Nomadic tribe ready to settle, says chief

National, Normal

The National,Thursday19 January 2012

A LEADER of Papua New Guinea’s semi-nomadic Meakambut people has sent a message to the government, saying they are ready to settle down.
The group, who live on two steep ridges on the edge of the northern escarpment of the Central Range, moving around territory covering roughly 258 square km, will feature in next month’s issue of the National Geographic magazine.
Writer Mark Jenkins paints a haunting picture of the hardship the cave-dwelling group faces in its mountain range home.
Unknown to the outside world until the 1960s, the Meakambut are one of the last cave-dwelling, nomadic people in Papua New Guinea, whose fiercest enemies are malaria and tuberculosis.
Lacking basic medicines and adequate food supplies, the semi-nomadic Meakambut, who roam an area in the foothills of the Central Range, behind Enga and in the headwaters of the Arafundi River in East Sepik, are struggling to survive.
A 2008 research trip led by Madang-based American anthropological researcher Nancy Sullivan discovered just 52 surviving Meakambut and 105 caves with names, only a score of which were actively used as shelters.
The team found clay pots, bone daggers and hand stencils on the walls in nine caves, and human skulls in three.
Many of the elderly had died.
After visiting a sacred cave high in the mountains, Jenkins said in his article that Meakambut leader, John Aiyo, asked him to take a message out to the government.
“We, the Meakambut people, will give up hunting and always moving and living in the mountain caves if the government will give us a health clinic and a school and two shovels and two axes, so we can build homes.”
In an epilogue, the magazine said since its visit, the Meakambut still lived without access to government services.
But they have partly settled in homes on the ridge-top camp of Tembakapa, where Sullivan’s team has provided building supplies, water tanks and solar panels.