Thursday, June 2, 2011

Rewali re-defines the term "infrastructure"

Gegwa or kaikonukonu forms the basis of "infrastructure".
To get to Riwali, a village in the Rigo district, one has to take a three-mile long feeder road at a westward turn-off along the Hula road running further east.  A sheet iron fencing of a business house serves as a marker for the turn-off for those who may be new there. Then there is the job of unloading cargo to be carried up to the hilltop village since the big PMV trucks cannot make it up there in the wet. A slow upward climb towards the village, a good trudge through mud and mire for those who don’t own four-wheel drives and certainly not quite a pleasant evening walk if you are laden with gifts for relatives will, however, get you there eventually.
Storyboard's party.
 What struck storyboard about such a trip to Riwalirubu (full name of the village) last Saturday was this word “infrastructure” –  a term we use often but do not get round to sufficiently defining in order to thoroughly understand its workings. Certainly the word itself has its firmer foundations in military strategic planning and executions, and in our Papua New Guinean consciousness it suggests equal distribution and sharing of wealth, better implementations of educational and health programs, improvement of social or communal living conditions and so on. But it strikes us as fascinating that it becomes that word we find extremely difficult to pin down into proper focus for clearer “understanding”. Understand i stap (we get the idea) is what we say for most every other word but not, sadly enough, this one.
But at Riwalirubu that afternoon last Saturday storyboard managed to get the word pinned down to its proper focus.
Part of the want for a better understanding of the word came from the fact that those travelling to the hilltop village that Saturday to observe the guluma or lahi dairi of the late husband of one storyboard’s cousin sisters noticed the poor condition of the feeder road itself. The first thing that came to mind was: “Who is the member (MP) for this part of our country?” Names such as Dr. Puka Temu cropped up suddenly or vaguely, then there were the Genias, the Diros, oh, dear, until some young school girl from that area said, “Storyboard, you are wrong. The member for this region is so-and-so, not Dr. Puka Temu.” “Thanks,” said storyboard, humbly, “until this moment I hadn’t the faintest idea who the member was.”  One point became clear. No one at that gathering, either spontaneously or subconsciously, named an MP representing that area. A mention of such would at least give us some idea of where to start in our attempt to define the word “infrastructure.” Even the people of Gulf Province know who Charles Abel is and what electorate he represents, simply because the man probably knows what “infrastructure” means.
Who is our member (MP)?
All this, of course, prompted storyboard to look at the word “infrastructure” much more closely. A careful observation of that guluma feast at Riwali, which was in honour of the late Richard Kini and the simultaneous bringing out to public life from seclusion of the widows, one of whom was the cousin sister of storyboard, revealed to storyboard that all aspects of infrastructure revolve around the arrangement of family units that constitute the clan structure of a community or village and how that community or clan grouping as a whole responds to the gathering of food harvest, the display of this for public viewing and finally the distribution of such. Every clan, every family unit, must partake of that food on display. This then becomes our first glance at the word “infrastructure.”
Riwali itself has four main clans. Vetailubu, Golotauna, Gwalai and Burogolo. (Those who are not familiar with that region of the Rigo district may recall John Kolia’s book, A History of the Balawaia.) When this guluma feast was called for by the Vetailubu clan some two years previously all the other three clans were obliged to participate in the preparation of food harvest and rearing (in some cases money raising for the purchase) of pigs. A quick scan of the Vetailubu, Golotauna and Gwalai homestead locations from one end to the other revealed several fifty metre long bamboo poles on which were suspended besa (bunches of cooking bananas) forming the gegwa (or kaikonukonu), the base of the “infrastructure” of the whole feast. An equal number of coconut woven basketfuls of yam varieties were sighted, along with 12 or so pigs. All this denotes the amount of work put into the preparations for the feast.
Mr. Laka Koloa of Riwali explaining to an Anuki elder how the food will be distributed by the four clans.
Since this was a lahi dairi (guluma) such an amount of garden produce and the number of pigs would suffice. Invited guests participating at the feast included firstly the former working colleagues of the late Richard Kini from the National Capital District Commission, and secondly members of the extended families from town (through mixed or intercultural marriages) of each of these four clans. A superficial scan of the faces of the overall crowd present would deem the guluma a national type of gathering and not strictly limited to the four clans of Riwalirubu itself. Whether one was a Tolai, a Sepik, a Manusian, a Momase or Highlander, virtually every Papua New Guinean was present at this feast.
And now we come to our attempt at defining the word “infrastructure”. We understand the word through words such as gegwa (Balawaia) or kaikonukonu (Anuki). These words denote the amount of besa suspended on bamboo poles and placed in a manner that they surround a whole village, forming a suspended fence somewhat. The sight of such a structure denotes the strength of how much there is available by way of product and services for equitable distribution among the masses constituting a community, a society or a nation. The structure is also put up as a public display in the interest of what we regard as transparency. At all costs all that food must be distributed in a manner that every member of the community must benefit, man, woman and child. Not a single morsel of that food must go to waste or be misused.

At Riwalirubu that Saturday afternoon it took three hours to distribute all that food displayed, not just to those of the immediate locality but also to those who cooked and brought dishes with them from the city. And so that things should be that way. Our venture into defining the term “infrastructure” is now complete.