PAPUA New Guinea has been inadvertently drawn into US president Barack Obama’s healthcare plan which has now turned into a raging racist debate.
At the centre of the controversy is the accompanying photograph, ‘doctored’ from an image of a PNG Huli wigman in full traditional regalia, mischievously portraying the black president as an African witchdoctor.
It had been placed on emails, on websites and in the form of posters at anti-healthcare plan protests for weeks.
The racist slant has made headline news in the US for the past three weeks and PNG expatriates there have emailed their friends and relatives in PNG to voice anger that the photograph was not only racist but it also demeaned PNG culture.
“Many Papua New Guineans living in the United States and around the world are angered by the picture which was used by an opponent of president Obama’s healthcare plan. The picture depicts a warrior from the Highlands who is in his traditional attire,” David Ketepa from Detroit, Michigan, said.
“This is totally absurd and whoever did it needs to apologise to the people of Papua New Guinea for insulting us. This is our culture and we love it!” one Papua New Guinean said on his blog.
“To the ignorant, racist idiot who distributed this picture, this is not an African witchdoctor’s dress like you claim,” another said.
Yet another PNG writer said: “Keep my country out of your foolishness.”
The photograph shows the Huli wigman from the newly-created Hela province sitting outside a round house, holding a stone axe while another rests on his right side.
His feathered wig clearly shows a stuffed Bird of Paradise in the middle and on both ends. Through his nose is a pig tusk.
The bigger debate though came from Americans themselves on whether the doctored image was racist or satirical.
Most were of the opinion that it was the former.
However, the organisers of the protests, a group called Tea Party, said the portrayal might be racist but it reflected anger about where president Obama was leading the country.
Tea Party said there had been too much US government intervention, particularly concerning healthcare and taxes.
However, critics countered that the witchdoctor image was blatantly racist.
“ presidents get made fun of all the time, and the election of a black president has only made racially charged political satire more sensitive,” one US website commentary noted.