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127 SEPTEMBER 2009
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The cake that symbolises love, care, protection and acceptance

Garry Sali

Papua New Guineans of all classes celebrate with joy and happiness to welcome a new born baby with kisses and tender touches. Whether the new baby realises or not, it is a cultural practice in PNG to acknowledge and make the new born baby feel calm and relaxed at home. In a traditional social structure where gender roles are distinctively divided, the mother gives the baby the most love and care within the first three years. The demanding day-to-day care of the baby is left to the mothers at home. For working mothers, though, modern day care centres and baby sitters take most of their roles away. Comparably the working mothers pay more attention to the baby than the fathers. This does not, however, in any way take away the love and care the father has for the baby. The father has a special heart and sense of care and love for the baby but culturally this is not manifested in the form of physically taking over the role of the mother.

Birth day celebration, which has always been part of many traditional communities in Papua New Guinea, is a symbolic act of love, care, protection and an acceptance of the baby or child into respective families in the country. Today, the modern version of birthday celebration with welcome speeches, big feast, cake cutting and giving presents are fast becoming a cultural norm among families of educated elites particularly in the towns and cities.

The above words: “Happy 3rd birthday Nigel Balo Sali “love Mum and Dad” are words written on little Nigel’s birthday cake when he turned three on the 18th June 2009. Little Nigel may not have understood what birthday celebration is all about, but for a moment he was happy just to be in the mood of celebration with food and drinks to share with his little friends. The cake in particular, was symbolic of love, care,
protection and acceptance. As shown to the right, young Nigel performed the most honourable and official duty of cutting the cake with protective help from his mother. The cake represents the inner and most heartfelt love, the wholehearted protection and concern and a symbol of acceptance as an integral member of the family to which little Nigel belongs. Moreover, it represents the biblical fruits of love and peace with him that shall flow as little Nigel physically grows up reaching maturity and understanding.

As he smiles in this photo on the left, the future seems bright for little Nigel with both his parents educated to university level and earning a living through working in a university and a government audit department. Their incomes can meet and sustain Nigel and his sisters' and brothers' everyday physical needs like celebrating birthdays. But in the childhood days of Nigel’s parents, life was hard. There was nothing such as birthday celebration with cake on the table.

Even today in the urban towns and cities in PNG, children like Nigel are suffering from hunger, cold and lack of protection. Like Nigel, all children in PNG deserve as human beings to cut a cake that symbolises love, care, protection and acceptance.


Introducing Dr Garry Wakani Sali

Hello everyone; I am a Papua New Guinean by birth. I started my primary education in 1976 in my village, right in the interior of the highlands of Papua New Guinea (PNG). I went to school for the sake of going, not knowing what formal education to expect, but did not realize how education would change my mindset and my way of life. After 12 years down the line going through the competitive PNG school system, I found myself enrolled in the school of social work at the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG) in 1989.

After completing an Honours degree in Social Work in 1992, I went on to successfully complete a doctoral degree in Social Work in 1996 from the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, a first for any Papua New Guinean in this field. I was fortunate and privileged to have been supervised by Dr Leon Fulcher “one of the best in the social work school. My thesis paper that calls for recognition of PNG cultural values and practices when dealing with young people in conflict with the law can be accessed through

In 2007, I accepted an offer from the PNG University of Technology (UNITECH) to teach young people in a program called “communication for development” (C4D) after 10 years of teaching social work both at UPNG and the University of the South Pacific (USP) in Suva, Fiji. The C4D program’s courses are designed to equip the young people with appropriate knowledge and skills to become effective communicators in their professions as public relations officers in both the public and private sectors. In fact, the nature of work of the young graduates from this program requires them to perform the ideal values and practices of social work when dealing with children, young people, adults and the elderly in addressing their day-to-day problems and issues that confront them.

PNG is a developing nation with 6 million people speaking over 800 different languages where its cultures are diverse. The country is a nation among nations of different tribes and clans. The rate of socioeconomic and political development has been so rapid that many people who find it difficult to cope with these changes. Children and young people are affected in this process of rapid changes. I hope to share with you through this forum not only PNG experiences of development and how it affects children and young people but also share with you experiences from other South Pacific island countries as well.

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