Blog by Mundiya Kapanga, who attended the launch of the 2016 GEM Report in London.
I know that Westerners are busy and that you are always looking at your watch so I will be quick. I will only take five or six minutes of your time.
I’m called Mundiya Kepanga. I’m the chief of the Huli tribe in Papua New Guinea. I am sure lots of important people write for the blog you are reading, but I’m not a Maire, I’m not a Minister, I’m not a Prime Minister and I don’t have a Nobel Prize. I’m just a chief who doesn’t know how to read or write. I must also admit that I’ve never been to school. Now, for this text I need someone to type what I’m saying. With my friends we preferred to play in the forest and get into mischief. One day, my father asked me to dig a really deep hole. When I came back he said “if you don’t go to school, this is what you will do. You’ll spend your time digging toilettes for people to poo into!” Now, I know I should have listened to my father. Because life is very hard when you don’t know how to read and write. I don’t have a bank account. I can’t read menus in restaurants, or the panels in airports and I can’t work out how to take public transport. When I think about the advice I didn’t listen to from my father, I feel like cutting my fingers off with an axe.
Traditionally, in my tribe, to become a man, teenagers live in the forest for several months under the guidance of many of the elders. It is westerners who have invented schools with tables, chairs and boards and diplomas. We can learn how to write and read and count and all sorts of things in school. But in my tribe, we had a traditional type of school called Iba Gidja. For weeks, we grew our hair and, at the same time, learned the rules and how to respect others. We learned to live together in harmony and take care of our planet. During this period of initiation, we cut our hair to have a haircut like I still have today on my head. We found feathers to wear for big ceremonies. This haircut signifies that we are respectable people and that we understand our culture.
Culture is the foundation of everything. Without culture, without traditions and identity, men don’t have any point of reference or direction to follow that will mean they can respect the footsteps of our elders. Our cultures have taught us to take care of our communities and our environment. Education without culture teaches us selfishness and greed which destabilizes traditional structures and leads to the destruction of our planet.
After I left my parents, my uncle took me under his wing. He taught me to grow sweet potatoes, to build a house, to look after pigs and to speak in public. One day he said to me ‘when you’re a man, you will have troubles to express yourself in public. You will shake and sweat will appear on your forehead. So you must train yourself when youre young. Your words should be sweet as honey”. It’s thanks to him that I learnt lots of things, and particularly to express myself as I am doing now. I think that our parents, friends and extended family are our first teachers. And that they are crucial to learn numerous fundamental lessons about life.
Before dying he said “now you’re a man. You’ve never been to school but you have all your diplomas. You know how to grow a garden, build a house and speak in public. You understand our traditions and everything that’s important for our community. You have a beard and it’s the moment to get married. Now the only thing left to learn is to teach what you have learnt to your children.”
Since then I have had five children and I have taught them a bit of what I know. I can’t read or write but I think that if we want for our children to live in a sustainable world, their education must be based upon three big pillars: the respect of cultures and traditional knowledge systems, the main principles that are important for our family, and the lessons that can be learnt from modern education systems. I think that these are the three legs of the chair on which our children should sit to build a better world for tomorrow.