“The tragedy is not that things are broken. The tragedy is that things are not mended again.” ― Alan Paton, Cry, The Beloved Country

December 18, 2013 at 8:27 am (Commentary)

The National, Tuesday December 17th, 2013

‘ A POLE symbolising national unity will adorn the Grand Hall in Parliament to replace the totem pole that has created so much public debate over its displacement.

Speaker of the national parliament Theo Zurenuoc said the national unity pole would comprise four layers representing the Word of God, the Constitution, the people and the Covenant.

Zurenuoc told reporters in Port Moresby yesterday that the removal of the totem pole was in line with a covenant made by Sir Michael Somare when he was prime minister.

Sir Michael had on behalf of the nation repented and renounced idols, ancestral gods and evil spirits.

He then re-dedicated Papua New Guinea to the God of Isaac, Abraham and Jacob.

“In essence, our founding father had by the declaration and prayer, reformed our nation, restored us back to God and showed us the new direction,” he said.

“When the Parliamentary House committee was considering our reformation, restoration and modernisation plans, the forgoing actions of our founding fathers became their inspiration.”

He said the committee decided that a fitting tribute to the founding fathers was to implement Sir Michael’s declaration and covenant with God by removing the carvings of wooden idols he renounced and install a national unity pole.

“The totem pole has three heads representing the god of witchcraft on the left, the god of immorality on the right and the god of idolatry in the middle,” he said.

“While the carvings are harmless and lifeless wood, they symbolically represent ancestral gods and spirits of idolatry, immorality and witchcraft.” Zurenuoc pointed out he did not make up that statement but was paraphrasing what Sir Michael said on the eve of Independence.

It was recorded in the book Living Spirits with Fixed Abodes: The Masterpieces Exhibition of the Papua New Guinea National Museum and Art Gallery, edited by Barry Craig and published in 2010.

He quoted Sir Michael’s declaration that the wooden carvings and cultural artefacts were “living spirits with fixed abodes”.

“Barry Craig interprets this to mean that the chief was referring to the prevailing belief of Papua New Guineans that everything is invested with spirit, not least of all the objects carved, modelled, or constructed for ceremonial and often everyday use,” he said.

“Some would scoff at this and dismiss it as a joke. But I am stating what Sir Michael said when he was then Chief Minister in order to provide you the context of his important declaration.” ’

Everything should now be fine in PNG!!??


I’m reminded of fictional characters in Sepik Blu Longpela Muruk:

“John Kabais went on to great things in PNG’s political life. He was knighted and became a Grand Chief. It was generally agreed that he had lost a lot of his earlier idealism. No one could say that he became corrupt but he did very well out of his political manoeuverings. One observer once innocently asked how he had lost a toe and the reply was: “He must have been caught with his toe in the till.” Whatever else was said of him, his contributions to PNG will never be forgotten.” ….

“Sepik people do not forget taim bilong bipo (olden times so for them the past is a living memory. The masalai (spirits of the forests) live on and it is pleasing to think of James Ward amongst them in some sort of immortal state. It in memory that raises people from the dead, or in William Batak’s words: Tingting kirapim man i dai pinis. The people in this tale might be forgotten outside the Sepik but they will live on in the Tok Pisin (Pidgin talk) of Sepiks.”

The art and culture of an ancient people cannot just be dismissed and forgotten.

All this nonsense about the carvings in the Parliament makes one think of Schiller’s famous quote: “Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.” And it must be also said that often the worst kind of stupidity is found amongst religious cranks!

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