Unity in diversity

Normal, Weekender

Koroboro International School children celebrate Independence Day in style, reports LIAMA ABAIJAH

IF ONE were to define the word diversity in just three words, those words would be Papua New Guinea.
Just last week I attended the Koroboro International School Independence Day celebrations and I saw the meaning of diversity. I saw the meaning of being a nation with so many cultures that is home to people from so many different backgrounds.
Thinking that I was just there for the fun of it, I didn’t prepare myself for the overwhelming feeling of emotions. One might say that I felt a sense of pride knowing that I was part of a nation that was small yet so unique.
As each group came out, first in regions then individual cultural groups, children all dressed up in their traditional attire but not really certain what they were doing it for, there were clearly no barriers for them.
There were children from Central dancing with the Buka group, Tolais dancing with the Milne Bay and Oro group and even Chinese and Aussies did their thing with the other cultural groups.
No barriers. No regionalism. No one saying, “Em mipla yah”. Just dancing. Just dancing because we are Independent.
Some of the kids who took part probably won’t even be able to understand the meaning of being independent but they knew that the day was important and they danced their little hearts out.
They swayed and jumped and sang in languages they didn’t know. It was cute yes, but one could not help but feel that these children, especially the nationals, would one day be a leader, doctor, lawyer or someone that would have an impact on this nation some 30 years down the track.
One could not help but think that that innocence they displaced would be lost in a sea of corruption.
It was sad but you really had to just savour the moment and put all those thoughts of the future behind and look at the now.
Now we are 34 years old. Now there are children dancing because we are free. Now there are children celebrating something that they did not even understand but are more than happy to do so. Diversity. There was diversity yes, there was Highlands, NGI, Southern and Momase, but there was also unity in that we are celebrating not only being free, but being ONE.
These children, I’m sure not older than 10, showed me and a lot of others that attended that we are a nation that is filled with different languages, dances and customs. They showed that it wasn’t about who had the most colourful costumes, the most dancers or who had the best performance. It was about coming together and showing each other that we are different but we are one.
I’m sure many are thinking that there will be others like this cultural show, maybe at a high school or at tertiary inistitutions, but there is a big difference between seeing someone older perform and seeing a child doing the same.
Personally, I prefer seeing children dance at cultural shows because there is an innocence that someone older has lost. There is an ‘aura’ if you wish about a child who dons traditional attire and performs their traditional dances.
When children dance, you see the real meaning of the occasion. And in this case, it’s independence. In this case, it’s being diverse but united.  
A child, we think, knows nothing. Well, not nothing, but not as much as we think. But when it comes to celebrating an event or an occasion such as independence, they can do it in 10 minutes with out saying a single word. And that’s what I saw.
I saw unity in a sea of diversity. I saw innocence portray something that ordinarily, we would find hard to say. So what did they say?
They said, “See me dance a dance from long ago.” They said, “Hear me sing a song I know nothing about but I know that it is important.”
They said all this without actually ‘saying’ it.
The unbelievable gift that children have I found that day, was they can say so much without saying anything at all.
But there they were, in their regions and cultural groups, diverse yet united for a special occasion about independence. Last Friday, I saw children from all over PNG and around the world, come together to celebrate something that was of national importance. And celebrate they did.
After their group performance, the children would rush back to the dancing arena to cheer on their friends in another group.
The sight of seeing a little Central girl still in her grassskirt refusing to sit with her parents yet so eager to cheer on her friends in the Manus group is heart warming. To see her ‘tattoos’ (which were done with a marker) on her face cheering on her friend who is dancing a dance that is from a completely different part of the country is encouraging.
It’s encouraging because it shows that there is hope that regionalism will one day subside and we can truly say ‘Yu em wantok blo mi’ and mean it. There was also a sense of pride in the eyes of the parents watching, those who had taught the dances and some older folks who cam to watch their bubus dance. They were proud because their child had taken part in an important occasion and the elders were proud that the dance had been passed on.
It might not have been the most professional traditional dancing but the children’s confidence and willingness was priceless. Not perfect but done with drive. A life lesson I’m sure.
During the dances, as one group left and another one entered, it was clear to me that after all this time, going and coming from one Independence celebration to the next, I have never really ‘seen’ what it was all about. I did then. Yes, the beauty of our diversity was clear. The strength of our unity was clear.
Now, not to be political, but what those children showed was something that our leaders should take heed of. Put differences aside and give your heart to something that is important. Something that will have an impact.
But that’s for them to decide.
There is an Aussie song that’s lyrics say, “We are one but we are many”, but PNG is testament to that.
After 34 years of struggling to find our feet as a nation, after 34 years of overcoming just a few of those struggles, after 34 years of being independent and free, we are one but we are many. We are unity in diversity. We are PAPUA NEW GUINEA.