Shock start to 2018: O’Neill policies risk economic crisis
Kiaps: ‘Ol narapela kain man’ who built a nation

Of bush knives, AK47s and atomic bombs….

Tindi Apa with M16
Yu husat? Tindi Apa and M16


TUMBY BAY - For a while I was the kiap in charge of the patrol post at Olsobip in the Star Mountains at the time the copper and gold discovery at nearby Ok Tedi was being developed.

In those days Kennecott geologists carrying out stream sampling from helicopters were encountering groups of people who had never seen Europeans before.

This didn’t stop many of the local Faiwol flocking to Tabubil for work, however, and soon the patrol area was aflood with cash.

One of the most popular items on the workers’ shopping list was a shotgun. In those days usually a single barrel 12 gauge Winchester. The mission and cooperative stores were selling them as fast as they could be shipped in from Moresby.

On most Monday mornings at the patrol post, there was a queue of returned workers waiting to get a permit to buy a gun.

There were certain conditions to be met before I could issue a permit but there was nothing I could legally do to limit the number dispensed.

Instead, I employed a bit of bluff and tried to limit the permits to one gun per hamlet. I also insisted that the potential purchaser show me his fifty dollars to prove he could afford the purchase.

But the canny Faiwol had ways of getting around this and the number of guns in the area proliferated.

What followed was the decimation of local wildlife. Birds of Paradise particularly suffered. Highlanders working at Ok Tedi routinely went home with patrol boxes stuffed with birds they’d bought off the locals for a few dollars each.

It also wasn’t long before we were seeing people with gunshot wounds. The difference between an arrow wound and a gunshot wound is something to behold.

It wasn’t just shotguns that became a problem. Faiwol also started walking around armed with bush knives.

They weren’t your ordinary garden variety machete but were Chinese made African-style pangas with long swordlike blades and deadly points. They are the ones that are now ubiquitous in Papua New Guinea.

Every man, woman and child seems to have one and they can inflict terrible wounds. In the 1960s a razor sharp axe was included in most men’s accoutrements but now the bush knife seems to have replaced it.

It got worse.

When I returned to work in Papua New Guinea in the 1990s, one of the first things I noticed was the preponderance of automatic rifles. You would see them everywhere but especially in the highlands.

In most cases they were Vietnam War era M16s, an inferior weapon that regularly jammed and accounted for many casualties among the Americans in that war.

The last time I did remote area fieldwork in Papua New Guinea I came across Chinese-made AK47s, a much superior weapon. I also saw highlanders with hand grenades and Kevlar flack-jackets and helmets.

Squatter settlement bushknife victim
Victim of a bushknife attack in a squatter settlement

The guns are a huge worry but I think it is the humble bush knife that seems to carry the most danger.

For most villagers bush knives are a boon, making many daily tasks much less arduous. Unfortunately, when arguments flare up they also become the weapon of choice.

Just like shotguns, meant to allow people to get a bit of extra protein into their diets, the essentially utilitarian bush knife has been subverted to deadlier use.

One of the saddest turning points in human civilisation was the invention of the repeating revolver in the 1860s. It went on to create warfare and crime on an industrial scale.

In Papua New Guinea the humble bush knife seems to have had a similar effect.

There seems to be a cardinal human rule: give a man a potential weapon, be it a bush knife or an atomic bomb, and sooner or later he will use it.


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Philip Fitzpatrick

As I've said elsewhere Michael, PNG has some very good laws. I might also include policies.

The problem is that the government either doesn't enforce them, selectively enforces them or doesn't provide the resources for them to be enforced.

Michael Geketa

Shotguns, M16s, AK47s, knives, bows and arrows and any implement that wounds, injures or causes death are equally deadly in nature.

What's more deadly is the non-implementation of the national gun policy that retired General Jerry Singirok was very vocal on.

Another is the miniscule attention to implement harsher penalties to punish the perpetrators who commit crimes using the above implements.

Can PNG see and experience the outcome of these very important laws in recent times?

Robert Forster

In 1974 I was a lowly Kiap in the Goilala sub-district where shotguns were a prized item and threats, woundings, and occasional deaths were escalating.

I confiscated (and destroyed) many on safety grounds (the guns themselves were dangerous) but the ADC backed the local MHA who was unhappy at the volume of complaints coming in at village level - so the number that were broken up thinned down dramatically.

I have recorded this episode in a book (still to be published) I have called "The Northumbrian Kiap" and have to say I agree absolutely with almost everything Phil has said.

Two years ago I was shocked to read the a priest at Kamulai Mission near Guari was murdered by a shotgun and that the mission station had since closed.

My understanding is that most of the Goilala has become a no-go area and both threat, and death, by shotgun are rife.

You can read Fr Brian Cahill's 2014 account of the murder of Fr Gerry Inao, and several other people in the Goilala, here - KJ

Ian Hollingsworth

Confronting stuff.

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