Controversy over ‘evil’ carvings

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Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea

A debate over the role of religion in politics has erupted in Papua New Guinea (PNG) after the Speaker of the nation’s parliament ordered a number of carved wooden heads be removed from the parliament building and destroyed. 

Embedded in the PNG constitution and ethos is the concept that PNG is a Christian country. The previous prime minister signed a covenant and we now have a public holiday to commemorate the signing.

Speaker Theo Zurenoc took the action unilaterally, saying the carvings are an evil spiritual influence.

Critics are calling for Mr Zurenoc’s sacking, saying it was beyond his official capacity to remove the carvings and that he should not impose his personal Christian beliefs on others.
 

Speaker Theo Zurenoc.

Christians in PNG are divided on the issue of whether the carvings are spiritual objects reflecting animist beliefs or are just cultural objects. Some, including the president of the nation’s Council of Churches, Danny Gukatells, have condemned Mr Zurenoc. 

But a number of other Christian leaders, including the president of Papua New Guinea Union Mission, Dr Leigh Rice, share the Speaker’s concerns.

“Embedded in the PNG constitution and ethos is the concept that PNG is a Christian country,” Dr Rice said. “The previous prime minister signed a covenant and we now have a public holiday to commemorate the signing.”

Dr Rice said that while Christian symbols might be appropriate in PNG’s parliament building, the head carvings are widely recognised as having a negative spiritual influence.