As I get older each day, I come to realise that there are so many things along life’s route that I could have explored further but just didn’t think it was important or mattered too much.
My father once asked his father how people came to live in Liap village. His father proceeded by calling the names of his forefathers up until 10 generations before him. The names, he could tell a few tale or two about them, the rest, just names and stories. Even people before the 10th generation was a blur. Assuming an average person lived for 60 years, the generations could have gone back as far as 600 years.
In trying to explain the journey, my grandfather recalls them as his father had told him before, told stories from generation to generation, without writing, but using words….words that sometimes sound so familiar yet so deep and distant. I would have loved to have created a time machine and go back along the generation lines and see what my forefathers were like. His stories of wars, head hunters, strong woman, great feasts, strange animals, beauty, hard work, mountains, migration, dying, love, trading, relatives and so many more. Stories of a time when fish were plentiful, wild pigs roamed ceaselessly and tattoos meant much more than marks on the face. His later stories of times during recent events as World War II, colonial rule, Makasol movement, and provincial governments are even fascinating Manus history.
I have asked myself often why these stories are even important at all. In one generation alone, we have jumped from strong traditional societies to embracing modernity. Yet, today, these stories of the fathers have become more valuable than gold because these stories put us in our place and acknowledge those who are around us. Unlike many nations where much history is written, ours is passed down orally.
These stories are the only things that tell us of who we are, why we came here, why we must do good to certain people or families, why things must be done in a certain way, why some things must never be spoken out loud, why hierarchy in families revolves around patriarchy….all these things that define who we are, why we do the things we do and what we stand for in our society. All these stories tie us to the land, sea and water- the only commodities that are worth fighting for. These stories are depositories of information that strengthen the pillars of the land tenure system that we possess in PNG.
When I was just a little boy, I remember that my grandfather was one of the very few in the village who had a blackboard in his house and sticks of chalk along sago leaf walls. My father continues this habit and so each year when I get to go back home for breaks from school, my father writes things on the blackboard…some things I don’t understand, some I don’t think important, some just names of people I haven’t met, maps of places. He tells me all this is will mean much more later….when you are task with a responsibility, when you are in trouble, when you need something, when you want to bless someone, to help you understand why someone will want to bless you…...These, he tells me, are the things I should pursue..the things I need to explore further....
And so, when one man dies, a thousand stories die with him. A vast library of knowledge that connects the dots along the generation lines is no more.
These stories may mean so much to someone yet may also mean so little to someone else. Even so, knowing where you have come from is as important as knowing where you are going to.
5 months ago