceremonial pig killing was held at the village of Pari on the slopes adjacent to Kundiawa.  The talk had gone out into the surrounding villages that it was Pari’s turn to celebrate. 

We heard the message at school and wondered what implications it had for us.  We soon learned that the school children were expected to be there.  I made enquiries to district education head office in Goroka whether we could declare a school holiday but was told no.

Further discussions took place and I explained that, if I said no, the students would go anyway and it would be impossible to discipline them, even if I wanted to.  Eventually permission was granted.

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Polygamy has become a destructive force in PNG

Tribal chief with wivesPHILIP KAI MORRE

KUNDIAWA - Polygamy was relevant to traditional societies in Papua New Guinea, especially in the highlands, as part of a patrilineal tradition passed from generation to generation as a means of gaining wealth, prestige and social mobility.

It was also recognised that marrying multiple wives would also increase the labour force to ensure enough pigs were raised and enough gardens were established to maintain the status of the husband and the clan.

Sometimes when the first wife bore no child, the man found a new wife to bear children, especially male children, to increase the male population who could defend the clan and its land from enemies.

The extra wife or wives could be young women, divorcees or widows.

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The making of a bilum (and why not to buy fakes)

Bilum weavingPETER KRANZ

MORRISET – Krungutim lain (twisting rope) is not a lost art. You have to twist the wool to make it stronger and reduce stretch. It’s also the world’s sexiest craft.

Cuban cigars used to be advertised with the catchline that they were 'rolled on the thighs of dusky maidens'. Well the same is true of traditional PNG bilums [strong bags].

And as the proud partner of a dusky maiden, I believe I have the right to reveal a few trade secrets.

When you have your rope you have to get weaving. This involves umbrella spokes. If you don't have any old umbrellas, wheely-wheely spokes will do. Then you just need a pair of pliers to make a hook. Then thread your rope.

Now comes the clever part. In the western world, it’s called crochet or tatting, but PNG women need no fancy words to ply their trade.

You interweave colours and patterns to make a basic shape and weave up from that to make a bag.

Then you add handles and stitch it all together.

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The curse of territoriality: Human instincts & their consequences


ADELAIDE - As an enthusiastic amateur historian, I spend far too much time puzzling over why human history has worked out the way it has. Usually, the facts are not in dispute: it is their interpretation and meaning that creates problems.

Many historic events seem to defy an agreed explanation amongst historians because so many personal, cultural, social, economic, geographic and other factors have interacted to shape and drive those events in particular directions.

Even worse, just when broad agreement is reached, it is often the case that new facts emerge that tend to confound or at least call into doubt the agreed interpretation of events. Just ask any paleontologist or archaeologist if you think this is not a problem.

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Pig kill & the early ‘religion’ of the Chimbu people

Displaying the cooked carcassesPHILIP KAI MORRE

KUNDIAWA - The famous Simbu pig kill, 'bugla inngu' in Kuman, was a celebration of fertility rites at a time when the people saw they had plenty of pigs, bountiful gardens, population growth, and peace and harmony.

This was the time for celebration and the coming event was announced by initiated men blowing the sacred bamboo flutes at night.

Singing and dancing were part of the celebration as was the Simbu sun cult, referred to as ‘aril’, marked by a wig worn by dancers who had gone through certain rituals.

The display of the ‘gerua’ board with different designs worn during the dancing by selected people was a similar ancestral veneration.

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Best of our new years: The end of the pig kill

2013 - Bolga Ingu (Simbu pig kill)
Bolga Ingu (Simbu pig kill)


KUNDIAWA -  Simbu’s most celebrated, friendship fostering, peacemaking, wealth and leadership mentoring tradition, the bolga ingu [pig kill], has sadly waned into the history lane through the callous forces of modernisation. And I’m glad that I had the privilege of dancing in what I have now realised is a now extinct historical ceremony.

It was 1974, the year I did my second grade at the village community school and before PNG gained independence in 1975, that I danced in the bolga ingu conducted by my Yobai people of the Karimui Nomane district in the Simbu Province.

My father, Tultul (the title given to him by the colonial administration as deputy headman) Nii Duma, dressed me in the finest Simbu regalia and, along with other youths, we danced to the beat of the kundu and songs of the forefathers in the week-long singsing.

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Mountain myths from Papua New Guinea

Mt Giluwe
Mount Giluwe


DAGUA - In Papua New Guinea, in traditional societies, mountains animate a sense of awe and malevolence. And they are also recognised as a source of life, spirituality and identity.

Where gods and goddesses reside in mountains in ancient Greek mythologies, ancestral spirits and masalai reside in mountains in PNG mythologies. In PNG, creation stories are augmented by origin and genealogy stories of an ancestor evolving or coming from the mountain.

In August 2008, I spent six weeks practice teaching at Pangia government station in the Southern Highlands. One of my lessons was a task directing students to write a traditional story.

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Tok Pisin breaks through as ANU offers it as a subject

DictionaryPAUL OATES

GOLD COAST - Finally, could it be that there is some light at the end of a very long tunnel.

I have previously written to Federal and State governments about the desirability for Papua New Guinea’s main lingua franca, Pidgin English (or Tok Pisin), to be listed as an optional subject taught in our school’s along with Indonesian, Mandarin and Japanese.

After consistently being rejected at all levels of government from the Gillard school curriculum review to state government education department level, there suddenly seems to have been a breakthrough in common sense.

On page 28 of yesterday’s The Australian newspaper in the higher education section, there appeared Sean Powell’s article ‘Want to speak Tok Pisin? ANU offers more regional languages.’

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Thousands of antiquities returned to PNG after more than 100 years


Sir William MacGregor (1846-1919)
Sir William MacGregor (1846-1919) - "....very much had the people of Papua New Guinea in mind"

PORT MORESBY - Australia’s long, deep ties with Papua New Guinea were celebrated at last weekend’s APEC meeting in Port Moresby and included the largest return of traditional artefacts by an Australian museum.

The decades long project involved thousands of PNG objects being repatriated to the National Museum, with thousands more still to go.

Everyday disposable items from PNG make up the MacGregor collection at the Queensland Museum, assembled more than a century ago.

Kari Thomas from the PNG community in Brisbane is at the museum contributing to the ‘kambek’ [come back] book to help interpret one of Australia’s great collections of PNG artefacts.

Holding a plain woven, palm-leaf bag that is more than 100-years-old, she was overcome with emotion. “Sorry,” she said with a tear in her eye.

"Because I’ve been in Australia for a long, long time, when I see these things, it takes me back home.” 

Ms Thomas is from Hanuabada but in the decades since she came to Australia the palm leaf bags are now rarely made or used there.

This PNG collection consists of rare, fragile daily items sent to the museum by Sir William MacGregor, the colonial governor of Queensland colony of British New Guinea in the late 1800s.

Continue reading "Thousands of antiquities returned to PNG after more than 100 years" »

Kiaps repressed warfare, they did not repress the people

Warwick-Anderson-and-Fore-people-Okapa (Thomas-Strong)
Australian historian Warwick Anderson amongst the Fore people of Okapa in the PNG highlands, also studied by Tobias Schwoerer


LUCERNE - I am rather pleased that my research has caught the attention of someone from PNG Attitude and that it decided to showcase this on its website.

I welcome this interest and hope that some readers will consider buying the book I am currently working on once it is published.

I am grateful to the comments from Chris Overland and Philip Fitzpatrick which made me aware of potential misunderstandings that can emerge from my use of the word ‘repression’.

I used ‘repression’ in the sense of the repression (or suppression) of warfare, not the repression (or oppression) of people.

In my thesis, and also noted by Chris, I show that Australian kiaps and New Guinea police used a wide variety of enforcing tactics to stop armed conflict.

Continue reading "Kiaps repressed warfare, they did not repress the people" »

Some strings attached - but they're not Melanesian

China's flag flies alongside the Papua New Guinean kumul - contributing to many people's mystification about what APEC is really all about

BEN JACKSON | Sun-Earth-Sea Blog

PORT MORESBY - Over thousands of years Papua New Guinea has developed cultural aesthetics that are intricate, diverse and highly regarded by admirers around the world.

Art, architecture and artefacts reveal much about the spirit of the day – they sit at the intersection of people, place and time, and help to tell their collective story.

In 2018, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) is ubiquitous in PNG and, whatever your views on trade liberalisation and neoclassical economic thought, it is undeniable that this annual forum is by far the largest event ever hosted by the country.

One could reasonably expect that, with the global spotlight shining brightly on Papua New Guinea, its rich cultures would be showcased to the thousands of visitors and world leaders.

But Papua New Guinea is the self-proclaimed ‘land of the unexpected’ and on the streets of Waigani, the country’s political heart, there are no signs of its inimitable Sepik wood-carved sculptures, traditional kundu and garamut drums, or natural fibre weaves.

Continue reading "Some strings attached - but they're not Melanesian" »

Trail of Woe: Deep commemoration & missing interpretation


Rashmii and Charlie at Isurava
Rashmii Amoah Bell and Charlie Lynn at the Isurava memorial

The seventh in a series of articles about the need to improve the conditions and sustainable development of the trek tourism industry along the Kokoda Trail. The articles are drawn from Rashmii’s observations and conversations with Papua New Guinean guides, carriers, campsite owners and communities as she trekked the Trail from 6 -17 August, 2018

ON THE TRAIL - Collapsing on top of the clay-baked ground, my trek group seeks refuge from the midday heat under the cool of an awning.

A stream of loose dust swirls past, dancing toward the row of aged banana trees bordering the edge of Menari village. I reach for the nozzle of my hydration bladder and take three appreciative sips.

Beside me, trek mates use the interval to rummage through their backpacks and Band-aid strips, jelly beans and small bottles of sunscreen are offered around – along with tips about redistributing weight in the packs.

I’ve been accompanying trekkers nominated by New South Wales RSL clubs who are participating in their annual Kokoda Youth Leadership Challenge in partnership with Adventure Kokoda.

Fourteen of the group are employees of RSL branches and two are soldiers serving with the Australian Army. Like trek leader Charlie and the trek guide, their daily khakis are enviably immaculate despite the daily grind of uphill climbs and unsteady clambering through swamps.

It is a multicultural group reflective of contemporary Australia and it is the first visit to Papua New Guinea for all 16 participants.

Continue reading "Trail of Woe: Deep commemoration & missing interpretation" »

Regionalism & tribalism, not nationalism, at many PNG schools

Sogeri national high school students in their computer lab - experiencing a sense of national identity often not observed in other types of secondary school where regionalism and tribalism reign


GOROKA - The group of teenagers from Bougainville, the New Guinea Islands, Momase and the Highlands - their yellow and green uniforms indicating they were students - chit-chatted, took selfies, giggled and did the things teenagers do.

We were in the boarding lounge at Jackson's Airport in Port Moresby sitting and waiting for our flight to be announced.

The students were taking shots, hugging and even crying for each other. Among them, a New Ireland girl tried to comfort her sobbing Highlander girlfriend. Elsewhere, three coastal boys queued up for Wewak and Vanimo left their line to hugged the Highlands boys waiting for the Goroka and Hagen flights.

The Sepik boys said, "Plis noken lus tingtig lo plan blo yumi" (Please, don't forget our plans). I didn’t hear what their plan was but, yeah, that was it. I also wondered why these students were on a mass flight in October when they should still be in class.

At the next boarding call, I joined the Goroka-bound passengers and exited the boarding lounge for flight PX 160.

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What should be the values of the people running PNG?

Martyn Namorong  2017
Martyn Namorong - PNG's Constitution provides guidance for a clear alternative pathway to the future


PORT MORESBY - At independence, Papua New Guinea adopted Christian values from missionaries who said Jesus was our saviour who would provide for us heaven.

Post-independence, the miners and loggers came along with other neoliberal capitalist missionaries from the World Bank, the IMF and other multilateral institutions and told us capitalism was the way to heaven.

Our forefathers believed in the message of Christ and gave their land and resources to the churches.

Today their children believe in capitalist economic development and are giving PNG's land and resources to the capitalists.

Whereas Christian missionaries called for repentance and behavioural change to attain salvation, nowadays we talk of foreign direct investment and economic growth to attain deliverance.

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My culture, my pride

Mt Hagen women
Women from Mt Hagen, Western Highlands


PORT MORESBY - No-one can teach you how to be a Melanesian. There are unspoken nuances we intuitively know: they are in our blood, the blood of a proud people - warriors, headhunters - refined over thousands of years.

Our Melanesian culture grounds us in our environment, it was built for us and suits us and served our ancestors and is still serving us today. In our domain we maintain our own –  the Sepik is as good as New Ireland is as good as Enga and so on.

On a bigger stage, our culture is as good as any in the world. We can take our stand proudly in the tribal council. We are survivors, for we have survived as one nation made up of a thousand tribes.

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Is there a middle class in Papua New Guinea?

Benedict Imbun
Dr Benedict Imbun is a Papua New Guinean expert in human resources, business ethics and business administration working in Sydney


SYDNEY - The development status of a country is arguably judged on the size of a middle class in the population more than any other characteristic such as economic and social indicators (e.g., levels of economic growth, infrastructure, educational and health achievements).

One of the primary reasons could be that the size of the middle class in many ways typifies not only the consumption pattern of the country, it also nurtures relevant economic, social, and political beliefs, values and ethos which forms its fabric.

The argument would be that aspirations a middle class harbours usually perpetuates and consolidates the mode of socio-economic and political achievements of the country, so is there such a middle class in Papua New Guinea?

In recent years, commentators and scholars have observed an emerging middle class in PNG increasingly spurred on by the country’s unprecedented economic growth since the 2000s. Others have lamented the ‘very limited’ growth in the middle class, making it difficult as a force to be reckoned with.

The argument in this narrative would be that the middle class as a social group in PNG is struggling to emerge in a society fraught with complex difficulties.

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A tale of two Kandeps - a wonderful Kandep; a painful Kandep

Kandep sunset
Kandep sunset - a town seemingly at peace with itself


The Kandep that continues to amaze

I was in beautiful Kandep a few days ago; lost in thought, unaware of what was happening in other parts of the district, Enga Province, Papua New Guinea or the world.

That night it seemed I was the only person in the small town as I walked around in the cool of the evening on paved roads. The town seemed deserted, it was quiet and at peace.

I liked being alone. I could hear the muffled voices of people preparing or sharing evening meals. I could see the flicker of torchlight through open doors and windows. A couple of stores had their own generators lighting the vicinity and the night.

The sun had just set in a wall of red and I thought for a moment that the mountains were alight.

Continue reading "A tale of two Kandeps - a wonderful Kandep; a painful Kandep" »

A sense of loss: The disappearance of traditional bilas

The traditional bilas parade - could this be the last time this wonderful tradition is ever witnessed?


KUNDIAWA – I never realised how fast traditional bilas would disappear until recently it dawned on me at a local beauty contest.

On a Saturday night late in July, Miss SME Simbu was crowned at the Mt Wilhelm Tourist Hotel. The participants were mostly girls from the nearby Kundiawa Lutheran Day Secondary School.

I’m not a keen follower of beauty quests so when my daughter Natasha broke the news that she was listed to participate I was caught off-guard. But I eventually gave her my consent.

One of the events was a parade of contestants in full traditional bilas. It took place at Dickson’s field when 14 beautiful Simbu lasses paraded in full magnificent Simbu bilas. It was the highlight of the entire contest.

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Not always easy, not always nice, but look where we are

Chimbu Valley
The Chimbu Valley


KUNDIAWA - From the north coast our ancestors climbed into the mountains arriving here in the Chimbu more than 24,000 years ago.

They operated in small groups and freely roamed the vast forests of the time, living by hunting and gathering.

Through natural calamities and feuds with other groups, these early people fragmented and reorganised into new groups and settled on the sides of mountains and in the valleys and farmed the land becoming some of the first people to undertake agriculture in the world.

Then closer to our time today, the advent of kaukau ensured our people settled into more stable communities with domesticated animals.

In the 1930s Australian gold prospectors stumbled upon our remote villages in Karimui and soon after our people saw their first aeroplane flying high in the sky from east to west and back again.

Continue reading "Not always easy, not always nice, but look where we are" »

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.

Continue reading "So much to say, but let me begin: Some words come from pain" »

Are PNG men really savage? A balanced view about PNG


PORT MORESBY - Colonial literature portrayed Papua New Guinea as an exotic and savage paradise. I am surprised that view is still maintained by Australians and some learned Papua Guineans.

One such view is that Papua New Guinean men do not respect and treat our women properly. This is a slap in the face for all the caring gentlemen in Papua New Guinea. We know how to open doors, buy chocolates and golden necklaces for our women. We love our women just like anyone else. We don’t live in the stone-age.

Let’s not confuse ourselves with ‘equality’ and ‘gender based violence’.  Equality – equal access to resources and opportunities between men and women. GBV – violence against women. Using economic terms, equality is macro whilst GBV is micro in nature.

I am all for equality and a level playing field. I believe PNG is a country of equal opportunities. In the process of trying to give a based view, I’ve been called names online and misunderstood.

Continue reading "Are PNG men really savage? A balanced view about PNG" »

Championing the role & interests of women in PNG

Michael Dom


This commentary from Michael Dom was written as a contribution to a continuing and intense discussion in PNG Attitude about gender equity and violence against women in Papua New Guinea. More pertinently it was written before Ward Barry’s harrowing verse published below.

Many Papua New Guinean men admit they have committed sexual violence against their partner, 80% in fact. But solutions are not enhanced by blaming all men for this perfidious behaviour any more than solutions are assisted by using the humanity of decent and innocent men to dilute the case against the perpetrators.

One thing is for sure, it will take the combined efforts of wise men and women to solve this shocking social and cultural problem. And that’s what I like about this comment from Michael – it recognises that reality and shows that – in some circumstances - it is already occurring – KJ

SOMEWHERE IN PNG - While conducting agricultural surveys in many isolated communities across Papua New Guinea, my team regularly comes face to face with gender and equity issues.

Gender and equity are mainstreamed into development policy and are often crosscutting within our extension, research and development programs.

As you probably know I'm not an expert on gender and gender equity, but what I do understand about approaching these issues is that it's always a social and therefore a cultural negotiation.

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Culture is important but collective humanity is moreso

Cornish tin miners
Chris Overland's forebears were Cornish tin miners like these - he can't speak their language but knows how to bake a mean Cornish pastie


ADELAIDE - In a recent article, ‘Do You Understand Who We Are?’, Vanessa Gordon talks about culture and what this means to her as a proud Tolai, as well as to other Papua New Guineans. Clearly, Vanessa’s cultural background is important to her as it is to virtually all humans.

As I reflected upon her writing I started to wonder about this thing we call culture and what we really mean when we talk about it.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines culture as “the way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time”.

It then proceeds to give examples of the use of the word culture in reference to things like ethnicity, age, gender, religion and civilisation.

It immediately struck me that culture is a very slippery concept which we routinely use in a variety of different contexts to mean very different things.

Continue reading "Culture is important but collective humanity is moreso" »

Do you understand who we are? Do you understand our essence?

Couture versus culture. Melan[es]ia Trump in her kumul dress: for Melania just 'pretty'; for many Melanesians pretty offensive


KOKOPO - East New Britain has been buzzing this week as the South Pacific Export Mask Festival and Tolai Warwagira welcomed visitors from all over the world to experience the magic and wonder of an intricate and unique culture.

The annual festival showcases dances from East New Britain, West New Britain, New Ireland and other provinces in Papua New Guinea.

One of the highlights is the Kinavai ceremony which starts on the beach at dawn. Dukduks and tubuans arrive on canoes just as the sun rises.

Dukduk is a secret society, a sacred part of the Tolai culture. The society represents spirits. The dukduks represent male spirits and the tubuans are female spirits.

The only way to differentiate between dukduk and tubuan is by the mask worn by the dancer. The dancers are always male. Always.

Even though they may be representing a tubuan. the dancer will always be male. Females are not allowed in the society.

As the canoes approach, villagers, residents and tourists congregate on the shore of Omorong Beach.

Hundreds gather and wait in silent anticipation.

Continue reading "Do you understand who we are? Do you understand our essence?" »

Betel nut – Papua New Guinea’s social bond & urban curse

The ingredientsRAYMOND SIGIMET

DAGUA - Betel nut chewing has strong Melanesian cultural roots, especially in traditional Papua New Guinea societies in the coastal and island regions. Betel nut, also called areca nut or buai in Tok Pisin, is the seed of the Areca catechu palm tree.

The history of betel nut goes back thousands of years. It has a long history in parts of Asia and the Pacific. It is estimated that 10-20% of the world’s population chews the nut.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 600 million people use some form of betel nut. It is placed fourth as the world’s most popular psychoactive substance after nicotine, alcohol and caffeine.

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After mass that Sunday, I witnessed a tribal fight at Kailge....

Mock battle
Kopia-Kubuka warriors in a mock charge as part of a compensation ceremony at Palimung, 1983


DUBLIN - It was while I was stationed in Ulga in the Western Highlands of Papua New Guinea that I witnessed a tribal fight near a place called Kailge in the Nebilyer Valley.

Kailge was on the other side of the Nebilyer River, more recently the area has been referred to as Hap-Wara (Trans-Nebilyer).

On Saturday 9 December 1972 I went to Kailge planning to have mass there on Sunday.

Father Eddie O’Neill drove me as far as the road went and I walked the rest of the way.

But when I got to Kailge I discovered there was trouble brewing. The Kailge clans (part of the the Kopia Kombuka alliance) had discovered that one of their young men had been accused of sending poison to a young man of a neighbouring tribe, a member of the Teia-Dyna and Toka-Waneka alliance.

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Tribal fighters turn traditional rules of warfare into modern law

Tribal fightingSTAFF REPORTER | International Committee of the Red Cross

MT HAGEN – Some 34 councillors of the Nebilyer Local Level Government in the Western Highlands Province have agreed to respect and implement traditional rules of fighting to minimise consequences of warfare on people and property.

After numerous meetings tribal leaders generated 15 rules and these were formalised as aw at a recent signing ceremony.

“The rules are neither new nor borrowed but are the ones used in the past by our forefathers when engaging in any tribal fight,” said Gabriel Kiap, chairman of Western Highlands provincial law and order.

Kiap, once a tribal leader involved in fighting during his younger days, said these fights had greatly affected the community.

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