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Laiagam’s descent into HIV hell

Gai - election colleagues 2012
My colleagues involved in the 2012 national election - ambitious candidates made it an easy way to earn money


LAIAGAM – It was seven years ago, during the 2012 national election, that I first witnessed that a larger number of young people living in my community in Enga Province were HIV victims.

My home village is Niunk in the Lagaip-Porgera district. Nearby villages include Kanak, Wanepap, Komaip, Waiyap and Lakris.

My friends in those villages left high schools at that time in 2012 to get involved in the election. I was going to do the same but withdrew since in those days I was a drunkard and chasing women.

Even without me, this was one of the worst elections Enga ever had. Millions of kina floated around amongst the politicians who wanted to win a seat. There was money to be had.

Many students left school, marriages were broken, Christians backslid and churches were in a state of apostasy.

But worst of all was the dreadful threat, the issue of greatest impact, and that was HIV.

In our isolated societies, money plays a major role. People mostly don’t have cash crops and other ways to secure an income. They have fertile land but are too lazy to cultivate it.

Gai - gambling at Niunk market
Gambling at Niunk market - some people see it as an easy way to make money

Young people survive as refugees on their own land; they don’t care very much how they survive. They think it is OK to earn money from stealing, gambling or waiting around for cargo.

And then there’s HIV. There are a number of contributing factors to the spread of this disease.

They include easy cash (maybe from elections, maybe from illegal mining), drunkenness, drug taking and pornography.

Cash was not so important in the 2007 national election but later in both 2012 and 2017 it was. Enga is a society in which people choose leaders by wealth and in 2012 students left school to get some of the cash that flowed from candidates. There was a lot of thinking about today but no thinking about tomorrow.

In 2012, an HIV awareness was carried out by a team from the University of Goroka. It was called Komuniti Tok Piksa. A research team came to Niunk village to investigate how much knowledge community members had about HIV and how they should respond to it as a community.

But that made no difference. During the 2012 election, there was money around and young people engaged in sexual practices, behaving like dogs in the street. Married couples divorced.

Between then and the 2017 national election, I observed colleagues who were HIV positive. They lost weight, their skin turned black and there were other signs and symptoms. It was one of the most shocking things I have faced.

Three young people from Niunk village died from HIV in that period of five years. One of my uncles died more recently, just in March. Cardinal Sir John Ribat says Enga leads PNG in HIV/AIDS statistics. It is not something we want to be top of.

The illegal miners scratching around the Porgera gold mine spend their money at Niunk and Waiyap night clubs. Women, especially young girls, go from my village and get drunk and catch HIV. Parents sometimes try to protect their daughters but the girls make a choice to visit night clubs.

Gai - Youths drinking levilape
The local homebrew is levilape - drink it and abandon your dreams

These things have been a problem in the Niunk, Komaip, Kanak and Waiyap villages for a long time now.

People also invented a new homebrew called levilape. It’s a mixture of rapeseed, bananas, sugar, yeast and chocolate and it has utterly oppressed the community.

Young people give up going to school, the brew poisons their brains and they abandon any vision and dream they had about their future. They see each day as the end of life and they make poor choices, ending up in trouble.

They spend money on drinking beer and on sex, they don’t seem to care about HIV or not. They just quench the sexual desire and become HIV victims.

Then there is drug-taking, another confronting issue in these communities. People in all parts of Laiagam grow their own marijuana and sell it to others as well as using it for their own consumption.

Gai - Everyone grows marjuana
Marijuana - grown almost everywhere and with a false reputation of protecting people from HIV/AIDS

I’ve heard it reported that almost three-quarters of the population, male and female, use marijuana. People think marijuana stops HIV/AIDS from spreading to all parts of the body.

Finally, there is porn watching. Yes, people access internet sex. In Niunk, there are video shows everywhere and youths had much interest in watching.

They feel amazed watching porn, it stimulates the brain and they want to have sex with any female, old or young. Another step on the road to being an HIV victim.

My personal solution is that, if parents send children to school and church which have more discipline, this would minimise the HIV problem in the communities of Laiagam.


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Philip Kai Morre

HIV/AIDS, sex and drugs - the worst is yet to come because we are not addressing the issue deeply.

Sex and aggressive drives are the most powerful forces that cause a lot of problems in PNG today. We need to tame our sexual and aggression drives by regulating our behaviour, self management and training in behaviour change.

This is a symptom of a society that needs recovery and healing.

Human beings are meant for change and we have to change from within, and must have strong willpower to change.

One way to change our society and its people is to work on our spirituality. Spiritual problems are the cornerstone of everything else that is wrong in our society.

In the absence of God there are problems with immorality; social cohesion and cultural values no longer exist.

I think one of the best means is to follow the 12 steps programs adapted from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) which is a spiritual program based on willpower and a higher power.

Fr Philip Gibbs

You can read more about the elections and HIV in 2007 in the article I published together with Marie Mondu in 2009 in Catalyst from the Melanesian Institute.

'The Context of HIV Transmission during the 2007 Elections in the Enga Province, Papua New Guinea' by Philip Gibbs with M Mondu), 2009, Catalyst 39.2: 135-157.

Daniel Kumbon

Thanks Porap Gai for this story.

I wrote my first major story on AIDS in 1991 about some infected youths from the area you mention.

They were reportedly raping innocent women on the Kandep-Laiagam border . One of the victims involved a mother nursing a child. It was said they were doing it to spread the virus to all parts of the province.

They were committing the crimes after one of them returned positive after he was encouraged to a test after he and others had raped an infected woman in Laiagam town.

That story and more about the spread of AIDS and confessions is recorded in my book ‘I Can See My Country Clearly Now.’

It's free for anybody to download from the top of this page [see link to Free Daniel Kumbon Book].

It seems people will never learn. Nobody seems to be afraid of the killer virus or have any concern for their precious lives.

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