NEW GUINEAN MASTER NARRATIVES
Some creative thinking is required by people across PNG in order to find local and regional solutions to the problems which are imposed upon them by the chaos which comes into their lives from other places.
Long before Europeans arrived, people in PNG had been masters of social life for thousands of years. They do not need to enrol in a degree from a Western university to be able to have this ‘prior learning’ recognised and acknowledged.
It is also an appropriate time for other people in the region to review our relationships – or lack of them – with our New Guinea neighbours.
In putting forward my alternative views about the future, I offer some thoughts for sharing in a spirit of cultural partnership and in the hope that, if there is anything of value in what follows, that it may make a small contribution to the well-being of PNG people.
Just as the modern project is marked by an emphasis on ‘construction’ (“building a nation”) a post-modern approach is marked by a process of ‘deconstruction’ – of taking apart things in order to better understand them, and to see them in a different light.
In particular, deconstructing the false certainties which are part and parcel of modern in order to allow room for genuine doubts which originate in life itself.
INDIGENOUS WISDOM – DUAL FORMS OF ORGANISATION
Moving away from the presumptions of privilege for Western Ways which accompanied modern imperialism and colonialism, the view put forward here is that we need to seriously consider the soundness of social foundations provided by wisdom indigenous to a vast life formation which extends from Indonesia, New Guinea, Australia, into the Pacific and was also found in North and South America.
It is proposed that instead of using the yardstick of the modern nation state as the sole measure of success we make full use of considerations which have provided for stable ways of life across much of the world before Europe expanded, uninvited, into the lives of other peoples.
There are many aspects of indigenous life which are of value in searching for alternatives to the modern nation state. This present work will only touch lightly on one or two of those aspects.
USING BOTH SIDES OF OUR BRAIN – A WHOLE BRAINER.
Life has found it good to supply us with amazing brains which have two complementary hemispheres. It may be hard to improve on this as a readymade model for good arrangements in other complex life systems.
The wisdom contained in forms of dual organisation deserve particular attention. Modern anthropologists refer to these as “moieties” – a term which does little for me and, to my mind, renders a wonderful aspect of life somewhat barren and sterile. Given the really fantastic reality to which it refers, the term lacks any poetry. There may be a better one to be found in the languages and Ways of other peoples.
In comparison with modern forms of organisation in the West, moiety systems ensure that power and advantage are never concentrated in one group. They point towards balanced systems of governance, as opposed to the systems which try to dominate life.
SOME KEY FEATURES
Here is a crash course in some of the key features of moiety systems:
“The dual organisations of central Brazil … are comprehensive social theories, linking cosmos and society … They are dependent on no particular institution. They are capable of generating new institutional arrangements when and where it may be necessary.” (Maybery-Lewis in Levi-Strauss 1995:235)
“Dual organisation is not in the first place an institution ….It is, above all, a principle of organisation, capable of widely varying and, in particular, of more or less elaboration, applications.” (Levi-Strauss)
“All the facts assembled …tally … “in revealing dual organisation less an institution with certain precise and identifiable features than as a method for solving multiple problems.”” (Levi-Strauss 1995: 236 quoting an earlier work).
“… we should not forget that a moiety system can express not only mechanisms of reciprocity but also relations of subordination. However, the principle of reciprocity is at play even in these relations of subordination; this is because subordination itself is reciprocal: the moiety who wins the top spot in one plane concedes it to the opposing moiety in another.”(Levi-Strauss)
There is, or course, a lot more which can be said about the features of dual organisations and it will be good to hear more from indigenous and non-indigenous authorities. One of the problems for those who believe in ‘objective’ science is that both indigenous and non-indigenous experts (including Levi-Strauss) belong to socio-cultural formations and will interpret life in keeping with the means by which they themselves are constituted.
All that can be said with any high degree of certainly is that there are different ways of interpreting experience, and some of those point to the reality of forms of dual organisation. “There are two kinds of people – those who say there are dual forms of organisation – and those who do not!” “You would say that!”
Note use of the vertical metaphors of Western language in the final quote above from Levi-Strauss: “”the moiety who wins top spot in one plane concedes it to the opposite moiety in another”. We can equally say, in place of ‘wins’ – ‘is granted’; in place of ‘top’, we could invoke a horizontal or even non-spatial metaphor; and in place of ‘concedes it to’ ‘accepts the reality of a similar arrangement with’.
What is striking, however, is the comparative lack of ‘vertical ‘ social distance between people on both sides of dual organisation. Their humanity or worth is preserved, rather than sacrificed for the false image of the other.
Even allowing for the tendency of moieties to have different features in terms of which one part may be seen as dynamic or regular featured (that is, to incorporate a deep asymmetry) the present attempt of the Howard government to convert the ‘temporary’ success of ‘bosses’ as “winners” and “on top” into a permanent institution (by way of industrial relations ‘reform’) stands in marked contrast to the levelling processes at work which, avoiding both stagnation and dominating hierarchies, produce dual organisations.
It is tempting to believe that the forms of life provided by dual organisations were once the norm globally and that, somewhere along the line, one moiety got ‘on top’ and perverted a balanced form of life into the ‘vertical’ forms which make up much of known history. The reduction of our Being by our Brothers and Sisters to less than its full worth reduces us ultimately to mere extras in the fantasies of others.
“High” forms of culture have been invoked as a means of harnessing the use of human power by forms of obedience, labour and slavery. There are other Ways.
RECIPROCAL BOSSESS AND WORKERS.
An simplified version of an Australian example is a situation where the men of one moiety are ‘bosses’ for the Kangaroo ceremonial business, and the men in the other moiety are ‘workers’ (both ‘bosses’ and ‘workers’ having different but complementary roles). The situation is reversed for, say, the Emu business, where the men who were ‘bosses’ for Kangaroo now become ‘workers’ for Emu business, and the ‘workers’ for Kangaroo now become ‘bosses’ for Emu business.
The terms ‘boss’ and ‘worker’ were borrowed from English by Aboriginal people drawing on distinctions which they knew made sense to Europeans. Unlike European ‘workers’, however, First Peoples retained their own country and were never in the inferior positions which European ‘bosses’ reserve for their workers. First Peoples relationships, by comparison, were reciprocal, horizontal and interchangeable.
“Owner” and “manager” is another usage sometime used. This European social distinction would have been familiar to First Peoples who stayed on their country even when it was under occupation by cattlemen.
In Warpliri, the terms are ‘kirda’ and ‘kurdungurlu’. The role of ‘worker’ is not that of simply providing labour, but may also be that of ensuring the ‘bosses’ are kept in line and preform their parts properly and to exacting standards. Harsh penalties can be applied if performances are not done correctly. In other parts of the Northern Territory, these kind of “worker” roles are expressed in terms familiar to First Peoples such as “policemen”.
Since it is always possible to be overly critical (when playing the part of a critic of the ceremonial performance), the fact that the roles may soon be reversed acts to keep this system in check and prevents excessive critical zeal.
An additional feature of indigenous Australian moieties is that they provide a means of overcoming local boundedness in terms of sense of identity. The Kangaroo men from one locality can identify with Kangaroo men from another locality – as can the Emu men of the other moiety identify with other Emu men. This device provides a means of transcending the intense field of interactions which make up everyday local life – and which threaten to fashion closed forms of identity of the type we see in modern forms of warfare and sport.
“Boundedness” is a feature of modern nation states, but it is not necessarily a feature of well-formed life. There are greater means by which one part of life can relate to other parts of itself.
A LESSON FOR AUSTRALIANS?
There is a great lesson for industrial relations in ‘modern’ Australia in this form of wisdom. At present there is an attempt for the ‘bosses’ to totally dominate the ‘workers’. Modern social formations are one-sided. The outcome of such attempts is predicably social disorder and instability. People have no option but to resist the massive distortion of life’s relationships proposed by these ‘modern’ experiments. Once accepted, they lead to the very worse of fates which life has on this planet as seen far to often in modern times.
The present attempt to transform Papua New Guinean life to comply with European notions of bosses and workers is one area which may well be resisted.
SEPARATION OF SOVERIEGN POWERS
Of equal importance – everywhere – is the need to find new means for constituting our forms of governance along lines which prevent the concentration of power in the hands of any one group. Coexisting forms of sovereignty are required in which the “moiety who wins the top spot in one plane concedes it to the opposing moiety in another.
In place of a system which grants all power to the group which forms a simple majority (and sometimes that is not even 50% of the voters), new arrangements should be possible which are able to accommodate the full wishes of the electorate. (The problem in translating the results of the recent German election into powerful positions is a case in point.)
The Minister responsible for one part of life is subject to both positive and negative feedback – to provide all the information required to govern well and subject to proper restraint – by being subject to the reversal of power at the hands of other Ministers who have responsibility over parts of life dear to him.
The present Westminster system, based on parties, works by means of a periodic role reversal (change of government) so that one party – or coalition – enjoys power at any one time, and the other major party is reduced to a powerless Opposition. We take this for normal. Another method would be to ensure a sharing of (lesser) power constantly in keeping with how life has been lived in many places for thousands of years.
“All the Dutch writers have written to emphasize the curious contrasts brought to light by these complex types of social organization, for the study of which Indonesia undoubtedly constitutes an excellent field.” (Levi-Strauss 1969:139)
“The anthropologist who examines the beliefs and institutions of these two areas (America and Indonesia –R) will become convinced that the facts in this case are of the same nature.” (Levi-Strauss 1969:132)
The Dutch anthropologists would have found life in Australia of great interest, but since it was under English occupation, they seem to have had little real opportunity to become familiar with Australian realities. It seems the whole of Australian life was also marked by this duality, and that First Peoples in Australia took it to new levels of elabouration.
I am unsure to what extent dualism can be said to be characteristic of life in New Guinea and the Pacific. The early writing on dual organisation mentions it in Melanesia, but I have not made a study of the subject.
More to the point is the application of dual organisation as a means of solving contemporary social problems – such as those found in Fiji, New Zealand/Aotearoa and Australia where two distinct Ways come into contact and, to some extent, occupy the same place.
ONE DIMENSIONAL MEN
Modern anthropology, in the English speaking world, has been largely dominated by British and United States of America thinking – and more recently that of French intellectuals. The contribution of Dutch anthropology has been much more restricted, and its time and contribution may be more a matter for the start of the 21st century, as we move from modern to post-modern approaches.
Those who have “made it socially” as becoming parts of a complex Western intellectual ‘superstructure’ have tended to accept world views which can be seen as conforming to norms which constitute the modern nation state in its alliance with capitalism.
Indigenous voices – and alternative voices – have been marginalised and excluded to produce the false certainties of modernity. We are all expected to accept and embrace the modern nation state and the sense of identity which underwrites it without question.
This has made many of us blind to the true costs of doing so. Only as those costs grow to into sizes which can not be ignored do be begin to more towards forming a ‘critical mass’ which is required to articulate the vitally important messages of other parts of life. These other parts – silenced or systematically rendered into nonsense by modern masters – are crucial for balancing life everywhere.
SOLVING COMPLEX SOCIAL PROBLEMS
Dual organisation may or may not have a basis in features of matter, genes, binary mental functioning. Whether not it has is probably not a question which can be determined, since the position of those involved in trying to determine the answer will, themselves, be part of social formations which inscribe their own messages on all cultural productions.
What should be clear from the above is that dual organisation is a means for solving complex social problems – for minimising instability and providing a high degree of balance for life.
EVOLUTION OF SOCIAL GROUPS
Without seeking to endorse the privileges of Darwinism, people with an eye to the evolution of social groups by means of some kind of multilevel selection process (e.g. Wilson 2002) must take the existence of dual organisation – over such large areas of life – as uncontrovertible evidence of its viability and fit.
Life’s messages – as found in indigenous Ways – have been swamped for over five hundred years in America; for two hundred years in Australia; and for varying times across Indonesia, New Guinea and the Pacific.
For some, this European inundation is evidence that indigenous Ways were inferior and doomed to be replaced by modern Western Ways. They may look upon the challenge of converting Papua New Guinea life into conformity with notions of a modern nation state as part of an inevitable process as part of ‘natural evolution’ rather than as yet another disaster breaking over the lives of the people affected.
The point of view here is that the ‘successes’ of the last five hundred years are more apparent than real. The underlying social forms which have been suppressed by the one-sided and forcefully imposed European expansion are now re-emerging to reclaim their rightful place in life.
In place of exclusive notions of ownership and exclusive (and monocultural) forms of sovereignty, the coming period will see the return of dual forms of organisation which prevent the concentration of power in the hands of any one group.
These new forms which, in all probability, be different from the previous indigenous arrangements since they are emerging in a different context. Where they will be similar is in the ‘life – spirit’ which informs them. That is, the same spirit which produced dual forms of organisation – as solutions to complex problems – in the first place.
There will be new forms of representation as the factors which were systematically factored out to fashion ‘modern’ forms of representation are factored back in. Central to this process is the empowerment of those who have kept alive those parts of Being previously suppressed by ‘progressive modern men”.
A highly creative time lies ahead for those who can let go of modern preconceptions and go with life’s flow.
NOT “FAILING STATES” BUT “NEWLY EMERGING WAYS”
The problem with those who look at life which privilege the modern nation state as the only outcome is that they fail to see the true costs, and fail to correctly recognise the emergence of new forms for their true worth.
When you interpret experience by modern Western standards alone, you run the very great risk of seeing ‘failing states’ where there are actually viable ways of life making their own adjustment to a changed set of constrains thrust upon them by enormous forces.
In Australia, for example, there is an inability to recognise the great life treasure which is kept alive by senior indigenous lawmen. They are the heirs of wisdom which has taken eons to accumulate – the hard way – from life as actually lived in the unique ecosystems which make up Australia.
Instead of being able to value and affirm their true place in life, their worth is placed at the very bottom of the scale by ‘modern’ people. This is akin to valuing an Einstein at the price calculated by the market value the mineral content of this body – or a great painting calculated by the replacement costs of the raw materials.
That which we know as “Dreaming” , and the Ways which they enable, is the greatest work of art on this planet. When we develop an ‘indigenous’ perspective founded on this, we also learn to re-evaluate the worth of New Guinea and Pacific cosmologies and Ways.
A BRIEF ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
My own thinking about life has been influenced by forms of communication with New Guinean ways of life as modified and relayed by two exceptional scholars and thinkers.
My alternative views were formed, in part, as a result of my years of study in New Zealand/Aotearoa under Dutch anthropologist Jan Pouwer. His own thinking was influenced by his time working with New Guinea people in what is now West Papua.
Jan Pouwer always stressed the importance of a both-and approach (rather than an ‘either/or’) as well as the fundamental importance of the role of complementary opposition.
He taught us students very well about the inappropriateness of trying to impose British models on life in New Guinea, if we – aspiring young anthropologists – wished to do justice to the finer details of life there. He was an outstanding teacher.
I also digested, via the written word only, the work of anthropologist Kenelm Burridge for several years when I was doing my postgraduate studies. In this way I was able to learn something about life from the perspective of “Tangu Traditions”. Tangu speaking peoples live inland from Bogia, in the Madang province.
In comparing the story telling abilities of Tangu traditions with what follows, there is no doubt in my mind that they are the better story tellers.
YEAH BUT …
To what extent any others would agree with what I have to say I do not know, and presume that their positions would be quite different.
My thinking has always been that of an outsider rather than of someone close to the norms of life under conditions imposed by the modern nation state. This is a result of my personal life history, which was a little bit different for its times. I had a taste of the ‘wild’ at an early age, and was never quite able to accept the self-privileging role embraced by so many narrow-minded norms, and their aspirational relatives.
I have also had to work through a considerable rethinking of life in order to come to terms with the Ways of Australia’s First Peoples.
A FUNDAMENTAL UNIT
The connection between people and country constitutes a fundament unit of life. When people are be separated from their land – either in thought or in practice – great damage is done to this fundamental life unit.
To all those ‘experts’ who proclaim “There can never be any progress while you still have communal title to land” we have to reply “What you call progress, the angle of history sees as destruction. Your ‘progress’ is a cosmic disaster. We – who seek to restore balance to life everywhere – reject your claims to progress and your claims to a privileged position in life.”
In coming times life will not be dominated by those who proclaim themselves masters. To those brothers and sisters who consider themselves masters in waiting we have to say “There has been enough damage done to life by false masters. We can no longer humour you.”
There is a better part of our Being – which has been kept alive in all manner of places and, often, at great personal cost. This better part of Being, while divine, is not to be confused with a remote and distant monolithic god, on high.
Rather, we are witness to the return of our Elder Brothers and Elder Sisters in life, on whatever level ground we all live.
Rather than chasing modern dreams, to bring into life a new paradigm, we have to get right the quality of our relationships with other people and with the rest of life.
In place of ‘experts’ talking about the need to ‘reform’ other peoples lives, what is required is respectful recognition of the right of people to live their lives according to the values of the true ‘mainstream’ of life on this planet.
With the arrival of a new paradigm, recognition and acknowledgement of this better part of Being is required from all those who seek to occupy key decision making positions.
In place of neo-conmen who invoke the words ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ while all the while distancing themselves at extremes from its real spirit, in place of Prime Ministers who deport peace activists while embracing institutionalised criminals, in place of a thin pretence – time for some real soul.
Country – land – is our eternal soul. It cannot be sold.
THE FORMER “MODERNISING” PARADIGM
Over thousands of years in European life, there has been a conceptual and practical split in the relationship between people and land. Most of modern Western cultural forms accept this split as ‘normal’.
Some linguists suggest that modern European languages incorporate the split made, in Roman times, from an earlier proto-Indo-European term (which I think of as “Earth-Being”) into Homo (people) and humus (earth). If this is correct, it points to a time before the Romans when such a distinction – separating people from country – was unthinkable.
The Romans also developed ideas about exclusive and absolute ownership.
Over the last thousand or so years, there has been the growth of a merchant marketplace mentality which has steadily corrupted life’s laws by seeking to distort exchange relationships in the favour of what then become a privileged few.
The privileged few steady took control of law-making processes in Great Britain in the name of the divine right of private property.
A secular view of life came to be substituted for earlier European cosmologies which acted – to a small extent – to protect the surviving interests of ‘ordinary’ people.
The emergence of the modern European nation state cannot be easily separated from the emergence of capitalism. The former paradigm is a combination of the modern nation state, capitalism and secularism.
There now exists a vast body of cultural scripts, practices, narratives, life-scores which have been crafted to comply with the specifications which make up the former ‘modernising’ paradigm.
These have flourished to such an extent that it is difficult, within the ‘modern’ West, to even begin to question they place in life which they proclaim for themselves.
But question their right to privilege is exactly what we have to do to find our way back to local, regional and global balance for life.
Life – which always retains its most important parts despite the narrow ambitions of some – has reserved opportunities for critical questioning of these dominating mental scripts.
GETTING THE PERSPECTIVE RIGHT
While it may appear that the only models for life are provided by Western secular business missionaries preaching the benefits of ‘modernity’, the picture is back to front. The places they come from are increasingly being rubbished and their home communities destabilised by the inflated claims of the benefits of commerce.
We must, instead, look to the Ways of First Peoples everywhere for the clues they provide to how we should all be living.
Rather than trying to explain dual organisations in modern terms (as a problem of modern anthropology) the lack of dual forms of organisation may come to be seen as peculiar.
In Australia, we need to look to the Ways of Australia’s surviving First Peoples and to the Ways of our New Guinean and Pacific neighbours in order to learn about the realities of life in this part of the world.
We need to stop looking so hard – with modern “Western” eyes – at our neighbours life and to start to fashion new ears for ourselves so we can begin to understand what our cultural partners in life are telling us.
TIME TO QUESTION THE IDEA OF THE MODERN NATION STATE
The main thing which this piece of writing seeks to achieve is to point out that the time has come to question the role in the lives of all peoples, everywhere, of ‘modern’ Western cultural narratives and scripts which try to dominate our ways of Being and our ways of relating.
In the act of Princess Anne bestowing medals on PNG men, as seen recently on television to mark 30 years of Independence, there is no chance of any of them ever being able to make a new garden with her as a wife. The relationship is not reciprocal.
We have to seriously question the relationship of these scripts to the process of removing life’s real constraints in order for merchants to move goods and services throughout certain areas so they, not tied into local systems of reciprocity and morality, can make a financial profit at the expense of others. The creation of the modern nation state coincided with the expansion of a marketplace mentality into the whole of life over a process which has taken a thousand years in Western Europe.
The boundaries of modern nation states are areas in which goods and services may move ‘freely’ (that is, relatively unconstrained). Merchants corrupted the rules of life to achieve this. It is not a ‘natural progression’. As someone else has observed the modern nation state is most ‘successful’ as a form of social organisation when it aligns with capitalism. That is, when it becomes captive of those who believe the market-place mentality extends throughout the whole of life. It is does not. Life is far richer than they can imagine.
The modern nation-state is part a vast life-formation consisting of dominating Western master narratives. As we move into a post-modern condition we can no longer accept the claims of privilege it makes for itself as a good means of providing governance for the whole of life.
Critical examination reveals the extent of the damage it causes to life both in its places of origin and especially in regard to the negative impacts it has on the lives of First Peoples everywhere, including Australia, New Guinea and the Pacific.
We only have to look at West Papua to see its failings. Indonesia is a very relevant example of the attempt to forcefully impose a modern nation state which is detrimental to the Ways of life caught up in that experiment. (See “Genocide in West Papua? The role of the Indonesian state apparatus and a current needs assessment of the Papuan people,” by John Wing and Peter King, Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies University of Sydney August 2005. Available online in pdf format at http://www.arts.usyd.edu.au/centres/cpacs/wpp.htm
Some Western thinkers acknowledge that ‘modernity’ is incomplete. They argue that we should allow more time and effort in order to complete the project of modernity. However, they tend to look within Western culture for answers and solutions.
The main reason ‘modernity’ is incomplete is that, for the last five hundred years, West Europeans have invaded and dominated the lives and countries of other peoples without taking the time to engage in balanced exchange relationships with them.
In place of balanced exchange, which would have greatly enriched European culture with the insights and wisdom of this planet’s First Peoples, Europeans have preferred to play the role of cultural masters. A great number of them have become addicted to a false self-image of themselves and the self-privileging idea where they fit into the scheme of things.
Even after Anglo-Australians have withdrawn from direct control of PNG (sensing the difficult administrative and political problems which were coming for them by remaining) they persist in playing the role of cultural masters.
The problems which they caused, both through their colonial ambitions and through their indecent haste in pulling out, are referred to as “PNG problems” when they are equally to be seen as “Australian problems”.
AUSTRALIA’S FAILURE & AUSTRALIAN MISMANAGEMENT
It is time for Australians to stop blaming people in PNG for the ‘failure’ of the experiment to impose a modern nation state on PNG social foundations, and time for Australians to begin to appreciate the value of those PNG Ways of life.
It is the modern nation state itself, as presently constituted, which is the failure. As a model it is not suited for the realities of life on this side of the planet. It does not ‘fit’ without having to greatly refashion so much of life which is already working well.
A PASSING NOTE ON MODERN ANTHROPOLOGY
Even the experts in cross-cultural communication – modern anthropologists – have used theories and methods which systematically privilege Western grand narratives and systematically make nonsense out of the lives of other peoples.
Johannes Fabian, in his book “”Time and the Other. How anthropology makes its object, says: “When modern anthropology began to construct its Other in terms of topoi implying distance, difference, and opposition, its intent was about all, but at least also, to construct ordered Space and Time – a cosmos – for Western society to inhabit, rather than “understanding other cultures,” its ostensible vocation.” (2002:111-112)
Despite the distorting effect which renders modern anthropology obsolete (except for providing evidence of a vast field of cultural production worthy of study in its own right) there are many instances in which the voices and values of First Peoples have been able to overcome the limits of modern anthropology.
Some remarkable people have worked under the guise of modern anthropologists, and have been able to ‘report back’ about aspects of other peoples lives despite the lack of fit between that evidence and the presumptions of Western theorists.
At their best, they act as ‘cosmonauts’ who can enter into and explore the cosmos of other peoples; return to share the resulting insights and develop the metaphors necessary for establishing cross-cosmos communication without trying to ‘fit’ other peoples into positions marked out in advance by entirely Western master narratives.
While this falls short of establishing direct forms of cross-cultural communication in complete good-faith (in which the superstructural features of partners are changed as a result of balanced forms of exchange) such efforts may contribute for that process to emerge. There remains much of value to be gained from the work of modern anthropologists when read from a critical perspective which removes the claims of privilege which attach to Western cultural scripts.
The problems emerge when the process works the other way – that is, when modern anthropologists (as conceptual craftspeople) craft their forms of representation to comply with the real or imaginary specifications of Western masters in order to “make it socially” and to ‘get ahead’. Hack journeymen exist in every profession.
In these situations, the conceptual craftsperson is sending a message to significant others within his or her own social formation by way of a display that clearly demonstrated they have successfully internalised modern Western myths. Aligning with the norms which are imagined as lying at the core of the modern nation state is a well tested means of finding a career.
But in such situations, much of what is vitally important for real people is excluded in the process of crafting these wooden images. The real people are not involved in assessing the adequacy of the forms of representation so crafted and a counterfeit reality is passed off for the real thing (with all its complexity).
ADMINISTRATORS TRY TO ‘FIX’ PEOPLE
The situation deteriorates when administrators, seeking to satisfy their own masters, they then seek to ‘fix’ real peoples’ lives by trying to pin them down to the false representations which have been substituted for their true positions.
When conceptual craftspeople can transcend the forces of their own society – when they give their primary allegiance to life itself as the only true master rather than to Westernising cultural scripts – then they can produce insights and relay messages from the Ways of non-Western peoples which are of the greatest importance.
For example, of the need for Western people to heal the split between Being and Cosmos which informs all modern cultural scripts – including those which they seek to impose of people who still have their lands!
In other cases, however, modern anthropology has been part of a systematic misrepresentation of peoples lives in a way which both aligns with and allows for continuation of the systems of attitudes necessary for imperialism. (See Edward Said, “Culture and Imperialism.”
A post-modern anthropology, if such a thing is possible, would work in a spirit of cultural partnership which allows space at the core of practice and theory for the voices and values of First Peoples.
While it is comparatively easy to be critical of the shortcomings of modern anthropology and the role it has played in relation to the substitution of Western values for those of other peoples, it is necessary to maintain a sense of proportion.
The politicians, experts and business people who exercise real power in regard to imperialism and colonialism (in former times) and in regard to remote control colonialism (at present) have no anthropological pretensions. For them, there is only the Western mainstream.
For them, the social and cultural values of other peoples (which any anthropologist would appreciate) are of no real importance. For them, other peoples Ways, world views and cosmologies are ‘unreal’. For them, the relationship between people and country is an impediment to building a ‘nation’ out of the vast life formation which is indigenous to Australia, New Guinea and ‘the’ Pacific.
These politicians, business people and experts see the challenge as being one in which other people will have to ‘get real’ and comply with the specification of Western cultural scripts. They greatly underestimate and undervalue life. They also misread peoples resistance to these foreign plans, proclaiming that they (politicians, business people and experts) know better what is in the best interests of those resisting.
In place of ‘top-down’ arrogance what is required are acts of ‘horizontal’ solidarity and processes in which people can consider any innovations in the light of adequately resourced and community controlled deliberation.
The spirit which inhabits some modern experts is entirely ethnocidal – even genocidal when push comes to shove. Sacrificing the lives of living people has never been a major problem for those who operate in the name of ‘nation building’ and a very narrowly conceived ‘national interest’.
So much for ‘modern times’. They, and those who promote them, belong in the past. The dedicated followers of fashion who sought to identify the whole of life entirely in terms of ‘modern’ cultural scripts are now Yesterday’s men.
NEW WAYS NOW REQUIRED
In place of experts seeking to reform the lives of people in PNG, to comply with their Western ideas of how life should be, it is time for listening to the voices of people in PNG. Time to turn off the “Western master script” and, instead, to begin to fashion ears to hear the wide range of PNG voices.
We need a new spirit of cultural partnership – one which readily accepts and acknowledges Australia’s share in creating the present difficulties for peoples lives in PNG, and which pledges to provide ongoing support to reach outcomes which are negotiated between both peoples.
BROTHERS AND SISTERS
It was indeed a pleasure to hear Yat Paol, from the Bismark Ramu Group, begin his recent (7 Sept 05) address in Sydney with the words “Brothers and Sisters”. He explained that we are all connected; that what happens to one happens to all, and that we need to stand together for the good of our universe.
That kind of understanding of life is largely missing from life in the West, especially at the official and authoritative levels. It will take generations of effort before it has a hope of being incorporated, with true heart, into the opening remarks of an Australian Prime Minister preparing to talk about relations with First Peoples.
Yat was speaking on the “Graun em laip – Land is life” speaking tour, which was organised by Aid Watch ( http://www.aidwatch.org.au ) to raise awareness in Australia about the concerns of people in PNG.
This is exactly the kind of people to people exchange we require in order to provide a counterbalance to powerful forces which have an agenda which places peoples well-being at the bottom of the scale.
There is abundant evidence now that attempts to ‘found a nation’ and work ‘in the national interest’ equate to processes of expropriation in which wealth is generated for a few by way of extractive industries which do great damage to the relationship between people and country for the many.
PNG – AUSTRALIAN PARTNERS AT THE PEOPLES LEVEL
Given the presence of the Howard government in Australia – a government which manipulated the votes of Australian people with lies about ‘children overboard’ and ‘weapons of mass destruction’ – the spirit of cultural partnership will not be forthcoming at the government level for some years.
There will need to be a lot of work done by people at the grassroots level to fashion the appropriate types of awareness in Australia and PNG for this new spirit of cultural partnership to eventually come to replace the ‘modern’ model at the official level.
Rather than thinking of the Australian-PNG relationship as being between two separate and independent countries – by means which use a divisive ‘either/or’ logic – we may be able to grow new ways of relating which places an emphasis on inter-dependence – by means which use an inclusive and healing ‘both-and’ logic.
AGREEING ON APPROPRIATE METAPHORS
Drawing on an insight I heard on my local ABC radio, we need to find an appropriate metaphor for developing our relationships. The program I heard spoke about the difference it makes when be talk about ‘building a team’ and ‘growing a team’.
The first term ‘building’ sets us down a mental path which is like that of an engineer dealing with inert materials – good for building a shed. The second term ‘growing’ puts us in mind of dealing with and caring for a garden. The consequences of the type of metaphors we adopt are important.
Building a shed means constructing something which we can then leave to look after itself. Growing a team – comprised of relations – reminds us that regular care and maintenance will be required.
Growing relationships moves from conception to birth, taking some first tentative steps, saying the first words while learning to speak new languages, through periods of growth (sometimes difficult) to reach adulthood and maturity … and, to use a Tangu word, becoming mngwotngwotiki. (see the next section).
We need to hear more about these matters from our cultural partners in PNG.