Modern Papua New Guinea

By Laura Zimmer-Tamakoshi | Go to book overview

Christine Bradley


CHANGING A ‘BAD OLD TRADITION’
Wife-Beating and the Work of the Papua
New Guinea Law Reform Commission

THERE ARE MANY WAYS in which the traditional customs and values of Papua New Guinea's diverse peoples conflict with the principles underlying the country's Constitution and introduced system of national laws. The most obvious way in which these two opposing conceptual systems clash is over the position of women. In particular, the question of whether or not husbands should be allowed to beat their wives has aroused much controversy in recent years.

Wife-beating is not exclusively a modern phenomenon. In most parts of Papua New Guinea, it was and is traditionally accepted that a husband may beat his wife if he thinks it necessary, provided he does not break bones or draw blood. Law Reform Commission research carried out in 1182–83 found that 65 percent of rural husbands and 55 percent of rural wives considered it acceptable for a husband to hit his wife (Ranck and Toft 1986:24).1 Papua New Guinea's predominantly patrilineal cultures are strongly male-dominated, and the husband is expected to be the head or ‘boss’ of the family, with the right to enforce his will. In the minds of many Papua New Guineans, this expectation is directly linked to the system of paying ‘brideprice’, which can lead a husband and his relatives to feel that they ‘own’ the woman they have

1 This figure is a national average which conceals a wide variation, ranging from over 90 percent for both sexes in parts of the Highlands, down to 17 percent for men and 7 percent for women in the New Ireland survey village (Bradley 1188:261).

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