Traditional cultures: Bridge or barrier (part II)

Normal, Weekender

Traditional cultures can be a bridge to modern development but choices must be made on the type and form of modern activities to be undertaken, writes DR SOLOMON B. YOWAIT {Ph.D}

BELIEFS in sorcery and witchcraft are a real barrier to rural development in some parts of the country.  Advancements can be made into modern forms of life by improving houses, having boats and dinghies and operating trade stores and other forms of business enterprises.  Jealousy and hatred amongst clan members and extended family relations as a result of starting and owning a modern business entity can lead to disease and death.  Sometimes these happen suddenly and may not have a modern medical solution.  Traditional beliefs and practices point to witchcraft and sorcery.  While sorcery involves people’s physical training and involving them in the art of using it, witchcraft is a practice unseen to the naked eye.  It involves a real human person turning into some other spiritual entity or creature with the intent to harm another person by way of inflicting sickness and disease.  Damage can also be brought upon assets like boats, dinghies, motor vehicles where engines are interrupted through deposition of foreign elements in the operating system.  Houses can be set on fire without any observed physical causes. 
When the causes of witchcraft related disease or deaths are understood, negotiations can be held between the witch and the victim’s relatives.  This is usually because of jealousy and hatred over the victim’s ignorance of the practice of equity in sharing money and goods from his wealth.  It shows here that modern wealth and prosperity can lead to problems amongst the clan members.  Modern business activities can be abandoned as a result of fear of sorcery and witchcraft.  If the business activities continued, there must be positive relationships between the parties and money made and goods must always be shared.
In such a situation, the modernity of rural areas can be derailed where fear of tradition is detrimental to social and economic change and advancement.  In this scenario, the sense of competition for business enterprises in the rural areas of concern is low.  It is believed that if one rises above others and makes advances in modern cash economy, it can be allowed with equal distribution of wealth amongst the extended family and clan members or be brought down by inflicting the entrepreneur or his family members with sicknesses.  This is the fear that is held by educated modern persons who aspire to enter into business activities in the rural villages of some parts of PNG.
There are many local citizens who are successful business entrepreneurs.  However, in some particular areas or provinces these traditional beliefs and practices are commonly held as fear against entering into and engaging in modern businesses.  It is believed that success in modern business entrepreneurship leads to certain sicknesses and death. 
What is believed in terms of traditional beliefs and practices in sorcery and witchcraft cannot be proved scientifically.  However, it is held within the mind and heart of persons and as people in a society. When populations of people hold something as a common belief, it is bound to manifest in reality.  It is a common fabric of earth-mind consciousness.  In the modern religion in which Christians hold a common belief in the written words of the Almighty God, many miracles and mystical powers are believed and observed as spiritual happenings.
Throughout times immemorial, the ancestors and forefathers used these traditional beliefs and practices to sustain their livelihoods and destroy their enemies.  In a way, these beliefs and practices held the balance of power between clan groups and tribes.  The ancestors respected their natural and physical environment and lived in coexistence with the way ecosystems worked. 
Papua New Guineans are lucky, in a way, as a result of their inheritance of these beliefs and practices.  Modernity is adequate but it is mostly a one way trend on the expense of traditional practices.  Once abandoned and forgotten, it cannot be revived and practiced.  The past is lost and the modern practices of food crop cultivation, small businesses, and sustainability of rural livelihoods has dismal meaning and purpose, and with little connection to the spiritual aspects of life. 
The choices that are made between modernity and tradition carry with it some level of responsibility.  The Government has a responsibility to improve service infrastructure and influence and facilitate modernisation in rural and regional areas while traditional leaders consider the sustainability of their beliefs and practices.  The influences of modernisation has seen and demonstrated the break down of the rule of law in traditional societies.  High dependence on public policies has led to minimal levels of self-reliance.  Traditional societies were self-reliant as a result of their beliefs and practices.  Once abandoned for modernity it has led to disintegration of that social fabric of coherent networking of relationships and with their co-existence with the natural and spiritual environment. 
Conservation of the traditional beliefs and practices, and sustainable rural livelihoods results in self-reliance.  Traditional cultures can be a bridge to modern development but choices have to be made as to the extent of the type and form of modern activities to be undertaken in rural and regional areas.  Traditional leaders and people in different clans and tribal groups have a responsibility in determining the choices to be made.  Is modernity the only way into the future?  Faced with global warming and the onset of catastrophic climatic consequences, which is a result of man’s greed and pride for modernity, what are the choices for newly independent and modernising nations like PNG? 


The author is a consultant on urban and regional planning based in Alotau, Milne Bay province.