Port Moresby, PNG, 22 February 21 -- In the three weeks of Cultural Orientation Course (COC) at the Melanesian Institute (MI), we studied the Melanesian culture. I would like to reflect about what struck me the most.
In the beginning of the COC, Fr. Joel Bernardo CM presented two significant and symmetrical sentences which were said by the first missionaries in Melanesia. “Come to the light” and “We see land”. After that Fr. Joel asked us “Which attitude do you take as a missionary?” The attitude of “Come to the light” is like a missionary bringing Jesus, things, technology, development to this land. On the other hand, the attitude of “We see land” is we encounter Jesus in this land among the people.
Most of the missionaries especially from Christian countries or developed countries are tempted to take the former attitude, “Come to the light” but what we have to remember is we came into this land to see Jesus among the people and there are no superior or inferior between cultures. Basically, MI never gave us the answer, but this is the only answer which they gave us. We, missionaries have to remove our sandals before this sacred place.
During the COC, the speakers emphasized many times that all customs, actions, behaviour, words, attitudes have meanings. I remember one significant topic “gutpela sindaun” very well because it was tied to my personal experiences. “Gutpela sindaun” means good life, lived out to the full, life in abundance. This word and “Community” “Relationship” “Exchange” are key words to understanding the values of Melanesian people. First, good life for the Melanesian people is achieved through life in “community”. Then, it is important to have a “Relationship” to belong to and stay in community. Furthermore, people “exchange” words, things, emotions and time to establish, strengthen and maintain relationships with other people, nature, spirit and ancestors in their communities. Therefore, Melanesian people can’t achieve ‘gutpela sindaun’ without following this process.
When I came to PNG in 2018, I went around Port Moresby for my orientation. I saw many people were sitting and selling fish in the Koki market. I thought these sellers were wasting time just sitting in the market because if they want to earn money efficiently, they should walk around or make big voice to attract people to sell fish. But it was my misunderstanding. Now I can understand why people spend time like that. Through sitting down and having conversation with other sellers, they exchange words and time to maintain a relationship in their community. People are coming to the market not to only earn money but also to be in the community and “gutpela sindaun”. Even if it looks like a waste of time for foreigners, it has important meaning for the people. We need to keep questioning ‘why do people behave like this?’ and seek reasons behind their actions.
The main speakers (Br. Martin and Fr. Joel) also were learning from the discussions, sharing and questions from participants. Lastly, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the PGS Vice Provincial and his council for sending me to attend this course. I would like also to make use of this experience on my missionary vocation journey.