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In Papua, girls like my 17 year-old friend Janet would once have expected to have their marriages arranged by their parents and family. However, things have changed in Papuan society over recent decades, and love and marriage are no exceptions. This is not to say material considerations no longer play a part in selecting a spouse, nor that romantic love was in the past unknown in Papua. But young Papuans such as Janet now expect to form their own marriages based on love, or at least on attraction, in a way that did not happen before.
The sale of love magic on the streets of urban centres also responds to the new interest in romance, even though it is a duplicitous way to make someone fall in love. The importance of Christianity in the lives, worldviews and relationships of most Papuans cannot be overstated.
Most Papuans see love-made marriage as an integral part of being Christian. They may or may not love more than one wife, and they may or may not take other traditional perspectives on marriage, but the linking of love and marriage is remarkably similar across Papua. A less documented but powerful influence that is changing Papuan attitudes towards love is the media: Romantic themes are central to many media productions and are consistently used in advertising, which uses the pleasure and satisfaction that love promises to promote the consumption of commodities.
Papuans today enjoy Indian and western films, Javanese and Mexican soap operas, and Ambonese or Papuan karaoke clips. Their different aesthetics give Papuans new ways of relating and feeling. If they send one back I am overjoyed, you know like that girl in the film Titanic.
It may be modern and Christian to marry for love, but the process of building intimacy with a potential spouse reeks of sexual immorality. As a result, getting to know a member of the opposite sex is a dangerous process that leaves people vulnerable to gossip and other punishments.