BY PAUL OATS
If PNGians can and do very well away from their own country, why shouldn’t this also happen in PNG? That’s the ‘salat’ (nettle) that must be grasped.
Around 40 years ago, on patrol through the villages and after the Census had been completed, it would be time for a down to earth discussion. While the topics were fairly free ranging and usually centred on the price of coffee etc. inevitably we would get around to what would happen when we Australian Kiaps left PNG? “Yupela inap’ was the central theme of this discussion. Yet cultural change can be a very slow process.
So what’s the problem? PNG people want results but are they prepared to change their culture to get those results? That’s the conundrum. Perhaps many other reasons then stem from this issue.
We obtain our cultural roots when we are very young. Most people find by the time they reach their teens, they have been imprinted with the culture they grew up with. There are of course exceptions however as a general rule, this is an accepted norm.
The perception in the PNG villages of the ‘Big Man’ syndrome is a powerful image involving status and leadership. To become a Big Man, certain prerequisites have to be fulfilled. Wealth must be generated and publicly given away in order to obtain status. No obvious wealth – No status and it therefore becomes difficult to get an audience and a hearing or to get people to do your bidding.
A Self fulfilling prophesy might then take over. If you know it’s not going to work, why bother trying? Also, if people take on a job, most people will want to know what’s in it for them? Selfless devotion might be a ‘driver’ for some but they are usually the exception.
Many years ago at a training course, the question was asked: ‘Could you sack Fred?’ Everyone knew of a ‘Fred’. He was the bloke who always turned up late, had an unironed shirt and gravy stains on his tie. Fred had a large family and a mortgage but he was always happy to tell a joke and make people laugh. Unfortunately, Fred’s work just didn’t come up to speed. He always had excuses why things just didn’t work out but he consistently couldn’t meet timetables and targets. So if you were Fred’s manager, after many pep talks and personal action plans that didn’t work, could you sack him? What about if Fred was a ‘wantok’?
Years ago when I was living in PNG, a mate from PNG called in unannounced to see my parents and say hello. One of the things he commented on was how hard Australian people work down here (in Australia). You can draw your own conclusions from that observation.
Finally, to a city dweller down south living in a sterile metropolis of concrete and steel, the concept of paradise on earth is a warm climate with sandy beaches and waving palm trees.