Thursday, August 21, 2014

Land grabbing destroys indigenous knowledge systems

The best teachers are those who show you where to look but don’t tell you what to see. This quote by Alexendar K. Trenfor sounds true for students of nature and land.

For Papua New Guinea it is by watching how a village woman carefully lays her bilum down on the ground and gracefully sets herself down on a patch of garden tells us she is not alone. Sitting a few meters away and in eye shot one can see she is saying something.

In the end she speaks up. “The land is alive. It has many virtues and one of them - an archive of knowledge. ”

Not many people see land as an archive of knowledge or as a teacher but it has been one of our silent teachers for many centuries.  Many indigenous communities understand this and respect land the way it respects all others that exist with it.

Papua New Guineans found meaning to their existence as a people, and discovered and designed some of the most complicated systems in this world that many thousands of years on they are still very much part of their lives today.

From it their ancestors learnt about the food system, life cycle systems, relationships and many more and from it came kastoms and rituals that protected the land and celebrated the gifts; not only food but knowledge, health, the gift of life and more.

Kastom ways have intricately woven many systems into a way of life that today it is difficult for many to understand. Still in many urban communities there is the question, ‘how did a woman in a remote rural community know about gardening, birth control, rains and contentment? In search of this understanding many have returned to the natural archives of the land; to live with it so that it will open up a different world of knowledge and learning.

This natural way of knowledge acquisition is under threat as many individuals choose lifestyles dictated by commercials in the airwaves and everywhere in urban centers.  For a few dollars, a trip overseas and a few cartons of beer some are willing to give up their life support system. In Papua New Guinea already 5.2 million hectares were lost under a land grab scheme and despite a government order to cancel these deals, not much has progressed.

Throughout the human journey artistic forms of creations have been seen and many recorded as some of the most sophisticated. Imagine, back then the number of learnings going on in those thick jungles or out on the reefs or down on the kunai planes of their mighty rivers. Some people argue that land is idle and not doing anything but to see food come from land and to feel the healing powers of the sea or the Sepik river or the green hills of Madang one could only wonder how did our ancestors know about various types of food, the transport system or the healing powers of the trees and the sea and the land? How did they acquire their knowledge systems?

It is by gently touching the soil and listening to the sound of birds and the rivers that knowledge pours out of it into the human person.

To be dependent on western knowledge is erasing bit by bit from the indigenous knowledge base. To combine both is world class. To grab land from indigenous communities is doing injustice to humanity.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Lalita learns her traditional flute history

Dressed in her traditional Bosmun attire two and half year old Lalita Ware listened attentively to the
sound of the flutes behind her as she watched her father Melchior Ware give out instructions for the day.

It is 6am. Her mother had woken her earlier and dressed her for this very important event in her history. The flutists had just made their entry back into the village after a two year training and are giving the Dongan people and guests a taste of what they had learnt.

Last night in her father’s kitchen Lalita practiced her dance steps as she and other children prepare to receive the flutists in their community for the first time after a two-generation gap.

As a girl and later in her life she would never have the opportunity to see the flutes. However, she will have a lot to do with the safe keeping of these flutes. Through her paternal lineage her father is now the custodian of the flutes that are said to be as ancient as 600 and 400 years ago and a curriculum written by his father.

Too young to remember everything that’s happened today, Lalita will grow up knowing this story as her parents give her bites through out her life and it will be up to her and her generation to keep this history alive. 

Her father and other elder men and women in their Dongan village have committed to making sure Lalita’s generation learn the art of sustaining themselves in a traditional rural village of Papua New Guinea. Every music have their stores and these sacred flutes were nature’s gifts to the people of Bosmun. 

Bosmun revives sacred flute music

This is 73-year-old Anthony Tibong, master artist and professor of the traditional transcendent flute music of the Dongan people of Bosmun, Bogia in Madang Province.

On this day July 30, 2014, surrounded with lots of singing and dancing and bilas he stands proudly in his western outfit as he graduates 13 men in the art of making mystical music. For two years since 2012 he hid himself away in the bush with these 13 and trained them on the rituals of the Dongan transcendent flutes. It involved discipline and sacrifice. Today they enter the village proud of their acquired skill and satisfied they are reviving something they almost lost.

In the heat of the morning young people came out in their dance attire in two different dances to welcome the graduates. Women smashed bambooed sago, and lime and bunches of bananas at their feet and cracked open coconuts and splashing coconut water on the dances feet as they joined in the celebrations of the home coming.

Adjacent to the grand stand a pile of food; taro, yams, bananas, sugar cane, bambooed sago, is laid symbolising the many blessings from their rich land. 

Children piled in under the shades and around their mother's feet as they witness for the first a ceremony like this. Tears of joy rolled down the elders faces as they remember those many moons gone and young people stand in awe as they are introduced to their very own music.

Tibong started his training after the second world war under the guidance of Tamgo Ware. Just before his passing in 1971, Senior Ware made sure the curriculum was safe and entrusted it to his favorite student, Anthony Tibong. Today as tears rolled down his face Tibong returned the curriculum to its rightful custodian Melchior Ware, son of Tamgo.

In the production of the film ‘Profit and Loss’ by Earth Island Institute in 2009, the Dongan people realized how much they are loosing in their rich culture. For the film production they had to carve ceremonial war canoes a practice they also almost lost and to bilas the ceremony they asked another tribe to do the dances for them. This prompted them to revive their own rituals and ceremonies they are loosing or have lost.

Prompted by young men in the village, the flute artist Professor Tibong was invited from his Goimbang village to teach them the art. Tibong is the last flute artist in their culture. As he handed out certificates Tibong held onto the students for a good 2 minutes blessing each of them before giving them their papers. Tibong made history to graduate 13. In their traditional way, they graduated one student at a time.

Hidden away behind the walls of the sago leaves these ancient flutes accompanied by garamuts and kundu dominated the center of the Dongan village this morning.  The rest of the community can only listen as they carry on feeding the flutists and guests who have come to witness the revival ceremony for three more days before they are returned to safe keeping.

As tears rolled down his face Master Artist Anthony Tibong is happy the flutes have been given life again after nearly 60 years. He is now at peace.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Call to eliminate corrupt and fraudulent land deals in Melanesia

Members of the Melanesian Indigenous Land Defence Alliance (MILDA) today issued a full statement and called for an immediate review of customary land administration in Melanesia to eliminate corrupt land dealings and fraudulent land practices.  The group also draws attention to formal
government policies of "freeing up land for development" pushed by multilateral financial institutions such as the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, International Monetary Fund and development partners resulting in alienation of customary land from landowners.

"All customary land acquired through illegal and fraudulent means should be returned to the rightful ancestral inheritors," said Joel Simo spokesperson for MILDA.  "Land for Melanesians is not a commodity but is an inalienable part of our peoples' very existence.  It has spiritual and historical values and other attributes that economists do not consider in their equations," continued Mr Simo.

The statement by MILDA is in relation to the recent announcement by Prime Minister Peter O'Neill that Papua New Guinea will cancel all illegally issued Special Agricultural Business Leases (SABLs) and abolish the provisions of the Land Act that allow for SABLs to be granted.

"The situation of land grabbing in PNG is one of the worst in the world with over one third of the country now having been appropriated by foreign companies," said Rosa Koian, Campaigner with Bismarck Ramu Group.  "The devastating situation in PNG reveals how land grabs happened with the
de-facto approval of the PNG government through its policy of freeing up customary land for productive use.  The O'Neill decision to cancel all illegal SABL is a step in the right direction but doesn't go far enough.

We remain concerned that the O'Neil government is now calling on landowners to convert illegal land deals to legal land deals through Incorporated Land Groups.   We call on landowners to reject the use of this loophole", continued Rosa Koian.

The PNG SABL situation is cautionary tale to other Melanesian customary land owners to be alert and mindful of the context of how land registration is taking place across Melanesia.  Land registration programs such as the Incorporated Land Groups (ILGs), Special Agriculture and Business Leases
(SABL), the customary land registration program in the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu Land Program and the Fiji Land Use Decree are some examples of the ongoing push to open up customary land under the pretext that 'development' is better for people than customary land.

"The recent situation of land grab in PNG, should be a warning to countries such as Fiji, said Leo Nainoka of Social Empowerment, Education Programme (SEEP).  In Fiji, SEEP is concerned with aggressive Land Use Decree (2010) that attempts to utilize 'idle' land through the Land Bank. For SEEP, it is very clear that this decree gives the Prime Minister complete discretion to issue leases of up to 99 years without consultation with landowners, said Leo Nainoka".

While in Vanuatu the tourism boom in the late 1990's, triggered by an Asian Development Bank (ADB) structural adjustment programme and rash of land sales on Efate, saw many local people marginalised and disposed in the process to develop.  In 2005, the Vanuatu Daily Post reported that at least two thirds of Efate, was bought by foreigners.  Ministerial Leases over disputed alienated land has risen markedly from 2003 to 2006. These ministerial leases over customary land signed by the Minister as lessor is 21.4% with 29%  information missing as indicated by a report from the Justice for the Poor Vol 7. Issue 1.

Today Vanuatu has recognised the importance of maintaining customary land tenure and has taken steps to ensure formal government policies do not alienate customary landowners.

"Land under customary tenure in Melanesia remains the largest employer and has afforded the people their self-reliance and resilience against market forces, and against both man-made and natural disasters.  MILDA reaffirmed its commitment to continue to defend indigenous control of customary land - for MILDA customary land systems are the basis of life and community in Melanesia, concluded Mr. Simo".

For more information:

Joel Simo
Land Desk
Vanuatu Cultural Centre
Telephone no:  + (678) 22129 

Rosa Koian
Bismarck Ramu Group
Telephone no:  + (675) 4233011 

Leo Nainoka or Chantelle Khan
Social Empowerment Education Programme
Telephone no:  + (679) 3100170 

Full statement can be found on:

Monday, July 7, 2014

Handicrafts keep PNG cultures alive

From the forests of Papua New Guinea, local women bring these beautiful hats from Gulf and Oro provinces. LGP met them at the Melanesian Arts Festival last week.

These innate artistic skills are promises of sustainable futures for forest communities however, with the level of logging and deforestation in the country these skills are in danger of loss.

The Oro hats come from tree barks carefully printed with local dye. The pandanus hats from the Gulf province and accompanied by colourful fans give visitors a nice comfort in the heat of the southern sun. Again pandanus trees are facing threats with coastline erosions from sea level rise and forest clearance.

Supporting local economy has been on the agenda for a while but handicrafts artists have been struggling for a very long time to find a niche market for the products. Shows such as the Melananesian Arts Festival do give them some publicity but not enough.