I first came to know him as a reliable physician that my family went to for all our medical problems. His medical clinic was based at the Waigani shopping centre, opposite the PNG Bible Translation centre. My family and I depended on this man for all our health problems.
Dr. Powesiu Lawes is the person I am referring. He hails form Loniu Village, located on the beautiful Island of Manus Province.
I came to know Dr. Lawes as a friend as well. For some years I had not seen him after he had closed his clinic and moved on in life. It was many years later I would meet him again in Port Moresby. This time it was for a different reason.
I met him at the National Museum and Arts Gallery for a symposium on arts and culture in development organized by the National Cultural Commission. Of all the people in the world I had not expected Dr. Lawes to attend this kind of meeting.
Dr. Lawes told me he was into arts exhibitions. I must admit that took me off guard a bit, until I realized that my good physician is telling me the truth.
He promised to send me more information if I give him my email address. Sure enough he did send me further information through email describing more than what he had told me.
The information was not about Dr. Lawes himself, but about his move to encourage the development of arts and culture as a way of promoting tourism and sustainable living in his village.
“We have embarked on rehabilitating our society’s culture with the aim of reviving many traits that have either been eroded or lost. Unfortunately, lack of cooperation from certain individuals forced us to shelve this idea for a while,” Dr. Lawes says.
He soon discovered that there were more challenges and difficulties to deal with when it came to promoting arts and culture at the village level.
“When this was seen to be prolonged, another idea surfaced. This was to establish a Cultural Centre to go in line with the formation of a Village Art Gallery, which will portray a lot of my contemporary artwork and promote village arts and crafts.”
In his trained eyes he saw that many of these skills and tradition knowledge are disappearing as faster than imagined in our changing society.
“The Village Art Gallery should not only display my work, but also those produced by villagers, both men and women. Advertisement through internet and print media should attract tourist at regular intervals, to Loniu Village.”
In the grand vision of things Dr. Lawes wanted to make the cultural centre a place where members of the community: men, women, youth, young girls and school children can convene at regular interval to learn from the elders and knowledgeable people, the Loniu Society’s culture and traditional knowledge, beliefs and skills that are needed for both livelihood and survival of the Loniu Society.
Many of us continue to talk and advocate for the importance of arts and culture in our communities.
In Loniu Village through the leadership of this Dr. Lawes, the villagers are forging ahead with this project. It is also an ideal opportunity for elders to pass on information and knowledge of their own society to their children.
A cultural centre can also exist as a repository of the finite expressions of a people. Through such an institution a whole world of intertwining experiences and cultural fusion of knowledge from the past and the present are at work. The surprising result is the positive power it has in generating the collective memory of a people.
There is also the economic sense of establishing a village cultural centre.
“Attracting foreign currency into the community will be a flow-on effect of establishing the art gallery and cultural centre, if they are managed well,” a confident Dr. Lawes explains to me.
The good Doctor is making sense. I immediately recalled an experience I once had when I was lecturing on board the cruise ship, Oceanic Discoverer. In Malaita Province of the Solomon Islands is the village of Busu, built on reclaimed land and ideally located in the Langalanga Lagoon. The villagers built a cultural centre, specifically to entertain and sell their cultural artifacts, shells, and to show how shell money is manufactured and some of their unique cultural knowledge and dances.
The villagers in the Busu Cultural Centre did not have to travel to Honiara to make money. Money came to their doorsteps, to their village, to their world via the tourists on board the Oceanic Discoverer.
With that flashback I was convinced that Loniu Village was taking the right approach to sustainable living.
Dr. Lawes is a man of conviction. He says: “Established and managed well, we believe this will undoubtedly influence the emergence of other allied ideas and activities.”
What he meant was if “everything goes as planned the Loniu Community should benefit greatly from reviving our cultural knowledge and skills or our customs and forms which we can market our knowledge in arts and crafts. The greatest beneficiaries will be our children (those in school and drop outs).”
“I believe, by now, you would have realized that I am doing this without asking for funds from government or private organizations. I believe in forging ahead individually to establish something before the government or organizations can be enticed for assistance.”
I am happy to know this side of my family physician. What I did not know at that time was that when Dr. Powesiu Lawes was a student at Sogeri National High School in the 1970s he had developed a strong passion for the arts.
Obviously he had not pursued that at UPNG, but kept it to himself until he had the opportunity to pursue it later in life.
In sharing this experience in my column I am hoping Dr. Lawes and the Loniu Villagers will get the support and assistance they need to realize their collective dreams.