Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Village Church

This Sunday, we went to the village of Banin (we think that's the spelling) for worship. Pricilla, one of the clerks and translators for the hospital had invited Nykki  and us out for worship. It was a sort (5-10 minute) drive down the highway to the village, only past a couple large potholes. The village was a collection of small houses, similar in construction to the church in the picture. (Roofs are either tin or thatched, but the walls were all a weaved siding.) We were greeted by the pastor and several others when we arrived, about 10-15 minutes early for the service.

Church began with the ringing of the "bell": an old, empty tank of the sort one might store pressurized gases. The service was led by Pricilla, who led us through some worship songs. A pair of other women in the church played guitar. Actually, most of the congregation was female, perhaps a half-dozen men, plus a few young boys being the only men present. (And they apparently asked if I wanted to preach.)

The church had posters and signs all along the walls. Some were from the Church of the Nazarene denomination, some were sign ups and schedules for who was doing what during worship, and others were home-made signs.

The music was vaguely familiar. There were more Tok Pisin songs here than at the church just off station, though there were a number of English songs as well. The songs also seemed to blend a number of familiar tunes into one song. One such song went from the chorus of "Power in the Blood of Jesus" to the chorus of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" (with a few words changed). (It's also possible that I'm forgetting how some of the old hymns go.)

They had a time when they would share memorized scripture verses. One member would get up, give the citation. The congregation would repeat it. Then they would give the verse a line a time, the congregation repeating each line after them.(I'm not sure if this is particular to here, but I know I've not seen adults memorizing Scripture for a while when it wasn't part of a class.)

Other than those few things, it reminded me a lot of US worship. It seemed, perhaps, more communal, but a lot of that may also be that the whole village seemed to show up for worship, barring a few of the younger kids.Churches here are very local, each village having one of its own. And usually only one, as decisions tend to be group led. Thus, the village decides to join the church all at once. (See the baptism with 16+ people being baptized.)

The culture is very tribe-based, so there has been some dividing done on denominational lines. Most of the churches I've seen around here as we drove from one place to another were Nazarene. A few others exist: there's a Catholic mission up the hill next to us and a Lutheran church down one of the roads. But that said, most of this "tribe" around here seem to be Nazarene. Some of the literature around here seems to comment about how this may help continue tribal divisions, rather than try to bring the tribes more together.

I will say that everyone seems to be overly welcoming of guests into their church or tribe. If someone is an invited guest, a lot of the suspicion and mistrust seem to vanish. I've seen this when we go to church services and to the singsing the day before. Since Jonathan (our wasman, "watchman" or "guide") was with us and was part of one of the tribes in the singsing, we were welcome with open arms. I'm not sure how they would have greeted us had we just shown up. I know that Mt Hagen seemed particularly less welcoming, though that may be city verses village/town dynamics.

Anyway, before the service started, one of the women (I think Pricilla's aunt, but family relationships get blurred in villages, as everyone a certain age is a mama or papa) gave Nykki and Miriam each a meriblos, one of the traditional dresses. (Traditional at least since contact with Western cultures.) And as we were leaving, they gave us all the fruit off the altar (enough to fill to the brim a reusable shopping bag). The other missionaries tell me they do this every time one of them visit one of the small village churches. In all, a very rewarding experience.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Yesterday, we went to see a sing-sing. Well, the rehearsal for the sing-sing anyway. Nykki has a nice write up and pictures over at the family blog. In all it was a very facinating experience. We have a video of the bigman explaining things and answering questions, but it's in Tok Pisin. I'm going to see about adding subtitles to it and posting it later, perhaps today if this little laptop can manage Movie Maker (but I suspect I will be far less irritated if I wait until we're home and I can use a real computer).

In all, very interesting. We might be going back Saturday for the real sing-sing, and the included mumu (earth-oven roasted pork).

Monday, June 22, 2009

Cargo Cults

These are religious beliefs born out of a confusion of the local native tribes when they come into contact with more advanced civilizations. Cargo Cults arise when natives believe they can induce cargo (that is modern tools, clothing, items) to arrive by mimicking the actions of the Westerns they observed.

A lot of this happened in the Melanesian world around the second World War. First the JApanese and later the Allied forces entered into contact with the natives. The natives became impressed with the Allies technology, some of which is shared with them. Then, when the war ends, the "cargo" stops coming. At that point, the natives start building imitations of airports, control towers, even airplanes, in the belief that their presence will cause cargo to appear.

A specific example of such a cult is the John Frum in Vanuatu. (And more locally in PNG, from what one of the missionaries has said.) Named after a mysterious GI (and likely misheard when saying "John from America/where ever").

Cargo cults are beginning to die out, though, as the magical thinking breaks down when cargo does not appear.

Article Notes: Hammar, Lawrence

Epilogue: Homegrown in PNG: Rural Responses to HIV and AIDS
Lawrence Hammar

Many of the villages studied (along the western coast near the Indonesian border) seemed to accept medical explanations of disease and incorporate them into their traditional worldview. But this does not seem to be complete, with some blame being placed on sorcery. Additionally, AIDS is being used more in punitive and condemnatory ways. (See previous article Warrior Women.) AIDS sufferers are often protrayed in ways akin to horror film victims in the West.

Additionally, while condoms are promoted, the culture seems to think using them is only useful in immoral situations. Even more, condoms become maligned and misinformation about their efficacy is promoted. Sometimes they are even blamed for spreading the disease.

While the women in some places have taken the initiative to condem irresponsible sexual practices, in other areas men condemn women as witches when men die for unknown reasons (that get blamed on AIDS). Outsiders get blamed from bringing it in, and insides get named sorcerors or witches.

The government response has been typically to count and catalogue sexual activity and STD infections, rather than to truely study what is and is not causing infection. Health facilities, often run or attached to churches, have condoms stocked, but do not dispense them to the public because the local churches are against it. Rather, abstience is taught, even in cases of infected spouses. Additionally, netsa marasin ("natural medicine") is promoted.

The highest infection rates are in married couples. The men go out of village for work, where they acquire it throughe extra-marital sex and bring it home to their wife (or wives). The wives then pass it on to their children. However, men find their medical information kept private while women find theirs leaked to the press and other settings, either for the benefit of an institution designed to help women out of sex work or through Warrior Women or similar visionaries. And yet, national efforts do not call husbands out on this behavior and label it "high-risk".

Complicating matters are inconsistent views about sex throughout the country. Some areas are relatively sex-positive (in that the sexual act is good in and of itself), however larger areas are negative on the acts of sex but positive on the outcomes and uses of sex (procreation, bride wealth, etc.).

Since women are supposed to be submissive, how can they abstain when a man is demanding sex? (Regardless of whether they want it or not.)

Educational materials rarely actually have useful messages. Also, very little is done to study if the written billboards/signs are useful in a oral society. A lot is also controlled by international aid and may or may not be applicable to a PNG lifestyle and worldview. For example, it may be designed for multiple govenrment services to come together to help a group but ignore the PNG divisions based on denomination, tribe, and family.

Culturally, men are to be mobile and women static. That said, mobile men are viewed as a possible source of disease. Mobile women are assumed to be sexually promiscuous. It is also believed that sexual sins (extra-marital sex, specifically) causes the disease, however it only causes it for the one sinning (not their spouse).

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Article Notes: Dundon, Alison

Warrior Women
By Alison Dundon
Australian National University

The warrior women of the title are groups of local women who through ecstatic dancing become touched by the Holy Spirit. The touch is temporary, but while so touched they will lay on hands for healing as well as identify people (usually men) who are practicing dark magic. In recent years, they have also started calling out people who are believed to be engaging in the spread of AIDS/HIV though unsafe and promiscuous sexual practices.

The groups started in the 80s during Evangelical missionary revivals. The revivals would dance in a circle, but those touched would start dancing how the Spirit led them. They would also tok propet, that is, speak in tongues. I suspect it started out of the Pentecostal movements of Evangelical Christianity.

The calling out of the practitioners of magic came a bit later. In one cited example, the women called out a man who was having an argument with the pastor of a church. That said, clergy and lay church leaders are not exempt from being called out.

The focus on AIDS/HIV is interesting mostly due to the traditional views on illness. Becoming sick was a punishment for a sin or breaking a taboo. Illness was also something visible, as with native diseases the illness was apparent on those infected. HIV/AIDS is not, at least at first, apparent. This causes some problems with the traditional views on illness. Also, the village cannot identify the ill to call them out.

Thus, these prayer groups began calling out those who were being sexually dangerous and thus could be spreading this disease. Also, since the disease is terminal, it breaks the mold where an ill person would be sick for a while and then heal. (The name used to call AIDS/HIV is melesene bininapa gite tila gi or literally "The sickness that has no cure".)

Occasionally, madness comes from a 'lying spirit' rather than the touch of the Holy. The women begin acting childish. As long as no damage happens, they are tolerated, but when either material or other damage happens, their kin are expected to take control of the 'mad' woman.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Going up to the Mountaintop

Today, we went to the mountaintop village of Konduk (/KOHN dook/) for a baptism there. We were told it'd be about an hour's walk up the mountain, but we had enough people going that we took one of the Landrovers instead. I'm glad we did, as the road started as a very uneven stone road and then we turned off it onto a dirt road. You can see one of the wooden bridges to the right. Some of the group decided to walk over the bridges rather than ride. I'm not entirely sure I blame them for that, as it was an interesting ride.

When we got there, they were doing a worship service before the actual baptisms. They had several people being baptized today, I believe I heard the number 16, but I'll admit I didn't get a full count. (And some were rededications, and just gave testimony, but more on that later.) It seems one of the elders in the church had recently died of leukemia and that death moved a number of his family to come to the church. The service was in the middle, though its order seemed similar to the Sunday services I've been to here (and elsewhere, to some extent, though I found similarities in worship services in Shinto shrines). They were singing English worship songs, some of which I knew or were similar enough to ones I knew. The spoken parts were a mixture of Tok Pisin and tok ples, that is one of the local languages. In the image, those in white tops and black pants or skirts were the baptisees. The congregation sat in two sides, the left side had most (all but one or two) of the men and a few women, the right was nearly all female. I'm not sure if it's a conscious decision to sit as such, the missionaries do not follow this tradition if it is one.

There was a sermon that I could almost follow in Tok Pisin in places, and then it would switch, I assume to the tok ples and I would be lost for a moment. It was on Matthew 4 and fighting agianst the temptations of Satan, even after baptism. When the sermon finished, we walked further up the hill, past where they were preparing the traditional Papuan feast in a mumu, an oven dug into the dirt, filled with hot rocks and then the food (pork) being cooked and covered with earth, straw and leaves. (See right.)

Up the hill, and past some of the town gardens was where they had dammed up a part of a stream (or it might have been a drainage ditch, or a wadi that only filled when it rained) as the baptismal font. They had thrown flower petals into the water. (This seems to be a tradition here with major events. The missionaries throw flowers for those leaving for extended periods or when they're leaving at the end of their terms. I suspect the missionaries adopted it from the locals, not vice-versa.) The area around the font was hilly and uneven (and muddy, as even in the dry season that the country is in now, it rains nearly daily). Yet, despite the lack of good views, it seems most of the village and likely several from nearby (such as ourselves) had turned out for the baptism. Thus, it was a bit crowded and the footing unstable in places, but everyone seemed helpful in getting through the bad parts and helping us to get a good view.

There was a second sermon here, this time from a woman preacher, which I found striking as almost all the rest of the church leadership I have witnessed here has been male. She preached mostly in tok ples, so I could follow very little of it, save for a few Pisin words that had made their way into it. During her scripture reading, someone read the the Scripture in Tok Pisin first, then she gave it in tok ples, a verse at a time.

What followed were the baptisms. One at a time, they came forward and gave a testimony. Some were rededicating their lives to the church, and thus didn't get immersed, but the others did go in and were immersed in what I can only assume was a cold mountain stream.

A bit of a side note: They are very unaware of the American culture behind a good bit of their clothing. A large amount of the clothing in Papua New Guinea is second hand from Australia and other Western nations. As you can see on the right, one of the elders doing the baptism has a South Park tie, and I will admit while I am fairly liberal in my faith, I am not certain I would wear that tie to a baptism in the US. Simiarly, there was a young man wearing a t-shirt for MTV's Jackass, with the title for the series prominently displayed on the front of the shirt. I doubt that the people here know the culture that these things represent. There was the knowledge that this is the sort of even that one wears a tie to, and I suspect there are not a large number of ties available. (And I doubt that South Park is well known here.)

As Miriam was getting a bit tired, we left about halfway through the immersions. On the way back to the car we did see them taking the pork out of the oven and getting ready for the feast. The natives here feast often, as food is usually abundant.

One other note, we did see the grave of the village and church elder who had died. He wanted to be buried near the church (it's the brown building in the background). This is the traditional grave for those who can afford it here. (Or those who are important enough that their families feel they should spend the money on such grave sites.) Inside the small house is the coffin, above ground, surrounded by flowers. I have seen other such graves along the roads here, both the stone and dirt roads up the mountain and the main road back into Mt Hagen. This is the traditional way to bury Big Men, that is civic leaders. (I need to ask how long the graves stay like this, as I have not seen more than one or two in a village.)

In all, a very interesting day.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Article Notes: Filer, Colin

Custome, Law and Ideology in Papua New Guinea
Colin Filer

Comparing Custom (Kastam or Kastom) and Law (Lo)

Law and Custome seemed to have been blurred, especially between the multiple colonial powers/periods and then into independence. This is especially true for land ownership rights, which became a sticking point with petroleum and mineral mining operations tried to lease lands. Anthropologists were rarely asked to be legal experts on traditional customs with regards to land. Originally, "custom" was used to throw out practices that colonial powers and missionaries disliked. Other problems include Tok Pisin words that occupy a larger semantic range than their English roots.

The concept of  Law also ran into problems when it was fragmented into several "rules". Local "Law Men" hashed out the "law", which was mostly whatever they could agree on, usually with respect to amounts due for certain offenses. They would refer to lo bilong tumbuna, that is "Law of the Ancesters" but this was usually as a last ditch effort when losing an argument.

The "Law Men" councils were replaced at independence with a court system. This court system was not always very thorough and these "Law Men" bemoaned their loss of influence. Custom started to gain in strength, though whether these "customs" were actually traditional is up for debate.

Usually, if a company wanted to know about "customs" it was mostly due to land ownership rules and rituals with regards how much they should pay for a lease when starting a mining operation. (See notes on the Society Reform Program). "Customs" however would often change from situtation to situtaion. However, land ownership rights became very important when gold mining started to become more prevelent and the amounts of money being discussed grew. (For a view on this and gender, look at page 12-13 of the document about widow excluded from land rights discussion.)

While some might argue that Custom or customs aren't in practice anymore, they do seem to still be practiced. Customs are practiced, though they may be overly legalized in practice. An example is the mortuary ceremonies.