An entry in The Crocodile Prize
Cleland Family Award for Heritage Writing
ALMOST all the Papua New Guinean ways of passed on to us from our forefathers have been struggling to adjust to the institutions and business practices, such as plantations, introduced by the Western world.
This struggle persists in many forms. The western way of life and introduced institutions developed with the somewhat reluctant permission of our ancestors and have been endorsed through legislation by successive governments.
The introduction of plantations of all kinds throughout PNG, to take up my example, have had an enormous impact on our people’s lives.
Europeans provided salt and laplaps as a bait to lure natives to work for them on plantations and gave them some money and a wooden box as a take home gift.
Some highlands men demanded to be paid in kina shells and their demands were granted. Kina shells cemented the highlands culture of amassing wealth and used wealth as a basis to marry more than one wife, create and re-create alliances and destroy existing alliances.
Eastern Highlanders, Simbus and Western Highlanders got a taste of working in coastal plantations. Engans and Southern Highlanders later joined the queue.
When tea and coffee plantations began in parts of the Western Highlands and in what is now Jiwaka Province in the 1960s, Simbus, Engans and Southern Highlanders could not resist the thought of the European wealth offered for work in these plantations.
Simbus and Western Highlanders were the experienced ones. My father revealed that he returned from Rabaul to his birth place at Omdara in the Gumine District of Simbu with a wooden box containing money, clothes and some shells.
Three years later he mobilised his clansmen and walked more than 30 kilometers from Omdara all the way to a coffee plantation in Kudjip. At the request of his parents, he decided to return to his birthplace. However, some of the clansmen who accompanied him never returned.
Many highlanders left to work in the plantations with the hope of making fortunes for themselves and the third generation of these migrants still live within the perimeters of these plantations.
But, although the movement began in the 1960s, it is surprising to note that the outsiders have not assimilated into the local culture. It is not known how many made their fortune.
There is a clear line of ‘who is from where’ around the plantations. The Kimil-Kar area of Jiwaka Province is now a multi-ethnic community. Simbus coexist with Southern Highlanders, Engans and people from other provinces.
The coffee plantation and its promises for employment and other fortune attracted the parents of these people. However, like all the cash crops established during the colonial period, the coffee plantation has lived its useful life and the yield has decreased to a point where it threatens the plantation’s existence.
The plantation has not been receiving the level of care it required. Bushes began to grow, fences were left to decay and workers were laid off. This has created confusion in the minds of the plantation workers and the community.
They began to invent their own stories to come up with a suitable explanation. The common perception among these people is that the expatriate owners have sold the plantation.
The current generation of ethnic groups from other provinces in the Kimi-Kar area sense that the hopes of their parents and grandparents have dwindled. They have to make a start for themselves in the competitive world.
Some realised that marriage to the local tribal girls paid dividends. They quickly settled in and resorted to pineapples, corn and other crops for sustenance.
Others began to claim land around the plantations and along the Banz-Kimil highway and resorted to betel nut and cigarette vending at the hauslain maket (village market).
Such ventures create tensions among the local people who perceive and claim this land as their inherited business zone. The tension has expanded to the township of Banz where many ethnic groups are wholesale betel nut sellers and vegetable farmers displace local vegetable farmers.
The area which was designated for the market some 30 years ago has not expanded to cater for the growing number of vendors. The establishment of the new Jiwaka Province and its prospects for economic development has attracted more people who buy land from local people and establish businesses.
Like other highlands provinces, drug and alcohol abuse are on the rise in Jiwaka. The newly established Jiwaka Secondary School, supported by the Evangelical Brotherhood Church, has seen its teachers and students threatened and attacked many times. Similarly, the long established Fatima Secondary School has often come under attack from landowners.
My uncles and cousins who settled at Kandal, near the current Jiwaka District Administration office, have been getting into physical and violent confrontation with people from other ethnic groups and local people as they seek to make a mark and gain recognition for their existence.
The current generations of ethnic groups have been around before Jiwaka Province was born. They went there to stay and will continue to exert their interest formally or informally. They have a right to be heard.