Friday, 23 September 2011

A Lesson in Justice?

Above:Warrior, Goroka Show, pic by Anthony Jones, VSO; Right, Matilda and Uncle at her place

]My lessons on what makes a culture tick continue apace. Each time, it’s as if something that really annoyed or horrified me has changed shape, and I suddenly glimpse ways that are quite the equal of anything I’ve known. My eyes change a bit, and nothing will ever look the same again.

This week Joe was beaten up. Some drunks (Spakman) were terrorising the market in Kundiawa. The market is a place where women come to sell produce from their gardens - fresh broccoli, peas in their pods bound prettily with grass, carrots small and large, and, of course, kaukau, the sweet potato which is still the staple diet of most people in the Highlands. The women are     quiet and friendly and seem grateful for what they can sell me, but they are never pushy, never loud or aggressive salespersons.

Anyway, something had riled the men, some not so young. I think it was to do with thwarted political ambition, not having won the recent by-election in the town. So they got drunk and took out their feelings on the town that had rejected them. They kicked and threw the market womens’ produce. And Joe was there.

Joe tried to reason with the men - these were innocent women trying to make a living; why take your anger and frustration out on them, etc, etc? So they beat Joe up. Matilda, his partner, had to get him to hospital. He wasn’t really badly injured, but Joe is a large, strong man, and it had taken some serious intent to knock him out. It was serious. Later, the drunks came outside the SETA office, on the road. Some came into the compound of the Education Division, and for some moments we wondered if our offices would also come under attack. I, as resident VSO and high profile ‘whiteman’, was locked into the office with my female colleagues. I felt a bit embarrassed, as well as more than a bit relieved, believe me. In the end,  the drunks went outside the gates, and they were locked out, and things cooled down. Willie, a local Youth Worker, walked me down home later.

Now, my reaction to this is fury and frustration. I’m angry that Joe got beaten, angry that the women who are so poor were victimised, and angry that the police not only didn’t show up, but also didn’t even answer the telephone when we rang them - the Police HQ is not more than a 10 minute walk away. I’m not quite sure what the police do do in Kundiawa, but keeping the peace isn’t in it.

So what would happen in the UK? Arrests? Lengthy court cases? Fines paid to the state? Jail sentences? Would justice have been served? Maybe, sometimes.

So, the next day, Matilda took time off work and went to the wantoks of the perpetrators. By late in the afternoon she phoned me to come to the back compound of the Education Division. There, Joe and Matilda and myself and other SETA folks and wantoks met with a number of the young and older men who either had had something to do with the violence, or who were related to them. The mediation had already taken place; this was the public show of bel kol, of cooling the emotions and making peace. So there were speeches, and the Bigman who had knocked Joe out made his apologies, and there was angift of money to Joe, and I was introduced as an example of what SETA is doing for PNG, etc etc. In short, this ins’t one clan against another; it’s something for the future of us all. Handshakes all round.

Now, of course, a lot of this was show. The formality of an English court is also show, I guess, and certainly I expect humans to make excuses when they see that not making them will cause even more trouble. But what impressed me about the whole process was that really it was based on finding answers. People have to live together, and fighting causes damage and wastes lives and generally is no answer. This was mediation in the best sense, and I actually believe that it brought the disappointed politician closer to Matilda and Joe and the clan, but also SETA and the Education Division. It’s as if, here where democracy really doesn’t exist yet, the people are making it up, and though the results may seem bizarre and even childish to us sometimes, the fact is they are doing, at present, at least as good a job as we are. Yes, we are experimenting with Restorative Justice, and may those experiments go far. but mostly, what I see of English Justice seems to demonize wrong-doers. Yes, I heard David Cameron spitting acid nonsense and making things worse, about the riots, before I left.

I wonder if the thing that we get so wrong in Britain is that we really do not know how to deal with anger and frustration. Nice people just don’t express those emotions, do they? And yet every one of us has anger and frustration to deal with. We suppress. We repress. We deny.

I can’t say I like the way those emotions are taken out on the innocent, here. But at least, when mistakes are made, the traditions of restoring justice can still be used. As the country develops, may those traditions grow and develop, and not be lost. And maybe this can bring something back to Britain - as usual, so-called civilisation has much to learn from people we call primitive.

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