Lessons learned from my mother and my culture

Simon Davidson

An Entry in the Award for Heritage Literature

My mother was my first life coach, teaching me the importance of work for personal success and thriving in a competitive world.

She emphasised the importance of working hard, but I was young, restless and naïve – not ready to listen and pay attention. In one ear and out the other.

She said, you must work, son. “Let your back bend. Hold a spade in your hand, till the soil, make a garden and plant seeds.

“You must learn to sweat and earn the bread you eat. You must not be lazy. You must not live and eat on the sweat of others.

“You must work and play. You must work and eat. You must work and sleep. You must work and marry. If you don’t work, don’t play. If you don’t work, don’t eat. If you don’t work, don’t sleep.”

I resented this. I hated it. My heart was somewhere else; it was in the playground. The screaming and laughing children called me to the field.

I loathed the words from my mother. I shouted down her requests for me to help. Am I doing to do your work? I am not going there.

My youthful and rebellious instincts defied authority.

Playing was my passion. It consumed time, energy and focus. I went searching for friends and spent the whole day playing.

In the shadow of the night, I walked home carrying my weary frame and with a churning stomach rumbling for a choice meal. Sometimes I limped home with an injury after a strenuous game.

And when I arrived exhausted, there was no food.

I groaned but my pleading fell on deaf ears. I was given none.

My mother said. “No food for you.

“Go to the playground and find your food there. Go to your friend’s house.”

With aching and empty stomach, I dried my tears and went to my bed. Sleep came quickly to a weary body.

A few minutes into my slumber, a warm hand woke me. “Son, rise and eat some food.”

As I was devoured the food like a hungry dog, feeling its texture and sweetness, my mother offered her usual reminder in a firm but tender voice.

“You must work or there will be no food for you the next time. You hear me?”

“Yes, mama,” I said quickly, fearing a belting if I didn’t respond.

“So now you are listening like a human being. When I called you, you ran away like you didn’t have these two ears.” She pointed to my ears.

“Now you are listening, so listen carefully and store these words in your mind.

“Don’t be deaf when I call you for work. Don’t be lazy to work. Don’t run away from work.”

I listened with a tinge of guilt, and understood what my mother was saying.

This time the words penetrated and registered in my consciousness.

Sometimes pain teaches lessons that are valuable and etched like carved marble in the halls of our memory.

Jewish fathers were required by the Torah to teach their son a trade, as my mother taught me to work hard and do my fair share to earn my bread.

I learned a valuable lesson that day.

After my mother, my culture was my second life teacher.

My culture taught me the importance of work. There was a cultural mandate for the elders in the men’s house (hausman) to tell the young men to bend their backs and work hard to make gardens and build houses. They advised the young men not to live aimlessly.

The Engan norm obliged a young man to do and learn many things before marrying. If he didn’t have a garden and a house, for example, he was regarded as poor man and not a potential husband.

The role of the men’s house was to train the young men of the village to be responsible and hard-working productive members of society. If a young man didn’t follow the advice and decided to marry anyway, the elders would both confront him with his indolence and send a message to the bride’s family.

“This man is a lazy, and doesn’t work and doesn’t have a garden. Don’t allow your girl to marry this man, she will become his slave.”

So the young men trained themselves to be industrious and became valuable members of society. They fitted well into village life. They were responsible, built their own houses, made their own gardens and assisted other people. They fought bravely in war and made an important contribution to public discussions.

They were healthy and well disciplined. They earned the respect and the admiration of the people. When they got married, the people in the community contributed to pay their bride price. The elders delegated responsibilities to them. They were looked upon by people as leaders.

Living with my mother and mingling with other young men in the hausman offered me a grand opportunity to squeeze wisdom from two fountains of learning. I connected the dots and built the foundation for my own success.

This fusion of knowledge helped me become a responsible, self-reliant and industrious person. I went to school and worked hard. The discipline of work had trained me to be responsible for my own life.

When I was undertaking tertiary studies at Pacific Adventist University, I worked during the holidays to pay my school fees. I didn’t go from house to house begging. Industry prevented me from the begging mentality that is prevalent in many towns and cities of our nation.

Today I live happily as productive, tax paying citizen. I have a daily work habit. I tell the boys in my house to work and earn a living. I encourage other people to work hard and earn their bread instead of waiting for a handout.

I believe there is no free lunch in the real world. If there is ever a thing call a free lunch, it is in the fool’s world. In the real world, we have to sweat to earn the bread we eat.

I am happy that my mother ingrained in me the secret of personal success. A strong work ethic has shaped me.

We Papua New Guineans must value hard work and work hard if we want to be truly independent. We must maximise opportunities to be productive.

Our country is often portrayed in the media as an island of gold, floating on the sea of oil, powered by gas. But in reality, there is more poverty in the nation and there are many beggars in our major cities.

Poverty abounds because people leave the fertile lands of their home and flock to the towns believing that they will live in a land of milk and honey. But in reality, they become worse off than they ever contemplated.

If the migrants’ dream of a better life is not realised, they must go home and work on their land. The hectares at home have gold waiting to be minedld. Wealth earned by the sweat of our brow.

When we all work hard, we will reduce poverty, hunger, stealing and other social ills that plague our society.

Success favours the industrious. This is what I learnt from my mother. This is what I learned in the hausman. Valuable life skills to survive and thrive in the modern world.

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