An entry in the Rivers Prize for
Writing on Peace & Harmony
WITHIN every society in Papua New Guinea today, the majority of people want to live in peace and harmony.
And the more enlightened ones want to position themselves on how best they can participate and benefit from the country’s progress.
But there continue to be real and new threats to peace and harmony in our communities.
Widespread drug and alcohol abuse, community rivalries over land and benefits from resource projects, and the arms build-up in many communities in are ever present threats to our way of life.
A recent development also that command and control for what happens in most communities no longer rest with the elderly or community leaders but with youths and “drug bodies”(1). Some of these unwelcome developments are like a powder keg waiting to explode.
Suddenly peace appears to be a rare commodity in a predominantly Christian country. Yet peace and harmony are fundamental ingredients for a free and prosperous PNG.
To me peace is not merely the absence of war, conflict or physical confrontation. It includes a complete absence of animosity, jealousy, and freedom from fear or suspicion of another party. It must also encompass freedom from cultivating hatred or revenge.
But, as is often the case in many communities, when peace is shattered there are mechanisms in place to address the consequences. Apart from the formal courts these include indigenous modes of addressing conflict.
One such model is Brukim Sugar (2) that was practiced in many parts of Simbu Province. (Similar peace ceremonies are still practiced in parts of the PNG highlands.)
Brukim Sugar is a special peace ceremony that involves two warring or conflicting parties performing acts that will signify the lasting end to the conflict.
Normally the ceremony involves peace mediators to act as go-betweens.
After the conflict subsides, and after a certain period of time, the process for the ceremony starts. The ceremony must be requested by both parties and, after negotiations, a date will be set.
Over the years, the peace brokers have been different people.
A neutral tribe or party acted as the peace negotiators in the old days. Luluais, tultuls, and kiaps were most commonly involved during the colonial period. Today it is the Provincial Peace and Good Order Committee, Police and members of the clergy.
Before the ceremony, a member of the clergy or a church representative might be allowed to read a text from the Bible and say a prayer.
The speeches to be made will thank each party for finally seeking peace and explain why peace and normalcy are important for the community.
They will touch on the laws that prohibit tribal warfare and the penalties for those who want to persist in promoting conflicts.
Then members from each warring party will be allowed to speak. Mostly the speeches will centre on the regrets and costs of the conflict, how sorry they are and affirm that, once peace is restored, to never resort to fighting again.
When all the speeches are made, to symbolically signify that peace is restored, a piece of sugar cane will be cut in half and both parties will receive half. Usually the parties will also be given a tree seedling to plant and mark the date and the place of the peace ceremony.
Only then can people from both sides freely mingle, embrace, shake hands and shed tears. Friends will re-unite and enemies will lay down their arms permanently and honour the pact to never to take up arms against each other again.
There will be new friendships and a feeling of goodwill all around.
The end of the ceremony is the beginning of many things, but it is a very important start.
Families, friends and relatives on either side of the divide will visit each other with food items, clothes, bedding, building materials and so on. Peace and normalcy are on their way to being firmly established.
During the ceremony no compensation demands of any sort are made by either side. Both parties decide they will accept the costs of war and whatever death or destruction was suffered.
To me, such ceremonies are deeply symbolic. It also has the important physical element that both parties can now freely move around.
It has a psychological effect too. You are never free until you are truly free. You need to release yourself from mental bondage, harbour no grudge and choose to release yourself from the slavery of animosity.
The other important changes that follow are the lessening of fear, hatred and animosity and a release from the guilt of not looking in the eyes of their former enemies or foes.
In 1982, as a young child, I witnessed one such ceremony in my community. The peace pact between two warring tribes made has been honoured to this day.
Peace requires the concerted and calculated will of people to maintain.
We find that in every society, those who chose to be violent and involved in conflict become liabilities to their communities.
Many people who harbour anger have very little or nothing to contribute to their own progress and the betterment of their communities. Anger and animosity tend to suppress the positive potential that people possess.
My grandfather, Maumine Kumul, demonstrated on a number of occasions the meaning of true forgiveness and peace.
Looking back, I can see that whatever that was passed to him from his forefathers he held very well.
Our forefathers were warriors and surely must have involved themselves in many battles. But they knew something about making lasting peace with their enemies.
Once peace was decided and terms were agreed with enemies, you couldn’t go back and pick up a spear or bow and arrow again. Thist was very powerfully demonstrated by Maumine Kumul.
He once made a whole garden of sugarcane and gave it to almost all the leaders and everyone else who could come, including those who fought with our family.
He killed pigs and gave the meat to both his enemies and friends. He repeated this many times.
Never a time did I hear him speak evil openly of his enemies or others who did him wrong.
I do not know how he commanded the mental energy to do it. He was in a special way “breaking sugar” in his own heart and mind.
When I was about seven years old, I witnessed an incident in which other families in the village ganged up and fought my uncles and father.
My father and uncles retaliated ferociously. It was a terrible time and there was no peace between the families. But later my grandfather forgave the enemy, allowing his actions to do the talking again.
He seemed to understand that peace, or the absence of it, had implications beyond himself.
I realise now that he was a warrior of peace, although he was also a warrior in the real sense of the word in his time.
I find few in my community emulating him or living such lives. This is one of the reasons why he was a leader during his heyday – a chief recognised by the kiaps as one of the only two tultuls (3) from our clan.
The Brukim Sugar ceremony can be effective because people on both sides want to honour the peace deal. It has many lessons for peace in other communities in PNG.
Whether it is a reliable model to achieve peace and harmony, or a superficial gesture, can only be decided and tested by those involved in such a ceremony.
What matters most is what is carried through and honoured in people’s hearts and minds.
At the end of the day, peace is often a delicate thing. Its presence is usually the result of a pact made, explicitly or implicitly, and maintained between groups and individuals to uphold the rule of law, respect the rights of others and become responsible for their own actions.
1 - A common term used to describe those who both use and abuse marijuana.
2 - Brukim Sugar is Tok Pisin and simply means “to break the sugar.”
3 - For want of a better explanation, tultuls represented their communities and acted as assistants to the Luluais in the colonial administration in the highlands.