Community pillars that matter

The National,Wednesday June 22nd, 2016

Very often we look for exogenous ideas, things or tried-solutions to address our multitude of problems and challenges in our communities.  But too often, we fail to see the simplest and affordable answers are in our localities.
Understanding the roots of our communities, and comparing that with what many of us have seen abroad, should sensitise us to the suitability of solutions – wherever they originated.
Our communities have peculiar strengths that we often overlook.
Communities are the hubs of our being and identity.
But at the outset, it is an undeniable fact that society is in a state of constant flux.
The fabric of society – including villages or communities in the broader rural societal setting – undergo changes too.
Changes usher in both good and bad elements to communities.
The process of change is faster today than in yesteryears due many reasons.
Thus, challenges also confronts us in terms of how we accommodate change.
The best way to accommodate change is more at the community than at the individual level.
But the critical test is how a community can manage and sustain ‘stability’ when it is confronted with the forces of change.
It is akin to steering a ship in stormy waters; it must negotiate the elements of nature and destabilised waters before it reaches its predestined destination.
Projecting this analogy to our communities, many places in PNG have benefited from the presence of three pillars that exist in society: (a) churches; (b) revered leadership; and (c) cultures (including customs and traditions).
These pillars are mutually reinforcing.  The effectiveness of each pillar rest with all three interacting in a triangular and dependent manner.
Architects and engineers will attest that structures that require strong and rigid constructions reply on the use of triangles.
That roughly captures the picture when the community pillars are robust leading to orderly societies.
First, churches in their many denominations have been part of people’s lives since they were introduced.
Their teachings and principles have been the main factor to steady the course of many communities.
In many parts of Papua New Guinea, churches were heavily involved in the pacification of many groups.
They were there during the national and state building processes of the country in the 1960s and 1970s.  And churches are still indispensable participants today in the country’s development.
But the power of the church is evident not so much in how each denomination coordinates each followers or its community services.
Rather, it is the message of salvation that individuals internalise as part of their respective belief systems.
It is this belief that often gives morals and codes of conduct.
The second pillar is quality leadership.
While leadership can be sourced anywhere, reference here is made to the type of leadership that is recognised, accepted and revered.
It is often ascribed (or earned) and not necessarily inherited (acquired).
The recognition of one’s leadership qualities cannot be demanded from people or purchased with cash or kind.
It is based on how people perceive individuals.
The evaluation lens are conditioned by how individuals in the leadership category conduct themselves in front of others.
Many places in PNG have been blessed with many committed and visionary leaders.
Sadly, however, we often overlook such ascribed leaders in society.
In elections – to give an illustration – we misplace our judgment by supporting candidates who might have given us money and kind, or we come from the same tribe or clan – and so on.  Thus, very often good and upright leaders that matter to communities and the country fall through the cracks.
The third pillar embraces cultures, traditions and customary practices in specific localities.
These are the pigments of society that sets the standard for community living – and that includes the community’s orderly conduct, protection and reservation.
These community traits are imparted over generations for a reason; they served communities well in the past and therefore they are retained.
Traits that have not worked or have posed threats to communities are discarded.
Indeed, not all cultural, traditional and customary inheritances are beneficial to society.  Also, values change with time.  This is where society has to make alterations so that people’s conduct must conform to the general codes of conduct, such as those inscribed in formal law.
We must be cautious that it is fallacious to think or assume that our cultural inheritances should be discarded just because we are going through phases of change and modernisation.
Advent technology and the modern marvels of the 21st century will never replace the authenticity of our cultural inheritances.
When we consider the three pillars within their tripartite relationship, perhaps it is worthwhile reflecting on the inherent properties of triangles, and especially in relation to their rigidity.
That should set goals and objectives for communities to aim up and hold onto something when hit by the forces of change.
It must be noted also that the presentation of the three pillars is not an academic exercise.
Rather, it is a prism that is constructed to demonstrate and facilitate understanding of our struggles and challenges from villages right up to the national level.

  • Dr Henry Okole is from ENB and does consultancy work for the PNG Government as well as other regional governments and international organisations.  He was a Chief of Staff of the ACP Group of States, a former senior researcher at the National Research Institute and a former academic from UPNG