Rise of cult practice in secondary schools in PNG. By Br. Michael Pendekos MSC


The research presents the rise of cult practice which had been widely practiced in many high and secondary schools in Papua New Guinea. It has placed great concern and “caught public attention” (Tatu. J. 2008) and many people including teachers in schools do not know how to deal with this problem but classified those involved (students) as “a bad lot” (B. Romanyshyn & V. Romanyshyn. 2010) causing problems in school environment as well as environment in general public causing disturbances, fights between schools and even few students and teachers have lost their lives in situations that emerge from cult practices. As mentioned in this article, studies have been done amongst students and lecturers in a few Colleges, Secondary and National High Schools, but there is still an emphasis on a more in-depth study to continue to monitor and “estimate the exact extent of such behaviors and underlying cause” (Tatu. J. 2008). The reason is that cult practice also changes with time. In addition, the cult practice that was practiced 5years ago will not be the same as the one being practice today as well as in 5 years time.
These are the following questions that I drew out from this article: ‘Should the school authorities take a strong stand to eliminate cult practices from their schools? How do we eliminate cult practices in schools? How is the behavior of young people monitored in schools today? What do we do with students involved in cult practices? Do we terminate them from school or keep them? If we keep them, what professional help do we give them? If we terminate students, have we solved the problem of cult practice in the school? What sort of effective system are we using in the school? Do we blame the students concerned or the education system or communities where the students come from? Is the present education system conservative or liberal? These questions are relevant indeed if efforts are given to really discover the root causes of cult practice, why cult exist among young people in schools and find means and ways to address it and bring about positive change in the schools.

It is very important to consider that the impact of globalization depend very much on societal institutions in a fixed environment of gender, class, family structure, workplace, government and community organizations. Furthermore, within each community of society, youths are exaggerated within complex intergenerational relations. However, these intergenerational relations are manipulated and played out within different communities and societies in Papua New Guinea that reflects the various ways demographic transitions and levels such as socio-economic development, cultural existence and the impacts of globalization. Giddens (1991) suggested that globalization can be defined as “the intensification of worldwide social relations which links distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa. There is a wealth of literature on globalization and identity, what it means and impact on societies” (Bourn. D. 2008) which basically regarded as being about the interdependence of societies on a world scale, about existing links and those that can be developed globally between individuals, communities, nations and organizations.

In a country like Papua New Guinea, globalization has a strong impact on social, economic and cultural levels; where young people are affected by what has become the focus of debate on identity. They seem to be challenges by the global forces on an everyday basis in rural settings, school settings, peer groupings they belong to or they develop, their uses of information technologies like mobile phones, access to internet (in relations to social networking) can also be contributing factors and the wider cultural influences on their lifestyles which continue to change overtime.
Youth in transition is something that is facing many young people in the Pacific, particularly in Papua New Guinea today. It is also important to note that issues confronting youth and how they can be able to respond to them vary because of time and space: from village setting to urban setting and from country to country even from region to region. More or less within a specific single generation it also varies according to “specific structure of societal institutions in which they are embedded: gender, class, family structure, workplace, government and community organizations” as stated by Gale. F & Fisheyes. (2005).The complexity of the transition period is characterized by the speed of change in a global world. However, youths in Papua New Guinea are seen as pains rather than resources to development and wealth of the nation in terms of socio-economic development. When I refer to ‘pains’ I mean they are contributors to problems such as criminal activities, abuse of alcohol, drugs particularly consumption of marijuana, cult groups in school and uncontrolled sexual activities which is a great concern today. Furthermore, we need to address the challenges faced by youths of today, which are brought about by the changes of globalization, this includes changes in moral structures, behaviors, attitudes and values; sexual liberation and economic challenges they face every day. Many young people in Papua New Guinea are not prepared to meet these changes which globalization brings and so find easy way to escape by moving into cult practices and other forms of activities which become dangerous to them. Youths of today should be prepared well so that they can withstand the demands of globalization as well as appreciate the good things globalization brings. In any educational institutions in Papua New Guinea, education should be the means of liberation; and the way forward.

The shift of youth is experienced especially with the increased globalization and economic development taking place which introduces to us the modern problems for youth rising from social alienation due to limited support from families and surrounding local communities and the breakdown of discipline within family and cultural structures. Their (youth) shift from family and local communities now point towards friends, generation gangs, passing of generation nicknames, cult practices, graffiti and bullying searching for their identities. Youth are no longer interested in traditional and cultural norms, values and obligations, but, move towards drugs, alcohol and sex as easy ways of releasing or of running away from the reality being faced and experienced. Youth are more in this era of moving from one place to another, which geographically, socially and the easier access to mobility sometimes brings dislocation from the roots of culture and family control. Gender equity becomes bias in Papua New Guinea where a male child preference which reflect gender imbalance of children. In many local societies in Papua New Guinea male preference is evident in many aspects of life which includes education and employment, but gradually globalization seems to give families and local communities new Western ideologies or Americanization that change the family and society cultural perspectives. There are distinctions between ‘youth in transition’ and the definition of ‘youth’ where youth in transition is used and refer to various shifts such as: a) transition pattern from one level or sector to another, for example, village life to school life, b) the shift between generations, for example, from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, and, c) the shift of migration from rural settings to urban areas or school settings.

Many youth today grow up in a world of “risk and uncertainty” (Bourn. D. 2008) For example, many grow up from families and communities where domestic violence, abuse of alcohol, uncontrolled sexual activities, criminal activities and abusive languages are used every day and marital problems are happening at their highest rate. What do we expect from a child as he/she grows up? What is the future like for the particular child? Young people grow up and think that all these situations are normal. They aren’t normal, but only put the child at risk and create a lot of uncertainties as they grow up. Children who grow up in healthy families always seem to enjoy a brighter future, develop very good self images and are certain about their future. These uncertainties vary according to cultural and social contexts in many provinces of Papua New Guinea where questions are raised about whether many young people have the cultural and financial resources to offset the risks or constraints associated with this lack of stability in culture. Furthermore, globalization has a tremendous contribution towards the expansion of choices available for youths in their future endeavors.

Young people today are in “search for identity” as stated by Tatu. J. (2008). It has been a growing concern that as young people grow up and search for new identities, there is always a place and a group of people with which they associate. Many secondary schools have encouraged students to belong to a group. For example, traditional dancing groups, a class, group of friends sharing and supporting each other as common practice over the years. The article continues to stress that young people sometimes encounter what is referred to as “storm and stress” (Tatu. J. 2008) where they become lonely encountering a time of uncertainty, sadness and anxiety and so would like to take the journey of adventure and exploration, experience joy and feel that they would like to take up new challenges. They do these things seeking identity from amongst their peer groups. The first thing is that it is very important to discover what students really do and the reasons they give for being involved in cult practice, so we can discover and assign to their actions and interpretations drawn from their own personal experiences.

Secondly, we need to see the differences between globalization, anthropology, psychology, and other social and behavioral phenomenon in explaining youths of today.

This paper also presents the world system view highlighting internal factors, cultural values and social institutions which does contribute to great global forces and influences on all young people living in all societies. It emphasises the differences between “classical studies and the new studies of modernized school” (Semos. J. 2010). Traditional culture and the clash with modernization becomes an obstacle to development. I came across ‘Arjun Appadurai’ also known as Samuel N. Harper who was a Professor of Anthropology and South Asian Languages and civilization at the University of Chicago in my globalization class with Professor Rosaleen Smyth. I am drawn to his work particularly in the second field of specialization in formulating concepts which clearly explained and defined anthropological approaches to modernity, globalization, consumerism and public culture. Furthermore, his second field further stresses that “globalization does not necessarily result in homogenization or Americanization” (Al-Zubaidi. L. 1998), as different societies in Papua New Guinea perceived or see modernity differently. It is integrated into their own localities considering the historical background and the rise of localities in a globalized world.

Anthropological approach draws the specific framework of this research with reference to whether the practice of cult is socio-economical or a school problem with many other factors. It is important to note that cult practice is a culture which can also be treated as behavioural problem in terms of what young people do as opposed to what they actually say or we would say norms verses practices. It has a pattern of behaviour which is represented in a form that is differentiated or varies in different aspects. The choice young people make to become part of the group initiates a pattern of behaviour that represents the cultural expectation for behaviour of the young people within the cult activities. The anthropological methods in this research outlining the comparison of these paradigms: positive approaches, interpretive approaches, critical approaches, ecological approaches and network approaches which focus on: concern, origins of knowledge, role of researcher, role of researched, focus and solution as a driven force to change in youth approaches to the issue of globalization and its implications in their lives.
The anthropology of young people is characterized by placing its focus and attention on their agency, its concern is highly seen in the light of youth culture, but entirely on youth cultural practices and the search for identities which brings forth new cultural formation which is the basis of creativity combining the “elements of capitalism, trans-nationalism and local culture” (Bucholtz. M. 2002. p325). Foundational ethnography by Malinowski (1929) clearly indicated that the approaches to adolescence from the perspective of adulthood, seems to downplay youth-centred interaction and cultural production that favour and have an emphasis on the transition to adulthood which only make youths (young people) become rebellious and cut themselves from adult control. It is important to experience, study and understand the culture of youths and culture of cult in the whole process. It will be interesting and helpful to use the experiences of students who have been involved in cult practices or who are at present involved in cult to explain this phenomenon. Sometimes parents do not know what had happened to their child because they can only recognize some unusual change in him or her. An “anguished family is trying to ‘rescue’ its child, who has the parents charge, been stolen by cult” (Collinns. G. 1982). I find this phrase very interesting but also saddened by what is happening in many secondary schools where cults are commonly practiced.
As indicated by the reports from the Overseas Development Institute that in Papua New Guinea development of industries here and there, instability in politics, economic crisis and bad governance has affected and ignored threats to traditional cultures. There have been a lot of questions raised in relation to traditional values, identities, norms, obligations and institutions being affected by the changes globalization has brought into the lives of many youths in Papua New Guinea. These questions can be asked and raised as such: Can eroding power of globalization on minority cultures be checked? Why the international community, the government in PNG and the education system are concerned so much about the prevention of biodiversity and yet little is done to address the erosion of cultural diversity? Why do we consider habitats as worthy of conservation and yet make little effort to accumulate and address indigenous knowledge concerning youths? And so on. Youths are no longer interested in these cultural institutions because of the dominant aspects of Westernization or Americanization which globalization has brought. Youths are useful resources for development in a country like Papua New Guinea, other issues are addressed and there is a tendency to forget that youths are the problem and threat to any development taking place in any sector, whether political, economic, agricultural, business, tourism and so on.
The youth of today are an asset for the country and they should be prepared appropriately to take the initiatives and embrace globalization in a positive way. Many see changes happening and do not know how to approach situations confronting them. It is important to note that young people in Papua New Guinea are the best and greatest resource and their education becomes the best investment the country can make in its future. We need educated young people who can be able to become astute and capable leaders, professionals, business people and citizens; which build the foundation required to a secure and prosperous society in Papua New Guinea. Along the same note the education system in Papua New Guinea has had a lot of difficulty receiving financial support required to properly function, leading to the deterioration we see today. Sadly, funds allocated for the education sector seem to be short circuited into the pockets of corrupt politicians and their cronies.
As parents, teachers and citizens of this country, we are confronted with the problems of youths today when we don’t invest in them, support them, and mould them well to what they will become in the future. In Papua New Guinea it is very important to note the transition period where things are changing. Changes come with the positive and negative aspects of life. I am particularly concerned with youths and their approaches to the changes that are taking place around them. They need to be educated to embrace the changes in a positive manner. Many schools from primary school to university level have encountered different problems at their level.

Amongst all the problems and good things happening around us, the emergence of the practices of cult, satanic worship, generation gangs, bullying, graffiti and suga dady (suga dady is common among young girls from primary to secondary school even at colleges and universities as well) amongst students particularly in Secondary Schools is at times very hard to comprehend and believe. It is common that in all learning environments where there is less adult control, there is always a tendency where young people seem to attach themselves to groups and develop new cultures, ideologies and behaviors. It has been a growing concern over the years that cult following is on the rise in many Secondary Schools, Colleges and Universities throughout Papua New Guinea. As a result, the education system is challenged to restructure and review its policy to best address the issues of today and the signs of the time.

Br Michael Pendekos MSC
Sacred Heart High School-Tapini

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