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You say village life is hard

Highlands village Port Moresby (Vlad Sokhin)RAYMOND SIGIMET

You say village life is hard
so you move away
to towns and cities
where you dwell in squalor
in makeshift structures
of rusted iron roofs
and cardboard walls

You say village life is awkward
so you run away
to find a better life
where you live in poverty
on someone else's land
around smoking dumps
and infested swamps

You say village life is absurd
so you walk away
to look for money
where you fall in love
with a fool's paradise
of a class system
and tattered dreams

You say village life is hard
so you live away
in towns and cities
a part of the rat race
Your land will hide from you
Your generations will be lost
because village life is hard


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Raymond Sigimet

Thanks Paul for your additional comment and, as you have stated, “PNG is no different than many other societies” when it comes to the issues of urban drift.

When it comes to food production, much of PNG’s food production (as you are probably aware) is still mainly subsistence and centred on the traditional garden produce.

Large scale mechanised food production, storage and packaging for mass consumption is still very much lacking in PNG.

I think food production is the main problem for PNG when it comes to rural to urban drift. It is a societal problem when the land is unproductive and cannot sustain the population because of geography, climate and environment.

For example, people in rocky, mountainous regions, those on atolls and small islands and those in swampy areas and on flood plains.

Also, it is a societal issue because people just do not want to be participate in food production in the village and move to towns and cities so that they can have access to money and thus, buy food.

I think people who move to and squat in settlements do not want to work the land for food (in the traditional sense) but take the easy way out by participating in the cash economy and put food on the table.

And thank you, Phil, for commenting and sharing your experience. PNG currently has a clear urbanisation problem in the form of vagrancy, loitering and urban squatter settlements.

In recent years, with the proliferation of Chinese and Asian businesses into PNG’s towns and cities and the ever increasing growth in population and commercial business interests, some towns cannot expand and cater for growth and sustenance because prime accessible land has an urban squatter population on it.

For some towns, squatter settlements are smacked right in the middle of the town. And it’s very difficult to move the squatters out or resettle them elsewhere.

The two reasons why it’s difficult to dismantle settlements are:

- the number of years the settlers have lived there and they have severed links with their villages or homeland

- and human rights, for example if there is an eviction, the settlers will just end up becoming homeless

Despite the claim that the people own the land, PNG now has a societal problem issue where they is a growing population of urban dwellers who have no attachment or identity with their original village or homeland.

The issue of homelessness (a direct product of illegal squatting and re-settlement) will be another social problem for PNG’s towns and cities to deal with eventually.

Phil, as you have stated correctly based on your experience, squatting in towns and re-settlement schemes began a few years before PNG gained independence.

If you said Hagen had a squatter population in the mid-1960s, then other towns like Port Moresby, Lae, Rabaul, Goroka and Madang may also had similar experience.

Re-settlement schemes in PNG occurred in the 1960s when the World Bank funded the establishment of oil palm plantations and oil palm block holding leases in West New Britain Province.

This saw a large movement of people settling and working in the oil palm plantations as well as participating in the small holder lease.

Settlers then were mainly from the highlands, particularly Simbu (as you have stated correctly) and Momase regions, East Sepik and Morobe.

As stated for all urban centres, the principal landowners are the most marginalised because most of their land is taken up by the expansion of the urban centre or encroached on by settlers.

Hanuabada cannot only be described as an urban village because the same issues and challenges faced by the the Motuans of Hanuabada in Port Moresby are also faced by the villages of Okiufa and Asariufa in Goroka, the villages of Butibam and Ahi in Lae, the villages of Morekea and Laleki in Kimbe.

These urban villages are losing their land and identity to PNG’s urbanisation aspiration.

To put again into perspective the different categories of settlers in PNG:

– those who squat illegally within or on the fringes of towns and cities

– those who are lease holders or block holders who participate in the production cash crops

– those who buy land to build a house

Currently, most public servants who retire from active government service tend to purchase land away from their home province or near an urban centre and settle there with their families.

Most former government retirees find it difficult to return to their village or province and tend to settle away from their village.

The main reason being they are not used to the hardship faced daily in the village, the fear of sorcery or village social politics.

Many also because of mixed-marriage families and parentage, it becomes difficult to identify with a particular ethnicity because of discrimination or social norms.

Paul Oates

One of the most cogent issues that stimulates urban drift is status. The recognition that rural life is a perceived lower status than urban life is something that unfortunately becomes all pervasive when the so called 'opportunities' become known and the implied advantages of mobile phones and television etc is compared with traditional village life.

In this, PNG is no different than many other societies. In Australia, we have allowed rural life and food production to be marginalized to the extent that it's only when there's a real problem like a drought or cyclone that actually affects the production of food on the city dweller's plate and milk in their cafe lattes that a momentary panic enthuses until the problem subsides until the next time.

In Australia, we have around 2 to 3% of the population producing the nation's food and food exports.

In India, where social structures and an unofficial class system exists, a large proportion of the population still lives in a rural environment and food producers are helped to stay where they are rather than become urban poor and/or unemployed.

Much the same situation exists in Europe where food production is subsidized to help ensure farmers are able to afford to stay on their farms and keep producing food.

Organizations like Farmer's Markets and Farmers Support groups can help with recognising the value of rural food production but subsidizing farmers to stay where they are is clearly beyond the capacity of PNG at the moment.

Added to the lack of financial assistance and the quandary of knowing that if financial help was available it would never actually get down to the levels where it would really help, the complexity of social structures and ethnic diversity also provides another level of difficulty.

Nevertheless, that takes nothing away from what Raymond has produced. A very erudite illustration of the problems of urban drift that has been going on since the Industrial Revolution first began a few hundred years ago.

Well done mate.

Philip Fitzpatrick

If you could expand on that comment a bit Raymond it would make a very valuable article for PNG Attitude and probably create a very useful debate.

I arrived in PNG in 1967 and was posted to Mount Hagen. There was already a squatter population there then.

A bit later in the 1990s when I was doing social mapping I discovered that many of the original land owners of places like Mount Hagen were actually living as squatters on land they once owned.

What had happened was that when their parents and grandparents had sold the land to the government for the township they had not reckoned on their population growing and requiring more land.

One man that I worked with from Mount Hagen was landless and had to squat on land owned by another clan because his clan land had been swallowed up by the town.

I discovered that this had also happened around Port Moresby and I imagine its the same around Lae and other towns.

The other issue regarding population increases is the situation in places like Simbu where land pressures are very high and people have to move elsewhere.

This was also happening in the 1960s when Simbu people were being moved by the administration to places like Kimba to work on oil palm plantations and ease the land pressures in their home areas.

Raymond Sigimet

Phil, in PNG (l think you are familiar with this) settlers are:

- those who squat illegally on unused, reclaimed or government land; or

- those who pay a sum of money to a principal village landowner to occupy a small portion of land, enough to build a house; or

- those who pay a sum of money to a landowner to occupy a portion, enough to build a house and plant cash crops (like cocoa and oil palm).

Of the three groups, those who squat illegally are worse off in all social indicators.

All I can say is that people go and live in settlements:

- to avoid hardships (like lack of service, hostility and enmity, inaccessibilty, remoteness);

- to pursue money (the good things money can do),

- and finally, people's attitude (people want to have status, to be seen as progressives, the elites, the intellects, the town/ city dwellers and not the poor, ignorant, illiterate, all-work villagers).

And they drift to the towns and cities (chasing those world views) and becoming blind to the obvious that they are worse off.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Another good one Raymond.

It's always puzzled me why people leave their villages to live in squatter settlements. They seem to do it in the full knowledge of what the settlements are like.

Maybe it is just wild over optimism - the settlements are bad but unlike everyone else I will succeed and end up in a mansion on Touaguba Hill.

It's been a problem since well before independence and no one has ever come up with a solution.

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