Papua New Guinea’s Parliamentary Speaker, a Jesus Fan, Has Non-Christian Artwork Removed — With a Chainsaw December 21, 2013

Papua New Guinea’s Parliamentary Speaker, a Jesus Fan, Has Non-Christian Artwork Removed — With a Chainsaw

If Theo Zurenuoc gets his way, his government will soon install

… a National Unity Pole, which will contain a Bible, a copy of the constitution and an everlasting flame to represent God’s word.

Presumably, the Unity Pole will be ready for prime time soon after Mr. Zurenuoc is done destroying national historical artifacts that do not conform to his brand of Christianity.

Let’s back up a little. Theo Zurenuoc is the Parliamentary Speaker of Papua New Guinea and a devout Christian. As his shocked countrymen and women learned this month, Zurenuoc’s devoutness meant that he took great exception to the 19 carved ancestral masks on a part of the facade of PNG’s parliament building, and also to a totem pole contributed by indigenous Papuans.

The artifacts were part of a permanent architectural structure representing the country’s different cultures — but to Zurenuoc, they represented idolatry, witchcraft, and ungodliness.

So the other week, Zurenuoc had the carved heads and the totem pole removed.

With a chainsaw.

Inevitably, they were badly damaged in the process. (Remember Afghanistan’s historical Bamyian Buddhas, destroyed by the Taliban? Not quite the same scale, but that’s what this reminds me of.)

An incredulous Dr. Andrew Motu, Director of the PNG National Museum and Art Gallery, says the artwork was

“… chopped in three pieces using a chainsaw cut, and removed unceremoniously and dumped in the garage of the parliament.”

Protesters are pushing for a “stronger intervention to protect PNG’s cultural heritage from willful destruction by religious extremists,” and eight of Zurenuoc’s colleagues are calling for the speaker to resign.

The country’s Catholic Bishops Conference also objects to the removal and destruction of the indigenous carvings, but Protestant fundies seem to regard the whole affair as just another a victory for Jesus.

An evangelical church leader in Papua New Guinea says people will in time realize that the Speaker of Parliament was right to remove carved wooden heads at the tops of totem poles from Parliament House. Joseph Walters, a prominent evangelical church leader in Papua New Guinea, says the Speaker did the right thing, and there are many people who support what he did.

Walters’ ability to convey his thoughts is easily on a par with the rhetorical skills of Ms. Teen South Carolina:

”Papua New Guinea has basically originated from an animistic society and a lot of ancestral worship and those things that we used to pay homage and respect to were unmystically, paganistically-based. That’s where our argument is that carvings and statutes and other stuff that people with their hands actually have connotations and connections through the spirit world that are just as painful.”

For his part, Zurenuoc is unrepentant:

He said he will not be sitting down for a discussion with the PNG Council of Churches over the objects that were removed from the Parliament House. “I do not want to sit with them, it’s not necessary,’’ he said, adding that this was because some of them had strong beliefs in some cultures that were not appropriate.

How wonderful for Papua New Guinea’s eight million people to have a Speaker with such a strong sense of what’s just and “appropriate.”

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  • MN Atheist

    Missionaries. Bringing peace and love to indigenous natives since the year 33.

  • Steven A Moore Jr.

    Why was he not arrested for vandalism?

  • Mobius

    A newcomer to your blog. I became aware of it after the brouhaha in Morton Grove. This was brought to my attention in Why Evolution is True and Freethought Blogs. So I am adding your blog to my daily list and will almost certainly be back to give actual comments on the subject at hand.

    I understand that you are a math teacher. Good. I too have extensive training in math and love the subject. Particularly topology and complex analysis.


  • Malcolm McLean

    It’s difficult. Papua New Guinea is a very traditional, hunter gatherer sort of society, which had sudden contact with Western civilisation. They don’t have much choice but to adopt Western technology because of the military factor – AK47s will always beat wooden spears and wickerwork shields. But the question is what to dump and what to keep.

  • As he explained recently, Hemant might not have time to read your message. Nevertheless, welcome to Friendly Atheist.

  • Lee Miller

    This is what the US can look forward to if the Christian Dominionists ever start getting their way . . .

  • Jenny

    “…a National Unity Pole…”

    A Festivus for the rest of us!

  • Terry Firma

    What’s difficult about leaving alone various manifestations of a country’s heritage? What’s difficult about deciding not to destroy artwork that doesn’t even belong to you?

  • Terry Firma

    Hemant didn’t write this post — I did. And I’m afraid I suck at math. But welcome anyway! 😉

  • baal

    While the xtians enjoy certain perks in the U.S., those pale in compareson to the perks you get in the rest of the world.

  • Intelligent Donkey

    And who decides that carved heads are idolatry, and a crucifix is not?

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    as opposed to those mystical christian based beliefs that are far better

  • LesterBallard

    How Taliban-ish of him.

  • Peter Naus

    And when!

    Why not just fast-forward 20 years, and chainsaw all the big T’s? Oh, and the giant gold T hanging around his neck.

    One thing you gotta say for PNG politicians – they MUCH prefer asking forgiveness than permission. Have some opposition members you can’t shut up in parliament? Firebomb their homes. Don’t agree with the election results? Declare them invalid, make yourself Prime Minister, and hand-edit the results in Hansard.

    It’s simple, but very effective.

    I love the fact that he thought it was fine to just drop them in the back of the garage. But then, this IS Mr Chainsaw. Hell, I wouldn’t argue with the guy.

  • your deep, complex understanding of PNG, which is in no way racist or un-historic, is highly welcome and appreciated in this discussion. please, tell us more.


  • $925105

    Once the fundy Muslims and fundy Christians realize they’re exactly they same and join forces then we’ll be in a lot of trouble.

  • L.Long

    This activity is nothing new to the xtian taliban. Look at all the missing roman penises. I expect that this will go down like the American blacks. They had xtainity forced up their butts till they now consider themselves highly xtian and believe in a BS book that says slavery is A-OK. One generation and the will all be xtian be concerned that islame is encroaching into their society.

  • Whitney Currie

    I did a Google search on “Unity Pole”

    I can’t really post the result here, but I would imagine you get the idea.

  • Spuddie

    Why is this guy not in jail right now for destruction of priceless art works?

    If a tourist did this, they would be sentenced to major jail time with mandatory sodomizing with a dead coconut crab.

  • Spuddie

    Try again, it was colonized by the Germans and British in the late 19th Century. Then it became a possession of Australia during WWI. It was not an independent state until 1949.

    Dump religious practices which are harmful or would be considered criminal acts in any modern society and keep everything else. Conversion to Christianity is not progress. In this case its just destructive.

  • Robster

    I had a godmother who worked as a doctor and Christian missionary in PNG in the 70’s. I spent six months with her and family and left a stronger non-believer than when I arrived. They did their churchy service thingies in Latin and the population left the church wondering two things: What on earth were they talking about why don’t they serve some coke instead if red wine with the cracker. Actually, they would have preferred crackling.

  • FrasJH

    There are a lot of problems with foreign Christian missionary organisations in PNG, and destruction of artifacts and traditional artwork at their behest is not a new phenomenon (the wikipedia article on Theo Zurenoc states it was done on the advice of an Israeli Christian evangelical organisation). But I have to call you out Terry on your criticism of his English. One, it was actually comprehensible. Two, the Speaker probably speaks his local language first, Tok Pisin second, and English third.

  • Madison Blane

    “An evangelical church leader in Papua New Guinea says people will in time realize” …
    Historically these types of ‘realizations’ come at the business-end of a weapon and require quite a bit of bloodshed.

  • observer

    Nah, they’ll always see each other as competition, and will go to war with each other to eliminate the other’s “false” religion. And perhaps worst of all, they don’t care about any casualties that gets in their way.

  • Malcolm McLean

    Papua New Guinea was a traditional hunter gatherer society, with no unified political structure, tribes fighting each other with primitive weapons.

    Here are some pictures of warriors

    You’ll see some with wicker shields and wooden spears.

    They also ate each other.It’s often misdescribed in the West as “ritual cannibalism”, the idea that eating people had some religious significance. The truth is simpler.

    Anyway,here are some picture of the modern Papua New Guinean army

    You’ll see that they carry automatic weapons. They have no choice. The traditional weaponry wouldn’t be effective in protecting Papua New Guinean territory from aggression. (Indonesia is a difficult neighbour).

    They don’t eat each other any longer, at least officially. Cannibalism is extremely dangerous because it spreads neurodegenerative prion diseases. We had the same problem in cattle in the UK because people were putting beef protein in cattle feed.

  • Terry Firma

    Then I have to “call you out” on your reading comprehension, I guess. The person who apparently can’t string a proper sentence together for the life of him is clearly identified — twice — as evangelist Joseph Walters. Not speaker Theo Zurenuoc.

    For what it’s worth, English isn’t my first language either, and I seem to do all right.

    People who make their living with their supposed rhetorical powers — ministers and politicians come to mind — should probably be able to speak the official language(s) of their country somewhat intelligibly.

    Going by the sample I quoted, my nine-year-old daughter — whose first language wasn’t English either — can literally formulate her thoughts more coherently than Mr. Walters can.

  • JA

    So who wants to take a chainsaw to the Unity Pole once it’s put up?

    (for those who don’t know sarcasm: Yes, I’m being sarcastic)

  • diogeneslamp0

    New Guinea tribesmen are now so primitive, they’re acting like Americans.

  • spunkalishis

    Holy shit….now THIS is somebody the Indonesian or Australian army should’ve shot. Right between the eyes. It makes me sick to think of him destroying those masks & totem. Bastard.

  • C’mon you guys. Rev. Walker is clearly a fluent speaker of Palinese.

  • diogeneslamp0

    Am I missing something? How is Malcolm’s comment racist?

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