Sunday, March 14, 2010

Landless Papua New Guineans - Is this the future?


We came to  Benny Mangua's village at about   Midday. This trip was for  a story of  how a foreign company  allowed into the country by the government of Papua New Guinea was treating the local  people - the original owners of the land.

I had packed a camera and several tapes not expecting anything major apart from a few disgruntled landowners who had not been paid their dues.  As I was going to  discover, I'd come to Kurumbukari mine site quite unprepared mentally.

            Benny Mangua  an  elderly man of  in his mid sixties greeted  a teammate of mine, Steven Sukot -  quite warmly but then whilst I shot a few seconds of  footage, the old man  broke down   and wept.   Steven responded  as any Papua New Guinean would – embracing the old man  and tried to calm him down as best he could.

            "My tears keep falling. I've lost my land. I've lost my home."

He continued to weep as I brought the camcorder  around to him and clumsily adjusted the audio settings . In 10 years  of  television this, to me,  was  truly a rare moment.  I never dreamed that I would  live to see the day   when this happened.  This was a Papua New Guinean landowner  who    had been forced off  his land by a foreign company.  Benny Mangua of the Mauri Clan  was  born and raised on this land on which his ancestors  had settled many generations ago.   In a matter of months, he had become a landless  Papua New Guinean.

"I've become like a parasite. I have no place  to stay."

He wasn't exaggerating when he said it. For Benny Mangua's  entire clan's land  area   contains   some   the  richest nickel deposits  in the Southern Hemisphere.   It is here that the Chinese owned company – MCC  - will begin  the  controversial  US1.4 billion  dollar  nickel mining project. 

            About 50 of his clan members left  for a temporary resettlement area – a forbidden,  sacred site where Benny Mangua's   ancestral spirits  dwell.   It was a kilometer from  where we were.   But sacred as it was to the Mauri Clan of Kurumbukari,   the site has been designated  as a stockpile area for nickel ore. 

            Only two houses now stand on Mauri clan land. Both  belong to  Benny Mangua's two sons - Peter Kepma and his younger brother,  John.   They've refused to leave.

            "There is a permanent relocation area. But the land belongs to another person... another clan, says Peter Kepma.  "If we go and live on the blocks of land there, we won't be able to plant food gardens or hunt." 

            MCC  began issuing  food rations  to the Mauri clan  since the relocation began. But the clan members say the food rations   can only last them a few days. 

            " The company is annoyed that we  made gardens here," John Kepma says pointing to  cassava and taro growing on the stockpile area. "Even where the forest is… they don't allow us to plant food. 

"But we have to. If we don't we'll starve to death."

            John Kepma chuckles as he tells me about the company's attitude towards local people. 

            "If we have a problems and we  try to bring it to the company's attention, they treat it like a criminal matter."

            Police have came to  his elder brother's house  eight times already. Peter Kepma is the more serious type. Quiet undemanding yet stubborn. 

"They tried to intimidate me," he says. "They came well dressed in their uniforms and carrying their weapons. But I told them: "You're not from China. You all own land just like me… I'm here because of my land. This isn't State land. This is my land and I've still got it."

To say "the  Mauri clan faces   a difficult future"  is a gross understatement.   As I filmed  along the track  leading to   the temporary  settlement,   a  five year old girl,   walks ahead of me. She is in  the shot nimbly picking her way through the kunai grass.  I can see the audio levels on  my camcorder peaking to the patter of her tiny feet on the yellow  nickel rich earth.

I wondered  if she  understood why the old man had wept in front of total strangers  about  half an hour earlier. 

He understood very well that  She would not have  the pleasure of learning  the  ways of old  on her  grandfather's land nor gather eggs from the forest   like her mother's mother did many years ago.  The old man understood  that unlike other Papua New Guinean's she   was leaving behind  the land  that sustained her ancestors for generations. She was leaving behind her past and future.



- Scott Waide  was  as a senior Journalist for EMTV and Producer for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. He  currently works as a  documentary producer. 


  1. Anonymous9:16 AM

    If the land owners are being alienated in their own land, like it happened in Paguna and Pogera,
    Who can stand for the land owners, the simple village who does not even understand the legal issues about land laws.
    What about the basic lack of knowlege of resource ownership like the 6 feet under rule, water resources belonging to the State, minerals, gas and oil under 6 feet belonging to the State.
    Where then does that leave the land owners when they have to be re-located, so the "State" gets to the resources beyond the 6 feet perimeters?
    It virtually implies that land owners don't own anything and cannot have much say, especially when the State and the multi-national companies bring the Police to hand the land owners.
    For instance, Lihir has not been declaring pprofits for many many years, but have opted to expand their operations to be the No.1 miner and still expanding. (at the expense of the Lihirians and New Islanders?). Sir Julius Chan is the sole advocate on the un-equal distribution of wealth to the New Islanders.
    Are their any other New Islanders or Papua New Guinean, apart from the "gorgor" / tambu
    occasional taboo sign?

    Bapa Bomoteng

  2. Anonymous1:31 PM

    It is a sad state of affairs for the original owners of the land to be deprived of their land, basically it is stolen by the Government(Ruler) who supposed to be the care taker of the people, the defender of the people of the nation,what is happening is that of a ruler who is oppressing his people, and the result is very clear..That ruler will be unseated from his/her throne..God allows everything to happen on earth for a purpose... and for a time...God raised up MOSES in his era to deliver his people...Should HE not raise another in this era to deliver HIS people (Papua New Guinea )...It is a small thing...God Bless PNG....... Mariner

  3. Anonymous4:04 PM

    6 feet rule? Is this a PNG rule or some other European rule? Michael Somare must have a sore ass from prostituting himself out to the Asians. How much money did he get? What offshore a/c did he deposit it don't tell me...I know - the Cooks! The tired old man needs to step down and instead of recycling old trash, maybe a fresh perspective. This is truly a sad state of affairs when a poor man can't even have keep his land to grow his own food.