Papua New Guinea Gives New Meaning to “Back to the Future”
When I was a kid, I liked to sit in the very back seat of the family’s station wagon. It faced backwards. The driver could see where he was going, but I could see out the back window where we had been.
We Americans often like to sit in the driver’s seat, looking forward to the future. People in Papua New Guinea view time very differently. They like to take a seat in the back and “they look back to where they have come from. The mountains in the distance are clear and unmovable. The present flashes past them and only as it moves a little into the distance does it become clear. The future is unknown and uncontrollable…
“The Pidgin word for the the past is bipo (before) and the word for the future is bihain (behind). Since [Papua New Guineans] are looking towards the past, then all that has happened in the past is before them, and whatever might happen in the future is behind their backs: out of sight and therefore unknown.” (Neville Bartle, Death, Witchcraft, and the Spirit World in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, pp. 33-34)
We are often asked what we’re doing next. It’s often difficult to know, because most everyone is riding in the back seat and has their back to the future. As our team manager has joked, “We make plans so we know what won’t happen.”
This is a reprint from our April newsletter. Contact us if you would like to receive this.
Photo courtesy Ben Pehrson.