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Melanesia stands at a crossroads

Melanesia stands at a crossroads

Which way….? The Indonesian way, the white man’s way or the Melanesian way?

Yamin Kagoya (Yikwanak)

June 2015

The Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) summit in Honiara will soon consider an application that proposes West Papua be offered full membership. The application being put forward by the United Liberation Movement of West Papua seeks to include the troubled province as a prominent contributor to dialogue regarding Melanesian affairs. Regardless of whether or not this proposal is accepted by the existing member countries of the MSG, the obvious international pressures that impel this debate must also prompt us to ask ourselves what it means to be Melanesian. Does the primacy of maintaining good relations with a powerful country like Indonesia supersede Melanesian solidarity, or are we able to transcend these pressures to define a common Melanesian perspective?

But what would a common Melanesian perspective look like? This question has been visited many times before. The late Papua New Guinea politician, lawyer, academic and philosopher Bernard Narakobi coined the succinct term “the Melanesian Way”, upon which the summit in Honiara has appropriated key principles central to the themes of this year’s discussion.

“Let us build a stronger Melanesia in the Pacific where peace, progress and prosperity is ensured and sustained for all”

According to Narakobi, the Melanesian way is “the total cosmic vision of life”. It is not what other people say in defining who we are through ethnographic, anthropological and scientific process, nor is it about telling us who we are not. We cannot accept others lecturing us what we ought to be, nor what we should be. Narakobi himself refused to establish precisely what the Melanesian way is because “…it is not only futile, but trite to attempt a definition of it”. But even if Narakobi refused to pinpoint what the Melanesian Way is exactly, some key ideas from his philosophies do emerge. It could be said to be about respecting and valuing the Melanesian people with their unique cultures, philosophies, epistemologies and traditions. What it is not about is the dreaming and seeing ourselves merely through the shadow of European and Asian interpretations. Our tragedy has been that we have allowed ourselves to be defined by someone else’s perspective, and not simply by being who we are. We are still suffering from that legacy.

A stronger Melanesia must be built by all Melanesian people. The philosophies, epistemologies and wisdom that guided our people for millennia need to be reasserted as the foundation for redefining who we are as a people; a critical first step if we are to going to establish some form of autonomy over our own future. The Melanesian peoples of the Pacific must decide whether we are sufficiently united to support our brothers and sisters in West Papua, or whether our respective cultures are too diverse to be able to resist the trinkets offered by outsiders to look the other way. The imminent decision to be made by the MSG leaders in Honiara will be a crucial one; one that will affect the Melanesian people for generations to come. Does the MSG stand for promoting Melanesian interests, or has it become tempted by the short term promises of the West and their Indonesian lackeys? What has become of the Melanesian Way – the notion of the holistic and cosmic worldview advocated by Narakobi? The decision to be made in Honiara will shine a light on MSG’s own integrity. Does this grouping exist to help the Melanesian people, or is their real purpose only to help others to subjugate the Melanesian people?

This story isn’t a new one. The Western values of liberal democracy, free market, science and technology, and Christianity itself, would not have eventuated had it not been for a crucial decision made by the famous Macedonian conqueror Alexander after he defeated the great Persian army in the battle of Gaugamela in 334 BC.

The great commander had to decide whether to accept an offer made by the defeated King of Persia, Darius. The king offered half his empire, his daughter, and a fortune in money and gold to the young commander if he agreed to curtail his military expansion and rage. Alexander refused. He had set his eye on conquering the world and he set about to achieve that very objective. Alexander went on to conquer the Mediterranean world. His decision to reject King Darius’ offer meant that Greece became the hegemonic power in Europe and the Near East. Greek language would be spoken throughout the Empire, and Hellenistic culture would become dominant throughout the Mediterranean. Greek philosophers and thinkers such as Thales, Pythagoras, Plato, Socrates and Aristotle changed the word with their ideas – ideas that laid the foundations of modern Western civilization. Christianity itself used the vessel of Greek language and culture to penetrate the world beyond the walls of Jerusalem. In short, the conquering empire persisted in one form or another because a single man refused to cast his gaze away from a world bigger than all the gold, lands and riches offered by any man.

So now, MSG would do well to consider Alexander’s decision. Do they allow themselves to be distracted by the trinkets offered by Western governments and corporations? Or does it commit to realising the bigger prize of reshaping their own region according to their own interests and free from outside influence?

The decision by MSG whether to accept the Indonesians’ offer of “princesses and money” to disregard the ULMPW bid for MSG membership will impact not just Melanesia, but the world. The story of Jesus rejecting Satan’s offer of all the kingdoms of the world is an old story, but a relatable one. How remarkable would it be in this modern world that a long subjugated people stood firm against the mighty and rejected their gold in favour of their own souls. That would be the retelling of an old story written anew.


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