IT IS always a proud moment for peace advocates when they see peace being built and maintained in society.
One such moment came for me when I had the opportunity to witness the peace and reconciliation ceremony between Papua New Guinea highlands students at the University of Goroka late last month.
The master of ceremonies took the stage and took the microphone to make few announcements while the pastors’ fraternal and the choir sang. The event took place about four weeks after a serious fight among students.
The stage was beautifully decorated and student welfare staff and other volunteers welcomed the fighting students back to campus.
The students took their seats as they were called to the square in their provincial groups. The Chimbu and Eastern Highlands students came first followed by Jiwaka, Western Highlands, Enga, Southern Highlands and finally Hela students.
They were accompanied by some of their prominent leaders in government, education, public service and communities. Parents and relatives also came with their children.
Invited guests and dignitaries were seated with the university’s top management and peace mediators. Among them were the provincial police commander, the chief of staff to the prime minister, the senior magistrate of Goroka District Court and Bishop Francisco of the Catholic Diocese of Goroka.
The ceremony opened with a word of prayer and Bishop Francisco gave a sermon on peace. He said peace was a gift from God and it must come from one’s own heart.
For three-quarters of the day various speakers then offered words of wisdom to enable the students to reconcile. One speech that particularly caught my attention was about the late Chimbu leader Kondom Agaundo, who went to East New Britain in traditional dress in 1962 when an islander girl laughed at him.
Kondom was offended by her laughter and told his translator, “Erme, na yegl winga ene gautneh ere natnga bah, oku weh, na nangra wimbi ene gaugl yegl tah ere kratniwa, di toh oh”. (You are mocking me just because I came in this form at my time but you won’t laugh at my children who are coming after me.)
The speaker said: “In the colonial era, our forefathers worked very hard to unite Papua New Guinea, a country with more than 800 languages but it is not the same today when you students can form provincial and ethnic groups to fight each other.
“You can speak Pidgin and English well enough to understand each other properly to solve problems amicably, but it is the opposite,” he said.
I saw the students and audience nodding their heads in approval.
When everyone finished speaking, the student leaders were called to come forward and pledge peace.
The Chimbu and Eastern Highlands students apologised for what had happened while the upper highlands students accepted their apology and pledged everlasting peace on the university campus.
They then proceeded to sign the peace treaty. Student leaders from each highlands province came forward to sign before the magistrate and police commander. They pledged to maintain peace at all times and were presented with a bible each by a senior pastor.
After the signing the police commander presented two live pigs on behalf of the Eastern Highlands Provincial Government; one to each party to exchange with the other. When the pigs were presented, students from both sides came together, hugged and cried openly. That was true peace.
While doing that the Chimbu and Eastern Highlands students brought in 40 cartons of soft drink and a number of sugar cane bundles to offer to the upper highlands students.
One student leader then announced that a traditional peace offering would now be made. He explained that ‘brukim sugar’ (breaking the sugar cane) was the Chimbu way of making peace. He offered each of the provincial student leaders a piece of sugar cane. They then were instructed to break it in half and exchange it.
The leader said the relationship must now become sweeter than the sugar we are about to drink. The crowd cheered and, while the participants were drinking from the sugar cane, the leader announced he would compensate the victims of the fight.
While the crowd was watched eagerly, the Chimbu student announced he would compensate the Western Highlands and Enga students K20,000 which he presented in an envelope.
The Eastern Highlands student leader presented another K20,000.
The Western Highlands and Enga students humbly accepted the compensation and promised they would pay back after speaking to their parents and respective provincial and local level governments.
They then hugged, cried and shared their sugar cane and soft drinks. In the evening, staff, parents and students went into the students dining hall to have a combined dinner to end the peace and reconciliation ceremony.
The peace mediators and others who engineered the ceremony now deserve a good break after their travels from Goroka to Chimbu, Mtg Hagen, Enga and across to the Southern Highlands to ensure students made peace and attended class. Kudos to them!
Peace within one’s own heart is the way to peace as well as honouring rules, regulations and conditions set by the institution. The university like any other institution must ensure that its rules and regulations are not demeaned and overlooked by students. There must always be a win-win situation.