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Yuri tribe continues peace-building after a history of conflict

YAKA 2nd anniversaryBOMAI D WITNE

A TRIBE in Papua New Guinea is like a nation. The tribe shares common language, territory, history, myths and culture.

The people of the Yuri tribe of the Gumine District in Simbu Province, Papua New Guinea, speak Yuri, share the rivers Mon and Maril, walk across the plateaus of Pildimna, Dia and Yoya, and know all the gorges and gullies.

The people descend from a common ancestor, Alai’mbia, who with his sons were founders of the Yuri clans. The people learned and accumulated cultural dances, songs and traditional regalia.

The great mountain Digine watches over Yuri tribal territory. The walls of the ranges and river bays are filled with fine sand. The boulders of the river Mon are black as if painted so.

Yuri people share land borders with the Golin, Dom, Era, Bari, Nauro and Kumai tribes of Simbu. The exact number of years the Yuri have occupied this part of the world is unknown. However, Yuri people know they are a warring tribe.

The first tribal war laid a foundation for destruction. Revenge and payback became an accepted way of life in Yuri tribal territory. Homes and gardens were destroyed. Many people were killed. Schools and health centres were forced to close. Roads and bridges fell apart.  Cash crops like coffee became useless due to lack of transport. People walked long hours to reach town.

These long walks carrying household goods landed the Yuri a nametag. They might be called ‘white horses’ or ‘back page’.

‘White horse’ was coined because the Yuri people carried white bags on their backs and resembled white horses.

‘Back page’ was a reference to the back page of a book that is last to be read. The nickname referred to the government’s trend of service distribution where the Yuri were the last to be considered - or were neglected altogether. A back page that was never read.

Many Yuri people fled their tribal lands in search of peace, better schools and health care. Some even sought peace in the ghettos and peripheries of urban areas or among other tribes.

The beauty of the rivers, ranges, flora and fauna was disregarded by a tribal people who became disillusioned by their own destructive action and lack of basic services such as roads, bridges schools and health.

Law and order was almost non-existent. The churches struggled to hold a bunch of disillusioned people together. The people feared building permanent houses in their villages; their minds were preoccupied with revenge and they did not want to see their houses torched by an enemy clan.

People did not make gardens and young people stole from other people’s gardens. Hard working people were discouraged and disillusioned.

Weak and vulnerable members of the community were blamed for the deaths of others. In some instances, Yuri people could not accept that their members were shot dead in a tribal fight and shifted the blame to sorcerers.

The number of uneducated people increased. Many people in their thirties and forties had left school never to return. Their children followed the same pattern.

A few children attended school in the last 10 years but the schools in Yuri were branded remote and did not attract good teachers. There were many school drop-outs at Grades 10 and 12.

These students joined their peers in the village to gamble all day, smoke marijuana, abuse alcohol and often turn to violence; screaming, threatening, using abusive language.

The village authorities lacked the capacity to deal with them. The men’s and women’s houses, that used to provide guidance and counselling for young people  and promote tribal norms and values, ceased to exist.

They were replaced with kas (cards) and video houses. The small kids watched movies with their parents and lay on their laps while the parents gambled after the video show. The smoke from rough tobacco rolled around the faces of sleeping children.

It was this destruction, pain and suffering of the Yuri that laid the foundation for the birth of Yuri Alaiku Kuikane Association (YAKA) in 2013.

YAKA is committed to promote reconciliation, reuniting, rebuilding and restoring – our 4Rs Yuri. Every Yuri person across space, culture and time has a duty to contribute to this cause. It is about saving their community from the scourge of tribal fighting, fear and disillusion.

In the last week of December and on 1 January each year, YAKA initiates activities that promote the 4Rs and celebrates its anniversary.

In my next article, I will talk about the most recent anniversary and how the Yuri are rising to their many challenges .

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