Rethink Aussie aid to PNG: Institute
Calling all Sydney Papua New Guineans

Simbu looting evidences decline of govt

When you turn off the Highlands Highway near Mingende Catholic Mission and travel a few kilometers north into the Bismarck Range along a red clay road interspersed with fragile bridges, you come to a ridge on which is located an isolated primary school called Gagl. Here, more than 40 years ago, I spent a memorable – if sometimes lonely - year of my life. Some Friday afternoons, maybe once a month before I acquired a motorbike, I used to walk those kilometers to the highway and hitch-hiked to Kundiawa for a weekend.

Gagl Primary T School was on the demarcation line between two clan groups, one of which was pushing the other off its land, and there were periodic flare-ups as a result. Midway between Mingende and Gagl – at Mintima – anthropologist Paula Brown and geographer Harold Brookfield had set up camp, having just begun what was to be 38 years of milestone research into Simbu land tenure.

The people were keen about education and committed to their school. The clans may have periodically clashed but there was bipartisan agreement on the need to support the school in every way they could – ensuring their children attended faithfully, working hard on the grounds and buildings and gardens, and never encroaching upon the school no matter how antagonistic clan relationships became.

There was no stealing. I experienced no hostility. And when, after a clan fight left some schoolboys somewhat battered and bloodied and they fled to the school in fear, and I felt some trepidation, my personal safety and that of anyone on school grounds was assured by the leaders of both sides. In retrospect, it was a year of adventure and wonderment and delight. I loved it.

Ka_Kapset Last Thursday, the Highlands (now Okuk) Highway near Mingende, was blocked for hours as tribespeople using cooking pots, buckets and dishes stole thousands of litres of diesel fuel pouring from a capsized tanker. Looters came from as far as Minj and Kundiawa. These days, whenever a vehicle comes to grief, or can be brought to grief, on the highway, the same thing happens.

The law has been taken into individual hands, implying that respect for national law has broken down. It is a measure of the challenges that PNG faces. It is also a measure of the extent to which that respect for what government is able to bring has disappeared, because government is seen to be unable to bring very much at all.



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Robin Hide

Keith - One liklik typo has converted female anthropologist, Paula Brown, into an unknown male, Paul. [Thanks, Robin. Now fixed]

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)