Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Parable of the Mango Tree.

  An allegorical tale of Papua New Guinea by IONI POKA


Many, many years ago we got together, a group of us, and we planted a mango seed. It was a special seed brought to us from Australia. It was called the Westminster Party Mango. We were told by our Aussie friends that its fruit would be very sweet and that by its nature it would provide equal shares of ripe fruit for all of us.

For years my friends and I watered and sprayed and fertilised the growing tree, sacrificing money which we might have spent on our families or on ourselves. But we rejoiced in our anticipation of the day when our tree would bless us with the large, sweet fruit which we expected from it. The fruit which our Australian friends had promised us we would harvest. The tree grew ever so slowly, but we remained optimistic and happy.

After a number of years had passed the tree flowered. The flowers set, and small, green mangoes began to develop. We were overjoyed and sent word to our Aussie friends to let them know that all was going well.

Then, one evening when the fruit had reached a fair size we saw several groups of big flying-foxes converging on the tree. Those bilakbokises circled the tree screaming and making lunges at it, one group fighting the other for ownership of the tree. They fought and settled, screeched, clawed each other and ripped the fruit, and in their fighting and flapping they spoiled large numbers of our beautiful fruit, even though the mangos were still green and very hard and much too sour to eat.

As the mango season went on my friends and I came each evening with sticks and stones, and even an old, rusty shotgun which belonged to someone’s uncle who had been a kiap’s hausboi. All to no avail. In between their fighting and screaming at each other the bilakbokises chewed and clawed our fruit, and sad to say, even defecated upon us as we stood sadly, looking up at our fast-vanishing fruit.

And so it went on, day after day, until the few fruit which survived to ripen were all gone, eaten by the rascally bilakbokises which seemed never to be satisfied. All our hopes, all our sacrifice, all had gone for nothing, it seemed, and we were very sad.

One evening towards the end of the mango season when our tree was completely bare, we sat talking amongst ourselves, talking about what might have been, and as we talked an old friend came along and sat down with us. He was a whiteman, one of those Aussies who took citizenship in ’75 so that he could remain to live out his days with us. Our friend shook his old grey head sadly as he looked at the mess of spoiled fruit and seeds on the ground.

 “I’m sorry,” he said, “I should have warned you. My countrymen were generous to PNG in many ways, and it was kind of them to send you the Westminster mango seed.” He stared up into the ragged branches of our tree as he spoke.

“But they are a strange people, the Aussies,” he went on, “-for all that they hated being ruled by the English in the same way that later they came to rule you, they followed English customs as if they were the slaves of the King, not citizens of a free, self-ruling nation. And one of the silliest things they did was to bring the King and his Westminster party system to rule them instead of starting afresh. Yes, they brought those pesky Westminster Party flying foxes out to Australia and then in 1964 they brought them up here and let them loose in the House of Assembly, and of course they breed like rats, and now you’ve lost the wonderful harvest you were expecting to get from your mango tree. All because of those damned party-foxes which, sadly, now go with the Westminster mango-tree as an inseparable component of the deal.”

Our white friend got up and left us to ponder the problem. Soon, however, we were joined by my country-cousin from the Highlands and Aunty Rabia from the Gulf, and when they heard our story they had plenty to say.

“Oh,” they said, “- don’t you worry, you Moresby fellows, its not just you who have put your faith and your sweat into the hope that you’ll get a good mango harvest. These same big bilakbokises, they’re all over the country now! Even in real bush-places. You go to what used to be a good little outstation, running nicely, providing good simple basic services for the people, and all you’ll find today is a barren mango tree, stripped bare by those blary party foxes!” We looked at each other as Cousin-brother went on.

“ That’s all these Westminster mango trees do, you see, “ he said, “they feed those screaming foxes which do nothing but fight and eat and shit, and the poor people are left with nothing at all!”

“Oibe! Momokani!” said Aunty. “These foxes are a curse on our country. Someone ought to make meamea against whoever brought them here! It wouldn’t be hard with all the shit they leave around!” 

For months after this we continued to sit under our tree in the evenings. Even though it had not fulfilled its promise, it was a convenient, quiet place to sit and talk. Often the conversation turned to our problem and what our old dim-dim friend had told us. And then one evening he came along again, for he often walks along the waterfront to the Weigh Inn for a refreshing glass of cold water with some of the other old dim-dims who gather there.

Our old citizen-brother stopped when he saw us and sat down. And we told him how puzzled we were about the whole thing, especially his story of the party foxes and how our mango dream had been spoiled.

Our friend was quiet for a while but at length he began to speak.

“Well, “he began. “you see, the Aussies did have a good type of mango growing here, one which took root and did well. But someone told them that eating it would cause tribal conflict, so they killed it off. In fact they had two good types of mangoes which did very well together. One was called the District Advisory Council mango, and the other was the Local Government Council mango. They were good, solid, common sense trees and simple to look after, and they drew their nourishment directly from grass-roots, and they provided everyone with the kind of fruit they really needed, local fruit, that people could have some say over and some control over. And of course there were no rascally Westminster Party bilakbokises about in those days, so that wasn't a problem.”

Our friend took a long pull on his mutrus and went on.

“But the Aussies had a big thing about tribal conflict because of something that was going on in Kenya at the time, and for this reason they were scared of regional or tribal mangos. They were so paranoid that at one time some of the real bigmen worried that there was a ‘Kerema conspiracy’ ready to take over the country just because our smart Kerema brothers were to be found as District Office clerks and storemen all over the country. One old ex-Kiap called Ian Downs even wrote a novel showing how such a revolution might come about. And secondly they said that the District Advisory Council mango wasn’t democratic, although the LGC one definitely was, and the two could quite easily have been coupled together. But they had no imagination, those old Konedobu whitemen. So they abolished Legco, set up the Westminster Party system, and straight away all the bright boys wanted to be party members. Well, everyone loves a party, don’t they? And they’ve all been partying ever since, with no thought for the ordinary people.

Here our friend paused to contemplate the stupidity of his erstwhile countrymen.           

“You see, those silly buggers at Konedobu were all scared of a big boss in Canberra called Paul Hasluck. And Hasluck was a Westminster Party Mango man from ‘way back, and a tough little bugger too, and he forced all those silly men at Konedobu to go along with his decree. And  now we are paying for the weakness of the Konedobu mob for not speaking up at the time, and insisting on a direct link between the main mango trees and the grass-roots so that the people could have some say over how the national mango-crop is used. The party system the Aussies gave us was designed to work in England in the eighteenth century where all the mango trees were totally in the hands of a small group of rich people called ‘Lords’, and where the ordinary people had no land of their own and never got the smell of a mango, never mind a feed!” 

Here our friend paused to draw on his mutrus again.

“But here in PNG, “ he went on, “- the system has turned us around from where we all had a few mango trees which provided us with fruit,  to where we have a gang of Lords who eat everything before we even get near the trees! The system has had just the opposite effect in PNG – our Land of the Unexpected. Here, far from putting the resources in the hands of the people, the system has put everything in the hands of a few rich, selfish Lords and their smiling, obliging Public Servant retainers!”

“This has had exactly the opposite effect to what was intended! We can’t go back to where we were in 1964 – that’s obvious. But we need some form of democratic control so that the provinces all get their fair share of the mango crop and the Public Servants obey the will of the people and the foxes either starve or become watch-dogs instead of thieves!”

Saying this our old friend got up and left us, heading towards his favourite watering-hole. But as he turned to cross the street he seemed to think of something else to say, and he turned back towards us.

“Hey, Ive just remembered,” he said, “I heard recently about this valley up in the Highlands somewhere, a place where they still have quite a strong LGC, one which still sits every month and holds elections when they are due. And I hear they’ve decided to make it hard for party-foxes in 2012. They say that everyone’s going to vote for a representative appointed by the LGC in 2012; and he’s going to be on a fixed salary plus expenses authorised by the people, and he’s going to be forced bring his parliamentary salary and his slush fund back to the valley in total and deposit it in the LGC’s bank account before a toea is touched; and he’s going to have to obey the LGC electoral committee and report every month to the Council to tell them what he’s doing in Moresby; and he’s going to carry out the will of the people, by lobbying for the valley he comes from instead of filling his pockets by joining a gang of ‘foxes and spending all his time pamuking around and buying into illegal business-ventures. It may be just someone’s dream, but it sounds interesting, don’t you think?”

Our friend headed off towards his watering-hole, and we sat, still and thoughtful under our barren mango-tree. We remained quiet for a very long time.


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