Peter D Dwyer (University of Melbourne)
Monica Minnegal (Assistant Professor University of Melbourne)
Tom Powell Davies (University of Cambridge)
Monica Minnegal and Peter D Dwyer
'God and the Virus in Papua New Guinea: Outsourcing Risk, Living with Uncertainty And [Re]-Creating a Niupela Pasin'
In this talk, we look at three ways in which COVID-19 has been experienced or responded to in Papua New Guinea.
First, we explore public statements by James Marape, the prime minister of PNG, within the frame of a chronology of virus-related events in that country. We argue that by mid-August Marape's personal Covid-19 strategy was to outsource the country's response to Covid-19; he wanted to outsource risk to God.
Second, we discuss experiences of people from a remote area of Western Province. For them, restrictions on travel implemented at the time of a country-wide State of Emergency removed access to many goods and services that, for several decades, they had come to see as part of a new normal. Their experience was of being 'locked out' rather than of being 'locked down'. Simultaneously, their commitment to Christian beliefs was being challenged by the re-appearance of practices that purported to identify sorcerers and the possibility that evil-doers might harness the power of the virus. They learned, as well, that western science was currently unable to cure this threatening disease. Through the time of the pandemic these people were, in effect, living with uncertainty.
Third, with reference to close synergies between Christian practices and the sacred connotations of shell money, we draw on a recent report that, in response to being 'locked out' during the State of Emergency, some people in East New Britain have revived the use of shell money in secular settings. In this way, it seems, they have resurrected the past as a means of creating an apparently 'new normal'.
Tom Powell Davies
'From the bubble to the hearth: Social co-presence in the era of COVID-19 in Asmat, Indonesian Papua'
This paper examines how Asmat people, and their missionary and state others, are trying to negotiate the risk of coronavirus transmission. I use the pandemic as a lens to reflect on the spatio-temporal organisation of Asmat life, and how it is being warped by its incorporation within broader macro-structural orders during an era of national decentralisation. I then put this account of Asmat sociality into conversation with Western models of social containment that have emerged during the pandemic response, such as ‘social bubbles’, in order to rethink ‘social distancing’ from the point of view of an analysis of the qualities of social co-presence.
Tom's paper can be read in published form in Oceania's special issue on 'Oceanic societies in COVID-19' at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ocea.5259
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