035_G19_Spotlight_PNG

Global

Spotlight Papua New Guinea those who favour economic reward over responsible guardianship of tribal country? It happened so disastrously in the recent past – in Bougainville – yet there are signs that PNG’s cultural heritage is strong enough to withstand the challenge. In June the fifth annual Melanesian Arts and Culture Festival opened in Port Moresby. It’s a celebration of life across Melanesia, a region that stretches from West Papua, through PNG and into Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Fiji and New Caledonia. A communal house made of wood has been one of the main attractions. A totem stands guard, protecting inhabitants from evil spirits that bring sickness. It’s taken the sweat and guile of 30 men from the vast Western Province to build the Gogodala Longhouse. At three storeys high, it is a masterpiece of connecting logs and vines. Traditionally, an entire village – up to 1,000 people – would sleep in a single longhouse. Herein lies the backbone of PNG society A totem stands guard, protecting inhabitants from evil spirits that bring sickness – the wantok system. Wantok is a pidgin term for ‘one talk’, which is loosely defined as those speaking the same language and ties extended families and tribes to an overarching “Effectively, the wantok system is the basis of a widespread social and cultural security net,” explains Stead. Being part of a community is part of the rich cosmologies through which people in this fascinating corner of the South Pacific understand themselves and the land on which they live. Papua New Guinea’s challenge is to find a way to forge national unity Forest of plenty Papua New Guinea is known as one of the most diverse countries on Earth – and this diversity extends to the country’s rich fauna. The nation is home to countless exotic creatures, many of which are only present in the vast rainforests and steep mountain ranges of Papua New Guinea. Included in the mix is the Bosavi woolly rat, which, discovered only in 2009, is believed to reside exclusively within the Mount Bosavi crater. This year, a recent visit to a remote forest in PNG by an Australian-led expedition has resulted in the discovery of three additional previously unknown mammals. The researchers set up 40 camera traps across two mountains in the Torricelli mountain range in the north-east, which captured the first photos of the hitherto unknown Docopsulus wallaby, a Dumbo mouse with giant ears and a shrew-like marsupial known as an antechinus. The researchers responsible for conducting the study said that further work will be carried out to capture the new species and took DNA samples to confirm the findings. “It will be tricky to capture the animals but we hope we can turn the locals’ hunting skills to good in order to trap them,” ecologist Euan Ritchie told The Guardian. The findings are expected to be put to use in pressing the government to take steps to ensure the mountain range is protected. It is thought that further studies could result in the discovery of hundreds of other new specimens, not only of mammals, but also plants, insects and reptiles. 2009 China signs a deal to import liquefied natural gas from Papua New Guinea 2013 Following a series of brutal public killings, the 1971 Sorcery Act is repealed, but the range of offences for which the death penalty can be applied is extended. PNG agrees to provide offshore processing for asylum seekers who reach Australia by boat in return for generous aid. Under the deal, asylum seekers whose refugee claims are upheld will be settled in PNG At the heart of the decade-long struggle was land. In Papua New Guinea – and elsewhere across Melanesia – as well as among Australia’s indigenous people, the earth is sacred. It is a source of power, a connection to ancestors and a direct link back to the time of creation. Bougainville’s separatist movement was fuelled by a belief that their ancient land rights had been violated, while the conflict was also fanned by money and political intrigue. “Land is integral to people’s identities, who they are, where they come from,” says Sinclair Dinnen, a Melanesian expert at the Australian National University in Canberra. “That has manifested itself in conflicts of various kinds, perhaps most vividly in the context of the dispute on Bougainville, which resulted in what was in effect a civil war that lasted for close to a decade, and that was initially triggered around land disputes in relation to the giant Panguna (copper) mine. “In egalitarian societies, those divisions begin to emerge in fairly dramatic ways that can cause internal conflict and can lead to, in the long term, a process of social disintegration,” he adds. Papua New Guinea is keen to embrace the fundamentals of Western life, most notably education and health care, but there is an understanding it will be done within the framework of its heritage and its deep affiliation to ancestral lands. Academics warn that the nation’s delicate social cohesion might be threatened by a mining bonanza, as exports of abundant natural resources, such as gas, copper and gold, promise great wealth. Will a taste of these riches unsettle communities and divide 1975 Attains full independence from Australia and Sir Michael Somare becomes Prime Minister. The kina replaces the Australian dollar 1989 Separatist rebels on Bougainville begin an armed struggle against the government that would last a decade, with secessionists proclaiming a “republic of Bougainville” kinship network. through diversity. 1997 The government declares a national state of disaster following a prolonged drought thought to have been caused by El Niño. More than 1,000 people are killed and a further 1.2 million put at risk of starvation. The Burnham Truce marks the end of the armed struggle by Bougainville separatists 2007 Sir Michael Somare is re-elected as premier. Cyclone Guba results in flooding, killing 163 people and displacing 13,000 www.global global four th quar ter 2014 -br ief ing.org l 35


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