Thursday, September 13, 2007

How much I don't know about my roots

I received a survey yesterday that required me to answer questions regarding some a part Manus history. It would have gone smoothly except for that after reading through the questions I realised I knew very little about Manus history. I can only name the basics: my father’s village name, the island where he’s from, the island location, our clan name and members of my father’s family dating back only two generations. What could have caused this I asked myself? Ignorance? Lack of communication? After much thought I came up with the following analysis.

Firstly I grew up in Port Moresby, which I believe is as much of a melting pot as New York (maybe not to the same extent but you get the idea) given the diversity of the country and the ethnicities you’ll find in the capital. You’ll find a lot of cross-cultural fraternising and the westernisation of the city means there is a shift in focus from traditional ways to the western tendencies e.g. wider use of English and access to cable TV, education and the Internet. As a result a whiz kid whose parents are from Madang may know more about the periodic table and the reactions of sodium potassium when mixed with an acid based liquid than about whom his tribal elders were 3 generations ago.

Secondly there is a shift from traditional goals and aspirations to that of modern-contemporary times. We equate education with power to earn money and that has become what we aspire to have. Traditional and cultural education is secondary to a HSC certificate and so there is not too much emphasis on it. This is why more and more people speak English and Tok pisin rather than the language of their parents and why growing food in a garden is not something you’d find most high school students learning about.

The other reason is that I am a product of an inter-cultural marriage. I find that often in an inter-cultural marriages emphasis may be placed on learning one of the parent’s cultures (most often the father’s due to the patriarchal nature of most of PNG society) or a more westernised cultural upbringing is favoured with cultural learning playing a minor role especially in a city like Port Moresby. For instance neither of the two languages we spoke at home was native to either parent and I was more exposed to my mother’s culture because her parents lived in the capital e.g weekend visits to grandma’s or trips on the highway for village feasts

I thought to myself if this is true for me then maybe it’s true for a lot of young Papua New Guineans who either come from bi-cultural families or a raised in the larger cities of the country where they encounter people of other ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. If so then the following can be said:

  1. Very little cultural knowledge (including language which I believe is a pre-curser to unlocking cultural identity) and history is being retained and archived
  2. As people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds mix with each other there is bound to be a loss of culture.

So while I mull over the content of the survey I admit regretfully that I know very little of either of my parent’s cultures. That leaves me wondering: am I less manus and mekeo because I don’t know that much about either? And does the statement “I am part manus and mekeo” hold true if I can’t back it up with my cultural knowledge?


  1. I definately feel you there. I too feel the same and i'm wondering if i'm already like this then are my children going to be totally alienated from their culture?

  2. The thought of my children being alienated from their culture worries me. It kind of gets you thinking about what being a Papua New Guinean will mean to people 15 years from now.

  3. So very true. That is indeed the sad state of affairs in today's contemporary PNG.

    That is why I intend to take the following steps to see if I can fix this. Especially with regard to ensuring the survival of our language:

    1. Make sure my kid(s) go home and spend part of their life in the village.

    2. Get a babysitter from the village and she has to speak to the kid in only our traditional dialect or english.

    3. Chase off any wantoks who wants to baby talk to my kids in Tok pisin.

    I swear I'll work on it.