Tau Bada: An Agent of Change’s Story

John Quinlan

John Quinlan

John Quinlan

John Quinlan

Over a period of seven years, John Quinlan and his wife, Fiona, traversed the rivers, valleys and mountains of Papua, New Guinea, visiting innumerable villages on a remote plateau located in the Oro Province. During this time, they generally were considered a familiar and welcome presence, greeted warmly by the region’s farmers and villagers as they concentrated on building Java Mama, a locally based certified organic coffee business.

The following excerpts are extracted from the manuscript titled “ Tau Bada” and include personal journal entries written during the months of April and May, 2011. This particular story revolves around the coffee company’s general manager, Japhett Karetu (classic Red “Big Boss”), and the village of Tabuane, located six hours southeast of Popondetta in the Managalas Plateau. Rainforest, mountains and rivers isolate approximately forty-five villages. A white person has never visited a number of these hamlets. .

As events unfold, Japhett has been accused of stealing payroll funds. Confronted by the company directors and turned over to the police, Japhett’s incarceration sets off a series of personal, social and cultural upheavals.

John’s business skills and life experience are put to the test as this “Tau Bada” (Big White Man in Tok Pisin language) confronts longstanding superstitions, ancient clan-based conflicts and deeply rooted cultural mores that often call for the violent resolution of disputes.

In terms of cultural evolution, the villages are Purple, tribal, system 2, Kin-Spirits (estimated to be about 70 percent) with a (20 percent) layer of Red, system 3, Power-Gods.  The company we were attempting to develop was Orange, modern, system 5, Strive-Drive.  For this to be successful we had to build or extend into the plateau a Blue, system 4, Truth-Order value structure (currently about 10 percent).  John’s value structure is strongest in Blue, Orange, Green and Yellow.[1] How John and the participants’ vmemes interacted  is demonstrated by the following recounting of John’s meeting with the clan (tribal) chiefs, elders and farmers. The Spiral Dynamic ‘wave dance’ began as he entered into this AHUVO (together) encounter.

Tau Bada

There were at least 50 village coffee representatives and village chilies coordinators attended the meeting.  Additionally, 10 Tabuane clan chiefs and elders attended the meeting. I did not see spears or axes, only an occasional bush knife. Attendees sat cross-legged on the floor in an open pavilion called a haus wind. The thatched roof was matted with sagua leaves and the floor weaved with bamboo. The typical sounds of barking dogs, squealing pigs, crying children, and the waft of smoking fires were all present. The men were chewing betel nut – the meat of a nut, which acts as a mild yet addictive stimulant – and chatting among themselves. The atmosphere was calm. I was given a traditional kulau – coconut with the top sheared off – to sip. Betel nut was offered to me but I do not chew. I let it sit before me on the floor at my feet along with a “hand” of bananas. I did eat the bananas. All of these items were precious, and symbolized I was sincerely welcomed.

The chief of the village, Ezekiel, made eye contact with me. The symbolism of this clan leader was evidenced as he played out the role of a chief by ceremonially opening up the meeting, establishing loyalty for his own clan, then his village, and ultimately the plateau in general. He was known as the traditional Purple “village chief.”

There was no question that I was the outsider. After 5 years, Tabuane was indeed my ‘first garden’ as articulated by the chief. I was reminded that my loyalty was to my first garden, Tabuane; therefore, plateau benefits, goods and services begin right here. They had a corner on the market! Four years before, I was brought into Ezekiel’s clan through the marriage ceremony uniting Fiona and me. We are tambu (relative/kin). Although not blood-related, all the rights, privileges and expectations are in place as if we were.  We were adopted members of their Purple tribe. However, I was keenly reminded of being an interloper by the very fact I do not speak their language and I am white.

The meeting proceeded once the rules were established. I spoke in English, another interpreter spoke in common Pidgin and another spoke in Bari dialect. My interpreters were Paulus Namaisa from the village of Siribu and John Mark from the village of Tabuane. Everyone would be included. I was literally being filtered, examined and tacitly approved with each oral exchange. Body language and eye contact were vital for me in order to get a sense that I connected. This routine went on for approximately 8 hours without a formal break.

Chief Ezekiel nodded to another member from Tabuane to open the meeting  with a Christian prayer. Supportive ‘hallelujahs’ and ‘amens’ accompanied and ended the prayer. Their invocations were explicit, reverent and formal. The Blue value structure was introduced by missionaries, and with the establishment of the state, provided a thin layer of Blue on the Red chiefdoms and Purple tribes. The authoritarian Red meme is firmly established by the chief in his village role, and to a lesser degree, in my company position. Power respects power. This was an essential social currency.

Present with us, in spirit, were all previous kin/elders who had passed on but who were indeed part of this meeting. Again, the value meme Purple of tribal consciousness was active. These spirits were there to protect.

When I put Japhett in jail, I engaged in a leadership process from an Orange society and presumed that I had already established legitimacy, but it was apparent that I was still a stranger, and had broken tradition and stepped out of order by not seeking consensus beforehand. I viewed the audience; their faces blank – almost expressionless.

I was functioning in the Yellow meme as I was thinking and feeling on my feet. I was self-accessible as an agent in order to be present and to connect to these villagers. The visual application of The Emerging Church by Bruce Sanguin gave me steadiness and fluidity as I engaged the collective Purple tribal values system, the individual Red chiefdom values system and ultimately the Blue traditional values system.

In retrospect, I realize that I was employing my own vMemes of Orange (modernist values), and Green (post-modernist values) exemplified by rationalistic and democratic dialogue during the course of this meeting. Again, being centered in the individual Yellow values system gave me the opportunity to flow with this group, permitting me the freedom to be creative and expressive. There was considerable ease and little duress. This was quite uncanny considering the drama leading up to this event.

The experience of stepping up and down a vertical, multi-level spiral drew me into a unique consciousness. I was aware of being part of this experience and at the same time, objectively, I was “making meaning” at a rapidness that alarmed me. I spiraled upward from the mystical Purple values system by connecting with these villagers. I was together (Ahuvo) with them, yet aware I viewed an experience that transcended the meeting itself. I was part of a bigger play and larger stage, and was playing out my role with purpose and effectiveness. The self-affirmation I received from this experience was rewarding. It felt undeserved since it was effortless. The day felt complete.

The urge to yell out half way around the world to my mentor and friend Bruce Gibb in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and say “This is incredible. Thank you” was powerful.  His commentary in a book review of Jeremy Rifkin’s The Empathic Civilization provoked me to read the entire text. Gibb’s reference to Martin Hoffman’s definition of empathy describes precisely what happened in this Ahuvo moment:

“… A total response to the plight of another person, sparked by a deep emotional sharing of that person’s state and accompanied by a cognitive assessment of the other’s present condition and followed by an affective and engaged response to attend to the needs and help ameliorate their suffering.”

Through the assistance of the two interpreters, note taking, and journal entries, I reconstructed the toktok (talk-talk) that took place on May 7, 2011. The group responses are thematic.

Meeting: Ahuvo Discourse

John: “I would like to thank you for being here today. The words truthfulness and openness are important for us to understand together. Without these our talk today will not be a good talk. What do these words mean to you?”

Note: A blue norm/setting value model was the anchor I gravitated to in establishing a reference point for this meeting. 45 minutes were utilized in this introductory exchange. I was slow, deliberate and precise. The interpreters were effective.

Group: “What do they mean to you John?”

John: “Truthfulness is being willing to share what you feel and think and believe what is right and what is wrong. Openness is being willing to listen and respect the other individual saying it to you.”

Group: “We understand what these words mean but these are difficult things to do with each other. We do not do this often in public. It is not comfortable.”

Note: 60 minutes of lively discussion unfolded in this subliminal Green introduction to consensual communication. Everyone stood up and spoke.

John: “I think it is important to tell you the truth about Japhett Karetu. How his actions hurt this company, you and the farmers. Do you want to hear this truth and be open to hear what I will say?”

Group: “Yes John, we want to hear the truth. We are very upset. Where is our money? Where is our compensation? Where are the payments for the farmers?”

Note: 30 minutes transpired for these Beige and Red themes to emerge. Kina/cash is scarce. This is survival instinct in an unvarnished response.

John: “Java Mama believes in honesty. We do not cheat, rob or steal. We are an honest company. Truthfulness is like one of your house poles. The pole supports your home. Without it your house will fall. Is this true?”

Group: “It is like a strong pole. Yes, without honesty the company will fall like our house.”

Note: 15 minutes of consensus building took place. The beige image and analogy of the pole was helpful for them to grasp this value labeled honesty.

John: “Japhett made me angry and sad. He stole 15,000 Kina. This money was for your compensation and payment to your chilies farmers. He stole the money to buy gold for himself. We know who did this with him. We got a confession statement from him as well as witness statements. I had him arrested and he is in a cell in Popondetta. He will appear before a magistrate and will be put into prison. Do you have any questions? Do you understand now what happened? Do you agree the company did the right thing?”

Group: Silence prevailed. A shaking of heads and then multiple conversations broke out amongst the members. Another 30 minutes passed giving them an opportunity to be open in public with one another. The Purple essence was pronounced. This was a critical juncture of the session. The wantok (we) versus the company’s welfare (they) was front and center. By extension the values and behaviors of the host community, Purple-red vs. the blue-Orange were exemplified.

John: “Who wants to speak? Please share your truth, your opinion and let’s be open and respectful of one another.”

Group: “I am very angry. We are angry. He did the wrong thing. The farmers need to know what happened. Japhett should be ashamed. Now we know the truth. John and Fiona did not hurt us. When are payments going to be made to the farmers? When do we get our compensation? Who is the new boss?”

Note: This Purple venting process lasted 30 minutes. The responses were thematic. As the meeting progressed, the safety within this group increased. A Blue trust moving to Blue commitment to future actions evolved.

John: “Are we in agreement this action towards Japhett’s wrongdoing was the right thing to do?”

Group: “Yes, it is the right thing to do. I agree. We agree. He did the wrong thing. He was stupid.”

Note: 60 minutes transpired. Every member spoke. There was yelling, venting, warnings and affirmations. This portion of the meeting was animated Purple at its best, with a strong Red present. Strength including confrontation and immediate gratification – being acknowledged – was characteristic. The Blue norm setting continued to anchor the talk-talk.

John: “Now, I will share with you what we are going to do starting Monday.”

Note: I went to the blackboard and sketched out a new organizational chart (defined hierarchy) including monthly meeting procedures and a clear compensation schedule. This Blue component along with a mild Orange orientation was another building block for greater productivity and results. 45 minutes were utilized.

John:I would like now to have a talk on a new boss. I have chosen John Mark. Would you support John Mark as your new general manager?”

Group: “We want John Mark to be our new general manager.”

Note: The group was lively, relieved and exhilarated by this decision. This was gratifying for John Mark, a man who has been a diligent and honest member of the plateau team for five years. The purple attributes of harmony, inclusion and equity were apparent in the 60 minutes.

John Mark, a tireless employee, has been in charge of coffee movement and transportation. He deftly took over the meeting fully charged yet humble. He shared his core beliefs, with emphasis on honesty and truth, along with his commitment to his new role, them and the farmers. This Purple participation yet Blue authoritative, and some shade of Orange economic, took another 60 minutes.

John: “I would like you now to tell me why truthfulness and openness are important for yourself and our company. Would you make a public commitment to be truthful with John Mark, his team and one another?”

Group: Again, each member took a turn by standing up and voicing opinions. John Mark, at this point, stood up in front of the group participating in this exchange. This moment was critical for him to be recognized with this power and affirmed with blue responsibilities and honor. This consumed an additional 90 minutes.

John: “I thank you for your time today. I will be back in 2 moons. Ezekiel, would you please end the meeting. I am finished.”

The chief thanked John Mark, the group, and me and chose the same member to close the meeting with a prayer. The talk-talk concluded with the traditional salutation, “ESES”, to one another.  A sense of completion and a collective support (Green overture) was present. Note: The group circled back to the traditional values system-bridging/linking to a familiar Purple “touch stone.” Members soon transitioned into robust oral exchanges only interrupted by betel nut chewing and eating dinner (kaikai).

The men broke up into smaller conclaves and had  a chew of betel nut under the palm trees. I saw the Beige survival meme in action as they instinctively looked up to the top of each tree to see if any coconuts were ripe and ready to fall on their heads. When they do drop, if you are not awake, you will suffer.

Today, I sensed for a moment that, together, all of us were awake during the meeting. I hoped mind muscles and soul sinews were exercised enough that some retention would be present tomorrow.

The present is a powerful time frame and point of reference for tribal systems. Moving into the future with an expectation for a quantifiable (capability) and/or qualified (attitude) change or improvement is usually diminished by role ambivalence. A sense of urgency required by the Orange-driven global markets is absent. Competitiveness suffers from being a day late and a dollar short.

They are unaware. So long as Beige immediate biological needs are met, it is sufficient. A “flight back to health” will soon emanate in most of these men as Purple tribal bonding overtakes today’s Blue responsibilities and the Orange rational problem solving.

The village women obediently served kaikai. The smells and tastes of freshly cooked yams, taro, rice and fried banana will soon subordinate today’s haus wind experience. This work is akin to the tediousness of bricklaying-one at a time. Salvadorian priest Oscar Romero said, “God is the judge of all social systems.” I played a part in a bigger play. That is good enough.

 [1] In percentages, John’s vMeme profile is Beige-10%, Purple-7%, Red-3%, blue-13%, Orange-15%, Green-15%, Yellow-24% and Turquoise-13%.

About the Author

John E. Quinlan founded Growth Strategies Global LLC headquartered in Grosse Pointe, Michigan in1986. Mr. Quinlan holds a BA degree in Economics from Albion College, Albion, Michigan, and a Master of Science in Organizational Development (MSOD) from the American University, Washington D. C. This article was completed with the editorial assistance of Chuck Otto of Corporate Sustainability Communications.