Decolonisation & the changing of our names

By DUNCAN GABI – 28 March 2021, Keith Jackson & Friends: PNG Attitude |Aunamelo | Edited

PORT MORESBY – While many people think decolonisation means just breaking away from colonisers and getting political independence, there’s more to it than the average mind can ever comprehend.

I am not going to write on political or economic decolonisation but on cultural decolonisation which I believe is the first step to take in the decolonisation process.

True Decolonisation to my understanding means erasing any trace of colonisation in your country, just like how colonisers erased every trace of your past and tried to make you believe your history started with them discovering you.

One of the African leaders who pushed for true decolonisation was Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso.

When Sankara became president of Burkina Faso, the country was using the name given to it by colonisers – Upper Volta.

In an attempt to rid the country of the influence of colonisation, Sankara changed the name to Burkina Faso meaning ‘Land of the Upright Men’.

Culturally, all colonised countries or regions had their own traditional names which were changed by the colonisers.

Like Africa and many other countries once colonies of European countries, many of Papua New Guinea’s regions and islands were renamed by colonisers.

We had our own names for places, rivers, mountains, islands and other landforms. Colonisers in the exploration era and in the fight to claim undiscovered lands, named them after their kings, queens, emperors, famous men, cities, even themselves.

New Britain and New Ireland were named after Britain and Ireland. Port Moresby and Fairfax Harbour were named by Captain John Moresby after his father, Admiral Sir Fairfax Moresby.

Papua was named after frizzy haired people like Malaysians and New Guinea because our cpuntry was thought to look like Guinea in Africa.

So the colonisers would claim a land for their own country, give it a name and declare that they had discovered it.

They knew there were already people dwelling on those lands who had their own names for it but that didn’t matter.

To them, as the most civilized society in the world, these people they ‘discovered’ were primitives. There was no respect for their culture. To Europeans, all cultures were inferior to their more civilised culture.

Perhaps some of you might remember when John Waiko wanted to rename Papua New Guinea ‘Paradise’. He was called crazy and stupid, but he in fact was trying to erase traces of colonisation in our country. He was seeking true decolonisation even though the name he suggested was not fitting.

I was surprised when I came across Papua New Guinea’s highest mountain’s original name in the native tongue.

I always knew Mt Wilhelm had an original name but later found out it was Enduwa Kombuglu or Kombugl’o Dimbin, meaning ‘black stone’.

I believe the mountain needs to be called by its original name to maintain its cultural connections.

The mountain has no connection with Germany. It is not on German soil; it’s on Simbu soil and should be called by its traditional name.

After foreign invasion and the introduction of Western cultures and religions, most of our people now bear Western and Christian names.

Traditional names, native names, bore meaning and had significance. In the next 20 years, we won’t have traditional names, we will have first names like Simon and second names like John.

Our traditional names are unique and quite unlike Western and Christian names. No different tribe can have the same name. We don’t have a Highlander with the name Kila. Kila is a coastal name.

John is not your ancestor’s name. Kaupa is, Kawage is, Kagul is, Kila is, Renagi is.

It’s time to start cultural decolonisation by embracing your roots and giving our children our own names, names our ancestors carried.

Stop naming your children after someone’s ancestor from Europe or a prophet in the Bible.

I don’t know where my parents got the name Duncan from when they named me. Tumbuna blo mi mas Duncan ya.

I didn’t choose the name I carry, it was given to me at birth but I will choose to have my children carry traditional names.

I will have all my children named after my ancestors and carry the unique names of my people to ensure the survival of this part of my rapidly dying culture.

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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