Trek in Dagga 1984 Part VI

Four of us walked down the other side of the mountain. I am still disappointed that I lost my film of this part of the trek. In fact I lost two of three rolls I took in PNG during this visit. The other roll was of the Highlands. The first part of our walk that day was across a narrow ridge. The clouds drifted past at our level. The rainforest trees were thick with mosses. When the path took a downward direction, it was very uneven and rooted. I sprained my ankle about three quarter way down. It slowed me down but didn’t seem to bad, although I carried the soreness for another week.

Finally we the path started to flatten out and showed signs of more regular wear so I knew we were close to another village. Soon we came across a couple of fresh graves on the side of the road. The other men spoke briefly and then the translator told me, those graves are two youth who committed suicide after being told they couldn’t court. I felt sad for them. We said a prayer by the graves. Although outwardly quite peaceful in these villages, there were signs of the relationship problems that pursue people everywhere in the world. Signs that speak to our commonness as human being, a commonness of struggle to find a path through life.

Then we came upon the village of our destination. The translator told me that half of this village had accepted Baha’u’llah as the Manifestation of God, and half had not, keeping to the Anglican church. Within walking distance of this village was a town with a church and minister. We were met by a man who directed us to his hut. I put my pack down and waited while the others went through the village talking to people. Eventually a group started to gather with mats to lay on the ground. We sat around and began talking about Baha’i teachings.

Not long after we started, we were interrupted by a noisy group of people entering the village from the other end. Then we saw a group of men with bush knives walking determinedly towards us. Everyone stayed seated and the group came up to us. A couple of the men at the head of the group began shouted questions. It was obvious we couldn’t carry on with our discussion. There was some responses from the group sitting around. One of the new group, a very large man, walked around and sat on the mats and conversed quietly with some of the others. One of our group stood up to talk direct with the man who was obviously the leader. I decided to stand up with him. That leader asked me in english who I was and what I was doing here. As I started to respond, he shouted at me that he didn’t care about that, and some other remarks. As I was listening to his tirade which included telling me to get out of PNG, white people weren’t wanted here, etc etc., another group of people with ministers of the church at the head came into the village, and took up a position on the groun, under a tree not far from us. They didn’t seem interested in becoming involved but I certainly felt the heat of their scrutiny, perhaps more than the heat of the veiled threats from what I was now informed by its leader, the marxist group. After a while the local people, perhaps dismayed at the groups attack on me and their attack on the Faith, began to argue more vigorously with them. At this point I returned to sit on the mat to minimise any escalation of argument that might become centred about myself.

As I couldn’t understand what was being said during the argument, I began looking around at the group. I noticed that the large man who had entered with the Marxists was now involved in the argument in support of the Baha’i group. As I began taking some interest in the church group which had in it a white man in minister’s clothing, this minister beckoned my over to their group. I went over and he offered me water which I took. We had some small talk about our respective backgrounds. He was an Australian as well. Then he said, “The villages shouldn’t be divided by religion. They should all be one thing or the other. Perhaps they should all be Baha’i or all be (Christian). Perhaps we should make a decision about that.” I must admit I was a bit confounded by this. I had known that the Christian churches had divided Papua New Guinea into jurisdictions, but I didn’t realise the idea was so matter of fact, that it might be raised with a young man (myself) without reference to my credentials. Of course I had no authority to make any decisions on behalf of the Baha’i Faith, so I replied to this fact but also that Baha’u’llah taught that faith was an individual choice, “For the faith of no man can be conditioned by any one except himself.” (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 143).

After a while I left the church group and went back to sit with the arguing groups. By now it seemed that the arguments had developed a pragmatic less vigorous tone. However there was no indication that it was coming to any conclusion and in anticipation of a long afternoon, with some thought that maybe the removal of my presence might relax things further, I went into my host’s hut which was directly next to the groups. Here I stayed until the argument concluded and the groups dispersed.

Later I heard that news had reached the nearby town that I was in the vicinity. The marxist leader was a schoolteacher in that town who had political aspirations. The large man was a Baha’i who lived in the town. When he heard that the marxist group was planning to go to the village when I arrived there, he decided to tag along with them, for support and protection. I think the church group also heard I was in the district and they had followed the marxist group at a discrete distance. Perhaps they also intended their presence as protection. Of the argument, nothing had been resolved except that nothing had become particularly rancorous. On the way out of the village, and going to the next village further away from town again, I noticed a tractor. I asked if it was good to have a tractor here. I was told it was very helpful when it first arrived to haul some goods from the sea port (50 kilometres away) but it now didn’t work. If anything breaks down it can’t be fixed, not even the battery replaced. In first world towns we often take for granted the access to the very many inter-related products and services that have to be brought together to make a modern technical world functional.

Post script to this story. Several years later i had become friends with an american Baha’i who went to live in Alotau, Milne Bay. He got to know a lot of people in Alotau, and the Baha’is of Dagga. One year he rang me from Alotau. He said, “do you remember P (my tranlator)”. I said, “of course”. “Well, he asked me whether you remembered the day the Marxists confronted you in Dagga.” Again I said, “of course.” “Well P was telling me that the Marxist schoolteacher who was leading the mob, is the current member of parliament and lives in Alotau. In fact, we know him and he is very amicable towards the Baha’is. P says he is also very friendly to the Baha’is when he is in Dagga.” So life goes on, people accept new things, especially with an eye on peace and progress. I wonder where he is now.

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