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Tragedy: Tribal fighting claims 32 lives

An all-out tribal warfare with spears and bush knives broke out between the two parties that led to 26 people killed from the Kuboma side and six people killed from the Kulumata side

Kaibola dancers on Kiriwina island,

| The National

PORT MORESBY - At least 32 people have been killed in an all-out war between Kulumata and Kuboma tribes in Milne Bay’s Kiriwina Islands.

Internal Security Minister Peter Tsiamalili Jr confirmed the killings that erupted early last month after yam gardens were destroyed.

“A police team from Port Moresby was deployed yesterday morning to the island to contain and manage the raging war.

“The Commissioner of Police David Manning is in charge of the operations and directives.

“He has advised me that he is taking swift and appropriate action.

“Police will help forge peace,” he added.

According to sources on the ground, the fight started in early September when a man from Kuboma tribe was killed in a fight over a soccer game.

The situation remained tense since then and escalated on Monday, when the Kuboma villagers (seven villages inland that include Bwetalu, Yalaka, Buduwalaka, Kuluwa, Luya, Wabutuma and Gumilababa villages) allegedly destroyed all the yam gardens of the Kulumata villages (Kavataria, Mulosaida and Orabesi villages).

The Kulumata villagers went up to the station to demand answers from the district development authority on why their yam gardens were destroyed and for authorities to address the situation when they were attacked by the Kuboma villagers who were already there waiting for them.

An all-out tribal warfare with traditional spears and bush knives broke out between the two parties, that led to 26 people being killed from the Kuboma side and about six people killed from the Kulumata side.

Another source said that it was “frightening to see such violence on their island” that is locally known or dubbed as the “Island of love”.

“Tribal fighting has always been part of our lives and culture.

“But normally when someone got killed, the fighting stopped, they cease fire and start the traditional process of dealing with the death, and they do not just continue fighting like this.”

“The Kulumata and the Kuboma people are all related to each other and it is heartbreaking for us as mothers, sisters, daughters to watch our people fight amongst themselves like this.” But you must also understand that our gardens are very important to us.”

Attempts to get comments from the local MP and Deputy Opposition Leader Douglas Tomuriesa was unsuccessful yesterday.

“Our yams are important and very valuable, to see them chopped off, destroyed, yes our men would be so angry, because we value our gardens.”

They painted themselves in the traditional war colours and went up to the station to show their frustration. When they met the other party, they started fighting, and we ran away with the children.

“They will not harm women and children but it was just too frightening to watch, so we ran away,” the source said.


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Philip Fitzpatrick

Whoever said tribal fighting is a part of Trobriand culture is wrong Lindsay.

Nowhere can I find anything to support this contention.

Family squabbles yes, tribal fighting no.

Lindsay F Bond

As reported, "Tribal fighting has always been part of our lives and culture."

Chips Mackellar

When I was ADC Trobriands there were often occasions of violence but it was only girls fighting over boyfriends. Apart from a few scratches and bruises not much injury was done except for a few ruffled egos. There were however, several instances of policemen being knifed by their own wives for looking askance at passing Trobriand girls. The girls often provoked such instances by flashing the policeman a sloe-eyed alluring smile which guaranteed a swift reaction from the wife. The girls considered such incidents to be a delightful form of local entertainment.

Chris Overland

I am genuinely shocked by this event.

As an old 'Papua side' kiap, I would never have thought that killing on this scale could or would occur, especially in the former Milne Bay District.

In the pre-independence era, Milne Bay people were regarded as comparatively well educated, sophisticated and well used to the rule of law.

As a general observation, Papuans were much less prone to full scale tribal fighting than their New Guinean counterparts, notably in the Highlands.

Something must be terribly wrong for this to occur. Steve's analysis seems a plausible explanation to me but other factors may be at work.

One thing is for sure, the consequences of such large scale killing will be serious and prolonged.

My sympathies lie with the women and children whose lives will be seriously impacted by what was probably only a few minutes of madness.

Phil Fitzpatrick

It’s getting pretty bad when this sort of stuff happens on somewhere like Kiriwina – normally they settled arguments with a game of cricket.

Steve Charteris

This is tragic but almost predictable. I suspect there are three reasons for this: Land, Land, Land.

I was there in 1988 and it was overcrowded then. The land was clearly under pressure and good gardening areas were at a premium.

Warren Dutton used to refer to carrying capacity and how outside interference upsets the balance.

He was referring to the population along the Fly River which has exploded due to the rice and tin fish culture promoted by Ok Tedi handouts.

Should the mine close it will be a catastrophe for those communities.

The emphasis on resilience and self sufficiency is missing.

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