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The Changing Culture of Papua New Guinea

Culture is not a stagnant thing. Unless it is on display in a museum. What we see and experience is a snapshot of one point in time. But then again, we as human beings are changing too. We affect the culture and are in turn affected by the culture.

Church: Sunday, August 9 1998

Fatima parish is composed of a central church (Our Lady of Fatima, funnily enough?), and various out-stations. Kala is the closest, then Bunem-wo, Kinjipi, Penda and Mala. An out-station is a small community which has it's own identity, church and catechist. Either Fr. Peter or one of the Seminarian Priests will say Mass at one of the out-stations each week. Each church gets Mass celebrated there once each fortnight, the catechist will say Communion every other week. We often go with Fr Kees. His Pidgin (and English) is easy to understand. Fr Valerian (an Indian priest) often goes, and sometimes takes Fr Joseph, his wantok with him.

Fr Joseph was doing The Mala/Penda run this Sunday. He had asked if Sandi and I could drive him (as he does not have a licence to drive in PNG). We said we would be delighted to go (and take him too).

The road was in relatively good condition. It is a dirt road, and as all dirt roads around the world, can tend to get rutted and potholed. The poor drainage in the Wahgi Valley means the roads deteriorate quickly. Rain, or no rain. Most of the time one can obtain a fairly smooth ride toward the edge of the road: by driving with your left wheel on the small soft ridge of dust at the edge of the road. One has to concentrate because it can get a little tricky if your wheel falls off the ridge, and off the road. Sometimes the ridge has subsided, creating a deep dip. At such times one has to brave the potholed centre of the road, or hope that when you land, it is with four wheels on the road.

I'm not sure what takes more concentration: driving with your left wheel on this narrow ridge, or ducking and dodging the potholes. The constant bone rattling of the potholes is certainly exhausting: more exhausting for those that ride on the tray at the back. At least the seats have springs which absorb much of the jarring.

We must have made quite good time, as there was no one at the church when we arrived, or it possibly could have been that the morning was dull: no sun, no sense of the passing of time; no sense of the passing of time, and you arrive late. People started arriving soon after we had, the Mass started with the church about half full and finished with it completely full.

The church at Mala is a new bush material structure. It is a temporary building. Their new permanent church is in the process of being built. The foundations are down with galvanised poles up. It has been this way for a few months. The first building we went to at Mala was next door to the existing temporary building. It too was a temporary building, probably a little too temporary because it fell down a month or so ago. This is why a new temporary building has been constructed.

The musicians were the first to wander in. Five guitarists and three guitars. Everyone here uses the classical type guitar, but only steel strings can be bought. The musicians tuned their instruments, and when they were satisfied, launched into the first song: not necessarily the start of Mass, just the first song.

Mass today turned out to be something very special, it is usually really nice at Mala, but today God communed with His people in a very close and real way. The praises, although simple, untuned, out of time, of indefinite start and somewhat awkward end, were inhabited by the awesome presence of our God. And He stayed till the very end! After Fr Joseph said, "The Mass has ended, go in peace." I leaned over to the lady sitting next to us on the straw and said, " Mipela i laikem stap liklik taim moa yet! " She smiled and laughed; I think she knew what we meant. It's times like this that you could spend all morning in church.

Next stop was Penda. We arrived there early too. The Charismatic Group members were still in the middle of their service. Because everybody is either late or early for everything, including Mass, The contingency plan is to have a praise service either before or after Mass, depending whether you are the first or second on the priest's run. Penda being second has it's praise service at the beginning. The Charismatic groups are a fairly new innovation here. In some ways, it's just another group that vies for the time of the parishioners, and in another way, it is the breath of fresh spiritual air into the congregation. Some out-stations have struggled under the strain of the competition. One out-station had open warfare between the Charismatics and The Legion of Mary. At the height of hostilities, both had planned Masses on the same day at the same time without making sure that the Priest was aware of the situation (2 Masses required). He said one, was not told about the other, so went home. The group that was left out (note that I have not incriminated either one?) was up in arms! it took quite a bit of careful diplomatic work and prayer to bring the two groups together.

Actually, visiting the Church there the following week was inspiring: there was a special sweetness of true reconciliation in the air. God does answer prayer!

Sandi and I heard the singing as we walked up to the church. We thought, "Well this certainly is exciting!" and went straight in and sat down. I'm not sure if we were expecting too much, or it all seemed quite different when looking down on it from cloud 9, but the spirit was very different there. It seemed very forced, pushed along by the fellow leading (as if he was imitating some modern western church leader), quite a bit of flesh. It seemed to get worse, rather than better as it progressed. The two Masses really were in stark contrast.

We arrived home to the usual baked chicken lunch. Francis always bakes 2 #18 chooks on Sunday with baked kaukau, often broccoli in a sauce, and a gravy. We were still enthusing over Mass during our meal, and floated into the afternoon, which we spent at the Banz Club.

Mount Hagen Cultural Show, 21 August 1998

We weren't going to go. We had thought it would be better to go next year, you know, "Don't do everything in the first year" sort of thing? But a couple of days before the show we met Andy (the German volunteer down at Fatima) in town who said that the show was going to be a big one this year. So we changed our minds, but didn't tell the boys. We always like planning surprises for them. The 21 st of August is also Nathanael's birthday.

The Mt Hagen Show runs for 3 days, and is in the middle of our term break. The Rector asked us to take 5 or 6 students to the show as well.

The Trip in
There was a small altercation with some students in the morning: some had taken more lunch than they should, which left some short. Br Maurice (also taking in some students) was left sitting in the ute packed with students for about 20 minutes. We were to go in convoy, but his patience ran out and he disappeared out the front gate. We were still waiting for our 5 or 6 students to show up. In the end, Fr Kees said that it was their problem now: we had already waited 30 minutes. When we drove out the front gate we saw a small group of our students walking up the road. I said to Sandi that we may as well give these fellows a lift if they wanted to go somewhere: they were just wandering nonchalantly. It turned out that they were the 5 or 6 students we were meant to be taking in; it is sort of a custom here not to show your real intent.

The road had a very uneasy feel about it that day. A certain uneasiness in our spirits. Times of common festivity can create some unwanted behaviour amongst the locals. Western Highlands Province, as most other highlands provinces, is a dry province. Alcohol can only be purchased legally at licensed premises, and then it must be in a glass or opened bottle so that you can not take it away. The trade in illegal alcohol is rife. Jungle juice (commonly referred to as JJ) is made by fermenting pineapple cordial. The locals don't drink for pleasure, but to get drunk. Their behaviour when drunk is often appalling: staggering down the middle of the road challenging cars to a game of chicken (unfortunately they are too drunk usually to feel fear, and the compensation claims if you hit them would be horrendous!), most fights, which often end with bits of people cut off with bush knives, are alcohol related.

We narrowly missed a fellow staggering down the road, as we passed he tried to hit the van with his bush knife. A little further on was a container truck lying on it's side with it's back doors open. Empty. The discarded wrappings of whatever it contained marking a trail off into the bush. You can only wonder at the events that led to such a sight.

The show was being held at the Show Ground this year (apparently last year there was trouble with land claims, so it had to be moved to the oval at Rebiamul: near the Catholic Mission). We turned into the road that led to it from the highway, and were confronted with a mass of gutter to gutter people, all shuffling toward the show. We were soon enveloped, travelling at little more than walking pace. It didn't feel good. Too much 'Us and them'. Us in the car, them on the road; us with white skins, them with brown; us law-abiding citizens, them with bushknives &

The Push to Buy Tickets
We found a parking spot not far from the entrance, and joined the throng moving slowly toward the front gate. Tickets were purchased from a concrete block bunker emblazoned with a cigarette manufacturer's colours and logo. A huge group of people was just standing in front of this building. Most were not moving, there were no lines and no organisation. The students that came with us said, "You just have to push." So off I went to push.

I got to about 3 metres from a window (which really was just a hole where no blocks were laid about 350 x 400 mm, and covered in reinforcing mesh), where the density became too great to slide by the other people. The fellow in front seemed to have no desire to either go forward to buy a ticket, or retreat. I was stuck. Then Michael Alious went flying by me. He had the reputation of being a good pusher, and was certainly living up to it! He was standing beside a window and slowly evicting the person next to him from his position of prominence in front of the window, when he turned around to me and asked if I would like him to buy my tickets. His reputation already meant he was buying all the other students' tickets as well. Silly question really. I handed him my K10 for our 5 tickets.

Once we extracted ourselves from that human crush with our tickets, we had to join another, which was flowing through the gates. Like molasses in winter. The gate men's main aim was a security check for weapons and alcohol on body or in bags, secondly it was to check your ticket.

Inside the Show
Click to enlarge "What do we do now?" There were groups of people wandering around in full bilas (ceremonial decoration), sometimes dancing. Michael joined us again, and offered his services as a guide. Silly question again.

Click to enlarge He took us up the road which led to the main arena. The various groups were lined up waiting to go in. Each group had their usually distinct bilas. They warmed themselves up by dancing, tuned their voices, straightened their feathers, and often smoked tailor made cigarettes and drank pepsi.

We wandered through the sideshow alley area. We played hoopla by throwing little wire rings over cans of drink which had money taped to them. 5t per hoop. When Jesse leaned over the rope his hand was just about over the table. No one won anything. Another 5t wire ring game we played, although the rings were smaller, was throwing them onto a table which had money spread over it, if you landed completely within a note, or over a coin, you won that money. No one won anything, although the fellow said, " Klostu, Klostu !" after each throw. One of Sandi 's landed and started rolling. It rolled around and around the table for an amazing length of time, and after a short period, silence fell as people became transfixed with the journey of this small ring. It finally settled half on, half off a K2.00 note. The spell was broken, the silent group regained their thoughts and again forgot about what might have been. "Klostu, Klostu!"

Nathanael asked to get his face painted, and we could not see anything wrong with the idea, until we asked what type of paint they were using! See Nathanael's Painted Face.

Click to enlarge On top of the Grandstand (which is so named because that's where you stand to get a good view), we settle down to watch the dance past. Each cultural group entered the arena, and danced their way around the edge, slowly spiralling into their final position in the centre. The whole effect was awe-inspiring. The movement, the colours the singing, the dancing; all different. Wig men who wear flat bottomed human hair pieces, yellow faces: they danced by two lines facing one another and jumping up and down (there were two girls in this group who were desperately holding onto their breasts). Mud men who were completely covered in grey mud and wore huge mud grey masks (that were more like a helmet) and had long bamboo fingers: they were in the Ministry of Silly Walks. Click to enlarge Skeleton men who were blackened with shoe polish I think and had the major bones painted in white: their walk was one step, three pelvic thrusts, another step, three more pelvic thrusts, etc. The Maselai group who chased an animalistic maselai (evil spirit), until it turned and chased them: sent the crowd into uproarious laughter, making them stand up and block our view. Snake men who were blackened and had white horizontal stripes painted in white: each one held the waist of the fellow in front, bent over and jumped up and down, weaving a snake like path. There was a woman's group from Enga who wore beautiful large grass skirts: their dance was an amazingly graceful and flowing skip, the grass skirts rustling distinctly audible. Some of the highlands' tribes, had yellow faces and carried their weapons: their dance was more like a military march in formation and timing. Kite men we called another group who had a huge open, highly decorated frame strapped to their back. It was about the width of a man but extended to about 5 metres off the ground: their dance was a twirling which showed off their 'kites'.

Halfway through the parade, many people suddenly stood up and started leaving. Another student, who had relieved Michael said that they were scared that the sun was not strong. It had certainly got cooler, although there were no clouds in the sky. "They think it's the end of the world." There came a toksave over the PA, " Sun ino strong; emi aul rait! Em i no gud yu go long ples bilong yu. " Apparently it was a solar eclipse. We were very thankful really: the crowd thinned out, and it was much cooler.

After the parade had finished it was time to find some lunch. The food stalls were purpose built bush material huts. We looked through most of them, the boys finally settling for a K1.20 meat pie each (which turned out to be a bit cool inside), Sandi and I went for a Kl.00 sausage sandwich and some 2Ot kaukau, all followed by the sweetest Kl.00 pineapple I have ever tasted, cut into fifths lengthways. While looking for lunch I stumbled across one fellow pouring some whisky into a pepsi can: obviously missed at the gate.

We found the toilet block after lunch. Two small free standing outhouses, one with "MEN" painted on the door, the other "WOMEN": bold lettering, bright red colour and long paint drips down the length of the door. They were on a raised section about 15 metres square, which had concrete pavement in parts: it was probably the remains of a previously toilet structure. As well as adding the new outhouses, the authorities also added a couple of strands of barbed wire around it's perimeter. A fellow patrolled the perimeter fence, and was obviously the toilet attendant: his bum bag meant to hold the entrance fees people had to pay. The toilets certainly looked clean, which was probably because they were unused.

The boys had a go at a coconut shy, 20t for three baseballs. A huge crowd gathered to watch. Jesse was very close with each of his three balls, but the coconut still winked back at him. Keren's first ball knocked a coconut off, but because he had hit the base of the pipe it was sifting on, it was disqualified. He corrected his aim too much with the second shot, sending it over the top; but the third was on the money. We all waited for a prize, but the fellow said, "Two out of three to get a prize." The crowd dispersed, and so did we.

Down the road a wee way, we spied a small sign that said, " Kopi 30t" Sandi and I were game, so we walked up and asked for 2 cups. We saw the wee lass walk back to the table that held the ingredients and the thermoses of hot water. She put two large ceramic mugs onto a dirty tray and proceeded to tablespoon sugar into the mugs. After the third heaped tablespoon, Sandi and I had recovered enough to say, " mipela no likem suga !" Because it was the first (and probably the most important) ingredient, there was no harm done: she just upended the mug's contents back into the bag and proceeded to add the powdered milk. The coffee was duly finished and placed on the counter before us: lots of powdered milk and not much coffee, but it was hot. We stood in the street and drank, silently wishing we had a chair to sit on.

There were sellers of tourist bits and pieces too. Jesse bought a Kina shell which was quite nice for K1O.00. Other bits and pieces that only entered their culture after white men arrived were there to be sold too. We were desperate to sit down now. The sun was full strength now and our legs ached. We crossed the arena, now empty, in search of a tree on the other side. The cultural groups were all here, some undressing (if you can call taking off the very little you have on undressing), some still dancing and singing: some must have been singing and dancing for about 6 hours straight! The was a musical group singing on the back of a truck: obviously Christian of a charismatic flavour - you can tell by the distinctive way they dance. Thought about stopping, but there was no shade. In fact, all the trees' shadows were fully booked. Bummer. So, across the arena again to sit under one of the marquees.

Finally: shade and no weight on my legs! Bliss. There was a band on a truck over this side too. Some of the food stalls had been incinerated, one was still burning fiercely: no attempt to put it out. The police came driving past, " Em i no gut yu stap long taim." from their PA. It was strange, it was only 3 p.m., still early; we thought the show would continue for another couple of hours. We had arranged to meet the students back at the van at 4 p.m. We thought we might as well sit in the van as in the marque, so we decided to go as requested.

On the way out the boys wanted one more drink, so we dispatched them together: a lot of other people were leaving too, and the road was full. The boys quickly disappeared into the crowd. Sandi and I stood on a small rise to try and spot the boys. The band was still playing on the back of their truck about 100 metres away. Suddenly there was a short burst of automatic gunfire, and a louder bang. Smoke started floating up from amongst the crowd in front the band. Tear gas: what a way to get people to leave the show!

Click to enlarge We felt instant panic for the boys: we still could not locate them. The last we had seen of them was when they were wandering up the road (toward the band & the place where the gunfire and tear gas was), obviously looking for a stall that had drinks left. Short earnest prayers. Not quite as anxious minutes passed, then Jesse's head came floating along the top of the crowd, not looking pleased. The three of them eventually emerged, drinks in hand. The trip home was much more relaxed than the drive in; most of the students were waiting at the van, protecting it from a drunk fellow making a bit of a nuisance of himself in the car park.

What a day! Keren says we should have taken more photos, I think he always says that? A cup of tea is never so pleasurable as when you come home exhausted and dry from a day like that!

The Life and Times of PK, our puskat
4th September, 1998

The change from kitten to adolescent cat was so gradual, it was imperceptible. Imagine: PK, a full grown cat. It only seems like yesterday that he had snuggled up under my beard (probably a good thing I don't have a nipple under my chin!); that the boys were madly snapping photos of this small, insignificant black fury ball as it waddled across the lawn.

There is a time that, in my mind at least, seems to mark the change from kitten to cat. The time of the Clark children's visit. Their cat in Sydney is a total lounge lizard, a lap lounger, a cat that is carried from here to there, a very patient individual. They treated PK like their Humphrey, and PK seemed to be somewhat trained by their treatment. He became sedentary, sleeping 20 hours in the day. But such an adorable sleeper! You could start scratching his stomach, and he would roll over, his four legs in the air, and remain completely asleep. Pick him up and drape him over your shoulder, still asleep.

Our cat in Sydney (who now lives his retirement with my mother on the Central Coast) was definitely not a talker. He would look at you, open his mouth as if meowing but no sound would come out. No matter how angry, upset or hungry, he would make very little noise. PK is the opposite. His meow is loud and constant. He also makes this "prrrniuuueeeeeeee" sound as he runs along the floor to jump onto your lap. We really like that sound, it's very distinctive, like the sound when you roll your tongue. It's like he says, 'Hello! You're there, I'm so glad, I'll come and sit a while."

John has another male cat. We were at one time concerned that having two males so close would cause problems (the college cat is a female). But they have became very close friends, it was almost as if the Ding's cat was relieved to know another cat that it didn't have to mate with all the time (the college cat is a bit of a kitten factory!). The Ding's cat would wander down to our house at all odd hours and meow softly, "Come out and play PK, come out and play." PK pricks up his ears, and runs outside, even if he is fast asleep! They often play and rough and tumble, sit and look at one another or go exploring. I was quite jealous at first, but realised you can't keep your young'n's in the nest indefinitely.

The night before last we were harshly awoken very early in the morning by fighting dogs at the compost pit (we often get dogs wandering through the college). Jesse, I think, rushed out to chase them off. When we all got up later, PK was gone. He was still away at lunchtime. The dogs must have given him a big fright, and chased him a long way away, or maybe he was still hiding somewhere, waiting for the cover of darkness to come out again.

We looked everywhere for him: around the house, under buildings, up in the forest and all the hiding places we could find. We made a "Lost" poster and put it up around the college. It can only be a matter of time before he wanders back home again. We prayed for him, that he would be safe wherever he was, and that Jesus would bring him back. He still hadn't come back by the next day.

When Sandi and I were going to bed last night, we glanced out our window, onto the boys' putting green. It was a half moon, so everything could be seen, although appearing fairly indistinct. The green was clearly outlined, now a silvery grey green in the moonlight. The holes dug over the water pipes were easy to see too, because the shadows made them appear black. As we concentrated on one particular hole that didn't seem to be where we remembered, it moved slowly more into the centre of the green. It didn't move physically. As we concentrated and pushed the mist of sleep from our minds, the reality of where it was slowly overpowered our perception of where it was. Finally it remained where and what it always was: a black shape in the middle of the putting green.

With much fear and trepidation we went to investigate. Sandi stopped on the back step unable to go further, "It is him, isn't it?" I was standing over PK now. He seemed frozen in time: eyes wide, fur wet as if from exertion, body sprung in the middle of one last desperate leap that obviously was not successful. His tail with that characteristic hooked end. "Yes, it's him."

We buried him immediately, at 1 in the morning, in the garden by the back door. Sandi couldn't bear leaving him until morning or letting the boys see. Thankfully he was whole, John Ding has had a number of cats killed by dogs and has only found bits and pieces in the forest. The spiritless body I carried to the hole didn't seem as big as I remembered him, maybe he was still a big kitten? "I hope I've dug the hole deep enough?" That earth makes a horrid sound as it falls onto the dead body. A sort of hollow sound. A hollow thump. It seems to echo around the hollowness of my emotions. What a thing to happen!

We told the boys first thing next morning. Sandi didn't help matters by starting to cry before I got the news out. Jesse erupted into fits of crying, Keren smiled and said "We can get a new kitten now," and Nathanael looked mildly sad. Half an hour later, Keren emerged from weeping beside the grave, and Nathanael's eyes misted up. Jesse remained red eyed.

The kitten factory doesn't have any kittens available just at the moment, so PKII will have to wait for natural processes. The wait is incredibly hard though. We all hear his 'running up to meet you' sound, imagine him jumping onto our beds at night and most amazing of all, we miss his infuriating meowing. The Ding's cat still comes and calls for his friend, "Come and play, PK?" His meow is a reminder that we would prefer not to have.

Nathanael wants me to write another poem like "Boris Bird" in memory of PK's short stay. Keren is berating his mother, "I told you we should have taken more photos!" I guess we all look forward to the time when the dog will lie down with the cat; and in the meantime we marvel at God's answer to our prayer. Jesus did bring him back, whole, so that we could bury him and not continue wondering where and how or what. Was it an angel or a dog that brought him back? Why would a dog bring back an animal it had killed the night before and leave it on our back lawn, unchewed? Unless it was constrained by the Spirit of God. What a mystery!