Tuesday, 10 January 2006

nobody mention the bodies in the barrels

adelaide's parklands, where everything is straight and planned and rational.

On Monday morning I caught up with some people I work with, and we talked about what’s been going on 'round town. The day before – on Sunday afternoon, as I was napping, to be precise – the local Shell service station was robbed. Police chased and caught some of the bandits; they killed one who was trying to get away.

My eyebrows raised, but my four informants – all good Katolik meris – all began praising the police (getting results) and saying “he got what he deserved” etc. Just desserts is how it’s interpreted. Also caught up on the Papindo robbery that happened a week before I went on holiday (Papindo is a local supermarket/haberdashery thing): the robbers split the cash they’d stolen amongst themselves, but one was a little shifty and tried to scam a bit more than was fair. When the others realised, they started to beat him up. He cried, saying he had three pikininis to care for; he begged for his life. But it didn’t save him.

“Hm. Ino blipim prens blong dispela raskol” I started to say in my old crappy tok pisin; what I meant was … you wouldn’t trust the friends this guy had. But again everyone else was sneering at the idiot who had got himself killed; serves him right for trying to steal from the others, they argued.

Capital punishment is not illegal in PNG; there are currently 10 or so prisoners who are on “death row”. I have heard that there is no agreement on the method of execution, hence their stay – but I don’t know if this is true. What is surprising is that, in a place where the average person is supportive of harsh punishments, capital punishment has not been officially used yet. But it is also heartening.

On Saturday, Sox (photographed below) dropped round with his brother. We were chatting about how Christmas had been, whether there’d been any trouble (I seem to be into talking crime at the moment); there was nothing up here, but there was a bit of a fight closer to Daulo Pass. Sox sighed and said it was not a good business. People should try and fix things between themselves, he went on, but if it doesn’t work, they should not be fighting. They should go to the law. The law is removed from individual, it does not take sides, it is there to sort things out fairly. He said this reverently, with real belief.

The legal system here has as many challenges as anything else. But, in societies where locally-administered punishment is common, you could see it as heartening that capital punishment is not pushed legally. Plenty of people already have that type of retributive system in their local communities. I might be wrong, but it could be argued that people want something else out of the law. That the law is there, ideally, not to operate the same way as village law (i.e. just on a larger scale and with a stamp). It is there to offer some kind of justice, ideally a better kind of justice.

Perhaps. Anyway, hearing about people’s moral responses to events here has that effect: it’s usually surprising, not just for learning about how others see the world, but in what it reflects back to you about your own sympathies and judgements; about what a rational child I am, perhaps in part the after-effects of growing up in a poster-town for Englightenment's ideas.

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