By TONY PALME
THE Kawelka tribe, the traditional landowners of the Kuk World Heritage Site in Western Highlands, has mobilised itself to turn the site into a tourism centre.
A World Heritage Site is a location that is listed by Unesco as having outstanding cultural or natural value to the common heritage of humanity. Archaeological surveys at Kuk Swamp have provided evidence of primitive irrigation and cultivation systems from about 9000 years ago, making it one of the earliest sites of agricultural developments in the world.
Through their land group Kuk Kawelka Incorporated Land Group (ILG), the Kawelka tribe has engaged local consultants to further their dream.
Facilities at a rundown Department of Primary Industries plantation, abandoned in 1989, is being used for the project.
ILG chairman Michael Tori took the consultants on a tour and showed them the abandoned houses, office and workshop facilities, and the whole site that is to be converted.
“They will stay here and work,” Tori said as he took the consultants around the place and introduced them to the tribe.
Tori said they have engaged Roy Lome, Samuel Raia, Vincent Korowa, and Marie Stella Kewa, all specialists in their own field, to help the Kawelka people.
“We are just simple village people with no formal education. Because we are living on a land that has significance to the world, we want to maximise its potential,” he said.
“No one has any personal interest in this project. It’s for all the members of Kawelka tribe, Dei district, Western Highlands and Papua New Guinea.
“We want to make this place a tourism hub and attract foreign investments as well as encourage local people to participate in economic activities to improve their lives.
“All the leaders and people of Kawelka are ready to work with any developer that is interested in reviving this place.”
Lome, one of the consultants, has urged the tribe to support Tori and the ILG in the project.
“This is a multi-million kina business and a sleeping giant that can generate income for the province and the country. It can transform lives here,” he said. “You must all work together and leave aside your differences, if any, and trust each other in what you are about to do.”
Funding is an issue but that is where local politicians, the national government and international investors come in. Lome praised the Kawelka tribe for allowing the formation of an ILG which has dispelled the question of land ownership issue. The tribal leaders of the respective clans have shown their support, seeing the Incorporated Land Group as the tool which can make their dreams come true.
“We want to see tourists coming into our area. We want to start guesthouse businesses, provide catering services, sell local artefacts, and sell local food. We want to have good roads, schools and health services,” Rokumb clan chairman Shean Kuri said.
“Our people have been living in poverty yet we have been sitting on this latent gold mine that lies on our land.
“We really appreciate this tourism boost and would like to fully cooperate with the consultants and the developers.”
Similar sentiments were shared by Elpukbu clan chairman Pupti Koim, who called on local MP and Transport Minister Westly Nukundi, Governor Paias Wingti, the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, the Tourism Promotion Authority, National Cultural Commission and other relevant bodies to support them.
In 2008, the Kuk Swamp (as it was known then) was recognised as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).
This first evidence of early agriculture in the Western Highlands of PNG was discovered as a result of large scale drainage of the upper Waghi swamplands for tea and coffee plantations and resettlement schemes in the 1960s.
This evidences consisted of spades, digging sticks and fence posts of wood and stone axes uncovered during the drainage, together with the outlines of old water channels and garden ditches in the walls of the new drains that cut across them.
Some of the prehistoric tools were shown to the consultants.
There was evidence there that people were independently developing civilised agriculture, like well-developed drainage systems, as far back as 9000 year, or more.
The Kuk Early Agricultural Site consists of 116ha of swamps. It contains well preserved archaeological remains which demonstrate the technological leap into modern agriculture, according to the Unesco World Heritage Site list.
The abandoned Department of Primary Industries station that the Kawelka tribe has taken over consists of 100 houses, an office, workshop, warehouse, agricultural college, and research centre.
By TONY PALME