Menya Work Ethic

Ever since we moved into Menya, we have marveled at the lack of ambition or consistent work-output among a people who are clearly fit and capable of great exertion. It seems strange that they have not accomplished more with their resources. They are not lazy people, but they are often idle. When we see them work (either for us or in their own gardens) we see strenuous and diligent effert. But it comes in spurts. Digging from 7:00-10:00am can be a full day’s work and I would not expect more than three full days in a single week. Building a house, which could be accomplished in a week or two, can be stretched over multiple months. Until recently, this disconnect between potential and actual effort has been a nagging mystery.

Last week I was talking with Wati about different categories of spirits the Menya people believe in and the characteristics of each. We discussed the “hiwiyuqu”–spirits who are usually invisible living in a parallel reality but can interact with us. I found out that the hiwiyuqu can kill people and “take” them into the hiwiyuqu world. As it turns out, the hiwiyuqu are most interested in promiscuous individuals and industrious. The hiwiyuqu assume that a person who works tirelessly in this world will continue his pattern in theirs thus providing utility. Therefore, people are careful not to work so hard that they attract the attention of the hiwiyuqu. This may not be the only factor influencing the Menyan work ethic, but I have confirmed with others that it is a genuine fear. I wonder how many generations this belief has been shaping the lives of the Menya people.

1 Comment
  1. Jay B

    juxtaposing your post (fascinating, thank you) with a documentary I’ve been watching about the history of new york city… and the construction of the empire state building… which lasted only 13 months at the beginning of the great Depression. The steel girders (each over a ton) that became the skeleton of the building… were forged in Pennsylvania within 1/8 inch tolerances and shipped by rail/barge to the construction site in the middle of Manhattan island… and installed in as little as 18 hours’ time after leaving the Pennsylvania steel mills. Some days, the girders were still warm when they were being installed by the 8-man rivet crew… 100 stories above ground. In one twenty-two day stretch, twenty-two stories were added. Over the course of construction, six of the construction crew died in various work-related accidents. Once complete (in 1931, I believe), the world’s largest office building sat mostly vacant for decades. The building didn’t turn a profit until after 1950. The owners of the building were only able to subsidize payment of the property taxes on the building throughout the 1930’s and most of the 1940’s because of the paid trips by tourists to see the views of NYC from the top. I think of the Empire State Building as I read your description of the cultural beliefs in PNG… and I think of how our cultural beliefs in America isolate us as people (from one another… and from His deeper truths) at the other end of the ‘industriousness’ spectrum.

What do you think?