Sunday, January 13, 2008

Women in PNG

I just read a book called Toropo: Tenth Wife. This book was written by a lady who lived in PNG as a teenager while her parents were missionaries. She took a collection of true stories and made them into one fictional story. In the story, Toropo 14yo, has been come to undestand that her whole purpose as a young women is to do things that will get a higher bride price for her family. Her dad is the chief, and has 2 wives. As the chief, his job is to improve the lain (everyone in his tribe), so he wants to get the biggest bride price he can for each of the women who are to be married. Toropo falls in love with a young man who is a teacher. Before he talks to her father about the bride price, an old man - older than her father, has already talked to him and they have agreed on a bride price. He also says he will give 5 more pigs than anyone else offers, so Toropo has no hope of marrying someone she would love. Her dad doesn't care that Toropo loves this guy, or that she is going to someone older than him, all he cares about is improving the lain at whatever expense.

Toropo soon finds out that her husband to be, Kedle, has 9 other wives and she is to be the tenth. As with any polygamous relationship, there is a lot of anger, resentment, and jealousy amongst the wives. Some are Christians and are helpful to Toropo, but others just hate her. She finds herself hating her husband also, who is spending all his time with her and not the others. One night, some of the wives come in to try and kill her and her husband. They are unsuccessful, but did manage to burn her. She uses this as an excuse to go home to visit her parents. While there she asks about the possibility of her returning home. There is no possibility. If a women runs away from her husband, the husband comes back to her family and demands the bride price back. No one has this to give back - they have already spent it, so returning home isn't an option. In fact, in Toropo's lain 2 women had recently returned and they were making them go back because they couldn't pay back the bride price. Toropo did try to run away (not to her family), but Kedle tracked her down, and beat her with a club when he brought her back - sounds like a loving relationship.

She ends up getting close to a 10yo girl of another wife, and they become like sisters. This girl goes to school, something Toropo had always wanted, and she helps Toropo learn English and Pidgin. One day the girl is upset. Toropo finds out that this 10yo girl has been promised to a man and the bride price has already been settled and she will leave in a week. She is only 10yo. Toropo decides she needs to try and fight for this girl, so she goes to talk to Kedle. She tries to explain it is unfair to this girl, but he only thinks of his agenda - which is to make an alliance with this man, and doesn't care about this girl - one of his daughters. Toropo gets pregnant, and thinks she is having a girl. She decides she doesn't want to have her daughter, who she has already grown to love, be sold at 10yo to someone, so she strongly considers suicide. She doesn't go through with it, hoping that maybe there will be a different light, a new hope that will come into her life and help to save her and her unborn baby.

Although this book was based on stories that happened shortly after PNG independence in 1975, a lot of these things still occur today. I have seen a lot of this already. Polygammy still occurs, I recently cared for a lady whose husband had 7 other wives. Almost everyday there are patients who come to the hospital as a result of domestic violence, most of which stems from disputes amongst wives or as a result of having multiple wives. We care for patients who have been burned, or chopped as a result of this violence. I have also cared for women who have attempted suicide whether by hanging or ingestion. They never really tell me why they did it, but it usually has been as a result of a fight with their husbands.
As I read this book, I was heart broken for the women in PNG. I know there are other countries with similar problems, but for now this hits home because I am amongst these folks everyday. It opened my eyes and gave me a better understanding of what life is like for them. Even at church yesterday (bush church at Tuning) I was reminded of how women are thought of. It isn't uncommon to have women sit on one side of the church and men on the other (still not sure why), but at Tuning there were benches for the guys to sit on, but the women were expected to sit on the ground. I am thankful that in Christ we are all free and equal. Gal 3:26-29" You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise." I am thankful I grew up in America, where women are considered equals. I am thankful for the respect and love that Christian brothers have shown and continue to show me. I pray that PNG will soon come to respect women also.