Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A MONTH IN THE LIFE OF RURAL PAPUA NEW GUINEA

Western Highlands near Mount Hagen
INTRODUCTION

Once upon a March day of 2015 I started researching the possibilities of visiting Papua New Guinea, a country in the Southwest Pacific region of Oceania just North of Australia. Papua New Guinea, locally referred to as PNG for short, occupies the Eastern part of the island of New Guinea which it shares with it's Western neighbor Indonesia. PNG had been shrouded in mystery for as long as I can remember hearing about it. It always intrigued me as a place where one would possibly encounter fearless primitive men, barely clothed, bearing bow and arrows, a sort of prime evil paradise, untouched by modernity. This image stuck in my head. Nothing could be further from the truth. Discovery can take many forms. I chose the direct, unapologetic route of immersing myself into PNG head on. That is the best way to discover, feel and understand how different people live their lives across the World. Sure it's not exactly comfortable but it totally beats any tailored tours, sitting in some air conditioned bus listening to a guide recounting his version of life outside the window.

My quest lead me to Samson Komati, a native Kentiga tribesman, now living with his family in Port Moresby, PNG's capital city. Samson had studied in America a few years back and returned to PNG in an effort to improve the standards of living for his fellow countrymen.

This was probably the most exciting yet worrisome experience of my life because of the bad reputation PNG has suffered for the past few decades. Labelled as vastly lawless, full of dangers and wild, PNG is just at the onset of joining a market economy and is suffering from growing pains. This country, barely 40 years old, gained its independence from Australia (which gladly gave it up without a fight) on September 16, 1975. New Guineans were literally handed the keys to their country and future without much trouble which lead to an odd situation : unification of an entire people made of more than 800 rival tribes, who had been isolated by geography, language and culture suddenly having to adhere to the concept of one nation under one government and laws. Talk about a major shift in behavior and thinking. Remembering this is a tribal society country which endures to this day, it is clear this country is facing big challenges.

WELCOME TO PNG
 
Arriving in Port Moresby on a cool July day, I caught my first glance of Papua New Guinea. Just as I suspected: green hills covered with forests, rivers, marshlands, a vastly undeveloped scenery for as far as I can see from my Virgin Australia airplane window. Port Moresby is a typical developing country city. Some modernity combined with rough and nowhere near finished details of urban developments. This is the seat of Government of PNG. a young nation of barely 7 Million people.

After a couple of days in POM (Port Moresby), I made my way to Mt Hagen, the main city of the Western Highlands Province, in the central part of PNG. There is a toy airport (now being upgraded to a more serious international standard) near the main part of the town where everyone arrives from POM as there is no road link between the two cities.

AirlinesPNG arrives from POM, Mt Hagen Airport
I was promptly greeted by Samson's family, his wife Gloria, meeting his Mom, his sister Dakma as well as his niece Christine all packed into a 4x4 Toyota land runner. We were swiftly on our way to the village where I would experience and learn about life in rural PNG after briefly stopping at the local superstore-supermarket to buy my supplies. The road leading to the village is mostly paved all the way to a junction where the more rough unpaved road starts, climbing up along a ridge, crossing fields planted with crops, traditional bush material made houses, schools, churches.


Unpaved rural road to Kokop Village
VILLAGE LIFE

Life in a New Guinean village is simple, unhurried and timeless. There is a deep sense of connectivity with nature and the other people who live there. Even though my accommodations were more westernized than the traditional bush material made housing, I really had a total immersion experience. As westerners, we are so used to comfort of modern life such as running water, 24hrs electricity that it is a chock to the system when those everyday conveniences are suddenly non existent. Flexibility and the power of adaptation are the keys to a successful stay in this basic environment.

My first day at Kokop village, home of the Kentiga warriors tribe, was a total change to my routine at home. I was introduced to a new environment, new cultural behaviors, new language, new foods and new ways of dealing with my surroundings. It felt as foreign as can be. No familiar faces. No familiar foods. No familiar room. I had to adapt and fast if I was to become part of this community. I soon turned on the "I need to explore and learn as much as possible" and was soon on my way to acquiring an array of skills which would enhance my stay in this remote region of the World. During my time in this rural environment I learned to live without electricity, running water, a table and chairs to seat on during meals, a bathroom, a modern style toilet, a TV, the convenience of having a car anytime I want to go somewhere, 24/7 connectivity, a gym nearby (but I soon learned there is no need for a gym here), the proximity of my family and friends. I learned to take a shower in the wilderness, walk a muddy hill barefoot, jump a river, walk across slippery rocks without breaking my neck, take a cold bath in the jungle, eat sitting on the floor with my legs crossed, cook in a makeshift kitchen with little kids watching me and share stories and laughs with my new family and friends until late at night around the house fire. One thing is sure, when there are no electronics around we talk a lot more with other people !

Ladies in the main entertaining part of a traditional house
KENTIGA TRIBAL CULTURE

Learning about a culture requires the learning of how to behave and what is expected of you as a visitor. In a small community of 700, most people know who you are, where you go and what you do at almost anytime of the day or night. It is a way, not only to keep track of people for safety reasons, but also to keep people in check to make sure everyone can live in harmony. The overwhelming first impression of Kentiga culture is the out pouring of kindness and kinship afforded to you. Total strangers will approach you as if they have been in your life forever, they will hug you (especially old ladies), touch your body, will howler in joyful declaration of surprised excitement, shake your hand, embrace you as to make you feel part of the tribe. They also want to know who is hosting you or how you got to be here. They are very curious people who feel very proud about having foreign visitors stay in their village. Understand, white people are the oddity here not the norm.

A traditional all-male house called a Round House. This one belongs to Tep.

Inside the above round house. All the house material is made from bush natural fibers.

Traditionally, men and women were separated into different housing buildings. Men all lived together under one roof in what is called a Round House, with young boys joining them as early as 8 years of age. Their main mission was to hunt for food, build houses and make wars. The women, young children, girls and pigs were living in separate quarters. The women's traditional chores were tending food gardens, raising children, taking care of domestic chores as well as taking care of the prized pigs they owned. Nowadays, most people live in family houses where the entire family lives under one roof. Depending on the family's wealth, one can afford to have multiple houses for various functions such as cooking house, sleeping house or tobacco smoking house. None of these houses have plumbing or electricity.

Families tend to be large. One men can have as many wives as he can support but a woman will only marry one man. The kinship between those members and other tribesmen is very tight. People will refer to their tribesmen as brothers and sisters. There is a strong sense of belonging within a tribe which results in people helping each other to complete various tasks such as house building. No payment in the form of money is exchanged but one is expected to be able to call on that person for reciprocal service.

Kunai grass is used as roofing material for this family house on the road to Enga.
 
Kunai grass field near Kokop

THE BIG MAN EFFECT

In this tribal Melanesian culture, the cult of the "Big man", someone performing most capably in social, political, economic and ceremonial activities is still wide spread. A Big Man refers to a highly influential individual in a tribe, especially in Melanesia and Polynesia. Such person may not have formal tribal or other authority (through for instance material possessions, or inheritance of rights), but can maintain recognition through skilled persuasion and wisdom. The big man has a large group of followers, both from his clan and from other clans. He provides his followers with protection and economic assistance, in return receiving support which he uses to increase his status. On a more economic basis, as a foreign visitor regarded as someone who has the means to take care of "business", I was regarded as someone who could make things happen. And I did.

Kentiga coming back from the field


VILLAGE DEMOCRACY



No court rooms. No police force. Just an appointed mediator to resolve common issues among tribesmen.When a dispute arise, be it for land, pig or other properties the tribal appointed "judge" saves the villager the expenses of using the Court system which they might be weary of. Therefore the use of one of their tribesmen as a mediator is more comfortable and parties will agree to be "judged" by one of their peers instead of some untrustworthy government official who might render a decision which might not be to the liking of parties involved. As an example, someone steals something from you. You are able to go to the mediator and ask to have your case heard in a public setting so that the entire community is involved in rendering tribal justice. The mediator would be in charge of discovering who is guilty in the dispute. Once the perpetrators have been found, both parties will meet and discuss the situation at hand at a public gathering. All who want to give their opinion on the current matter are free to do so in turn, one at the time. Each opinion is heard and taken into account to render a verdict which will include a price to be paid as reparation, a schedule of payment and a final agreement between the parties in order to settle the situation. The compensation is usually in the form of either pigs, foods, crops, money or a combination there of. This is a non cash society which vastly operates on a subsistence bartering economy therefore the use of cash is rather sporadic.



DAILY DIET : KAUKAU AND GREENS


The staple food in the PNG highlands is the kaukau (the tok pisin name for sweet potato), a reddish purple sweet potato grown by each family on their own land. It is consumed for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Together with greens, a type of vine like plant growing around the houses which produce spinach like leafy greens, they are the staple food of the highlands. Both foods are boiled and enjoyed with a sprinkling of salt. Some ferns are also consumed as a green, boiled and eaten. In some instances, the use of canned fish (aka tinned fish) as an add-on to the greens is mixed into them after cooking. It is made to enhance the mostly carbohydrates meal with some protein. Pig is rarely eaten as is chicken except on special occasions or feasts. It is a more expensive alternative to the mostly vegetarian diet which does not require purchasing since most food is grown in home gardens therefore reserved for more elaborate celebrations. The traditional way of cooking is done with the use of a in-the-ground-oven called a mumu. The term was borrowed from Polynesians. Another food which is eaten often is taro, a potato like plant high in potassium. It is common across the entire humid tropical Pacific region.

Cooking sweet potato and greens

Tending to sweet potato garden

Taro is ready to eat

WATERFALL SHOWERS

The lack of plumbing and modern bathroom facilities make for an adventurous time. Villagers have adapted to their environment perfectly and as a visitor I needed to do the same. No hot water. No private space. I experienced showers in the middle of a jungle scenery, sometimes even an Eden like paradise setting. Even though one would expect nudity to be acceptable, it is not the case. Kentigas are conservative people who do not expose their naked bodies in public. If you take a shower, you are expected to cover up even though if you choose to go naked you will become the attraction of all the kids who follow you out of curiosity. Choose wisely.


Waterfall shower spot

VOLUNTEER-TEACHER-EDUCATOR EXPERIENCE

If someone would have told me that one day I would be teaching 6th and 8th grade Social Sciences to pupils in the Highlands of PNG I would have rolled my eyes in disbelief. Nonetheless, here I was in PNG with facing that reality on a July morning in 2015. No electricity. No running water. I must admit I was a bit uneasy since I wasn't sure what I would be doing, what I would be teaching or how I would be doing it. So I just showed up at 730am and hoped for the best. After all the students arrived at the school, they have "assembly" which is a time where everyone is expected to line up according to classes and listen to events or news coming up. One of the teachers is conducting the assembly from delivering messages from the board to presenting new recruits, like me. Since I was there for the purpose of being useful and no one seemed to decide what I should be given, I proceeded after a few moments to march to any class which had no teacher. I picked the easy one : 1st grade ! I thought ... how hard can it be ? I will just pretend I am teaching my own children and go with the flow. Except I had neglected the tiny point of language difference. 1st graders do not speak English. They speak Melpa. I had a oh oh moment which quickly changed to some sort of combination of signs and voice tones. I figured out they would understand if I wrote basic letters and numbers on the black board. So I started ... A, B, C , 1, 2, 3 followed by a repeat in unison by the entire class. That class was so precious even though I only got to teach them for the first day.

The second day arrived and I was directed to lead the 6th grade for Social Sciences and English.


Morning assembly at Nanga Elementary

I picked these two subjects because I can relate to both and I thought I would be able to convey the information with passion and interest. Who wants to listen to some boring teacher ? I don't. The good thing about being a volunteer and in a village setting, you can pretty much conduct the class the way you want and you can teach virtually any subject you feel close to. Naturally for me geography and history won the battle over other subjects. I also followed the PNG curriculum in Social Sciences using their book and following the program herein outlined. So I prepared the night before for the class the next day, drawing blank maps, making props to use in class, uploading images of the World on my Ipad to show in class as well as some videos, drafting test questions and learning about PNG culture and challenges through the Social Sciences book before teaching its content. It was both enriching and challenging. All well worth the efforts. Planning is definitely a big plus in this environment.

Teaching 6th graders about map making and countries around the World
In addition to prop making there I also brought a few things with me as well: crayons, award gifts, laminated wall maps, rulers, paper, notebooks, pencils and pens. I also brought wall posters of the American West National Parks to show where I come from. This visual aid had a big impact on the students of the entire school who came to my class during recesses just to see the images and be in awe of what is in America.

During one of the recesses, one student from the nearby 8th grade class asked me to teach them as well. I agreed and managed to teach both 6th and 8th graders all at the same time, going from one class to the other, juggling between giving assignment to one while teaching the other and vice-versa. The beauty of this is the intense feeling of actually making a difference. What a pleasure to teach children who listen, are interested and taking it all in.

Making traditional art with natural beads
I also conducted tests along the way to make sure the students were actually learning from my teachings. And they did to my amazement. Some subject they had never heard of before but they eventually got it. How to spell Argentina or Suriname, where the Amazon forest is, the countries of Melanesia or who was Christopher Columbus. I also tried to focus on their region of Oceania. They got to learn about Pacific Island nations, how the peopling of their region occurred 60,000 ago from mainland Asia and much more. I gave them a lecture on human migration out of Africa and the various hominids who roamed the World before Homo Sapiens (us) came to be. They were fascinated with all the details.

In a World where people doing free things for others is becoming ever more rare, volunteering has its rewards. You will have fresh vegetable and fruits delivered to your house or your class (as it was the case for me). At times you don't need to go grocery shopping at all !

RURAL CONDITIONS AND GOING TO TOWN  

So you want to come to PNG for a spell ? You definitely should. But you must understand that flexibility is key and that being too obsessive about your surroundings is not the way to go. This is NOT a country for scared cats or overly clean freaks. This is a go-with-the-flow kind of place where you trade your Western lifestyle when you arrive in Port Moresby for an adventurer one. No time for high maintenance anything here. This is a raw and traditional way of life which will rock your World if you let it. Of course nowadays you will have "signal" in some spots in the village for your cell phone as well as internet if your phone reception is strong enough and when the electricity is on in Mt Hagen, which is not always the case.

You will also be able to go "to town" (aka Mt Hagen town) if you want to buy cake, coffee, tea, ice creams or fresh pineapple and coconut among other things. You can take a PMV ride from the village down to the main junction and on to town which will drop you in front of Renbow (aka Rainbow Store). As of August 2015, the rate is K2 one way (US$0.74). Going alone is not an option until you know people, they can recognize you and you know your way around well. The main store is called Best Buy except it looks nothing like the Best Buy we have here in the US. It is basically a supermarket which has a bakery with freshly made items like muffins, pizzas, rotisserie chicken as well as canned goods, cookies, jams and the likes as well as a section for clothing, housewares supplies etc. These items come at a price of course but they are available. Most of the goods are imported either from Australia or China. Very little anything else comes from other countries. Almost nothing is made locally except tea, coffee, Ramu Sugar and Toilet tissues. And one of the best beers in the World called SP, short for South Pacific. It's a PNG institution which merits all the fuss. Another local product which is used widely is Betel nuts. They are chewed with a combination of lime powder and mustard sticks. This is probably the most addictive and nasty product in PNG. Virtually everyone chews it with very few exceptions. It creates not only serious health problems but also pollutes the public space everywhere you go.

 
Selling Betel nut in Kaiwai market

WHAT TO BRING AS A VOLUNTEER

Good question. I brought things that would make my stay in a unfamiliar place more enjoyable : a sleeping bag (good for temperature down to 45F), a large size towel, tooth brush and tooth paste, soap, fleece blanket (but you ll be given blankets too), Indian spices to enhance my food choices, salt and pepper, cumin powder, Persian tea and green cardamoms. I also brought school props. The must bring item is a solar charger for your electronics. This is a life saver to have ! Buy one which has a large output so that you can charge even a computer with it. I had an Ipad and cell phone to charge and it worked well. If you don't you can always pay someone in the village who owns a solar panel charger. Bring gifts of all sorts. This is a Melanesian society where gift giving is paramount. It's part of the culture and you will be expected to give things to people. Don't worry you ll get plenty in return as well. I brought things which I wore while I was in PNG and ended up giving it all away to people when I left. Shoes are a big deal. Bring hardcore sneakers or/and waterproof hiking shoes which are able to grip muddy and slippery mountain terrains. I also brought flip flops with me. I highly recommend bringing long skirts/dresses for females covering your legs. This is a conservative Christian country with some tribal violence inherent to its culture. Therefore you wouldn't want to tempt the devil if I may say so. Guys can wear pretty much anything including shorts but I would discourage shorts which are above mid-thighs. The best way is to dress like the natives. Local shops sell cheap clothes you can wear comfortably. I also bought some Highlands men's caps at the Mt Hagen central market.  Locals will love you for it and they ll be proud you wearing PNG colors.

PARTICIPATING IN CULTURE

PNG is famous for its sing-sings. This is probably the most unique cultural activity to Papua New Guinea. If you come as I did during the Cultural show "high season", you will be able to participate or at least attend one of the sing-sings. Part of the experience of PNG is to witness first hand what this amazing country has to offer and going to a sing-sing is almost a religious experience of sort. People from various tribes gather in one place to dance, show off their traditions and costumes for all to see. There is a competition for the best costume, the best performance of dancing etc. I was lucky enough to be present during 2 sing-sings : The Enga show and the Mt Hagen Show. Both were amazing but I have a preference for the less accessible less touristy Enga Show. The ride to the show grounds itself is an adventure all on its own. It takes almost 4 hrs from Mt Hagen to Wabag, the capital of the Enga Province, riding a PMV at high speed and praying the universe you will arrive in one piece. It's part of the experience ! The displays of both face paintings, costumes and colors are mind blowing. This is a must do !


Engan tribesman, Enga Show 2015

Author with Huli wigmen from Hela Province, Enga Show 2015
Gaim Engawal tribesmen and the author at the Mt Hagen show 2015
Gift giving and receiving are very much alive and important part of Melanesian culture. Be generous and don't look back. You will receive plenty in return. People will ask you things, money, supplies because they do not possess the cash to buy things on their own. They rely on family members who are out of the village for cash or they sell cash crops. As a foreign person, you are regarded as someone who has means and people won't be shy asking. Just do what you can afford and put some boundaries early or you might end up feeling like people are trying to take advantage of you. They are really not. It's just a cultural attitude towards people who are perceived to be able to help them. The volunteer work also brought me an incredible generous return I was not expecting. People will really appreciate the fact you traveled from afar to be in their community and will be proud to have you around. As a farewell gift, I was given a large amount of bilums (handwoven string bags), necklaces, traditional art and traditional handwoven man's apron, PNG flag and a traditional stone axe by my students and other teachers at school.


Dakma is weaving a kundu design traditional Bilum
Another way of experiencing culture is to embrace it and become part of the tribe. I wanted to experience being dressed in traditional men's clothes and I arranged it all with my brother Paul and sister Dakma. Thank you ever so much for making it happen for me. I will never forget it. This involved a lot more than what a picture shows. You must be prepared to wake up at 6am and start gathering freshly picked items from the forest to wear. It takes hours to create this look but in the end its all worth it. The following photo is of me and Samson's sister, Dakma, in full Kentiga outfit with the traditional face paint colors of the Western Highlands region. An amazing experience not to be forgotten !



Me and Dakma in traditional Kentiga garb


COMPETING FOREIGN BELIEFS

The Methodists were the first Protestant missionaries in Papua New Guinea. They have missions in the Solomon, Papuan, and New Guinea Islands, and are also present in the Highlands. In 1968 they joined with the Papua Ekelesia to become the United Church. 
Methodists commenced work in the Duke of York Islands around 1870. In 1875 Rev. G. Brown landed along with Fijian and Samoan families, at Molot. They quickly spread to New Britain and New Ireland. They made extensive use of South Pacific Islanders, and as a result by 1900 many of the missions on the Gazelle Peninsula and surrounding areas were responsible for their own churches. 
During this time Brown, along with many South Pacific Islands evangelists set up a center for worship on Dobu island. Later, New Zealand Methodists began to spread east from the Solomons, and were extremely active in Bougainville in the 1920's. After World War Two the Methodists began to move into the Southern Highlands, and began to work with the major tribal groups. Today, they continue to be the most active Protestant church in the rural areas of the country.

The London Missionary Society, which later formed into the Papua Ekelesia was formed in 1795 as the missionary arm of the Congregational movement. In 1871 fourteen married couples were landed at Daru and Redscar Bay near Port Moresby. Soon missions up and down the southern coast of Papua were controlled from Port Moresby. Deaths and low recruitment hampered the spread of the movement until 1881 when the first baptisms occurred. The church continued to grow and prosper throughout the war years until it reached from the Irian Jaya border to the tip of the Gazelle peninsula. In 1962 the L.M.S. formed the Papua Ekelesia, the first really national church in PNG. It then went on to join with the Methodists in 1968 to form the previously mentioned United Church.

The first evidence of Anglican work in PNG was in 1891 when Rev. Maclaren and Rev. King landed on the Dogura coast which still acts as the center for all Anglican missionary work today. In 1890 a "Sphere of Influence Treaty" gave the Anglicans an area from Cape Ducie to Mitre rock. Under this treaty the Anglicans enjoyed 50 years of expansion, free from competition from other missions. At first however, recruitment in this area was slow due to the untimely death of Rev. King and the great expanse of territory to be covered. The first baptisms were conducted in 1896 and the first Bishop enthroned in 1898. World War Two took a heavy toll on their work as many native and expatriate missionaries lost their lives to the Japanese, and in 1951 the eruption of Mt. Livingston further disrupted this work as well. In 1961 the first national Bishop George Ambo, was consecrated. The Anglican Church continues to this day to serve as an important medium between the Catholic and Protestant missions in the country.

With approximately 30% of the population, the Roman Catholic Church is the largest in PNG. Their first mission dates back to 1847 when a group of French missionaries from the Society of Mary came to Woodlark Island. The following year they also established a mission at Rooke Island. Work soon stopped due to the death of Bishop Collomb and a companion from fever, and the departure of the sole remaining survivor in 1849. In 1852 the Mission was recommenced by the Foreign Missions of Milan, but it also did not last very long. Finally, in 1897 three priests and some Fijian catechists from the Society of Mary moved into Bougainville from the North Solomons. Their work succeeded and today the missionaries care for a large number of Catholic converts. 
Meanwhile Catholic missionaries from the Society of the Sacred heart of Jesus of Issodoun commenced work on the gazelle Peninsula in 1882. It later became known as the Apostolic Vicariate with headquarters near Rabaul.

The Dutch arrived in Aitape in 1896 where, under the direction of Fr. E. Limbrock, the Society of the Divine Word began extensive work. The Society of the Divine Word (S.V.D.) stretched all the way down the north coast and established a large center at Alexishafen near Madang in 1906. Later the S.V.D. penetrated the Highland and Sepik areas, and continues to be very active today.

The Capuchin Order (Franciscans) began work in the Southern Highlands in 1954. Most of the missionaries are from the United States, but other orders in PNG are from Australia.

Pastor Pilamp during his Church Sunday service, Eagle Church, Mt Hagen

Over 20% of the people in PNG are Evangelical Lutheran, making them the largest Protestant church in the country. 

Lutheran work began along the north coast of New Guinea by the Germans in 1886. In Finschhafen Rev. J. Flierl set up a station at Simbang which gradually spread to most of the Huon Peninsula. In 1887 the Barmen Mission set up headquarters in Madang. Of the 41 missionaries working in Madang 16 died and 21 left within a 25 year period. Gradually, though they began to grow, and by World War One Lutheran work was beginning to consolidate. After the war control of the missions were turned over to the Australian and American Lutheran Churches. In the 20's and 30's these missionaries made great strides in exploring the Highlands of PNG and spreading Lutheran teachings into the most heavily populated areas of the country. World War Two demonstrated the incredible resolve of PNG Lutherans because, despite much persecution, they continued to keep their faith. In fact, after the war ended a new Lutheran Church was set up in Wabag and many natives were converted.

The Seventh Day Adventist Missions in PNG have long refused to be bound by any geographic area, and now represent a strong force in PNG society. Although they began in 1914 with a mission in Manus they have continued on with others such as the Unevangelized Fields Mission in 1931 and the Bamu River Mission in 1939. The S.D.A.'s have very little contact with other PNG churches, and are not members of the Evangelical Alliance or Melanesian Council of Churches which are two influential organizations that are based in PNG.

The Baptists started work in Enga Province in 1949, where they set up missions at Lumusa and Baiyer River. Known for its rugged nature and rural subsistence farming, it was not one of the easiest areas to begin a mission. It was however, free from competition and fifty years later the Enga people are now an integral part of the Baptist World Alliance. Missionaries here were primarily from Australia, but now come from all over the world. Today they currently have 360 churches throughout Enga and most of the major cities. Baptists are also very active in other parts of Melanesia, especially in nearby Irian Jaya.

The Baha'i Faith
More than 40 years ago the first Papua New Guineans became followers of Baha'u'llah, the Prophet Founder of the Baha'i Faith. Baha'is respect all religions and honor the Divine Messengers Who founded each of them. They believe that there is only one God and that God creates all peoples, so everyone is really one human family. God has sent Divine Messengers or Teachers to different parts of the world from time to time to guide the people to know and worship God. The knowledge of all of these Teachers came from God, so the foundation of all the world's religions is only one.
These three oneness-es - that there is only one God; that all people are one Human family; and that all the religions are one, the religion of God - are the three main teachings brought by Baha'u'llah to the world today. He states that "The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established." 
In Papua New Guinea there are now more than 35,000 Baha'is, living in all provinces and representing every strata of society. In their local communities Baha'is work together in a spirit of co-operation and consultation to improve the spiritual, social and economic development of their communities. For example, the Baha'is in Papua New Guinea are working together with the National Literacy Awareness Secretariat to establish and support adult literacy and tok pisin pre-schools with the aim to promote universal education. Special emphasis is put on the moral education of children and youth and the development of women. On a larger scale, Baha'is are loyal to the government of the country and also support the aims of the United Nations. The Baha'i International Community is a recognized non-governmental organization at the United Nations, with consultative status in the Economic and Social Council.

Ancestral superstitions and beliefs play a part depending on where one lives. The beliefs of sorcery still exists in PNG. As recently as a few days ago, women in a remote village of Simbu province were accused of casting spells on a man who suddenly fell ill. They were brutally attacked, questioned and tortured by their kin in their very own village. Eighty-five percent of the population of Papua New Guinea lives in rural areas where animist, spiritual beliefs influence everyday life and are related to younger generations through oral history. In some tribes like the Huli of the Southern Highlands, men do not live with their wives even after marriage because women are regarded as dirty, especially when they are experiencing their period. Touching a woman when not having intercourse with her is regarded as unclean and bad for a man's overall well being.


EPILOGUE

The experience of PNG is both unique and exciting. Every adventurous person must visit this wondrous land at least once in their lifetime.

It is fair to say that Papua New Guinean have been overrun by a large multitude of religious missionaries which aim is to exert their influence on a given territory. This can be extremely confusing for a people who have been in contact with outsiders for barely a generation. Some missionary work has had a positive impact on the local population in the way of pacifying the interaction with neighboring tribes as well as raising the level of education of youngsters. People dedicated to the betterment of their fellow human beings are to be commended on their achievements and efforts. These efforts have largely been the work of religious missionaries and organizations without whom this improvement would not have been possible. The MAF air service (Mission Aviation Fellowship) is the only link to the outside World for countless remote areas of PNG. Their service is vital, especially in medical emergency situations.

I believe that a respect and conservation of both traditional beliefs and culture mixed with a modern outlook is the best way forward for PNG.

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