Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Spinach rising

Well... We had our big parent – teacher – student meeting yesterday afternoon, and whew was it an eye-opener! All parents of all students were told to come as it was to be an information session about the rise of generation names amongst the students, a PNG phenomenon that seems to be sweeping the country.

Generation names are group nicknames that are handed down from one group of girls to another. Each ‘senior’ selects a ‘junior’ from the Grade 9s, and hands on their nickname, and tells them what group it belongs to. Sometimes they even go recruiting amongst primary kids before they hit secondary school. Sounds fairly innocent, and I think in most cases it is, but usually the nickname carries some sort of signature action or character that the girl has to live up to. And again, I think a lot of that is just silly stuff, but some of them are fairly serious names or characteristics, like Black Sabbath has to wear black and do bad things on Sundays, or other names mean you have to get drunk all the time, or sleep with as many boys as you can, or steal, or smoke pot etc etc And there are often initiation rituals in joining a group that involve all kinds of things like withstanding being punched 50 times in the chest to prove you are ‘strongpela meri’ (a brave girl), cigarette burning and other charming stuff like that. Sogeri National High School had several of its classrooms burned down in generation names activities, and there‘s been talk of cult practices and witchcraft at other high schools in the NCD and around PNG related to generation names.

So, Sister Angela and the Board of Govenors wanted to crack down on any form of nicknames or generation names that were springing up at M'ville by taking a hard line early. Several girls have already lost their boarding places because they were found to be involved in these activities or cult activities (using a ouija board in the dorms when they were supposed to be out playing sport, and apparently satanic card games in the middle of the night) (not sure how seriously to take that one, but Sister sure did!)

And yesterday was a meeting to explain the situation to the parents, and to have all the girls denounce their nicknames in front of the Board of Governors, their parents, and all staff and students. Let me tell you, it was a big deal! About 75% of the girls had at least one nickname from one of these underground groups, and many girls had several names. And the reaction from some of the parents was unbelievable – shouting, yelling, threats to their children about what would happen when they got home, demands to kick out any girls doing the wrong thing etc etc. It was an incredibly intimidating situation for the girls to be faced with, having to individually come forward and denounce their names, facing this mob of largely angry (and vocal) parents. Sr Angela was actually really good, trying her best to stop the parents from yelling and telling them not to remonstrate with the girls but accept this as the first (and very brave) step of doing the right thing – but it was hard to contain the crowd's emotions.

And the girls… some of them broke down in tears because they were so scared or so upset that they had to come forward for something they didn’t think was bad. And most of these girls had nicknames in name only – they’d accepted a name, but didn’t know anything about the group that meant they belonged to, or what the name really meant, and certainly hadn’t carried out any actions related to it. And for lots of girls there was confusion about what kind of nicknames were being targeted – a lot of girls got up to renounce names they’d been called by their families since they were little girls, or the innocent name shortenings everyone collects as they grow up – like me getting up and renouncing the name Riss in front of my family and the Board of Governors in the name of Jesus – because that was the way they had to do it!

But there were one or two funny moments, like when a beautiful and very religious girl got up to renounce the name Jericho… that actually got a laugh from the crowd.

And the moment when one girl came forward to renounce her name in the name of Jesus, and Pia turned to me and said ‘Yah! Why is this girl’s nickname spinach?’

Actually it was Phoenix.

It just remains to be seen whether the renouncing of these names means they are gone for good or if, like spinach, they will rise from the ashes…


At 5:43 pm, Blogger Andrew said...

so when exactly did you renounce the "Angel" nickname?


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