By PNG Echo.
Who gave Speaker of the Papua New Guinean Parliament, Theo Zurenuoc, the right to shape Papua New Guinea after an image that he chooses?
Who gave him the right to arbitrarily reinterpret the constitution and what the founding father’s meant – and to decide where they’d erred?
I’m speaking, specifically, of the tearing down of traditional artefacts originally commissioned for the Haus Tambaran to be replaced by others that the Speaker finds more to his taste, sensibilities and his personal interpretation of the Christian doctrine.
And this in spite of the very clear preamble to the Papua New Guinean constitution (also known colloquially as the ‘Mama Lo’) that states:
WE, THE PEOPLE OF PAPUA NEW GUINEA—
- united in one nation
- pay homage to the memory of our ancestors—the source of our strength and origin of our combined heritage
- acknowledge the worthy customs and traditional wisdoms of our people—which have come down to us from generation to generation
- pledge ourselves to guard and pass on to those who come after us our noble traditions and the Christian principles that are ours now.
- By authority of our inherent right as ancient, free and independent peoples
The acknowledgment and homage to an historical heritage in this preamble is evident, marked and appropriate.
Justification for vandalism
In an article published by PNG Blogs Zurenuoc claims to be stamping out idolatry and renewing the Christian covenant in order that: “…a new light will shine in the Grand Hall of our National Parliament.”
Zurenuoc’s actions are akin to the Nazi book burning of 1933.
The Nazis found, to their detriment, that you cannot erase ideas with a single act of vandalism, as the Speaker will find that he cannot erase a rich cultural heritage with a similar act.
Anyway, if the previous totems are “idolatry”, is not the new “National Unity Pole” the same thing only with a different idol?
Wearing his misdirected zealotry like a badge of honour, Zurenuoc would brook no opposition to his destructive course, not even from the Roman Catholic Church and he refused to discuss his actions with the PNG Council of Churches claiming them to have some beliefs “…that were not appropriate.”
Who appointed Zurenuoc sole arbiter and definer of what is an ‘appropriate’ Christian belief?
Zurenuoc’s attitude and actions display an arrogant piety that is seriously out of kilter with the religion he espouses: one where humility is one of the main tenets.
Zurenuoc claims to be committing this sacrilege in the name of ‘National Unity’.
The idea of National Unity was taken from the courageous actions of our Founding Fathers who united our very difficult and fragmented tribes of thousand languages to give us Independence.
In the aforementioned article he evokes two of the founding fathers, Sir Michael Somare and Sir Julius Chan as his inspirations for National Unity.
The idea of independence (or autonomy) for the Province of New Ireland that is oft bandied about and sometimes subscribed to by Sir Julius is something Zurenuoc needed to ignore to promote his vision.
That it was Sir Julius who brought in mercenaries (Sandline) to kill his own people (or at least the people of Bougainville) in the bloody civil war of the 1990s also needs to be overlooked.
What’s more Zurenuoc’s methods are not subscribed to by Sir Michael either: a meeting between the Grand Chief, Director of the National Museum and Art Gallery, Anthropologist, Dr Andrew Moutu and the Speaker did little to dissuade Zurenuoc from his righteous and deeply destructive crusade.
With a chainsaw, the Speaker has wantonly destroyed what little evidence there is in Papua New Guinea of any truly national symbols. What’s nationally unifying about that?
Is PNG a nation?
Zurenuoc with his ‘National Unity’ vision and his method of achieving it is barking up the wrong tree. And this is why.
There are two ways in which a national entity is formed (ie an independent state, a nation or a nation/state – the state being the legal entity and the nation being notional):
…by an educative process whereby members of the group [are] systematically convinced of their sameness by interested parties (usually the intellectuals…) and hence become conscious of a shared nationality, (commonly termed ‘nation building’) and a purely arbitrary and pragmatic system whereby a ‘state’ [is] formed to administer a territory and the people within it, without regard to any sort of homogeneity, whether real or imagined, of the inhabitants. (Merrell, Susan, PhD Thesis, UNSW, 2005 ‘On the fringe: The dilemma of Welsh political nationalism)
Although Papua New Guinea is indeed an independent state, it has never really attained a collective national consciousness and I would put it squarely in the category of ‘arbitrary state’, especially as the geopolitical boundaries were drawn in colonial times with little consideration of local sensibilities and everything to do with imperialistic consolidation and expansion.
Corruption fighter, Sam Koim in his speech to the Australian National University in Canberra recently singled out the lack of national consciousness as an impediment in the fight against corruption:
Many people think in groups, such as tribes, instead of as a country, he said
And the reason for this is that, missing in Papua New Guinea, has been the educative process and national imagining that makes a nation out of groups of disparate people.
Imagining the nation
In those descriptions they all acknowledge that the promotion of an idea of a historical continuum built on past actualities revisited and rediscovered, or on an invention of common history is necessary in order to inculcate national sentiment.
And it is why it doesn’t matter whether the offending artefacts in the Haus Tambaran were from the Sepik, Morobe or anywhere else – they had become national symbols that represented all the people of PNG – a proud history available to all – why destroy what little there is in PNG of national symbols and sentiment.
The Speaker intends to replace these sources of national pride with representations of a new and foreign religious concept with no basis in history or the historical imagination of the nation.
If we adopt Benedict Anderson’s widely accepted description of ‘nation’ as an imagined community: there is no person on this earth, let alone in Papua New Guinea, who imagines that Papua New Guinea has much in common, historically, with the tribes of Israel.
Papua New Guinea is a beautiful diverse land with a plethora of colourful traditions and a rich history often represented in its carvings and rituals.
The last thing the nation needs for its national well-being is a high-profile politician telling it that it should be ashamed of its heritage and obliterating the symbols associated therewith.
They weren’t wrong
The founding fathers did not err in the preamble to the constitution they, in fact, showed remarkable insight into what it takes to build a nation.
It is Speaker Zurenuoc that has made an egregious error.
Is his decision borne of ignorance, arrogance or is his faith so weak that it cannot withstand the puniest of challenges? How shamefully pathetic! Someone needs to stop this false national prophet.
God bless Papua New Guinea!
 Anderson, B., Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Verso, London, 1983
In Thompson, A., “National Identity and Social Theory”, in Fevre, R., & Thompson, A., (eds.) Nation, Identity and Social Theory, University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 1999. p. 248