Poison Strands of the Mat

The poisonous strands of the Papua New Guinea mat include mining industries that gouge inside the land devastating ecology, the shattering of peace with violent tribal conflicts and unspeakable violence against women and children.

These and many more inspired discussions and debates at the Reweaving the Papua New Guinea Mat Conference held in Port Moresby from August 19 to 23, 2019 hosted by the Papua New Guinea Council of Churches.

From church women’s groups, environment activists, to churches and community organisations including the mainline churches of PNG attended the Conference that was held at the Catholic Bishop’s Conference Centre.

They all agreed that the PNG household needs to be rebuilt, its mat rewoven by first un-weaving its poisonous strands.

A keynote at the Conference was the Principal of PTC Rev. Dr. Upolu Va’ai who highlighted the importance of unweaving strands such as neo-colonialism and neo-liberalist capitalist view where only a few benefit from the resources owned by many.

Rev. Dr Va’ai (second from left) with the Police Minister Bryan Kramer and the Alliance of Solwara Warriors at the PNG REM Conference.

He emphasized the need to ensure that the new narrative PNG builds is one that is borne out of its culture and different identities and assimilates indigenous knowledge but not just to underpin a colonial narrative.

Reverend Dr. Va’ai identified key strands of the mat that needs reweaving;

  • The ‘unity in Christ strand’. The household is not just about unity. It is also about the multiple relationalities found in the diverse differences of a complex system of relationships.
  • The ‘human-centric strand’. The household is not just about the human being. It is the about the whole multi-dimensionality of life. It is also about ecology and economy. 
  • The ‘neo-colonial capitalist strand’. The household is not just about a few who benefit from the resources of the many. It is also about the wellbeing and the common good of the many.
  • The ‘Eurocentric strand’. The household is not about someone else’s story that became the ‘only’ story. It is not just about meeting the criteria of UN, World Bank, ADB, WCC frameworks. It is also about creating a story that is “ours”, that is healthy for our identities, heritage, and future.
  • The ‘non-relational strand’. The household is never about the ‘one’. In the household, all strands are interrelated and interconnected in a healthy inextricable way to benefit the whole.
  • The ‘simulation strand’. The household is not about appropriating indigenous knowledge to underpin colonial narrative. It is about being responsible of how we use our own wisdom to promote the well-being of all.

The former attorney general Sir Arnold Amet  spoke on the need for the new PNG narrative or mat to be founded on truth espoused by the Bible that include as well abhorrence for the death penalty being proposed for PNG.

‘We profess to be a Christian country and espouse it as well in our Constitution and such we should approach this conversation from a Christian biblical worldview,’ he said.

‘Such a worldview examines cultural data and locates them within a pattern of belief that is consistent with the sacred text of the bible and broader Christian intellectual discourse.’

Sir Arnold Amet

PNG’s Minister for Police Bryan Kramer says the church needs to play a more active role in politics to influence political will for the benefit of the people’s development like accessing good water supply and to fight corruption, even in elections where people get paid to vote.

Police Minister Bryan Kramer

General Secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches Reverend James Bhagwan stressed the importance of the PNG household as a holistic concept defined by the Greek word oikos.

‘The word economy comes from the Greek oikos-nomos meaning the proper management of the household, ecology – oikos lokos meaning the study of knowledge of our planetary household and ecumenicity oikos menicos meaning an openness to the worldwide household.

‘All of this share a basic orientation to home.’

‘Yet the sad reality is that the current economic models no longer deal with the whole household; the economic sub-systems impacts on society as a whole and its sociological, ecological, cultural contexts.

The current focus on economics alone has led to the dangerous assumption that the household is only made up of one room

‘Native Americans saying is becoming more and more our reality – only when the last tree has dies, the last river has been poisoned and the last fish has been caught will we realise we cannot eat money.’

‘The western model of development based on an ideology of domination has severed the sacred thread that connected economics, ecology and morality and spirituality with devastating consequences.’

‘We have forgotten that ecosystem is a system whose elements interact with its surroundings; the ecological, social, intellectual and spiritual context, as a whole household.’

Reverend James Bhagwan

The Karkar Solwara Warriors attacked seabed mining as a poison strand calling for a total ban on the mining practice in PNG.

Land grabbing was identified another poison strand.

Governor General for Oro Province Gary Juffa highlighted yet another in invisible forces of criminal elements that actively engage in stifling protests and dissension against the acquisition of natural resources for the benefit of only a few and mostly offshore interests.

PNGCC General Secretary Reverend Joseph Rogers acknowledged the milestones the conference had reached after four days in identifying first the poison strands that needs to be un-weaved from the PNG mat and elements that will contribute building an ecological framework for development.

Such a framework will be used to engage the churches, political entities including civil society and various interest groups.