Some of these were expressed upon the foundations of extreme religious movements that swept across our borders between Melanesian territories not so long ago; and there are many examples of the kind. And of course this phenomenon is merely reduced to uncontrollable desire for material accumulation and wealth.
As such the assumption is that materialism is a new phenomenon, and yet people do not often realize that materialism is part of the ongoing and pressing realities of human life in the world we belong to. Some people may say that materialism is a new and imported ideology, but that is not totally true. Melanesians have been leveled as very religious people, which means, that there is a tendency to religionize all aspects of life.
The fact is religion is applied everywhere, it covers all aspects of life; it is the cornerstone of the very survival of our ancestors and peoples. Religion in fact holds the society together, enhances it, strengthens, revitalizes it and protects it.
But what is religion and its function in our traditional Solomon Islands context is very important to establish if we wish to accept the fact that Melanesians are also materialistic groups of peoples, and also this will help us understand the present. Many scholars have cited the fact that religion in our local context plays a fundamental role in terms of material prosperity and good life in its totality.
One would find it unthinkable to go fishing, hunting, and gardening and so on without the involvement of any religious ritual. For people who can think logically, prayers associated to all aspects of life are very much centered on gain, and not loss.
This gain here refers to the fact that there were gods and spirits who could offer to people the material benefits and good life to those who appeased them.
The term religion I am using in this context refers to “way of life;” this is because not all religious practices are the same apart from the fact that there is a “belief in the supernatural power” or a being whose power cannot be matched by human power.
In traditional religious contexts, what we tend to find is that religion is used for many different purposes that satisfies many different needs at a particular time and space for those who practice it. Various aspects of religious practices are activated or are performed not merely to worship gods as such, but more importantly is to appease the supernatural power for material, physical, economic, political and social benefits.
The conviction has been that the spiritual powers can release their powers for the benefits of human beings, the powers that human beings lack. Such powers are the prerogatives of the spirit beings, beings that have no forms but do actually exist.
Thus, religion in Melanesia is a pragmatic religion. Other religions have expressions of their faith, and these are released for the purposes of worshiping gods and not merely asking for favors. But within this practice, the adherents to such a religion believe that their god would provide things for them, this is because he knows what such a people need. They do not need to ask him, they only have to worship him.
This brings me to the point I wish to discuss on this paper, and that is cargo-mentality as expressed in cargo-cult movements. It is important to realize that these are two terms that need attention because they are not immediately recognized, and perhaps one of them is unheard of.
Although they may have inherent similar ideologies, they are not exactly the same because one is the product of the other. There is what is called cargo-cult, and that there is what is called cargo-mentality; the two have different meanings while one of them is present in all human societies throughout the world.
Let me say that cargo-cult is an extreme expression of cargo-mentality; it appears in activities such as going through rituals, attending a lot of meetings and discussions organized and chaired by a leader often himself a visionary.
It is often associated with dreams and visions linked to spiritual powers. Members would have to engage at certain prescribed activities at designated times and places in order to hasten the arrival of the much awaited cargo.
This cargo is quite often expected from ancestors, or that the ancestors would come back again with vessels loaded with cargo. There are certain societies today who believe that certain White men who have visited them were actually their ancestors who have come back to life delivering cargo, I have witnessed this myself.
On the other hand, this implies that in some societies there is no expression of cargo cult-mentality because there is no particular organized movement that is visible to everyone.
However, the desire for accumulation of goods, and to want to obtain more is present in all societies. One thing we are certain about is that every human being has cargo mentality whether we are aware of it or not; or whether we like it or not.
There is no matter of choice here. I say this because there is a human longing or tendency to want to acquire more and or accumulate material things, so that there is in human person’s wish to benefit from what the world is offering or has offered.
The fact is everybody desires to have a good house, lots of money, good clothes, kitchen ware, tools, better transport system and so on. The desire to have more material things has no limits, the more the one has the more he wants to acquire. One will use every opportunity available to them to acquire more. And this seems to be our experience today.
Let us face the fact that such material goods are seen more and more as symbols of social status in the modern Solomon Islands context so that there is an enormous competition because everybody wants to acquire them. Nobody wants to miss out.
This is part of the fact that human beings want to develop and improve their lives, and there is nothing wrong with it. Human beings want to make their world a better world and to make life bearable and easier to live because God has given them the necessary brain to achieve these goals.
He wants his people to cooperate in his creativity and to make this world a better world. God’s creativity handed on to human beings will continue to find ways and means how to improve this world.
From concrete experience, human beings believe that material things will make life easier for them and be able to deal with issues in a better way. But the danger is that at times the desire for material goods becomes dominant in peoples’ minds; and when that happens the preoccupation on material prosperity goes out of hand; the desire to acquire and accumulate material goods become an obsessive and pre-occupation.
Consequently what we know as cargo-mentality comes to be expressed in cargo-cult movements. It is expressed in a particular organized movement with its hierarchy, celebrations and rituals in a social context, and these activities hasten the delivery of cargo.
Our experience in our country says it all; there is a tendency in our country to expect cargo from our MPs and the members of our provincial governments. This is not a new phenomenon; it is part of an ongoing desire for material accumulation or want of cargo.
Let us not overlook the fact that cargo here refers not merely to rice and flour etc. but also money, power and prestige. People think that when someone gets into such institutions as parliament, they will become rich overnight as well as that of their voters and supporters.
As soon as elections are over, expectations of cargo and other related and expected materials come to be sustained and thus the advent begins. The advent of waiting to see if the desired cargo could be transported and off-loaded at designated points becomes real and unforgettable event and arose excitement in villages. Those who wait for their cargo to arrive on a certain boat prepare themselves so that they could fill up their homes with bags of food and boxes and cartons of manufactured goods imported from overseas.
This expectation is also rooted and grounded at the times of campaigns; there are exchanges of promises between standing candidates and those of their supporters. In such campaigns, one can imagine that cargo mentality is strengthened and given momentum for the appearance of cargo-cult.
Our people do not see their MPs in terms of their role has legislators and law makers, but merely in terms of how much cargo they will bring to their voters. They do not see their MPs as persons who have duties just like everybody else who is working to make ends meet. They do not see that their MPs are also on salary and get paid every month just like every labor or employee.
MPs I am afraid are seen as cargo vessels or cargo carriers themselves, just like any boat that carries cargo to designated ports in Solomon Islands.
No wonder when an MP arrives in his constituency, he is flooded with people of every age. Moreover, one finds crowds of peoples in every office occupied by MPs, especially at the time of the distribution of the CDF. People are there because they believe that their MP is about to distribute funds as well as distributing cargo and fulfilling his voters’ aspirations. Some of them become bad lack, they return home grumbling and complaining because they have not received what they have expected.
Currently, it is a common sight to see beggars on the streets and at street corners in Honiara expressed in terms of waiting for their MPs to appear. Crowds of people sit there from morning till dark. As soon as their MP appears, gold-rush begins to take pre-eminent so that each one can have the first, second or third fruits of MP’s labor in the parliament.
The much waited cargo could be delivered then. By having to respond positively to people waiting outside their offices, our MPs encourage and sustain the phenomenon of being beggars and cargo mentality grows to its deepest level. The more our MPs give out money and cargo, the more we become beggars. Likewise, cargo mentality is sustained and given an opportunity to influence onlookers.
If we have become beggars, we have truly lost our identity on the streets of Honiara and in provincial centers, we have lost our dignity that has been protected and promoted by our social obligations and responsibilities in traditional settings. Sitting under trees and on public benches on the streets waiting for our MPs to appear dehumanizes us, it is a shameful experience; such practices undermine our human dignity and destroy our cultural identity.
We must stop doing this practice; we must realize that we must work to earn our living and trust ourselves a little bit more. Traditionally each person and family has always has something to live on with.
If not, there are traditional obligations; that is, we have give-and-take relationships that deal with shortages of food and other services. If our MPs continue to respond by giving out money and cargo we run the risk of getting lazy, being helpless, hopeless and that we will stop doing any work.
Because of the fact that our MPs are politicians, they will very carefully study issues and wants before releasing money and cargo. They know that through their supply of goods and money, MPs will sustain and maintain their place in the parliament. So that the guiding principle that puts someone in our parliament is not so much to do with legislative role, but how much cargo an MP could give to those of his voters.
To level an MP as a good MP does not relate to his role as a legislator or law maker but very much to do with how much money he gives out and how much cargo he delivers to his people. People who understand the function of MPs and the parliament know that a good MP is someone who makes good laws that help people to realize their potentials and assists people to become more self-reliant and self-sustaining.
He gives his people some help in order that they may stand up on their own feet and not to spoon fed them all the time. In other words, a good MP is someone who is concerned that his people are taught how to catch fish and not to be catching fish for them all the time.
An MP’s role is to train his people to become self-reliant and he makes available every means that pertain to realizing his people’s potentials. He is not there to deliver cargo but to assist and train his people to become more and more a people who could do things for themselves.
By Fr. Henry Paroi