Sunday, 24 July 2016

PNG 13 - Magic Mountain I

Mt Hagen 
Magic Mountain
Magic Mountain could also be known as Misty Mountain. Soon after we arrived at 3.30pm the mist began to close in, rolling up the narrow valley like a wave. The next morning as we had breakfast on the open deck visibility varied. The valley came and went. As the day passes each time we thought about heading off for a walk towards distant, and invisible, Mt Hagen, the mist would again envelop us.

It was almost 2pm before we had the confidence to set out. We were expecting to head off alone and risk getting lost but we were wrong. Wannie, chef and guide, led the way followed by me and Gabrielle. Moses and his machete brought up the rear. Gabrielle and I were each offered a walking stick (stik long walkabout) in deference, it seemed, to our age. Wannie set a gentle pace. Gabrielle and I could walk all day as long as we took breaks and Gabrielle took her time up the steep sections. Breaks weren't a problem as Gabrielle likes to film the sights every 100 metres.

Wannie decided to take us on the walk to a high ridge rather than the four hour walk up Mt Hagen. At the lookout a majestic valley spread out below us and a second higher plateau lay nearby -  Moses, whose English was limited and who didn't know his age, proudly showed off all his hard work. Not only had he cut the path which we were following including hundreds of steps cut into the clay of the hillside but he had been one of the men employed by a German company which had come ,many years ago to log the mountainside.

Along the way Wannie shared his thoughts about PNG and the changes occurring in the community. His 13 year old son comes home from Hagen to the village reluctantly; he shows no interest in learning the traditional songs, some of which are sung in ancient languages at ceremonies; the young people no longer participate in the 'trow im leg' courtship rituals where groups of young adult boys and girls participate in an elaborate song and dance ritual to meet and mix with eligible partners - now they meet each other at school, in the street or at church.

He is concerned that in twenty years time all these practices will be gone - the songs, the dances, even the language. No one dresses in traditional costume outside of ceremonies, the chiefs have lost the respect of many - and yet the expected benefits of the modern world have not been delivered. Everyone has access to modern communication systems but most families live a subsistence life; hospitals have been built and medical centres established yet the death of infants and mothers in childbirth is still high - most still live in communities remote from transport and medical facilities and often when these exist, the government has failed to fund them adequately or in a predictable fashion.

The one tradition which has not disappeared, and is perhaps even stronger, is the bride price sysrem. It's an opportunity for people to shown off their wealth and to create a level of indebtedness, a binding debt which they can call in, in the future. In some cases tens of thousands of Kina, dozens of pigs and promises into the future are involved. It's a way of creating mutual interdependence. It's got a bit out of control since independence. Many years ago the Austtralian authorities , the administrators of the territory, brought all the chiefs together and helped negotiate a standard bride price but that has long been ignored.

Wannie's story echoed Teresa Bolga's.

Wannie and Teresa are intelligent people who are caught between the past and the future; who watch and hope for a balanced future but despair at the lack of progress towards a more secure and honest system.

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