Thursday, December 4, 2014

Land, Women and Alcohol

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!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Tanget Means No Coal Exploration

Tanget leaves tied at the top and set on a block of coal then a bow and arrow placed over it and set
on the land indicates a taboo; a no no for coal mining on their land.

Photo: Bailal Songai
This was a sign by the people of Andimarup village in the Tangu area of Bogia two weeks ago. Witnessed by more than 100 school children, their teachers and parents, the leaders flew a banner carrying the same message saying there will be no coal exploration on their land.

They said, "we have cocoa and lots of yams. We do not need a destructive coal mining project on our land.  Our land is for growing our food!"

Three months ago in a neighboring village their young men chased some scientists out of their forests for not seeking their permission and informing them of their purpose of visit. It was only after the scientists returned with the Bogia police that the villagers learnt their reason was to collect geological samples including coal.

And more tanget leaves tied behind banner
Photo: Sasai Duaiya
In the Biam village alluvial mining is fast becoming their way of life and the finds are used to barter for chicken, rice and other necessities in their village. They have taught themselves on how to extract and trade gold locally and hope that this practice will not be disrupted by large scale mining.

There is word already of gold mining in the nearby Niapak Mine and Madang government officers have been out to talk with landowners.

Coal mining is a new thing and brings a lot of questions about their land. Already some papers including Incorporated Land Group (ILG) forms have been issued for them to sign.

In traditional PNG villages various plants are used to indicate taboo but the common ones across all cultures are the tanget and the gorgor. 

The people of Tangu are farmers. Each family makes many large gardens and at harvest time a huge thanksgiving ceremony is held to celebrate the abundance. Yam is their main crop for kastom ceremonies. Their children learn their ways through their yam culture.

The people of Andimarup demand that their taboo sign is respected and no word of coal exploration or mining on their land should be discussed anywhere without their consent.

West Papua must be freed

I have met many of them; some I worked with some I laughed with and others I cried with. They were no different to us Papua New Guineans. They are our Melanesian brothers and sisters in West Papua.

Solidarity Action in Port Vila yesterday supported by
the Pacific Conference of Churches. Photo: Joel Simo 
They share the same island as Papua New Guineans. Colonial rule divided the island so that this group of Melanesians became two separate groups; one under Australian rule and the other under Dutch rule and eventually one acquired independence and one continues to struggle to this day.

West Papua was robbed off its independence more than 40 years ago and to this day continues to fight for it. For this length of time their calls to Indonesia to let them go has been met with nasty resistance and Indonesia is not ashamed of it. Yet throughout the world those who believe in the freedom of humanity are standing with the people of West Papua.

On Monday December 1, Vanuatu  declared a public holiday so that Ni-Vanuatus were able to go out on the streets to stand in solidarity with West Papua. Vanuatu has been Melanesia's strongest supporter of West Papua's Independence movement. West Papua is looking for support from the rest of Melanesia.

Melanesia "is not complete without West Papua", says Benny Wenda, one of West Papua's freedom fighters. "Papua New Guinea cannot ignore this struggle," he continues.

For the ordinary West Papuans along the PNG-Indonesia border they continue to live with a lot of fear but their dream to be free one day continues. And Melanesian governments cannot ignore them any more.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Australian firm pushes coal mining in Papua New Guinea

Mayur Resources, an Australia coal exploration company is pushing coal mining in Papua New Guinea.

It is expected the current PNG Mines and Petroleum Investment Conference next week coal mining will be featured. Already the PNG Mineral Resource Authority has announced its intention to develop a coal mining policy, which would make way for coal development projects in the country.

Mayur Resources wants to develop the PNG coal projects similar to its operations in Indonesia. Indonesia is one of the largest producers and exporters of coal.

Coal is controversial in many aspects. It has been listed as one of main culprits in the high levels of carbon dioxide emissions in the world. Coal campaigners have been calling for zero use of coal as one of the sources of energy.

Climate campaigns have very high targets for emissions reduction however Australia has refused to make any commitments to be part of this international initiative.

The Union of Concerned Scientists USA and the National Geographic have both labeled coal as one of the dirtiest fossil fuels.

Papua New Guinea is experiencing a mining boom right now and its economic forecasts see a steady fast growth. It has seen massive destructions in its environment in all resource extraction sites and destructions caused by mining are becoming serious concerns for the country.

Can Papua New Guinea afford coal mining projects at this time? Whose energy needs is it going to serve? 

Is Australia really committed to helping PNG by even suggesting a coal mining exploration activity in Papua New Guinea? 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Island Women: We Don't Want Seabed Mining Ever

Vanuatu National Council of Women President, Leias Cullwick
Just the thought of mining the seafloor in Melanesia is not sitting well with two women from Melanesia.

From Vanuatu, the new president of the Vanuatu National Council of Women, Mrs. Leias Cullwick is still firm on the Vanuatu women’s call to stop exploration and mining on the seafloor in Vanuatu.

“Why do even want to talk about seabed mining?” she asks. “We don’t want to hear about it. We don’t want to talk about it. Some things are meant to be left alone!  And for Vanuatu we will not support this project!

Mrs. Cullwick said the seafloor is God’s footstool. Why are we even going there? God is providing richly for us so why do we want to destroy this richness? She says, as air in some industrialized countries has become thick and heavy and not fit for humans, the Pacific is a place that will save the world because of its rich and clean environment. Mining the seafloor will destroy what’s left of the ecosystem since land based resources are harvested at a very fast rate.

In Papua New Guinea, Karkar Islander Ms. Nenisa Ibak, an ordinary island woman and an active Karkar Island youth leader is still calling on Mining Minister Byron Chan to be a man and to respect the wishes of the people especially the women and children.

Ms Nenisa Ibak with Oro Governor Gary Juffa and civil
society groups during the 2012 experimental seabed
mining petition presentation in Port Moresby
Ms. Ibak said, in 2012 through ActNow PNG 9,200 Karkar Islanders petitioned him to stop seabed mining. This call is still standing and more Karkar Islanders are joining this call.

“We are islanders. The sea is our land. It provides food and everything we need for our sustenance. Seabed mining will destroy us even if mining is happening miles away, the impact will still get to us.”  

Mrs Cullwick said, our governments have not yet been able to manage well what we already have; our forests, our land, and our resources so our call is for them to get our houses in order first before we even think about projects that will require foreign knowledge and skills.

Starting tomorrow in Sydney the Papua New Guinea Mines and Petroleum Department will be hosting its investment conference in the hope of bringing more investors to mine in Papua New Guinea.