Vital to address alcohol abuse

Letters, Normal

Alcohol is not new in Papua New Guinea; traditional societies have consumed alcohol even before the White men came.
The consumption of alcohol was controlled then, in traditional societies when alcohol was allowed for certain age groups, mostly elderly men and taken in special ceremonies such as initiations.
This was respected in many traditional societies until PNG was colonised.
This is best described by Samuel Huntington (1993) as “clash of civilisation”.
The “clash of civilisation” contributed to the overwhelming change in the lifestyle of many people – from the traditional to modern way of life – and alcohol is a major contributing factor to this.
As a consequence, there is a “shift in paradigm” (change in trend) in many societies from a peaceful, structured and orderly society to one of social disorder – violence, death, different diseases, economic turmoil and so on.
All societies have and are still undergoing a process of change for better or worse depending on how the change is embraced.
Some 85% of the population lives in traditional village settings in rural areas, which may be remote and inaccessible to most of the basic services.
However, there are evidences that some form of alcohol is eminent in some remote places.
For instance, homebrew or kava made out of fruits (pineapple, coconut, etc).
Beverage alcohol became incorporated into the male realm in PNG long before drinking was legalised.
At that time, alcohol was extremely difficult and expensive for indigenous people to obtain and liquor was acquired at considerable risk.
It was nearly always sought by men and not shared with women.
For a number of PNG societies, learning to drink alcohol while working on coastal plantations or in urban wage employment has become a substitute for traditional male initiation – drinking alcohol has become a rite of passage for young men who wish to show – as most do – that they are “officially modernised” (LiPuma, Herdt, Zimmerman, and Lopowsky, in Marshall, 1982).
Alcohol is consumed primarily by males in PNG, especially by young males between the ages of 15 and 35 who are employed.
In many parts of the country, women do not drink at all, or do so very rarely.
Where women do drink, they are reported to consume less, to take less frequently than men and seldom become drunk in public.
On the other hand, it is extremely rare in the country for children – under the age of 13 to drink (Mac Marshall, 1982).
This pattern has changed recently with more women drinking alcohol.
Drunk women can be seen on streets early in the morning with male company or other females.
A new trend shows that younger people and students are increasingly consuming alcohol – “Female Unitech students abusing alcohol” (The National, Jan 22, 2009), and “School students caught consuming alcohol” (The National, May 8, 2008).
Also children below the age of 15 are consuming alcohol – “Grade 3 ‘drinker’ held in Simbu” (The National, April 29, 2009).
In 2007, the World Health Organisation reported that problems related to alcohol consumption and health and social problems caused by harmful use of alcohol were increasing in many countries as a result of rising levels of changing patterns of consumption, particularly among women and young people.
Alcohol abuse is serious and the people of Papua New Guinea have to be serious about addressing this issue.



Mary Fairio
Via email