Lost in the non-linearity of PNG time

BY MARTYN NAMORONG

Keith Jackson & Friends: PNG Attitude, 29 September 2011

I’VE BEEN giving the Capitalists a hard time recently and perhaps rightfully so. And yes, around the world Capitalism seems to be having a hard time that’s unless you are a banker receiving government bailouts. These are indeed tough times.

The Western concept of time is that it is linear. The West borrowed this concept from its Judeo-Christian roots.

But most societies elsewhere around the world have always had a circular view of time. Thus the Mayan prophecy that the cycle of time ends in 2102 has been fueling speculation among those with a linear view of time that the world will end.

If you have a circular view of time – every ending is a new beginning. Then one cannot waste time or have limited time because time is always available. Every ending also creates new time. But of course these aren’t the views of the modern Western-centric world.

Because of its concept of time as being linear, the Western world does not have patience for Papua New Guinea Time. PNG time is as Papua New Guinean as tribal fights and betel nut. PNG Time can described as regularly regular ‘lateness’ and ‘delays’ or ‘cancellations.’

A friend of mine recently described typical examples of the application of PNG Time. Scot described a typical village meeting where people (mostly men) are given the opportunity to express their opinion. The meeting would start later than initially intended too.

Men would debate and discuss the same point, repeating the same point, and describe the same matter until everyone was satisfied that the single point had been analysed thoroughly before they move to the next item on the agenda.

Some impatient people call this “beating around the bush” but it’s the Melanesian Way, based on the idea that time is not linear.

Of course, foreigners don’t have patience for PNG Time and understandably so. It is one of the most frustrating experiences for many. Time is money, as the Westerners say.

The clash of cultures that arises from these parallel concepts of linear and circular time manifests in the resource sectors. In their rush to exploit PNG’s natural resources, Capitalists take short cuts to getting consent from indigenous tribes.

In their slowness to respond to the forces of change, indigenous people take their time in adapting to change. The end result is the endless litany of so called ‘landowner issues.’

Proper social mapping and genealogy studies as well as consultations and communal agreements would normally take years or decades to settle. Businesses with a linear time that has schedules and deadlines do not have the patience for PNG Time.

They therefore look for people whom they can work with against those who are in a time warp. Many self described genuine landowners thus feel left out and moan about it in the media.

An example of this situation is the dispute over the ownership of Moran oil field in the Southern Highlands. The State and Oil Search continue to exploit the resource but have parked payments to locals in trust accounts pending settlement of land ownership rights.

This situation has persisted for years now, and it seems no one is in a hurry to address the fundamental issues.

The violence between Boera and Porebada villagers over ownership of land at the LNG site also highlights the dark side of sitting on issues.

Delays in legislative and policy decision making also creates uncertainty among Capitalists. This uncertainty prevents businesses from making investment decisions.

The fact is that the private sector creates jobs and job creation depends on investment decisions. Uncertainty therefore stifles expansion of the private sector and reduces employment opportunities.

One such piece of legislation is the Public Private Partnership Bill. This Asian Development Bank-sponsored bill has been gathering dust since last year although the consultation process began earlier.

The PPP Bill should see businesses investing over K50 million on infrastructure, utilities and services in partnership with the State. The legislation has already been drafted by Gadens Lawyers and is in the hands of the PPP Task Force headed by Ms Juliana Kubak.

On this critical issue of time, I’m siding with the Capitalists and the Western world. Our people need to shift how they frame their world in time and space. They must abandon the cyclical view of time.

Their failure to do so has been responsible for some of the failures experienced by the nation. In addition, their failure to shift to linear time has made them vulnerable to exploitation.

We can’t sit around discussing and debating fundamental issues for eons. For as long as these issues persist they are a source of division in our commonalities.

And it is along this fault lines that foreigners enter into our society, divide us and walk away with our resources while we’re squabbling among ourselves over rice grains.

Published by Ples Singsing

Ples Singsing is envisioned to be a new platform for Papua Niuginian expressions of creativity, ingenuity and originality in art and culture. We deliberately highlight these two very broad themes as they can encompass the diverse subjects, from technology, medicine and architecture to linguistics, music, fishing, gardening et cetera. Papua Niuginian ways of thinking, living, believing, communicating, dying and so on can cover the gamut of academic, journalistic or opinionated writing and we believe that unless we give ourselves a platform to talk about and discuss these things in an open, free and non-exclusively academic space that they may remain the fodder for academics, journalists and other types of writers alone. New social media platforms have given every individual a personal space to share their feelings and ideas openly, sometimes without immediate censure. The Ples Singsing writer’s blog would like to provide another more structured platform for Papua Niuginian expressions in written, visual and audio formats while also providing some regulation of the type and content of materials to be shared publicly.

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