FOR PAPUA NEW GUINEANS
A Descriptive List of Forums,
A Brief History, and
An Invitation to Visit the Sites and Add to the Discussions!
Papua New Guinea! It's an amazing country, often called the Land of the Unexpected, or Land That Time Forgot. With village life still the norm, PNG is still a country where oral transmission of history and ideas remains strong. But the internet age has reached Papua New Guinea's urban areas. Some Papua New Guineans now supplement more traditional conversations in the long house or the veranda of our homes, with cyberspace discussion. Internet discussion forums, bulletin boards, and similar places on the internet now exist for Papua New Guineans and interested others (including expatriates) to talk with each other. This is a ples kivung for the millenium -- a meeting place. A place to talk. And it all began in 1996 withKami Wantoks Forum.
The purpose of this small web site is to list and describe the various discussion forums where you can talk about almost anything you want, with Papua New Guineans and people who care about PNG. This page gives you a general overview. One of the links at the bottom of this page will take you to a special links page that describes the currently active forums, one by one.
You'll see a lot of pictures of Papua New Guinea on this site too. They have nothing to do with computers, high technology, or the internet. So why include them? Simple. Although more and more Papua New Guineans are becoming well trained and deeply involved with computers and the internet, we cannot forget that this remains a very unusual part of Papua New Guinea. Only a few percent of Papua New Guineans are lucky enough to have fully graduated from high school. The more typical Papua New Guinea has never seen a computer, much less used one. The normal Papua New Guinean environment is that of a rural village, not a crowded city. Let's not forget that!
Today we use those internet discussion forums to talk about different things affecting our lives and the future of Papua New Guinea, as on the Kumul Forum. Of special concern today are issues related to government management and corruption in Papua New Guinea, as well as various societal problems. Such topics are frequently discussed in the postings.
Today, there are at least 6 internet service providers in Papua New Guinea. In the towns, increasing numbers of Papua New Guineans are connected to the internet. However, the majority of participants on the discussion forums are not resident Papua New Guinean but rather Papua New Guinean students who are studying overseas. Internet service within Papua New Guinea is largely restricted to organisations, especially overseas companies and organisations who have offices in the country. Even PNG government departments are not yet widely hooked up to the internet. When such connections exist, oftentimes people use only the e-mail option. Internet access is charged by the hour in Papua New Guinea. With budget cuts and other limited financing being commonplace, Papua New Guineans within the country just do not have much opportunity to surf the web! Relatively few university students inside Papua New Guinea have internet access either.
None of the discussion forums for Papua New Guineans is housed on a server within Papua New Guinea. DATEC did experiment with such a forum for awhile on their server but then abandoned it. Why are there no discussion forums on PNG computers? One big reason is the cost - most Papua New Guinea discussion forums are lodged on 'free space' servers such as www.voy.com. Also the fact that most Papua New Guinean participants on these discussion forums live outside Papua New Guinea probably explains why there is little reason to set up a forum site within the country.
Problems Encountered During the Brief History of Papua New Guinean Internet Discussion Forums
Even now, there are not that many Papua New Guineans accessing the internet. Fewer still know the existence of the various Papua New Guinean discussion forums. Few of those who surf on into the forum sites will take the plunge and write something to post on the forum. For this reason, the total number of postings on internet discussion forums by Papua New Guineans is still rather small, not enough to support more than 2 or 3 forums well. The less specialised the forum, the more postings they tend to have. The best example is theWantoks Forum. Even so, some general topic discussion forums have nearly died (such as the Wanples Forum or the Yumi Yet Forum). The fact that they are nearly stand alone may be a factor - that is, they don't have any other web pages connected to them. Also, discussion forums that overseas students set up specifically for their colleagues attending that same college or university have tended not to last long either. All this describes a somewhat unstable status in the maintenance of Papua New Guinean discussion forums.
The postings that appear on the forums tend to be short and not very informational. Most posters don't spend the time to explain their thoughts in detail. An overseas Papua New Guinean student may primarily be visiting the discussion forums as a diversion, or a tool to overcome homesickness. Some use the forums to send out "toksaves" (notices) to relatives back home, although as already mentioned, few Papua New Guineans are connected to the internet back home. The forums frequented by overseas Papua New Guinean high school students, such as the Toksave Board and Garamut Forum are often filled with "chatter" type postings. People are posting as something to pass the time. This is an important, general reason why Papua New Guineans visit the discussion forums. For that reason, more detailed postings aren't common, and the specialised discussion forums that were set up for serious discussion by Papua New Guineans have not done well. Thus, we see Wantoks Forum with dozens of postings in a day, while weeks might go by between postings - many quite informative - that appear on the Education and Development Forum.
Papua New Guineans use the internet much like anyone in the world. There are always people who use the power of relative anonymity to misbehave. And so, sometimes the Papua New Guinean discussion forums degenerate in tone and usefulness. Netiquette basics (guidelines on politely communicating with people over the internet) are not well indexed or discussed on any of the forums. Not surprisingly, the forums sometimes get so filled with impolite postings, or postings that don't address issues seriously, that some people stop participating in frustration. Such problems are most often found on theNo Glitches Forum, Garamut Forum, and Wantoks Forum.
Women traditionally had great respect in our society, but in more recent times have been subjected to harrassment and inequal treatment. This 'modern' way of looking at Papua New Guinean women is sometimes expressed in the way women are treated on the discussion forums. Most women are reluctant to identify themselves as women, particularly on Wantoks Forum, where the IP address of the poster usually appears within the posting (this and the associated Garamut Forum are the only Papua New Guinean discussion forum where IP addresses appear in the postings. ThePNG Womens Forum was established late in 1999 as an outlet where Papua New Guinean women could meet and converse in peace about women's issues.
Harrassment on discusssion forums is not that rare on the internet. For the Papua New Guinean forums, the biggest harrassment problem has not been by another Papua New Guinean, but by an American. This individual, living in California, used to teach in Papua New Guinea and during the first half of 1999 began posting repeatedly on an issue that concerned him. He now blankets many of the forums with his repeated postings, which must now number in the low thousands. Unfortunately, neither requests and please from different forum administrators, nor demands from some internet audience individuals have worked to convince this person from stopping the repeated postings. Strong censorship from forum administrators has been used, in large part because of fears that the postings are slanderous, and/or offensive to the Papua New Guinean forum audience. Nothing thus far has been successful in convincing this man to respect the rights of Papua New Guineans not to be harrassed by these repetitive postings. We are forced to learn to tolerate his continual presence.
The above example illustrates how the internet community is so different from the traditional Papua New Guinean village community or clan structure. Most of us came from a village upbringing. Most of us go back to the village to visit our relatives, even though today we may have a high formal education and live in one of Papua New Guinea's towns or small cities. Our souls still remain in the village, at least for most of us. This affects how we normally interact with each other. In our traditional structures, disagreements occur, often strongly. But because we deal with each other face to face, they have to be resolved in different ways. Required face to face contact amongst people who have known each other their entire lives, for example, create conversational interactions that do not use such direct language as can be found on the internet or even in developed countries, where people are part of a community where they don't even know most of the residents. Papua New Guineans tend to be more polite and considerate with one another in our village interactions, than can be found even in our cities, and certainly on the internet. This invites the question: will greater Papua New Guinean participation on the internet be a good thing?
Because politics are often discussed on the Papua New Guinea discussion forums, this alone has created a problem, particularly when allegations of corruption by public officials are posted. In the past there have been suspicions and maybe some fear amongst those posting on politically sensitive issues onto discussion forums that they will be found out. Tracing and harrassment have been mentioned in the past as occurring. When overseas students post, it is sometimes easy to figure out their university from the IP address (IPs addresses only appear publically in postings placed on Wantoks Forum and Garamut Forum) what university they attend. With so few Papua New Guineans attending most universities, common sense can be used many times to pinpoint an individual. Many times, however, this is a moot point because very politically sensitive postings are censored from the forums. Such censorship has occurred most often on Wantoks Forum, probably due to partly to the fact that the administrators are known and live in Papua New Guinea.An alternative No Glitches Forum was established in 1999 in protest of this censorship. However, this Forum, while lacking mechanical glitches that were once frequent on Wantoks Forum, has its own weaknesses. The overall Free Speech concept was recently updated in a newer discussion forum, the Free Speech II Forum. Both these forms are "free speech" outlets for Papua New Guineans, but only the No Glitches Forum has been used frequently thus far. Such forums obviously serve as a pressure releaser that makes the administrators' lives on the other forums easier! However, it is also possible that the ability to carry conversations from forum to forum creates more problems for administrators, particularly when people use space on one forum to attack another forum. All Papua New Guinean discussion forums are housed outside of PNG (in nearly all cases, in the United States). The main reason is convenience and economy. However, there will probably always be reluctance to consider placing a free speech type forum on a PNG server. Papua New Guinea's defamation laws, adopted from British Common Law, are fairly strict. In fact, they could well be found unconstitutional if ever challenged, considering that free speech is enshrined in our national constitution. But it's not just defamation law that a free speech forum might have to contend with. Our traditional beliefs strongly oppose people going and bagarapim nem bilong narapela man. Defamation is treated very seriously in the village too, and the difference between our society (small communities, in a small nation) leads to a very different way of "acceptable" interaction between people who disagree, compared to what is tolerated, even promoted, on the internet discussion forums. A free for all forum such as No Glitches would seem to go against our cultural norms. On the other hand, such forums can serve a positive role in this respect: corrupt politicians do not operate within the traditional system, and the lack of transparency they can maintain is the most obvious example of a non-melaneisan expression. A free speech discussion forum located overseas could play a positive role in allowing the veil of secrecy within Papua New Guinea to be broken. Those being unveiled would largely be helpless to stop such postings from appearing on an overseas-based Papua New Guinea discussion forum.
Future Potential of Discussion Forums for Papua New Guinean Education & Development
Discussion is an important way of learning. Providing another education opportunity for Papua New Guineans is a significant, potential role of these discussion forums in assisting PNG's education and development. However, this potential will only be realised when the number of people posting informatively on these discussion forums increase, thus leading to greater numbers of more detailed and informative postings. Here there is also a role for non-Papua New Guineans who are familiar with the Papua New Guinean issues, to add their viewpoints.
Papua New Guinea's internet discussion forums have already been used to air information that Papua New Guinea's newspapers (the Post-Courier, National and Independent) had not printed for fear of lawsuit. A few allegations apparently first appeared on Wantoks Forum before appearing in the mass media in PNG related to the alleged wrongdoings by Western Highlands Provincial governor Robert Lak. Those postings were quickly deleted at the time. The "Free Speech" type discussions forums manage to escape the pressure for censorship, since their administrators seem unknown. Thus, they might fill a useful role in making some stories more public, thus pressuring our newspapers to go forth and publish what they know.
The Free Speech type forums are an interesting experiment in communication that affects our Papua New Guinean society. However, it is not the only internet experiment that has taken the forum of a discussion forums. A quite different kind of experimental forum has been that of thePotential Creative Writers'. That forum has tried to encourage the creative side of us in our writings. As already noted above, however, most Papua New Guineans do not put in the effort required to contribute meaningfully to such a forum at this point in time. As the Papua New Guinean internet audience grows, perhaps forums such as these will receive more support. Having archives which last longer, thus giving more status to the poster, might be a way to encourage more participation.
Some say that the internet will be of great benefit to developing countries as it continues to expand into even more remote areas. This might be especially relevent for Papua New Guinea, because of what has taken place in recent years with the availability of information within the country. Since 1994, we have experienced a major decline in the value of our national currency, the kina. Because Papua New Guineans in general are not heavy readers to begin with, the loss of our wealth through the currency decline resulted in "luxury" items being abandoned. Books and magazines tend to be luxury items, even to urban Papua New Guineans. More expatriates buy these things in Papua New Guinea, than do nationals. As a result, both the decline in the kina value, and the continuing drop in our expatriate population has led to the closure of many book stores and news agencies in the country. A population of over 4 million in a developed country such as Australia would have dozens of book stores. In Papua New Guinea today, less than a dozen bookstores remain. Nearly all of them are Christian bookstores with few or any books that are not directly related to teaching of Christianity. In addition to the shortage of book stores and news agencies, the few town libraries that exist in our country are collapsing. This is more due to neglect and low prioritisation than to lack of money. The university libraries stopped their journal subscriptions several years ago. What all this means is that there are fewer opportunities for Papua New Guineans who do want to read, and find information, than there was at the time of independence. The internet, with its 500+ million pages, is not only the largest library in the world, but one that is potentially accessible to anyone in the world who has a computer and telecommunications connections. Papua New Guineans therefore have access to the largest library in the world through the internet.
That's the positive side of how the internet can affect Papua New Guinea. We should not forget the negative aspects, however, because they are significant. One such negative impact of the internet has been already seen, particularly amongst university students. Although most sexually related material tolerated in developed countries is illegal to possess or look at in Papua New Guinea, the internet is being used extensively to access and download such "pornography." Internet access to university students has been denied in the past precisely due to this problem.
There is also a more general, and perhaps even bigger negative problem that the internet will almost certainly bring us as it spreads in Papua New Guinea. Think about it. If discussion forums for Papua New Guineans fulfill their potential in increasing learning and educational opportunities as some of us hope, this still means that that only the educated elite will have access to this tool. We can dream and plan about satellite phones in the village, hooked up to the internet. However, the current economic reality basically rules this out as ever happening in more than a very few cases.
There is a saying that the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer in the world. With internet access certainly spreading in Papua New Guinea, we might slighly change that saying: As formally educated Papua New Guineans have more opportunity to increase their knowledge and skills through the internet, those not lucky enough to have formal educational opportunities will fall further and further behind.
That increasing separation between haves and the have nots in education within Papua New Guinea goes against the very soul of our traditional society, in which egalitarianism dominated, and people had more equal access to a range of information available in the local environment. This web page has focused on how Papua New Guinean discussion forums can be used to provide more opportunities for enhancing our education and development. In the bigger picture of things, however, things do not look so bright. It is up to all of us as Papua New Guineans and those who love Papua New Guinea, to work to minimise the negative effects of this widening gap in educational opportunities and information access that the internet is likely to cause.
Come Visit the PNG Discussion Forums!
Many of us see the yet unrealized potential of the Papua New Guinea discussion forums. We want to promote an increase in refreshing, new information on those forums. Interesting postings, free of personal attacks, can stimulate learning and thinking. Are any of the forums restricted to Papua New Guineans? None have said so, although the West Kanges Forum emphasizes participation by western highlanders. Non-Papua New Guineans (former Peace Corps and other volunteers, former contract officers, former teachers, etc.) interested in our country and its issues would likely be welcome to participate more fully on these discussion forums so long as they did not dominate the discussions. One American on Wantok's forum, who uses his real name (DA), is an example of a nonintrusive, valuable resource on that forum.
We all grow by sharing our ideas. Consider adding informative postings to help make all these discussion forums more useful. Please make a special consideration to support the alternative discussion forums for Papua New Guineans. They are the forums that are more struggling to survive and thus need our support. On the positive side, they tend to be more quiet places, where postings stay on longer, and are not so contaminated by silly postings all around them. If the alternative forums don't receive enough fresh postings to keep them interesting, they will die. If they disappear, that will reduce the variety of places where Papua New Guineans can talk to each other about what they want to. On a separate web page, we have listed and described in more detail some particular alternative Papua New Guinea discussion forums that seem most likely to last awhile.
The purpose of this site is to encourage greater use of the Papua New Guinea internet discussion forums that exist, so that a broader spectrum of ideas and information might flow into those forums. Please accept our invitation and do take a trip down to one of the Papua New Guinea discussion forums!
Please post any comments concerning this web site on one of those discussion forums. That way, your comments can be discussed more fully!
All photos on this page have been given to us for one-time use only, on this web page. Please do not betray their trust by copying this photos onto other web sites. Tenk yu!
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LIST OF PAPUA NEW GUINEA DISCUSSION FORUMS
PAPUA NEW GUINEA INTERNET OPINION POLLS/SURVEY LINKS
PAPUA NEW GUINEA NEWSPAPER LINKS