Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Sentiments of social control

One of the fascinating discoveries storyboard made this week was reading about the reaction of young people towards the demands of social control as seen through our oral literature and traditions. The discovery came out of the way these youngsters answered the question on basic social obligations such as respect for the elderly, the ethics of work, and the awareness of refraining from the sort of lifestyles that lead to negativity, lack of positive ambition and the possibility of total loss of confidence in the self.

The question asked by the examiners for this humble group of literature students was, simply, “Discuss how oral literature is used as a means of social control in our traditional societies.”

And that humble group of literature students was none other than the “home scholars” storyboard once mentioned through this column in an article titled “An open university for all.” Last week was their exam week, and this week was when storyboard sat down to read their short essays on the problems and demands of social control in our traditional settings.

Notice that about 98% of this group of young literature students is city-bred and subsequently has little or no access whatsoever to the privileges enjoyed by that other Papua New Guinean child growing up comfortably in a village environment. That child in the rural setting virtually basks in the brightness of the sun that greets him each morning while helping with the preparations of breakfast before running off to school along the idyllic settings of beautiful coastlines, lush greenery of footpaths and across serene valleys and hills in response to the soft pealing of morning assembly bells somewhere in the distance. In the afternoon the child will walk home along the same scenery, pausing now and then to gather greens, nuts and fruit, or even catch a fish or two for the family’s dinner at nightfall. Our city children miss out enormously on such privileges.

Here, in the cities, in the classroom environs such as those of UPNG Waigani and the School of Government campuses, they sit down quietly to answer those questions eternally asked by scholars in literature. What do we mean by social control in traditional settings? What is kinship? What lessons do we learn from proverbs, from chants, from incantations, from just watching that group of Kiriwina gardeners humming and weeding their yam gardens just next door to us, and so on? But in order to get here to sit down and answer these questions, they had to wake up early, get into the busy traffic and get hustled and tussled, even at the risked of changing direction at the insistence of peers who refuse to accept that where they are going will be beneficial in the end. 

So they sit down at last and tell you through their short essays that respect for the old and elderly tops their list of priorities on the scale of social control. You curse your elders now, they are advising us in their scribbling, and that same curse shall return to you and haunt you forever. No one else does more damage than what you yourself do unto yourself. Consult the beatitudes; they confirm it all.

Next on their list: the sort of respect shown by the old and elderly towards their young. These come in the form of proverbs, songs, parables and riddles, incantations and dance. Great moral lessons are imparted here. There is no greater joy in the world than watching the old and young get down to that choreographic stint together in which an important instruction is given. It is the time when the entire community is participating. In every dance move, whether it is about the philosophy of ba’a (taro) or pu’u (rearing of domestic animals), a lesson is being imparted, an instruction given. This becomes the best method of teaching wherein the young learn while participating in laughter, song and dance. Let your taro grow well this season, young man. Let your pig rearing bring us wealth and strength, young woman.

And then all that is followed by the rest of basic social obligations. Be kind to your neighbours. Serve your brothers and sisters well, if they happen to be the bread winners in the stead of lost parents and guardians. And if you are depending too much on them, and if indeed you are too old to be doing so, then for God sake get a job. Does not our constitution contain these very principles of basic social obligations? After the anthem, and the pledge, what do we do? Walk down to the nearest bottle shop and run loose and wild? Or simply pay little attention to a fellow countryman who, armed with a jack and spanners, decides to change tyres right in the middle of busy rush-hour traffic?

In a sense, these youngsters have answered the questions well; that is, according to storyboard’s judgment in literary criticism. The basic elements of literary criticism, and of social criticism for that matter, lie in the area of ethics and order. Storyboard noted as well that none of these students will be failing this particular literature course this semester. And that is a good sign.

But it is rather sad that a good number have decided to miss out on this opportunity of open college learning. It is a choice they had to make for themselves. It is doubtful, however, if their peers in the villages, particularly those of their own age and generation, are ever given the freedom of making their own choices, right up to the time they have their first children – all for the good of the community they live in.