Clan leaders renewing the Conservation Deed
Marine and Forest Conservation in Gildipasi, Madang, Papua New Guinea – Spearheading Customary Approaches to Conservation
In the 1980s, industrial logging was widespread along the north coast of Madang, including the Gildipasi area (including Simbukanam, Tokain and Kimadi villages). Eventually, the local people united in opposition against the loggers and kicked them out of the area.
In 2000, the Gildipasi community decided to initiate a process of formal forest conservation by working with the various clans to set aside an area of protected forest. This process took time. Finally, in 2003, three clans came together to sign the first Conservation Deed at Simbukanam, which was a five-year agreement. On July 26, 2008, exactly five years later, the Simbukanam Conservation Deed was renewed – with the number of clans increasing from three to eight, and over 2000 hectares of forest lands protected.
Five years later, on July 26, 2013, the same eight clans came back together to renew the forest conservation deed. But this time, the community decided to not just sign a paper deed, but to endorse and celebrate the agreement through customary rituals. What is more, three days later, on July 29, 2013, four coastal clans came together to agree to protect their customary seas as well. As with the forest conservation agreement, this agreement by the coastal clans was also sealed through custom ceremonies. This shift – to not just sign paper deeds, but to seal them with customary rituals – had huge symbolic significance, marking a reconnection with the ancestral, nature spirits who are the genuine guardians of the land and sea.
At the next renewal event, in July 2018, the community added another customary element to the ceremony by renewing the agreement through the word of mouth, using a special customary language that had been revived over the past couple of years with the help of a linguist. In this way, the Gildipasi community was speaking the words of the Spirits of the ancestors, seeking their guidance with the protection of their customary land and sea, for the future of their children and those that are yet to be born. As in 2013, in 2018 there were two renewal ceremonies – one in Simbukanam village for inland forest communities and the other at Kimadi for coastal marine communities.
In PNG at present, mainstream industrial development – especially logging and mining – is destroying the environment – destroying the forests, the rivers, the reefs, and more. This kind of destructive development does not consider the indigenous cultural and environmental values-based systems of traditional resource management or the land/sea-based livelihoods which depend on a healthy environment. This industrial development only destroys. The Gildipasi community recognized this in the 1980s and between then and now has shown fantastic conservation leadership by throwing out the loggers and now spearheading community forest and marine conservation based on cultural beliefs and approaches. The Gildipasi conservation deed approach respects the local tribal authority where custom law is being emphasized for sustainable use of community land and resources.
Aiming to share the Gildipasi experience with other communities in PNG, tribal leaders came to Gildipasi in July 2018 from other parts of Madang and the New Guinea Islands to witness and participate in the Conservation Deed renewal ceremonies. It is hoped that some of these visitors will return home and initiate their own locally managed conservation areas – environmental conservation that is based on indigenous culture and is owned and managed by the people themselves. Instead of destructive industrial development, this kind of community-led conservation is truly sustainable development – the kind of development that is needed in PNG today.
Please help support forest and marine conservation in Papua New Guinea by donating to BRG’s Sharing the Future project.
Local chief from New Ireland Province
Traditional dancers from Gildipasi.