Welcome to this week’s editorial, Easter always brings a smile as I remember my childhood. Raised in New Guinea long before Independence I was incredibly fortunate to be part of a generation that witnessed first hand the coming together of primitive and modern cultures. At the forefront of this amazing merging were the dedicated flocks of Lutherans, Catholics and Baptists with a good spread of Seventh Day Adventists to add to the mix. For the Territorians of the day it was blessing to have these churches pushing for territory because, as they did so, they opened up travel with runways, jetties and roads. Their task was to Save Lives which meant that as soon as they declared a village as “theirs” they built a Haus Lotu (church) and began the process of converting souls. This is where the fun began because most of the tribes had their own spirits, their own idols, superstitions and even more challenging, their own language. It was decided that there needed to be a common language introduced that could fast track biblical teaching and the conveying of new rules to be policed by the new administrators who somehow had become the ones in control. The language was to become Tok Pisin. The complexities of the modern world still couldn't be explained in Tok Pisin as the people had no idea of the outside world. That included the stories around the BIG spirit that all these new comers believed in. It seemed that each white church believed in the same Big Spirit called GOD but then argued about whose God was best. One fond memory was on the Sepik where the village of Yawabak were Seventh Day Adventists but neighbouring Avatip had four Christian denominations, each with their own Haus Lotu, all competing for souls. There were Catholics, Wesleyans, Presbyterians, and Pentecostals who scared the bejesus out of everyone by speaking in tongues as if overcome by local puripuri jungle spirits. Along with all the other trimmings of Tok Pisin came the days of the week—Saturday and Sunday. The locals were now confused that there was an almighty GOD who said that you had to go to church on Sunday with the very same GOD saying that Saturday was the day. But the Saturday GOD did not allow you to consume pork or fish without scales (such as the eel) and you weren’t allowed to chew betelnut. This made it hard for the Seventh Day Adventists to get a foot in the door in Avadip but they had a plan. They would win the Avadip locals over by building a church, planting an Easter tree out the front that grew, and distributed sticks of tobacco after service and they even distributed a chocolate to anyone man who came to the service without his weapons. The chocolates were little eggs in foil, white from being frozen and thawed too any times. And they were offered as sikin blong Jisis (skin of Jesus—body of Christ). It worked. Over time the SDA congregation learnt that alcohol was better than betel nut, that chicken, snake and crocodile were allowed instead of pork (pork also played a major role as currency for bride price and payback) and that at the end of every Saturday service the “Easter Tree” delivered stick tobacco. So my first encounter with Easter was a little skewed by the stories that the churches were offering of a single God creating the entire world instead of the many spirits who did a bit of this and a bit of that forming rivers, jungle, food and animals. We I was young the spirits were pretty scary. Sanguma, who would wait outside your hut at night and rip your head from its neck if you went out to have a pee. It took me a while to work out this was a way to keep little kids in bed and have them go to the toilet before they went to sleep. The church in PNG actually delivered quite a lot to the development of the country. The incredible runways that gave access to the remotest regions were generally put in by church groups as they pushed the frontiers to find more souls to save. I was fortunate enough to see some of the remotest of these and in each village there would be a dedicated church member holding stick tobacco in one hand a bible in the other delivering, as best as able, the story of Christ that included the fact that He was stuck up on a cross, died, put in a cave for days and then came back to life only to then ascend to the sky to see his Father. To tell that story in Tok Pisin is on a par with the National News broadcast at the time describing to the people of PNG that man had landed on the Moon. Papua New Guinea, though home to some of the best cocoa in the world, isn’t the best place to have chocolate. It melts. So my first encounter with the gluttony of Easter Eggs came in the 1970’s when I arrived in Australia and discovered the chocolate frenzy around Easter. Eggs, Rabbits, Chickens. And then came the Bilbys. Added to this were the hot cross buns. Easter was a major public holiday that seemed to have more to do with not working than having any reference to the crucifixion of Jesus, his death at Calvary or his return from the cave all bright eyed and bushy tailed several days later. I learnt that the Greek, Serbian and Russian Orthodox churches base their Easter date on the Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian, which means their Orthodox Easter is on a different day. I also learnt from my travels in India that Hindus don’t believe in the Jesus story but conveniently have their own which relates that the world originally developed from a single egg. Easter in India is therefore allowably chocolate egg mad. Time spent in the Philippines during Easter does reveal the religious significance of the time but it goes hand in hand with grand feasting and chocolate eggs. We now have Easter eggs and hot cross buns on the shelves all year round. For an outsider it might first appear that we are incredibly pious and pay continued tribute to the resurrection. But we all know the reality is that most of us no longer pay any heed to Jesus, Ben Hur reruns, Moses parting the seas or attending church services and instead enjoy a four day weekend that has now become our God Given right never to be taken away. Meanwhile I am still back there in the 1960’s watching the argy-bargy of churches saying that their church is better than the other church, that their bible is the only true word and that if you don’t follow them you wont get chocolate. Until next—lei
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