Monday, 10 December 2012

Modern-Traditional Balance

As we spent our five weeks living in the village, I was impressed at the balance of modern and traditional life in each day. Mostly people seemed to have found a workable balance that they were happy with.

Our village was an easy PMV (Public Motor Vehicle) ride to Madang. A few PMVs operated on that route and each went at least twice a day (on the days they weren’t broken down!). Ladies going to market to sell buai and others going to town to work an office job were the bulk of the PMV passengers. These people then brought back cash and store goods to supplement village life and produce.

Bilum making with plastic string
While many people had mobile phones, the village did not have electricity. This meant some people charged their phones when at work or rigged chargers out of four D batteries taped together. Although the phone and the need to charge it is a modern thing, using it to keep in touch with family is an ancient thing. Community announcements were still by garamut. Different rhythms pounded on this hollowed out log indicated a gathering for church purposes, for community purposes or a death.

Often modern equipment had been applied to traditional lifestyles, making things easier. The cooking seemed fairly traditional, but the big metal pot was not. Clearing the land is traditional, but bush knives, axes and chainsaws are not. Buying a two kina heavy duty plastic bag is easier and cheaper than making a string bilum for taking buai to market. Bilums are mostly made of plastic string, not bush rope, although the technique is traditional. Clothing is very much western, as is the need for laundry soaps and buckets to wash it.
Houses mostly appear traditional, but they are held together with nails rather than bush rope. Metal roofs allow people to catch water, but they also make the house baking hot during the day. Traditional roofs are cooler. Our house was half and half, so we could catch water on one half of the house and nap under the other.

Our house, with half morata half tin roof
Traditional life is biodegradable because it is produced locally. Modern items are produced in distant factories using lots of chemicals and do not break down. Flat batteries, bleach bottle, plastic wrappers…these were all things I saw discarded. Yet unlike traditional items, they remain where they are thrown and do not return to the soil. Some items, such as rice bags, are not discarded, but are used a fire starters in the haus kuk, with questionable environmental and health consequences.

At a glance village life seems very traditional, but in each day we would find touches of modernity. Often this was beneficial, by saving time and energy, but the downsides were there also, such as the rubbish. 

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