By Micheal Dom
In 2016, writing to encourage creative and intellectual contributions to the theme of ‘The Perfect PNG Gentleman’, I wrote:
“It is clear that Papua New Guineans are still defining what it means to be a PNG citizen or even Melanesian.”
“This continuing self-discovery requires us all to do what Naith and Martyn are doing, not necessarily through a thesis or a full-time job, but by finding ways of participating in our community, country and democracy.
“It is only through participating in our nationhood that we can take control of our destiny as a nation.”
The article was inspired by the poem ‘Perfect Gentleman’ by Dolorose Atai Wo’otong, which is good to reflect upon in the current situation.
Why, you may ask. Well, because that’s what we’re looking for today when the opposite negative male characteristics are much too powerfully expressed in PNG society.
We don’t have as many or as well reported instances of male heroism, albeit there’s no doubt that in our private lives such ‘good men’ exists. Note the use of singular ‘gentleman’ in Dolorose’s poem.
The poem received excellent spontaneous feedback, inspired deeper contemplation and criticism.
It’s clear to me that if women can create poems of admiration, love and respect in this manner about PNG men and celebrate the authenticity of the words, then the balance of our personal relationships is secure.
What is lacking is the evidence of instances where men, and by that I mean groups of men, have spontaneously responded with heroism to their women folk and that the event has been a matter of public record, celebration and enculturation.
Please feel free to disagree by citing specific examples because I really do want to learn if my observations are inaccurate.
In a story telling sense, our public discourse lacks the essential element of the heroic male archetype.
Where is our hero while the villain walks in plain sight?
Who is our hero and how do we recognize him?
That’s what Dolorose’s poem was on about and why it struck me as being of paramount importance to balance the literary discussions which even at that time four years ago were shifting towards PNG men consistently portrayed in the role of villains in the day-to-day lives of PNG women, and women in general.
Dolorose portrays the characteristics of a gentleman. It’s not too far a stretch from that character to being or taking on the role of a hero. Circumstances may dictate but good character will respond truthfully.
As I wrote: “Dolorose’s poem describes her personal thoughts about the characteristics of a Papua New Guinean gentleman.”
“There is real socio-cultural value in the issue Dolorose addresses in her poem: what does the modern Papua New Guinean gentleman look like? What does he do? What does being a gentleman mean in our culture today?
“In our male dominated society, predominantly afflicted by male insecurity, I think the agenda is worth exploring and I’m really looking forward to reading PNG writers thinking on this topic, especially with crimes such as witch hunting, rape and domestic violence being on the national agenda.”
Reflecting on Dolorose’s prose poem, I noted that she described primary certain characteristic of PNG men which she found admirable as the quality of a gentleman: quiet confidence.
“Quiet, but confident with his profession, / An honest expression and eyes that don’t lie, / Remains true to himself and the things for which he stands for, / Not brutal but he will prove all his enemies they are wrong without force but by solving all his problems with no violence.”
That seems directly contradictory to the public persona by which PNG men, and those of a high social status and intellectual ability, have most recently exemplified – sexual harassment and brutish resentment of women’s outrage.
The essence of the situation may be something like this: the true PNG gentlemen are present but their defining characteristic of quiet confidence is a hinderance to revealing their role and value in society.
And this is where I think it becomes paramount that PNG men start to think collectively about how we will respond to our responsibility.
As a group, men must demonstrate our participation in their society. It must be clear and unambiguous. And I do not believe this is a choice that men can afford to disregard.
Indeed, the future foundational units of our society, our families, need to be secured by a heroic effort to choose a path of forthright action that restores the balance of our relationship with our women folk.
It is the most fundamental error, not only in a democracy but in any relationship which has any kind of deeper meaning and value to individuals and groups, to not want to hear what the other part has to say, thinks and feels.
“Not brutal but he will prove all his enemies they are wrong without force but by solving all his problems with no violence, / Pays attention to all his family, friends, colleagues, and workers in the same building for no one is beneath his attention, / Never forgets about his tradition, heritage, identity and roots, / Never forgets about the things, struggles and people that made him who he is today.”
My own response to the male university students in question is that if you are confident that your women folk, friends and family love and respect you, then there is no need for insecurity, doubt and angry responses to women’s voices raised against gender based violence.
That is the behavior of silly children, stupid brutes and villains not mature adults, scholars and heroes.
That kind of behaviour is a far cry from the iconic PNG gentleman of quiet confidence and stone character.