An entry in the Rivers Prize for
Writing on Peace & Harmony
THE highlands region of Papua New Guinea is known for its tribal warfare. Like all armed conflicts, these fights can have a devastating impact on the lives of people on both sides of the conflicting parties.
I was born and raised within the Kuman society of Simbu. As a result, I have spent my entire 37 years of existence in this world witnessing and becoming a victim of sporadic tribal and clan wars fought within the bounds of my homeland.
The Dagletribe is one of the biggest tribal groups in the Kerowagi district of Simbu.
The Dagle people live towards the north-west of the district, along the border of the newly-created Jiwaka Province.
Like almost every other tribal group in the highlands, the Dagle community is not exempt from the ravages of tribal and inter-clan war known as kunda in the Kuman language spoken in the northern part of Simbu.
The Dagle tribe has an adult population of roughly 11,000 - this figure represents only eligible voters (those 18 and above).
I come from the Wauglaku clan, one of nine clans within the Dagle tribe. The other clans which make up the Dagle tribe are Konkambuku, Koruglkane, Waikane, Tekmuglku, Dukana, Kindikana, Gariaku and Mugluaku.
There are several customary practices such as inter-clan marriage that help maintain cohesion within our tribal community while occurrences such as tribal fights serve to fragment and destroy it.
My grandfather and other elderly people have told me that our Daglepeople descended from the same ancestors, but we have never been a truly coherent or unified community.
Tribal war and inter-clan fighting are the main culprits fragmenting the Daglecommunity. The nine clans have not been at peace as long as I can remember.
My carefree childhood roaming in my beloved countryside was disrupted in 1983 when a tribal skirmish erupted between the Dagle and the Bomakan and Kombalkan tribes which lived on the then Western Highlands side of the border.
A young coffee buyer, the son of a prominent Dagle businessman, drove his Toyota laden with coffee bags and a few workers to the border.
When the vehicle reached the border at GanigleBridge, it was stopped by several masked men with a shot gun. The robbers demanded the money bag, knowing it was a coffee truck and the money would be somewhere in the car.
The businessman hesitated or refused to hand over the money and the workers on the back of the vehicle jumped off to attack the robbers.
A gunman later identified as a fugitive from one of the tribes on what is now the Jiwaka side of the border pulled the trigger. The young coffee buyer was killed instantly and lay in a pool of blood on the seat.
His father, Peter Tugo, was devastated by the demise of his son at the hands of criminals.
The Dagletribesmen retaliated and the ensuing battle continued for several weeks. My family and I took refuge in the mountains where my father had constructed a hut a few months earlier.
We lived in the mountains for some weeks along with another refugee family and, after a while, our meagre rations ran out.
Our village was ravaged by hordes of people from far and near who congregated on hilltops overlooking our village to watch the battle that raged in the valley below and who looted our food gardens and other property such as pigs. They even to/ok plates and cups from our houses.
Intervention by the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary eventually resulted in the cessation of hostilities.
The weapons of warfare used by the warring tribes in 1983 were entirely traditional - bows and arrows, spears and kuglangand awagle (shields made from owiye. Modern weaponry such as the AK-47 assault rifles now used by tribesmen in the highlands was unheard of back then.
We who belong to tribal communities are bound by the dictates of our tribal and customary norms.
One instinctively feels an obligation to protect fellow tribesmen in the event that a member of ones tribe encounters intimidation or threats from someone outside the tribe.
This sense of obligation to protect ones kinsmen is a norm in the highlands today as it was since time immemorial. If one member of the tribe is murdered in cold blood, his tribesmen feel an obligation to avenge his death.
If the murderer happens to be someone from a neighbouring tribe, the tribesmen of the deceased are very likely to wage a war against the wrongdoer’s people. If they do not resort to warfare, the kinsmen of the murdered person might execute a retaliatory cold blooded murder several weeks - or even years- later to avenge the death.
We have heard reports of pay back killings in parts of Enga and Western Highlands Provinces in recent times.
The Dagletribesmen did not realise there was a better way to seek justice for their slain kinsman. That tribal war which claimed several more lives and devastated my village could have been averted had my people allowed the rule of law to take its course.
My tribesmen took the law into their own hands by declaring war against the killer’s tribesmen. As a grown man, I have come to realise that payback killing is not the way to resolve inter-tribal conflict. Other people are thinking along the same lines.
Two fundamental factors are changing people’s mindset: education and Christianity.
People who are educated are likely to make better informed decisions when it comes to conflict resolution.
People with Christian convictions are also likely to make correct decisions when it comes to resolving conflicts.
These are the two fundamental tenets we should vigorously promote if we are to truly create a peaceful society. A change in the people’s mindset is the first step towards creating a peaceful community.