Two groups stand on either sides with tramontina machetes this morning as we make our way through to work. It is 8am on this morning. On the entrance into their village are the Riwo men and on the outer entrance are a group of men from Southern Highlands. They have been fighting for the last two days.
Only a minute’s drive into the Riwo village, the road had been blocked.
Naturally we wanted to know what the fight was about. Three straight answers shot back at us; land, women and alcohol.
Traditionally Papua New Guineans fought over land and women but in this day and age alcohol and other consumer items have been added to the list of causes for tribal and cross cultural fights.
Riwo village has enjoyed peace for a very long time until recently when its own people started selling portions of their land.
With a rapidly growing population and an effort to maintain peace in their village, Riwo villagers must also learn to live with those from other tribal groups whom they have allowed to live with them.
Riwo village still maintains a strong traditional heritage but also has adapted to the modern demands of the consumer world. The Southern Highlanders have come to Madang in the hope of accessing job opportunities with the current large development activities in Madang including the Ramu Nickel project, the RD Tuna Fishing, the RD Tuna Canners and the Pacific Marine Industrial Zone.
These Southern Highlanders have managed to purchase land from the Riwo people and as industrious as they are they have ventured into small retail businesses selling all basic consumer items including alcohol. Two mornings before the fight it was discovered one of the women and seven cartons of beer had gone missing. Easy target was to blame the locals.
Large-scale development and the promise of jobs has disrupted many peaceful communities in Papua New Guinea. While locals want a share of this development too they are caught in situation where the current economic system comes with negativities. Land must be lost, food security compromised and local values challenged.
This calls for real leadership and a hard look at the current development model. Two groups of Papua New Guineans should not be fighting over land or alcohol. Development proponents need to start preparing people for the changes that are coming if harmony is to be maintained.
Maybe this is not the best economic system for Papua New Guinea!