By CHRISTOPHER PAPIALI
LAWS have been enacted to deal with tribal fights in the Highlands but they still continue today.
It is a complex matter and tribal fights are peculiar to respective communities and one thing common about them is tribal groups wanting to dominate other groups over land, wealth and education.
This year we have heard several tribal fights; one obviously is inside the Hela region, in particular the Tari-Pori electorate, home of Prime Minister James Marape. Sixteen women and children were massacred in cold blooded murder, something not tolerated in this region because women and girls are not killed during tribal fights.
Inside Sugu Valley in the Kagua LLG of Southern Highlands, more than 50 people have been killed with other unconfirmed deaths and we presume the death toll may exceed 50.
For the rest of the places which include urban towns and cities the gravity and magnitude of the tribal fights are not deeply felt.
Although tribal members and relatives of those fighting in the respective areas of the tribal fight zones feel the fear of being attack there is no intense hot air of retaliation and hijacks.
The point is town and city residents feel they are secure and safe because they live among other Papua New Guineans and foreigners. Tribal warfare stories do not penetrate into the neighbourhood as they are other things to talk about and discuss.
For me, coming from tribal communities has been the reason for my movement and success.
From the success standpoint, my late dad told me not to take interest in tribal wars and conflict but to move out of the tribal boundaries and pursue the white man’s education. He reminded me tribal fights were for the village people and not for the educated men and women, who want to live in this modern life.
He was right, recalling back those crucial years when Erave people had tribal conflicts with one and other, one tribe saw the other as a threat and competed for arms and wealth.
Today, tribal rivalry of the 1980s have been taken over by a sophisticated lifestyle of greed, selfishness and outrage. These are characteristic of the post-2000 era, which many have painstakingly condoned for money and wealth but in the end losing them.
I am compelled to say that tribal fights have created enemies among families, relatives and lineal allies that may take many years to reconcile.
In the Erave area, we have had Gobe Oil conflicts that spiralled out of control and eventually many houses were burnt and people killed in the Semberigi valley. It was a bloody war that ravaged the social fabric and separated one group from the other.
Up to this day, you find many people have deserted Pawale, Tagiri, and Pawabi and other surrounding villages.
Development that was to take place from the proceeds of Gobe oil has not eventuated. Men have looked for opportunities in Port Moresby city and some of them are still there.
Sugu Valley killings
Meanwhile, the recent tribal fight in the Sugu Valley in the Kagua LLG, is another that can put everything into perspective. The Sugu Valley fight triggered deep conflicts that have been supressed for a period of time. The respective clans party to this conflict emerged with a new type of guerrilla warfare that killed many people, injuring many and displacing women and children.
Several reports of miscarriage, children and babies dying of polio, pneumonia, and TB were ignored when this tribal fight started in March 2019.
Eleven pregnant women delivered their babies while hiding in the bush and their quest for survival are some of the heroic stories to emerge. In fact, one of those 11 who gave birth was my blood sister, married to a man involved in the tribal fight and if God allows, I am planning to make a visit to the valley and hug my sister for this wonderful experiences living in the dark world.
And for me, during the tribal fight, I stayed in my village Koyali where the impact was felt in Erave, Semberigi, Polopa and Yambasu. It was absolutely catastrophic.
Erave people use the only road that passes the Sugu Valley and everything was in chaos, when over 40,000 people were displaced. Children did not attend schools, nurses left Erave Health Centre and other four outstation clinics because of the shortage of medical supplies and equipment.
The 11 teachers and the 600 students at Erave High School were told not to come to school as well as the 16 teachers and 800 students at Erave Primary School.
Store goods stopped flowing; people could not purchase cooking oil and salt as the Sugu Valley became a bloody zone, making it difficult for people to pass through to go Kagua, Ialibu, Mendi and Mt. Hagen.
There was fear and anxiety. It was hell. The black months were March, April, May and June. It was during this period that I began to see the advantages and disadvantages of living in the village.
If you are an educated person, like in my case, or a businessman, or someone regarded as important in the eyes of the people, you were prone to attacks and even murder.
Open arms trade
Guns were everywhere, people traded and moved weapons to and from Kikori, while some were said to be traded and transported along the Highlands Highway.
And seeing was believing for me, as I saw untrained men in possession of these weapons along the roads, all masked, painted and with glowing eyes like those of eagles.
Some men from the Sugu Valley ran away, moving towards the Erave area, as it was becoming a safe haven, but the Erave/Semberigi community were uneasy and discontented as those running away from the Sugu tribal fight did not come on agreed terms and conditions.
One of the conditions was they should not hold guns and transport other weapons and live by the rules and expectations of the Erave community. We are challenged to see the tribal communities with a renewed vision, having that binoculars that could not only see what is at face value but the deep- rooted and intertwined problems from the hollows of tribal lifestyle. These problems are cultural. They are spiritual. They are historical. They are forever revolving given new dimensions and shape which provide a great challenge for the community leaders, MPs and the National Government to solve.
Campaigning for peace
For me, I left my village. I left everything I had. It is not that I am party to the tribal fight but I could not access basic government services.
For my record, in those four black months, I stood strong, carrying out awareness at Erave market, Kagua station and outback Semberigi and campaigned about building peace and strengthening family units and forging partnerships with those I never met in my life.
I wanted everyone to embrace change and a better life based on open and transparent lifestyle that are key pillars to change, a transition from the tribal living to shared living where everyone shows respect and love to one another.
I knew deep down, Eraves were peaceful people who have an inherited lifestyles from their great ancestors. When love glows inside and moves outward, I knew my people, my Eraves will change for the better just like anyone living in a peaceful place anywhere in the country.
Someone asked me the other day, whether the Sugu Valley fight has stopped and if anyone talked about solving it? These are hard questions that I cannot answer right away as I am not party to the whole tribal fight.
Leaders on both sides have been mediating peace for the last three months and the progress is made when the warring tribes are no longer fighting. They have said to lay down their arms and find amicable solutions where all parties can be satisfied.
Finding solutions is not easy
Finding solutions is not easy in contemporary Sugu Valley these days as people with contrasting views have emerged; some camouflaged while some have put themselves forward for 2022 national elections. Their problems cannot be miraculously solved by the current MP, governor or any other leader but the warring factions themselves because they own the tribal fight.
In any solution to a tribal fight, stages to a peace process are superseded by the parties agreeing to a timeline of events leading to complete laying down of arms and reaching consensus.
Leaders have already created the roadmap to a peace process but success depends on bottom-top participation, with funding to rebuild lives. Political leaders at the national level, provincial government, and churches can be in one basket, allowing the warring tribes to communicate freely and agreeing to terms and conditions.
At the national level, no government recognises tribal fight as an impediment to development. Funds are allocated but not that is sustainable. For example, when the 16 women and children were killed in Tari-Pori, unbudgeted funds were sourced and used for helicopter hire, and police and army personnel. Similarly, when tribal fight erupted in Sugu Valley, unplanned or unbudgeted funds were used by the Kagua-Erave MP.
My recommendation to this new government is to see tribal fights as a social, political, spiritual and economic problem. It connects to all fabric of society and the operation of the economy of this country. Therefore, a separate budget with a separate office should be established just like the Natural Disaster Office or a much better-functioning entity to manage and control tribal fights all around the country.
It should have the teeth to “bite” ring leaders and communities who continue to revert to the primitive culture of head hunting expeditions. This new office is to work with the tribal warring communities and discuss ways to stop fights, disarmament processes, and rebuilding torn communities for a better future, a better life.
- Christopher Papiali is a freelance writer. For feedback to this story, email: firstname.lastname@example.org