EPLD Report 1: a brief overview and some thoughts on identity

This is an article that I have written for the Pacific Business Review, which should be out next week.  


By Emmanuel Narokobi

On the 8th of March this year, which coincidently was my birthday, I set foot on an airplane for the once in a lifetime opportunity to join the Emerging Pacific Leaders Dialogue (EPLD) 2010. My flight took me initially to Brisbane, to Auckland and then to my first stop in Samoa. Interestingly enough I landed in Samoa on my Birthday again, which was a novelty first for me to have celebrated my birthday twice in one year.

Before I continue, let me explain what EPLD is. EPLD is an event started in 2006 by the Commonwealth Secretariat and which is planned to be held every four years. EPLD aims at bringing together 130 participants from all across the Pacific for a 15 day event of conferences, study tours, networking and leadership programmes. The ultimate aim of this exercise is to strengthen the capacity of the future leaders of the region to manage challenges collaboratively, positively and creatively.

The first of these kinds of events was initiated by the Duke of Edinburgh (Royal Consort to Queen Elizabeth II) in the 1950’s at Oxford. Over the years it has become a great tool in fostering better relations and decision making among leaders and many of the alumni now hold very high positions in society which has enabled the programme to continue over the years and for the decision finally to be made for a Pacific version to be created to foster the same ties and values.

While in Samoa for the first leg of the trip and in the midst of celebrating my double birthday I received the sad news of the passing of my Uncle Bernard. It suddenly hit me, while sitting near a beachside restaurant staring into the evening sea, that a large part of my own identity had suddenly been torn from me.

It took me a whole day and night of soul searching and discussions with my wonderfully supportive partner Callista to come to the realisation that perhaps what I was doing here and the fact that I had managed to somehow make it through the selections from 2,000 applicants across the Pacific, that perhaps this would be something that Uncle Bernard (if he were alive), would have approved of. The decision my partner and I made was later confirmed when I met the Samoan Head of State, His Highness Tupuola Efi, who told me he knew Uncle Bernard very well and that when he was in Samoa he would stay at his house. (His highness I believe was also present at Uncle Bernard’s funeral). I thought to myself that this was evidence that some part of me had a duty to honour Uncle Bernard’s name beyond just PNG. Of course the final blessings came from my father Camillus, who even before I could begin explaining my thoughts told me that I should continue with what I had come to do.

Ruth Pune, Sir Arnold Amet, His Highness Tupuola Efi of Samoa, Myself, Sir Puka Temu

The EPLD programme consisted of 2 days of plenary sessions in Samoa with very senior speakers from around the region. This included our own Deputy Prime Minsiter Sir Puka Temu and Sir Arnold Amet. I must add here that Sir Puka’s talk on health systems and where it should be now in this day and age was received by a standing ovation with much commendation from the participants. I couldn’t help but feel proud of that moment, but I knew inside that much more is yet, to be achieved.

After the Plenary Sessions the 130 of us were then broken up into country study tour groups of about 13 each to be sent off to our respective countries for 10 days. I was chosen to be a part of the New Caledonia Study Tour. So after a wonderful dinner at the great author Robert Louis Stevenson’s house in Apia we were on a plane again that night at 10pm. Our flight flew us back to Auckland then onwards to Noumea.

We spent 10 days in New Caledonia with so many experiences and lessons learned but unfortunately I will not have enough space here to go through it all, although I will make an attempt to do so in parts later on this blog. But to summarise what I thought of New Caledonia, I think I could say that because they were Melanesians it was an experience of what PNG should or could be like. What I also learned quite early on as well was that New Caledonia is in fact a developed nation with an almost 50/50 make up of Kanaks (Melanesians) and non-kanaks of French descent who have been there for the last 200 years. Another surprising discovery was that their major contributor to their GDP was not tourism or fishing like other Pacific nations, in fact they are a mining country with a virtually sole dependence on Nickel.

The visit to New Caledonia involved trips to their 3 provinces, (Northern, Southern and Loyalty Islands) and discussions with all levels of government and public service. This was complemented by cocktail parties with the New Zealand, Australian and French High Commissioners who assisted in giving an outsiders point of view of the country. We were then tasked with writing a report and doing a presentation of our report to HRH Princess Anne (the Duke of Edinburgh’s daughter).

The presentations were to be held at the closing session in Nuku’alofa, so we hopped again on a plane and after passing through Wallis-Futuna and Fiji we arrived at the Kingdom of Tonga to be regrouped again with all the other participants. Over 3 frantic and stressful days we set down to completing our reports and presentations to HRH Princess Anne and HRH Princess Salote Tuita of Tonga.

So what have I learned from this trip?

Some people say that it is only when you step away from the details up close, that you are able to get a clearer idea of the whole picture. The passing of my Uncle Bernard only helped to refine my observations and to a larger degree helped me to take a deeper look at who I was. Not so much what I do from day to day in my life, but I was forced to really ask myself what my identity was in this vast country of PNG, (let alone the Pacific).

For example who were these Arapesh Tribe ancestors of mine that fought against tribes and encountered missionaries and so on to be able to produce the people of Wautogik village. What were the circumstances for Wautogik to produce among many leaders, two sons who would be lawyers and who would shape the person I am today. And what do I take from that into tomorrow?

Once upon a time when a country was being born, Uncle Bernard dreamed that the idea of a nation could harness the best of the old and the new in a wide and complex land. He wished it so deeply with his words and entire being that his convictions alone cut into our lives and etched a promise that had to be kept. Has this promise of a Melanesian identity truly reconciled with the new been realised?

I say partly yes. Within out hearts and minds we have always known what we had to do. But unfortunately although there are many right ways there can only be one honest way. And so I can also partly say No, in that many of our actions have never confirmed or ever realised what we were supposed to have achieved. We have been so blinded by the empty promise of financial capital that any sort of cultural capital has seeped away into oblivion and since been lost.

Out there, where the rest of the Pacific lies and where other cultures are not too dissimilar to our own in PNG, I have seen cultures hardened and wielded with pride as new frontiers in these peoples’ lives are being conquered. And all of this done without billion kina budgets, but simply a faith in God and a practical approach to real issues. Yes perhaps Australia did leave us too early, yes perhaps we did not have the capacity? But if we always knew the truth of our cultural norms of sharing and consensus building, why did we falter?

The great Kanak leader Jean-Marie Tjibaou once said that “…our struggle now is to build as much of our past and culture into the future…our identity lies ahead of us…” If we cannot learn the true meaning of that struggle, which is to sacrifice for the good of the past to be integrated with the good of tomorrow, then we risk perpetuating a national culture that continuously believes that all the Gas and Nickel money in PNG will buy us an identity forged in dignity.

23 thoughts on “EPLD Report 1: a brief overview and some thoughts on identity

  1. Firstly, your uncle was a great man..the Arapesh and Wautogik should be proud of their sons..and grandson too for that matter.The Narakobi name will certainly live on. I certainly enjoyed reading this.

    A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it. ~George Moore

  2. Manu – truly moving! i’m glad you chose to stay on – your Uncle Bernard would’ve definitely been proud of you. Keep up the legacy.

  3. A report that not only contain the insights but also the desire for changes to the PNG society coupled with the expressions of being Melanesians. You have expressed also the greatest and most assertive element of Melanesian philosophy – which is in your late uncle, Mr Narokobi. A truly great man and as exppressed by many others – an icon of Melanesia.

    You have also captured and detailed the key ideals and legacies for yourself, PNG and the greater Pacific sphere.

    Great reading.

  4. It is really appalling to note that New Caledonia is sustainable with a single mining mineral, nickel and they can be classed “developed”. In terms of landmass and population, that is probably a fitting scenario. However, comparing PNG’s resources to our population, it a shame. We have more resources compared to N.Caledonia, nickel, gold, copper, oil, gas. Surely we should be much much better off than other Pacific island nations.

    Maybe we got the wrong training from Australia, maybe Australia cunningly let go, so they can still be the push & shove from a different angle. What has gone wrong?, what are we failing as a nation to do to see progression, are we still lacking the training & guidance?

  5. Kafu, I think it’s an attitude problem issue that defines a country as “developed” or “underdeveloped” – and PNG exemplifies the former.

  6. Solo,
    I agree that attitude is a BIG problem in this country. So in other words, the attitude has not change from pre-independence era, which indicates the pioneer politicians in the likes of lapun Somare had immature knowledge & understanding of governance when pushing for independence too soon. The right attitude and vision was not there?. Should Australia feel partly responsible for not identifying this?

    In PNG, we have set up good governance mechanisms including the constitution, provincials & then the local level governments for further implementation of National government policies & goals. Our PROBLEM IS, WE OVER RULE THE PROCEDURES & SYSTEMS TO DO THINGS THE PNG WAY. Learning from N.Caledonia, it seems they respect the government procedures & systems or rather are implementing a strict French control & overseer type of government which to them is working very well, added or subtracted depending on their vision, let alone attitude. Can PNG politicians learn from this?, a very basic if not fundamental error; not respecting and working to the set government mechanism, not adhering to procedures making the government systems failing in all areas etc….

  7. Manu, great article, Uncle Bernard would have been proud.

    This paragraph in particular was a fitting eulogy of Uncle Bernard’s contribution at Independence –

    “Once upon a time when a country was being born, Uncle Bernard dreamed that the idea of a nation could harness the best of the old and the new in a wide and complex land. He wished it so deeply with his words and entire being that his convictions alone cut into our lives and etched a promise that had to be kept. Has this promise of a Melanesian identity truly reconciled with the new been realised?”

    We have lost giants in the last few years – Narokobi, Siaguru, Yauieb. Their deaths leave huge voids and present a challenge – they played significant roles in shaping the country’s future at Independence, who will step up now from our generation in the new post-LNG PNG?





  8. Thanks Anthony and Emmanuel.

    Rather than lamenting their loss, I see these great men as the rocks, the foundations on which to stand and press ahead with confidence. I’m sure this is exactly what they would have wished for us.

    A friend recently sent me the quote below which I want to share:

    “Having come into contact with a civilization which has over-emphasized the freedom of the individual, we are faced with one of the big problems of Africa in the modern world…how to get the benefits of European society…brought about by an organization based upon the individual -and yet retain African’s own structure of society in which the individual is a member of a kind of fellowship.” — Julius K. Nyerere

  9. Hi David,

    Nyerere was an interesting bloke. I looked up Wikipedia and the following are some ‘cherry picking’ from this source.

    Kambarage Nyerere was born on 13 April 1922 in the town of Butiama in Tanganyika’s Mara Region.[5] He was one of 26 children of Nyerere Burito (1860–1942), Chief of the Zanaki.

    Economic policies
    When in power, Nyerere implemented a socialist economic programme (announced in the Arusha Declaration), establishing close ties with China, and also introduced a policy of collectivisation in the country’s agricultural system, known as Ujamaa or “familyhood.”
    Although some of his policies can be characterised as socialist, Nyerere was first and foremost an African, and secondly a socialist. He was what is often called an African socialist. Nyerere had tremendous faith in rural African people and their traditional values and ways of life. He believed that life should be structured around the ujamaa, or extended family found in traditional Africa. He believed that in these traditional villages, the state of ujamaa had existed before the arrival of imperialists.

    He believed that Africans were already socialists and that all that they needed to do was return to their traditional mode of life and they would recapture it. This would be a true repudiation of capitalism, since his society would not rely on capitalism to exist. Unfortunately for Nyerere and Tanzania, this ujamaa system caused agricultural output to plummet. The deficit in cereal grains was more than 1 million tons between 1974 and 1977. Only loans and grants from the World Bank and the IMF in 1975 prevented Tanzania from going bankrupt. By 1979, ujamaa villages contained 90% of the rural population but only produced 5% of the national agricultural output.[18] Subsequently, the country fell on hard economic times which was excacerbated by a war against Idi Amin and the six year drought. Tanzania went from the largest exporter of agricultural products in Africa to the largest importer of agricultural products. Nyerere announced that he would retire after presidential elections in 1985, leaving the country to enter its free market era — as imposed by structural adjustment under the IMF and World bank — under the leadership of Ali Hassan Mwinyi.

    Cultural Influences

    Nyerere supported the presence of foreign cultures in Tanzania saying, “a nation which refuses to learn from foreign cultures is nothing but a nation of idiots and lunatics…[but] to learn from other cultures does not mean we should abandon our own.”

  10. Hi Paul,

    Thanks for that. Nayerere and Tanzania’s dilemma are not unlike our own here in PNG. Whilst we have a traditional economy that is socialist in character, we are being forced to embrace capitalism, characterised by individualism, as an economic model.

    I sympathise with the Tanzanians but their experience is well worth studying as the essence of our economic problems are the same. We might learn some very valuable lessons from them. But I think we got the bridge between communalism and individualism just about worked out when we tried to introduce corporative societies as a way of harnessing our socialist roots to solve a capitalist problem.

    I would like to see it being revived.

  11. Yes! Do look at several countries and study how they evolved. Singapore is another good example, but with different outcomes. They gained independence in 1965 and have developed into a first world society since then. They have somewhat of a political bridge as well. It is a republic driven by capitalistic ideals yet buffered by socialist practices.

    It may seem like sparkling clean metropolis in the tropics to visitors, but some who live there call it a guilded cage. Its clean and safe and the government prosperous and efficient. Yet personal freedoms suffer greatly. The government rules with an unseen iron fist. All media falls under government control. You need a permit to speak publicly in an open forum. The opposition democratic party has been sued by the “ruling” family into virtual bankruptcy. Nobody dares talk politics in Singapore.

    My point is take a lesson from different sources and decide what is best. Developing quickly and efficiently doesn’t always yield good results.

  12. Hi Joseph,

    good input, thanks mate. Singapore virtually lifted itself up by its own bootstraps under Lee Kwan Yew. But I can remember when it was illegal to chew gum and young men had to have obligatory haircuts during the ‘Beetles’ era.

    There has to be a happy middle road however who knows where it lies.

    The Chinese reportedly said recently they wouldn’t employ local PNG people at their mine in Ramu due to local ‘work practices’. ‘New Guinea time’, was an expression that some used to use as an excuse to justify their own lateness. Is that expression still used today?

    Someone sent me this story below to me recently. I cannot verify if it is true but the message does seem to be logical, notwithstanding its political bias. I post it in the interests of promoting an understanding social engineering.

    An economics professor at a local college made a statement that he had
    never failed a single student before, but had once failed an entire class.

    That class had insisted that Obama’s socialism worked and that no one
    would be poor and no one would be rich, a great equalizer. The professor
    then said, “OK, we will have an experiment in this class on Obama’s plan.
    All grades would be averaged and everyone would receive the same grade
    so no one would fail and no one would receive an A.”

    After the first test, the grades were averaged and everyone got a B. The
    students who studied hard were upset and the students who studied little
    were happy. As the second test rolled around, the students who studied
    little had studied even less and the ones who studied hard decided they
    wanted a free ride too so they studied little. The second test average was
    a D! No one was happy.

    When the 3rd test rolled around, the average was an F. The scores never
    increased as bickering, blame and name-calling all resulted in hard feelings
    and no one would study for the benefit of anyone else. All failed, to their
    great surprise, and the professor told them that socialism would also
    ultimately fail because when the reward is great, the effort to succeed is
    great but when government takes all the reward away, no one will try or
    want to succeed.

    Could not be any simpler than that.

    1. Paul,

      Thanks for sharing that story. It does make sense to me conceptually but I can’t reconcile its reasoning back to our own society. The traditional PNG society is socialist in character hence we, as a race, should have regressed to oblivion long time ago if the moral of the story holds true.

      We need to study our own traditional systems more deeply to gain a thorough understanding of what it is that continues to keep us going. What is the essence of our ways? What makes PNG thick? Sure we are a predominantly socialist culture, but is there a presence of capitalist traits such as to reward and penalise the individual within the greater socialist structure so as to act as an incentive to sustain ourselves?

      We’ve learned, understood, ridiculed and praised socio-economic and political structures of other people and other cultures. But have we taken the time to sit down and deeply think about and study our own to see where exactly we stand? Or have we been simply awestruck by those other structures and quick to ridicule what has worked for us since day dot?

      Our national Constitution calls for us to craft our own development path using Papua New Guinean ways. The fact that our forefathers anticipated the development of a new Papua New Guinea using Papua New Guinean ways tells me that they must have seen something in our own ways that may well be the model for our national development.

      Sure we must learn from others but unless we know exactly where we stand as the base case, their experiences will be of little help to us.

  13. Hi Paul,
    This is a thought provoking illustration. So many ideologies the world over does not seem to be work perfectly for every application, they either complement another or are added or subtracted etc and there is always some disgruntled, dissatisfied critics. For example, pure communism believes in setting no classes of people in terms of wealth and every member of society shall supposedly participate in decision-making process, bit of democracy here. But modern communism applications like China, the government becomes more authoritative and centralizes all powers, policy planning, economic & developments etc. They have skewed applications from the founding fathers Marxism Or Leninism.

    Joseph makes a valid point that PNG is on a learning curve and should learn from all the different sources. Capitalists will say Socialists kill the power of entrepreneurship & hard work, while socialists will say capitalists promote concentration of power and wealth amongst a few segment of society. Maybe those that take guide from a bit of each ideologies is better?

  14. Thanks Bro for the report of how it went and to make awareness on EPLD. There is one such programme in PNG our very own LPNG, which I hope many would be interested in.

  15. Some thoughts about traditional societies

    Since recorded history humans have sought to design their culture and society to create the most appropriate model. In fact, the only constant seems to be human nature. Almost every other circumstance humans find themselves in seems to differ.

    Each human society is affected by external and internal forces. If resources are plentiful then the population density will rise till it gets to the point where the resources are insufficient to sustain the population and the society implodes, usually in one of four ways (incidentally these happen to be referred to in the Bible in the Book of Revelation as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse if my memory serves me right). Forces like War, Famine, Plague and Pestilence or something like them decimate the population.

    Natural disasters like drought, fire and earthquakes or tsunamis have also helped reduce excess populations.

    PNG’s traditional societies are so varied that it seems unwise to generalise. Some were patrilineal and some matrilineal. Some like that on the Trobrians had a traditional ruler or king whereas many other societies had a traditional circle of elders who maintained order by custom and tradition. Other concepts about the spirit world including those about Masalai and Sanguma men were also used to control traditional societies. The notions of personal totems were used to enforce essential messages like taboos against inbreeding. No one went hungry unless they had lost a battle and had their gardens destroyed or taken over. Warfare was fairly limited and didn’t extend beyond raids on neighbours. In essence, there didn’t seem to be too much difference to almost any other culture anywhere in the world.

    So what was different?

    Well the concept of wealth was different. Traditional PNG wealth was often in measured in intangible ways. For example, by giving something to someone else you could ‘earn’ an obligation in return, under the principle of reciprocity. This was essential when wealth was measured in common items that took some physical effort to produce. Pigs and food were unfortunately perishable and had to be consumed quickly. Therefore the theory of reciprocity was essential in order not to lose track of who had earned what and who owed what and to whom?

    When shells from the coast were traded into the highlands they became a desirable item and hence wealth could be measured by means of how many gold lip pearl shells your clan or family had. Then came the equivalent of the recent Global Financial crisis when outsiders arrived and brought with them huge amounts of shells. Suddenly the local currency devalued and a new method of wealth arrived (cash) and had to be used to buy desirable material goods. Many of these goods are not made in PNG and so an acceptable medium of exchange has to be found.

    Traditional PNG societies determined law and custom by discussion and traditional methods including shaming the individual. There was no need for a police force or an independent court system. But what happened if those who were ‘convicted’ by the elders disagreed with the verdict?

    The role of women in traditional societies were often very subservient. When women become educated to the same level as men, their expectations are naturally not the same as they might have traditionally been. Not many people these days would say that women should not have equal rights.

    So traditional societies had both good and bad features. People could be easily manipulated by others who practiced magic and preyed on the superstition of others. This could be for good and bad reasons. Education might help eradicate some of the bad concepts but many still practice some form of superstition in most societies. So called western societies are just the same as any other.

    So with education and modern communications, is it possible to return to the old customs?

    Well that’s the question? Who would want all the old customs were brought back and have none of the modern ones available? (Read education, medical aid, communications, travel, etc.)

    The real problem is that you can’t ‘cherry pick’ can you? Also, what you may want the same ‘cherries’ your neighbour wants.

  16. Emanuel Great to see you keeping up the good work and the big battle ahead for people of the big river. With Frieda coming on not great news for everyone on and around the river. Need people like you and dad also prominent SEPIKS to rally together.

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