A death happened in the hamlet right after ours in the village. That was soon after Christmas that the relatives had to set up the ‘house cry’ right up the first week of New Year 2014. The deceased was a woman of standing in the community that when her body arrived on Monday afternoon a lot of the surrounding community members paid their last respects that evening.
The night went smoothly for most of the mourners until the morning when a commotion began with some of the relatives accusing others of using sorcery. The problem was that instead of participating in the laments and mourning in the night some of the youths decided to drink ‘steam’ in the night.
My father who had gone over early for the burial returned dismayed that there was a fight early in the morning. He asked me if I can help him with some money to sort out the customary restrictions that the relatives of the deceased had imposed that morning.
I realized that village ways and customs remain intact among many of our people. I assisted my father participate in the funeral customs of our community. In no way am I to stand in the way of ignore the importance customs plays in the lives of many of our people in Papua New Guinea.
Many like myself are educated in Western classrooms and knowledge but return home from time to time to be with our families who live pretty much same way for many years. I have always seen this unique element of Papua New Guineans to be a source of strength and inspiration to many generations.
Last year the debate on whose culture was important began with the removal of the artifact and totems poles in the National Parliament by the Speaker of the House, Mr. Theodore Zurrenuouc, and his supporters. The debate raised the awareness that Papua New Guineans must treat their cultures and customs with sensitivity and respect. No one has the right to force one’s culture on another.
It was also a important defining moment for the birth of cultural consciousness among many educated Papua New Guineans. The question that most felt needed answer was whether to privilege the introduced Western cultures and ideologies such as Christianity and other plastic material arts and culture.
There is a post-colonial theory that espouses the condition that most formerly colonized nations go through. It is the theory of mimicry and imitation of the former colonizer’s habits, customs, belief systems, ideologies, and exact replication of the former colonizer’s attitude to the colonized people. Imitation and mimicry are behavior patterns that promotes a copycat of the original colonial behavior and ideas, much to the detriment of the colonized.
One of the negative effects of this process of mimicry is the cultural denigration that most formerly colonized societies go through even many years after Independence, often driven from with the national elites and sectorial conclaves. It is never encompassing of the whole, but driven purely from a minor groups of individuals, with absolute access to the seed of power and control.
That in the Marxian superstructure would translate as the political elite and the political state apparatuses of government, education, and even church. Once given legitimation within the state apparatuses that becomes an ‘official’ sanction on cultural expressions and collective bargaining power. Political theorists like to describe this activity as socialism initiate with the production machine itself.
So what do you get out of a political condition such as this as exemplified in the PNG case? Is it about culture or about political power? It cannot be about cultural power? It is about political power fashioned by the individuals with access to power and resources to manipulate collective pubic consciousness to the point of inserting their belief system on others unwilling to participate in their activity. History in the world has ample similarities to compare outcropping of such ideological emergence.
But to return to the story reported in the beginning of this article I am often troubled with the observation of many funeral and haus krais in our communities. Some of our people no longer observe haus krais and respect the departed relatives with proper laments and traditional mourning rituals. In some communities of the East Sepik province people no longer have post-mortuary feasts to mark the passing of fellow tribesmen and women. People have become individualistic and removed from their cultural frameworks of social-cultural psychology.
Yet in some parts of Papua New Guinea garden food and store goods are brought together with pigs to mark such a time. People are properly given respect and assured their relationships with those who mourn. A continuity of life is given meaning within the cultural traditions that brought people together in the first place.
The challenge that Papua New Guinea faces is that mortuary and post-mortuary practices are not the same everywhere. It is difficult for one cultural group to impose their cultures on another without creating any form of conflict in the act.
The point I want to make here is that Papua New Guineans acknowledge that following a cultural purists path is self-negating and self-defeating, but acknowledging national unity through cultural diversity is the way forward.
The understanding that we all share is that we respect each other cultures and differences and work hard at finding a common path, a common currency, and common purpose for our visions as a nation of heterogeneous cultures and cultural diversity, which we allow to blend with the introduced ones and those we adopted at Independence, much like some of our national laws that we follow in the country apart from the Constitution, the Customary Laws, and other laws made in Papua New Guinea based on the ingredients given above.
The reflection made here highlights the importance we ourselves must make on what is important to us as cultural people proud of who were are and what we make of ourselves.
We must not let someone else decide for us.