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Sorry story of traditional landowners deprived of their well-being


LAND is not only an economic asset in Papua New Guinea. It is part of our identity as an indigenous people. And it also encompasses human security issues and challenges.

During the colonial period, a significant amount of land was taken by government, missionaries and overseas business people from traditional landowners often in exchange for paltry benefits such as tobacco, salt and sugar.

The pain and tears still visit themselves upon many of these landowners such as the people of Mabanob, not far from Madang town.

The land where RD Tuna cannery at Vidar and the proposed PMIZ (Pacific Marine Industrial Zone) are located is traditionally owned by the people of Mabanob, comprising Kananam, Rempi, Maiwara and Iduwad villages.

The 860 hectares of land at Vidar and Maiwara were given as freehold title to the Catholic Archdiocese by the German administration in 1905. The Church developed the land, planting cocoa and coconut palms.

After 99 years the land was meant to be returned to the traditional landowners but instead the Catholic mission sold huge portions of it to the State without landowners’ consent. The provincial government then sold the land to the Philippines-owned RD Tuna. According to some sources, the government auctioned the land in 1997 and RD Tuna bid K3 million for it.

Vitus Kai, landowners’ representatives of the Kananam people, told me: “The arable and fertile lands were all taken away by the Catholic and Lutheran missions, and swampy and mountainous land was left for the landowners.”

With little arable land for gardening, the people of Kananam suffer today. Vitus Kai said there were some benefits like health and education that churches brought to the community but there was no consideration to the day to day survival of landowners.

It seems also that elite individuals have pursued their self-interest at the expense of the whole community. In October 2011, a group of men accompanied by police burnt down more than 50 houses of people living on the PMIZ project site.

This left more than 100 men, women and children homeless. I encountered some of these people during a field trip, and it was sad to see them deprived of access to their own land.

According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in no case may a people be deprived of its means of subsistence. Indigenous peoples land rights are also protected by other conventions that recognise the close relationship between indigenous peoples and the lands they inhabit or use.

But these protocols seem not to apply to the landowners of Kananam, Rempi and the Mabanob area. They have been denied access to their land by their own government and the Church.

The lack of honesty, discipline and ethics of the PNG security forces also pose a threat to the lives of indigenous land owners. The main purpose of the police is to protect the citizens from harm and to enforce the law.

The policemen who burned more than 50 houses at the proposed PMIZ site were acting contrary to United Nations human rights laws and the principles of democracy, liberty and self-determination.

The Royal PNG Constabulary is becoming like a private security firm by escorting businessmen and politicians and serving the interest of others for a reward.

The national government also undermined landowners and sold the land to RD Tuna. It is the government’s duty to protect its citizens from danger. However, the government has neglected its citizens and sold people’s traditional land for investment and development.

I understand that development is mostly beneficial but landowners should be the first priority. It seems the government is not worried about landowners’ problems.

If the problem is not solved and the PMIZ is established, the landowners will face even more serious problems.

The government must also fulfill its commitment by abiding to indigenous land right laws and other international agreements and conventions on human rights. 


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Raymond Sigimet

They have to organise themselves and get legal advice on their plight so that they can know how best to address the different issues they are faced with.

If they do not know where they stand now, what their rights are, etc. They will definitely become marginalised/evicted/ landless on their own land.

As a side note, RD Tuna is dumping rubbish onto the PNG market and exporting the best catch to the Philippines. We are being duped people.

We know about this, yet we pretend that this bluntant abuse and disregard of our intelligence is not happening.

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