By Christina Tony
“Em samting blo gavman” translated literally means “A state-owned entity”. This statement is common in Papua New Guinea, especially in rural areas, when discussing infrastructure or issues that are viewed as belonging to the government or to an organization that is not from the local community.
The unfortunate thing about this phrase it that it has given birth to a widely accepted perception that Papua New Guineans just do not care about development service and infrastructure due to the many short lived and deteriorating state of community projects found all over the country.
However, researchers (both international and local) and community conscious individuals are claiming that there is another side to this story. Surprise yet?!?! It is becoming increasingly evident that the reason for the many failed projects in rural PNG is the fact that local/indigenous knowledge is overlooked in the planning of these community projects.
Peter Muriki, a Madang local and a 20 year veteran in community development projects in rural areas linked failed community projects to none acknowledgement and understanding of existing structures and systems. He is now working with community leaders to establish systems, such as the Manam Council of Chiefs, to enable this process.
A visiting academic from Europe recognized this while heading the Communication Arts department in Divine Word University in Madang and has written a paper called Encouraging local curricula and research practices: Seeking alternative journalism and communication perspectives. Dr Evangelia Papoutsaki recommended that non-western educators/ researchers need to recognize the existence of multiple worldviews and knowledge systems, and find ways to understand and relate to the world in its multiple dimensions and varied perspectives. Although this may be only referring to journalism field, the underlying concept is there, local and indigenous knowledge is vital in education.
Project officer with Community Development Initiative Aileen Baretta says community projects that integrate indigenous knowledge from the start has high success rates. Ms Barretta said a good example is the Omati people of West Kikori who have a thriving community agriculture project that integrated local knowledge from the very beginning.