BY SCOTT WAIDE
For two years, brothers Peter and John Kepma resisted attempts by the Chinese owned nickel mine to force them from their clan’s land. Last September, armed police and mine workers forcefully evicted them [photo]. The brothers documented how their lives were destroyed. Carrying a detailed report and photographs, John travelled to Port Moresby and met with government representatives. The clan is still awaiting a response.
ON THE MORNING of 8 September 2010, John Kepma was suddenly awakened by noise outside his hut . He peered through the cracks in the wall and saw several policemen who had begun pulling down his dwelling.
Emerging from his hut he was confronted with a sight he had long dreaded. Armed police had begun an eviction of remnant members of the Maure clan who had refused to move to a temporary relocation site.
The clan members included John’s father, his uncles, his older brother Peter, and several children.
“One of the officers of the state told us we weren’t landowners and that he would get three other clans to burn down our houses and chase us off the land,” John recalls. “He said: ‘All of you come out and pack your things and leave’, then [the police and mine workers] began breaking down the houses.”
Since January last year, John and older brother Peter had become the face of a people’s resistance against the Chinese owned Ramu nickel mine’s push to evict them from their own land.
On eight occasions last year, older brother Peter was confronted by heavily armed police who demanded that he pack up and leave. But each time he refused.
“They came armed and dressed in their uniforms. They wanted me to leave,” he said.
“But I told them: this is my land and I will stay here. This is an issue between me and MCC. You all are not from China. You’re all Papua New Guinean like me. You own land as well.”
The Maure of Kurumbukare is a small clan that controls a small land area. For Peter Kepma, the success of this resistance is crucial. His clan’s survival depends on the land on which they live.
But this large scale mining development has taken away their very means of survival – their ancestral land.
“Our entire clan land will be mined for nickel,” Peter says. “We’ve been forced to move to a temporary relocation site but that too will be mined later.
“They’ve told us that we’ll be moved to a permanent site but that land belongs to another clan and we won’t be allowed to plant gardens or hunt.”
Like the majority of rural Papua New Guineans, becoming landless is unthinkable. It simply doesn’t happen.
But for Peter, John and members of the clan, it has become a shocking reality.
Members of their family now reside on the fringes of what was their customary land. Their huts perched on a small mountain ridge overlooking the mine site. They’ve been living there for the last two years despite talk of relocation.
When the eviction began, John documented it all using a digital still camera. He took pictures of his village being demolished and of his displaced family. He even took pictures of a Chinese company worker who told him not to go to the media.
John and Peter say they want the world to know about the things that are being done to them and how they are being treated on their own land.