Monday, October 31, 2016

Election Story - Myth Sprinkled with Truth

Election Myth Sprinkled with Truth
(From an Election in Papua New Guinea, during the early 1990s)

Let me tell you a story as it was told to me about a rabisman [Tok Pisin for poor man] named Karinga (pronounced Car-ing-ah).  

As I remember this event, one Saturday, during an election campaign, four men were carrying Rabisman Karinga on poles on their shoulders.   He was being carried like a king, perched on his seat that was made especially for this purpose, and the bier was beautifully decorated with flowers, etc.  This attracted quite a crowd of people as they march around Kundiawa Town and Air Port.  As they marched they shouted "Rabisman Karinga for Parliament ", "Vote for Rabisman Karinga".  The shouts grew louder and became more and more enthusiastic and charged as they grew more crowds and onlookers.

Rabisman was quite well known in Kundiawa for several reasons.  First he sold firewood in the Kundiawa market.  But besides that PNG was a tribal culture and very relational culture and everyone knew everyone and quite often they had family ties to each other.  But everyone knew that Rabisman was indeed poor.  He did not have a good education and therefore he could not land a good job.  He lived in a bush home and daily, when weather cooperated, cut and stacked firewood to take to the Kundiawa market.  This is hard, backbreaking work, but he did it so he could buy food and survive.  I don't remember whether he was married or had children, but that is not extremely important to this story. 

Everyone knew he did not have money so how was he able to pay the K2000 to register as a candidate for the elections. (In those days this would have been more than US$1800)  In PNG elections we have many political parties but anyone, who is a citizen without a criminal record, can ran for office as an independent by just paying the registration fee.  I'm unaware of other requirements.

Here is the story I was told explaining how Rabisman Karinga, went from poverty to running for political office.

As usual he cut and bundled his firewood, and got it ready to take to the market, but for two or three days in a row when he got up early to take his firewood to the market most of his bundles were missing.  Someone had come during the night a stole this firewood that he worked so hard to cut, split, and prepare.  He decided to stay awake one night and spend the night watching so he could catch the thief.

As he watched he saw some little people (in English we would call them dwarfs) coming and walking off with his firewood.  So he ran after them chasing them and finally caught one.  He started beating on this little guy and the dwarf's wantoks (people of some tribe or literally speak the same language) turned around when they saw their fellow wantok in trouble.

They begin to plead with Rabisman, to not kill their wantok. They asked Rabisman, "What do you want?  What is your wish?  We will give you anything you want, just stop hurting our wantok." 

To this Rabisman replied, "I don't believe you, I don't think you have anything you can give me.  What can you give me anyway?"  He was still holding a strong grip on the dwarf he caught and started to beat him again as punishment for stealing from him, when the other dwarf's intensified their plea bargaining.

"Do you want to be rich?  If so we can make you rich."  "Would you like a car, or any other type cargo? If so just make a wish and we'll make that happen for you."

They negotiated back and forth until finally Rabisman said, "What I really want to do is to be a Member of Parliament." 

"No problem", came the reply.  "Tomorrow, we will send a Toyota Hilux to pick you up at your house.  This driver will take you to the election board to register for the election."  This happened the day before the closing date for a candidate to register if he/she wanted to contest the election.

Rabisman said, "I have no money to pay the registration fee."

"No, problem" was the head dwarf's response as he handed Rabisman a peace of paper.  "That number on the paper is your new account number at BSP (Bank of South Pacific)  In your account is K100,000 to pay the registration fee and to fund your campaign."  "We guarantee you will win, if you keep up the campaign." He added, "If you run out of money there is more were that came from."

When Rabisman left to go home he was definitely skeptical but his spirits lifted when he checked at the BSP and sure enough his account was there in his name with the amount of money the dwarf said.  He woke up early the next morning, and in fact it was hard for him to go to sleep as he lay awake with his mind busy dwelling on his encounter with the dwarfs, contesting the election, and serving in Parliament.  Could it be possible that a poor man like him who could not speak English really be elected to Parliament?

Well before 9:00 am a brand new double cab Hilux with dark tinted windows came by his house.  The driver said, "I've come to take you to the government house to register your candidacy for the election.  So when the office opened up they were the first one in.  As Rabisman told the clerk, "I've come to register my candidacy for the Provincial Parliament Seat", and handed them a check for the K2000 registration fee.  The reaction was definitely one of surprise mixed with disbelief and doubt.  They doubted this bush kanaka [a term used to describe native, primitive, or uncultured people] would be qualified to serve in Parliament.  They knew his check had to be forged, and they definitely didn't believe he would have enough money to pay the registration fee.

The officer said, "I'm certain you do not have a bank account, and this check can't be any good."  [There are a lot of requirements to open a bank account in PNG and usually it requires a reference letter from your employer and two forms of ID, which most really poor people do not have.]  Rabisman insisted that they notify the BSP Bank and finally they agreed and was even more shocked when the banking officer confirmed that he had lots of money in the account. 

I forgot now how many candidates contested the Chimbu Provincial Seat, but there must have been more than 20 and his name was on the bottom of the list.  The story goes that when the election official reported to work the next day Rabisman Karinga (Can't remember his real name) was moved from the bottom of the list to the first name on the list and the letters in his name were much larger than the other names. 

The following day was the Saturday that when he was carried by the four men through the streets of Kundiawa Town.  The cheers and the excitement of his candidacy was overwhelming. 

Following this Saturday it appeared that noone else stood a chance of winning.  He had his mockers and jeerers.

Some such comments were:
"How can a poor man like you win the election, we have never heard of such." To which he replied, "There are more rabisman [poor] than rich and so all the poor people will vote for me because I understand what they need."

"How will you make it in Parliament, as all the business is in English."  To which he answer "No problem, I have enough money I will have a translator sitting beside me to aid me."

One of more popular candidates who had resource tried to bribe Rabisman and said, "If you drop out of this race I'll give you K10,000.  Rabisman replied, "If you drop out I’ll give you K20,000,

The incumbent candidate went to him and said, "If you drop out I'll give you a new Hilux.  To which Rabisman replied, "If you drop out I'll give you 2 new Hilux. 

I'm not sure what became of Rabisman after this, but I heard he received threats and was being bullied as all the other candidates were after him.  They certainly didn't want his name on the ballot.  Anyway within a week of two we never heard anymore about him.  He disappeared or at least dropped out of the race and was not on the ballot.  I inquired of the locals as to what happened to him and the only response I could muster was, "Mi no save." (I don't know.)

The truth of this story is that the events of the Saturday march were true.  The rest of the story is the explanation as I was told about how this poor man could rise in popularity so quickly.  This was the first version I heard, but later I heard another version that was quite different but was similar in the involvement of the dwarfs stealing the firewood and one getting captured.

This is for your enjoyment.  There may be an application in there somewhere but I was one who loved to listen to the stories.  It was fascinating to me to realize that in the folklore from USA there are also stories of the dwarfs.