An Australian volunteer who was doing whatever volunteers do in PNG.
I was there for 2 years until Dec 2005 .. I hope I made the most of it.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Tall Tales and Truth

When I started telling everyone I knew at the end of last year that I was packing up, heading offshore again and going to PNG, one thing I found was that everyone seemed to have some sort of tale or stereotype about the country. Mostly the stories ranged in what I thought at the time to be the bizarre and no way could that be true category.

So now that I have firmly planted my feet here and taken stock of the situation I thought that I would pass judgement on a few of these tales and tell the world if they are true or false.

Tale: My mate Basil, who I used to work with and who once gave me a slab of homebrew that I left stupidly stored under my bed (word to the wise - don't do this! homebrew has a tendency to be - lets just say - unstable), told me that he worked in Hagen for a few months and saw all sorts of things. The one that sticks in my mind the most was his story of walking down the main street to go to the bank and seeing a woman coming the other way suckling a pig. He then proceeded to tell me that this was quite common for them to do this.
Verdict: True. As bizarre as it seems this is apparently true, though I have never witnessed it myself, I have been told by a number of reliable sources since I have been here that this is true. Pigs are valued so highly in the Highlands that they are nursed like babies during their infant stages.

Tale: A popular tale told to me before I came up, which almost all people seemed to know is again about pigs in the highlands. This one involves what you need to do if you accidentally manage to hit one while driving. What they said was if you do collect one underneath your Bridgestone's is that you just need to keep going, don't stop and just get yourself to a police station.
Verdict: True. Because of the value of the beasts if you kill one, even if it stumbles as they do right in front of your ute, you just need to get out of there. Compensation and even payback are big problems especially up in the highlands. What is worse obviously is if you manage to hit and kill a person, then you would need to up and leave the country.

Tale: My old man was the first to tell me this tale after he came up here in the late 80's to try and win a contract, again he was in Mt Hagen - all the good stories seem to come from the Highlands - and he told me that he had hired a 4WD and went to see some location or whatever when they came across a road-block. The national guys he was with said stay in the car as there was a tribal fight going on. After a bit of time dad saw guys wearing their traditional clobber with bows shooting off arrows at each other.
Verdict: True. Tribal fights happen, or at least did happen in the traditional way. Unfortunately now they are more likely to pull out the machine guns rather than the bow and arrows. I guess the old man was quite lucky to see it still in the traditional way.

Tale: Jason my former boss, and all round great guy (hey he did ring me up after coming back from the U.K. and offer my old job back - well almost old job), dragged out the old tale of cannibals when I told him I was up and leaving. This is not so much as a tale but more of a stereotype about PNG. One of the only things that people seem to remember about PNG is the head-hunters and you should skip the place because you just might end up in a pot.
Verdict: False. Of course this is just bollocks. The last head-hunters died out in the 60's or so, the missionaries have done a fine job of that. But I guess it is one of things people remember most about PNG, therefore it is raised.

Tale: Another adage based on fact, is the one about PNG still using shells as money. Jason again raised this stereotype before I came up, in fact most of the things he raised about PNG were stereotypes, though at the time he was just trying to wind me up.
Verdict: True and false. Shells do still have value, especially in the Tolai villages of East New Britain, where they traditional give big coils up to a metre in diametre at weddings and funerals. But of course there is a proper cash based currency here. Interestingly the name for it, Kina, means shell in Tolai.

Tale: Another guy I used to work with had the story about the time while he was working on a Russian cruise ship that docked in Port Moresby (a bizarre story in itself, if you ask me), and being the pot-head he was at the time, tried to secure some of the local produce. He asked someone on the wharf if he could get some and gave him a US$20 bill when confirmed to see if this would cover costs. When the guy came back the next day, he came back with two full garbage bags worth.
Verdict: Unknown but most likely true. I would dare say this probably happened though it could be a little bit exaggerated, knowing the person who told the tale to me. One thing I do know is that there is plenty of weed growing wild all over the place here.

I have changed my blog slightly so that it uses Haloscan for the comments - much more user friendly - but I did not want Riss's comment to disapear, so I will recreate it here below.
Well i think if you're going to recount true stories of PNG, you really need to post Neil's story after he visited a (not to be named) village earlier on in the year - the pig story... remember it? How he realised not only were thongs totally necessary when walking down the street because people had no worries about dropping their dacks if they needed to take a dump - they just needed to make sure they also took along a stick, because the pigs roaming the town liked nothing better than a hot breakfast and were often in a rush to be first in line...