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A reconciliation process for university students in PNG


THERE have been a couple of months of student unrest in almost every university in Papua New Guinea over an issue of great national importance.

At the University of Papua New Guinea, the academic senate has terminated the remaining academic year after some students reacted violently to police shootings.

The Department of Higher Education, Department of Education, National Executive Council and other decision makers should now consider becoming partners in consultation and collaboration to resolve this serious matter.

Meanwhile, the University of Technology in Lae has seen one death and facilities worth millions of kina burnt to ashes. A senior politician from the province of the dead student called on the university’s vice chancellor and provincial police commander to step down and demanded the vice-chancellor be deported.

At the University of Goroka, there was a fight between students of highlands provinces and a number of students were hospitalised. Other students were traumatised by the incident.

It is clear that peace and reconciliation ceremonies now need to be held before classes resume. After all, the universities are places where staff and students should live, teach and learn as a community. When all is said and done, we live in a small country called Papua New Guinea.

In this article, I want to share a process of peace and reconciliation that will help bring an end to the current troubles.

Community Mobilisation & Consultation

Firstly there has to be a consultation carried out by a neutral body especially credible individuals and or organizations who can stand in between as peace mediators. They make visit arrangements, gather them in common arena and establish understanding of their visit and presence.

They then collect views from both (all) parties if they are ready to reconcile. Views should come from all categories of people either directly or indirectly affected by any harming or violent incidents. In this context, wounded university students, student leaders, local member of parliaments, provincial administrators and governors, elite staff working in the institution concerned must all provide their views in the meeting. More importantly, victims’ views are to be given due respect it needs.

Consultations and meetings are not a one-off thing but it happens for some time to really establish understanding of views from the ground.

The mediators then analyze the views collected and act on it. If they (Parties) want to defer the peace and reconciliation ceremony, let it be in the best interest of the parties involved because they need time to recover from wounds and trauma and have peace of mind before making peace with enemies.

However, in the case of the University or any other institution, there may not be enough time available to wait as the academic calendar objective and bounded to schedules within the given timeframe.

Therefore, the University’s top management team  or any other authority for that matter can sanction a committee to facilitate a peace and reconciliation in order to complete any semester or academic year successfully.

It is actually up to the students to submit and admit to accomplish their studies but it is also up to them to prolong the peace process and that is where complications are anticipated such as fear and revenge are eminent. Whatever it is, an insight is provided below if interested.

Methods of Peace and Reconciliation

The practice of peace and reconciliation is one of the most artistic human actions.  The methods of peace and reconciliation applied may vary from place to place. The following three (3) methods are some approaches that may be useful.

  1. Traditional Peace and Reconciliation

Traditionally, compensation is a way of paying pigs and money to a claimant, victim of a warfare or for trespass against another person. However, reconciliation is slightly different when both parties come together to admit their wrongs and apologize to each other in a form of exchanging resources like pigs and money.

The sign of reconciliation is indicated by ‘Brukim Suga’ (breaking sugar cane) and disarming weapons. In today’s society, it is added with soft drinks and other food stuff. Such payments may be followed by shaking hands, hugging, crying etc.

In my society, one of the traditional rituals that warring tribes refrain from performing for a long time until three years ago is ‘Planim Tanget’ (planting Tanget). Exchanging of cordyline (tanget) between warring clans used to be a taboo. They should exhaust any other form of reconciling and making peace but not to exchange tanget. This is because the receiving enemies would normally plant the tangets in a sacred place and once grown to maturity, they can use to win future wars if there is one with the same clan or tribe.

The tanget is thought to contain all the oaths the enemy tribe took during the peace and reconciliation ceremony. Therefore, if they fail to comply then their tribesmen would be cursed and become easy target to die in the fight once the plant is shaken by the receiving tribe. To the extreme, animal’s blood used to be shed over the tanget before exchanging so never would that happen for they reserved to save lives of warriors should there be any fights in future.

So, that taboo was breached in 2012 when the Yuri tribe of Gumine District in Simbu Province, for the first time in history, exchanged tangets which resulted in many issues being settled by community leaders over the last four years.

An alternative to that in the context of the university would be to build a Peace Monument of a foundation made of stones representing different provinces shed with animals’ blood, buried in a hole and cemented with a flagpole with PNG flag flying above in unity.

  1. Religious Peace and Reconciliation

Religion especially Christianity also plays a huge role in preaching gospels about love, forgiveness and humanity. Hence, parties involved can come before church to reconcile with God and confess their ungodly deeds if they feel this is not what God wants.

But who would find it easy to make an oath with a Bible in his or her hand that has the word of God. Say for instance, if one holds up a bible and promise never to fight again. That might not happen but praying to Him for forgiveness through Church and church leaders is necessary.

In my case, tribal members made their reconciliation with God by making offers to Him in cash and kind in a normal offertory process in the Roman Catholic Church liturgy. Every member of the party involve can make an offer as a token of saying sorry to God for unpleasant events that he or she has been part and partial of and promise not to do it again.

  1. Signing of Peace Treaty

Thirdly, a formal peace treaty must be signed between parties. Peace treaty document can be prepared by peace mediators in consultations with legal professionals or any one of that nature to be signed during the time of reconciliations.

The document states certain oaths and list certain terms that the parties; in this case the students from various provinces can sign with their local leaders especially LLG presidents, Ward councilors, MPs, Governors, Provincial administrators, Provincial Police Commanders etc. so that any violence erupting with the nature of continuing the fight or taking revenge will result in certain consequences agreed upon. 

The Peace Treaty Document provides details of the penalties to be carried upon the instigator; read and explained to them before they sign. Any individual, provincial group leader, politician etc who refuses to sign is noted and reminded as a threat to such future incidences. The treaty can be renewed annually or biannually so that there is peace at all times.

  1. Peace Within

The three ways of making peace and reconciliation highlighted above are only rituals that may or may not last but real and lasting peace comes from one’s own Heart. Even ‘a diplomatic peace is not yet the real peace. It is an essential step in the peace process leading towards a real peace’ (Yitzhak Rabin).

That real peace will come from individuals involved. And remember! ‘There is no other way to Peace; peace is the only way’ (Unknown Author). Peace does not only come from the lips and gestures but from within the hearts of not some but every individual member of the society we live in. 

The Peace Ceremony Process

Both parties with their alliances come from different direction to a grandstand or common arena where Peace Mediators, church leaders, Police personnel and other neutral individuals and organizations will be there to facilitate.

The Process of entry to the grandstand can be done in their respective traditional ways.  Parties stop for a while on each side of the common ground and the ceremony begins as planned by the mediators. 

However, Melanesian ways of making peace and reconciliations proceed followed by other or alternatives deem necessary.

The Question is, what can we do in order to consolidate peace on a universal and durable foundation and what are the essential elements of such peace?


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Susan Wangechi

Thank you Joe Kuman for the article.

Joe Kuman

I am humbled by all your comments. I sat whole day out in the sultry day of reconcilation to witness the peace ceremony at UOG even if there was a ligh shower of rain that chased many to find shelther. I knew it was a shower of Peace and Blessings as experienced in my context so I let my shelf showered in the rain. Sun shone afterwards and dried everything during the day. Peace was achieved successfuly and so Kudos to those who've facilitated. What Im now searching is the power of forgiveness in students who were injured in the clash. One party apologised but did the the other forgive and forget what had happened easily?

A further follow up on the injured students is necessary as Peace Building and conflict resolution process must be continued and sutained!

Joseph Sukwianomb | Chancellor, University of Goroka

I take time to thank Joe Kuman for this piece, which is timely. Thank you.

Bernard Corden

Violence suits those with nothing to lose

Paul Fiambawe

Joe, the processes you have highlighted are explicitly explained. I hope the the Peace & Reconciliation Committees of universities concern take heed of them.
For UOG, I would think you be in that PCC. Your experience with your Yuri tribal warfare and eventual peace & reconciliation is invaluable that can be used.

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