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Oct 7, 2019

Creation Care in Papua New Guinea

St Andrews Youths doing clean-up in Lae City
St Andrews Youths doing clean-up in Lae City

After attending a training facilitated by Bismarck Ramu Group (BRG) in July this year, a group of vibrant young people from St. Andrews Lutheran Parish in Lae, Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea (PNG), is taking the lead to mobilize communities to stop Deep Sea Tailings Placement(DSTP) a misleading name for mine tailings disposal into the ocean by the Wafi-Golpu mine into the Huon Gulf.

DSTP has become a prominent national issue, as mining tailings in PNG are not regulated by law and so there is no proper monitoring of the environmental impacts. This issue drew international attention in August due to a mine waste spill into the ocean by the Chinese-owned Ramu Nickel mine at Basamuk Bay, Madang Province. The spill caused a red discharge that discoloured, clouded, and poisoned a substantial part of the bay adjacent to the Ramu Nickel plant.

After the training at BRG in July, the Lae-based youth were able to get their church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELC) of PNG, to support them in their campaign against exploitative and destructive industrial development in their area. Since 2017, the ELC of PNG has been celebrating the 500-year anniversary of the Reformation within the Lutheran World Federation theme, Liberated through God’s Grace” and three sub-themes: Creation not for sale, Human Beings not for sale, and Salvation not for sale.

Within this context, it was clear to the St. Andrews youth group members that the proposed DSTP for the Wafi-Golpu mine, a Newcrest (Australia) and Harmony Gold (South Africa) joint venture, is not in line with the sub-themes and as such is a violation of God’s Grace. Consequently, the youth initiated their campaign to oppose mine tailings disposal into the Huon Gulf networking effectively and bringing many concerned people into their movement. Local women have been particularly active, supporting their children’s efforts to try to stop the destruction of their environment and protect their land-based livelihoods. The head of the ELC in PNG, the Bishop Dr. Jack Urame, has been clear that his church will do all it can to uphold the key principle, Creation not for Sale – the Bishop said, “As a church and as Christians we must raise our voice against developments that are destructive to the lives of our people and environment. It will affect their livelihood”.

On September 14, 2019, the St. Andrews youth launched an event called Green Day. This event was held two days prior to PNG’s national Independence Day to collect rubbish throughout Lae city. It was highly successful, with young Lutherans from other congregations and parishes within Lae city also joining in the clean-up campaign. In this way, the Green Day clean-up campaign provided a space for the youth to protest against the Wafi-Golpu mine tailings disposal and to also reflect on their own actions with regard to waste pollution.

To show solidarity with the Lae-based campaign, the Karkar Island Solwara Warriors (Ocean Warriors), a member of the Alliance of Solwara Warriors (ASW) and also part of the ELC PNG congregation, led a traditional canoe voyage from Karkar Island in Madang Province all the way to Lae in Morobe Province to help campaign against DSTP. The Karkar Solwara Warriors are well known for having campaigned effectively against Nautilus Mineralsplan to initiate seabed mining in the Bismarck Sea, and are now keen to support the young Lutherans of St. Andrew’s Parish to stop the proposed ocean tailings disposal of the Wafi-Golpu mine in Morobe.

With momentum building, another community from the ELC of PNG joined in the movement the Labu Lutheran community located at the mouth of the Markham River built a traditional canoe to welcome the canoe from Karkar Island. In both Karkar and Markham, such traditional canoes had not been built for several generations and so their revival was particularly important and exciting. The Mayau Lale (Guardian of the Sea) canoe from Karkar, and the Mete Pana (The Way of the Gospel) canoe from Markham as they have been named for their unique roles in their respective societies were both restored through a cultural revival and are now united to Christ’s gospel and the values of the 500 years of Reformation of the ELC. As they sail along the northern coastline of New Guinea, the two canoes will share information with communities and will advocate against large-scale destructive profit-for-the-few-driven activities by corporations, especially foreign-owned ones, in indigenous communities in PNG. At the same time, young people in the church will continue their efforts to press the ELC of PNG to continue to lobby the government.

These young people also plan to bring the agenda of DSTP to the National Lutheran Youth Conference in Lababia, Salamaua, Morobe Province 19-23 September 2019. They are hopeful that, as a result, this important issue will be included on the agenda of the National Lutheran Synod for next year and thus will be presented to the Government of PNG as a concern for the estimated 2 million Lutherans in the country. In this way, Christianity in PNG is becoming an important way for communities including youth to work toward liberating the oppression and suffering of people in PNG in rapidly changing and challenging modern times.

Mayau Lale protests against Ramu Nickel Mine DSTP
Mayau Lale protests against Ramu Nickel Mine DSTP
Local Lutheran congregation with their message
Local Lutheran congregation with their message
Mayau Lale & Mete Pana
Mayau Lale & Mete Pana
May 24, 2019

The National Land Summit in Papua New Guinea (PNG)

Landowners attending the land summit in Madang
Landowners attending the land summit in Madang

Safeguarding Customary Land or Facilitating Land Theft?

Earlier this year, the PNG Government, through the National Lands Department and the Minister for Lands, launched a National Land Summit on Customary Land in the capital, Port Moresby. The stated purpose of the Land Summit was to listen to and get feedback from customary landowners and Incorporated Land Groups (ILGs) on challenges encountered in ILG and Voluntary Customary Land Registration (VCLR) processes and other land-related matters.

The National Land Summit team carried out consultations in all four regions of the country. The Land Summit for the Momase region was held in Madang on March 7-8, 2019 at the Madang Resort. People had heard that the presence of rural-based community leaders would have a real impact. Consequently, local community leaders travelled from afar to attend the Land Summit. Two local leaders from Madang Maror – a customary alliance of leaders representing the six districts of Madang – and two from Karkar Solwara Warriors (KSW), part of the Alliance of Solwara Warriors (ASW), travelled to Madang town for the summit.

These four community leaders planned to attend the Land Summit in order to question its validity and its role in dealing with pressing land issues, particularly the SABLs (Special Agriculture Business Leases) that had alienated so much customary land from rural people already, as well as ILGs and Land Registration (VCLR). The local leaders viewed the Land Summit as a kind of scam involving corrupt government officials and foreign investors aiming to grab more customary land and to profit from it. They felt that the Land Summit should instead be designed to facilitate a dialogue on the need for FPIC (Free Prior Informed Consent) in resource development for rural custodians of the land.

The traditional community leaders had to travel two full days to reach Madang town for the Land Summit. Their trip started with traveling down river by dinghy from one of the most remote parts of the province, and then walking for several hours before a full day journey on public motor vehicles (PMVs). The PMV part of the trip included terrible road conditions and river crossings on floating bamboo rafts due to collapsed and unpassable bridges. But this did not stop the local leaders from their journey. However, when they arrived, they found that the Land Summit was held in an elite resort hotel with tight security and where accessibility to information was enclosed behind iron gates and barbed wire.

In PNG, land is governed through communal stewardship. Every rural-based Papua New Guinean is born with user rights over customary land – enough land to provide food and other basic needs for one’s family. Therefore, information regarding land is public information and must be shared openly for all. It was a shock to find that in order to attend the Land Summit, the participants – even grassroots PNG citizens – had to pay a K100.00 non-refundable fee. And so the four rural land custodians from Madang Maror and the Alliance of Solwara Warriors (ASW) each had to pay the K100.00 fee to attend. It is estimated that at least one thousand people attended the forum. Many of these people were grassroots rural people who struggled to travel to Madang town and to pay the fee – but who were wanting to better understand how ILGs, VCLR, and other newly imposed land laws operate in the country at present. In this way, the regional Land Summit consultations in Madang raised a substantial sum of money from ordinary grassroots citizens, with the PNG government taking money from the people to collaborate with multinational corporations and commercial banks to the advantage of foreigners and a handful of elite Papua New Guineans. Hence, we see that multinational companies and commercial banks are using the Land Summit process as a mechanism to further facilitate the customary land grab.

It has become obvious that PNG government policy and practice over the past 25 years have not been developed and implemented in the interests of the customary land custodians, aiming to keep land in the hands of the people who still feed their families through traditional agriculture. Instead, the government seems to be acting in the interests of resource extraction companies – companies owned by both foreigners and also PNG elites. If we look at the issue of the illegal Special Agriculture Business Leases (SABLs) which have enabled so much illegal logging in PNG, it is clear that the government is not with the people, but with the companies. As long as the SABL / illegal logging wounds are still bleeding, it is clear that customary land and forests in PNG are still under threat.

If you want to help us to protect customary land and stop the land theft in PNG please donate to Bismarck Ramu Group Land is Life-Land Justice for Papua New Guinea on GlobalGiving.    

    

A woman representative expressing a view point
A woman representative expressing a view point
Apr 3, 2019

Balangut-Kundu & Wairon-Tifa for Cultural Revival

The Wairon
The Wairon's Sorong to Samarai Canoe Voyage

Today, in many small villages in Papua New Guinea (PNG), people aim to transition from a traditional way of life to a modern lifestyle. But this is not the case in all PNG communities. For Kavailo village on Karkar Island, off the north coast of PNG, after much hard work thinking deeply about what kinds of development would truly benefit their people, especially the youth, they embarked on the opposite kind of process – they decided to go back to tradition in order to rebuild cultural pride.

This process revolved around the Kavailo community members coming together to build a traditional canoe, called a Balangut in the local language. For thousands of years, canoe making was central to the life of coastal villages like Kavailo. But over the last few generations, since contact with Europeans and then rapid social change associated with globalization, traditional canoe making went into decline and then stopped – a Balangut had not been built for almost three generations and the traditional knowledge about how to build such a canoe was soon to die out. Recognising the urgency of the situation, a local village Elder and pastor of the local Mugaer Lutheran church was able to get the villages of Kavailo and the surrounding areas to work together to revive this important cultural practice.

In Kavailo today, indigenous culture and Christianity are both important parts of life – these aspects of society now exist side by side and contribute to shaping the modern-day holistic context of the community. Given this context, the revival of the Balangut was celebrated in the local culture, hand-in-hand with the Christian faith. The Balangut cultural revival became a participatory process of getting local Elders to revalue and appreciate their culture and heritage and then moving forward in rediscovering their canoe-making culture.

While the people of Kavailo, Karkar Island, PNG embarked on their cultural revival journey, communities in West Papua were doing the same – also rebuilding a large traditional canoe, called Wairon in West Papua. The plan was for the Wairon of West Papua to sail along the north coast of New Guinea from the West across the border and eastward to Karkar Island – where the two communities would meet and celebrate their joint achievements.

Children and young adults became the focus of this unforgettable cultural revival and exchange between West Papuans and Karkar Islanders. Local Elders now believe that they are the keepers of the future and that they will pass on this responsibility to the next generation. What a sight it was to see Kavailo youths performing traditional dances on the Balangut and in the center of the village to welcome the Wairon canoe from West Papua. It was a beautiful and emotional welcome. The Wairon West Papuans then participated in a weeklong cultural event in Kavailo, where culture was revived and shared while also being recognized within the Christian faith. It was a special time of healing, peace, and unity. A huge feast was also held to celebrate this cultural achievement.

In addition to cultural restoration, the Balangut and Wairon cultural exchange event made possible the revival of traditional canoe voyaging – a critically important traditional life skill. It was a truly historical event, which reaffirms cultural ties across an unwelcome modern-day border, thus reuniting our land with the beat of our traditional drums – the kundu in PNG and the tifa in West Papua. There is now a strong feeling that such brave community initiatives will give hope and courage to other indigenous communities in PNG, West Papua, and beyond to discover their path to self-realization based on Melanesian values.

If you would like to support young people in local indigenous societies to rediscover and revive their culture for future generations please donate to Sharing the Future-Young Papua New Guineans project on GlobalGiving.  

Wairon crew presented with gifts
Wairon crew presented with gifts
Young girls, Kavailo village in traditional attire
Young girls, Kavailo village in traditional attire
 
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