By PHILIP FITZPATRICK – posted on PNG Attitude Blog
TUMBY BAY – In between finishing my latest novel and starting a new one I’ve been proofreading a fascinating autobiography by Johannes Kundal.
Johannes is a member of Enga Writers Association and his book, The Legend of the Miok Egg, is being edited and readied for publication by author Daniel Kumbon, who founded the group.
A few extracts have been published in PNG Attitude over the last year or so.
I’m also writing a foreword for it in which I’m attempting to contrast observed experience with lived experience, and the value of the latter.
This is the difference between a story written by an outside observer and one written by a person who has lived through the events or the period described.
A simple analogy is to think of an anthropologist’s account of a society and compare it to one written by a member who was living in that society at the same time.
The lived experience might lack the detached analysis of an outsider but it can provide familiarity, realism, detail and explanation which the anthropologist might miss.
An insider’s account is often a great pleasure to read. In one sense, it’s similar to an oral history that can embrace the reader who feels much closer to the people and events described.
Johannes’ autobiography is remarkably frank; unlike with many autobiographies there is absolutely no attempt to boost his ego.
Towards the end of the book he says, “I have held back nothing.”
One of the most striking themes in the book is the way Johannes has – in real life – used his Christian faith to combat the deadly scourge of tribal fighting in Enga Province, where tribal and clan warfare can extend for many decades.
By first taking people to an understanding and belief in Christianity, he has been able to bring about agreements as a result of which the traditional cycles of revenge and compensation have been abandoned in favour of adopting Christian values.
I’m not a great fan of religion and I was surprised at the effectiveness of this approach.
In the absence of viable law enforcement, building a commitment to Christian principles is one of very few strategies available to Highlands’ societies stricken and impaired by violence.
And, as Johannes demonstrates, this does not necessarily mean abandoning the many positive elements of traditional culture.
By carefully melding Christian values with community-based traditional values a remarkable hybrid can be established.
For example, in his marriage Johannes resolutely adheres to the modern Christian ideal of monogamy because he is aware of the many problems caused by the practice of taking on multiple wives.
This is despite the sadness that he and his wife Rose could only have one child.
Johannes solved this loss by adopting another six children using the customary practice of sharing children with relatives.
However, much to his annoyance, his own son reverted to the old practice of seeking many partners within and outside marriage.
The conflict and unhappiness arising from this is dealt with thoroughly and frankly in his book.
The Legend of the Miok Egg is a fascinating autobiography which I believe tells the reader much more about Enga society than a typical anthropological account.
It also caused me to reconsider the value of religion, when properly effected, in Papua New Guinea, particularly in the war-ravaged Highlands.
And I think the book will do exactly the same for any reader.
When the book becomes available, it will be recommended reading for Papua New Guinean and expatriate readers alike.