BIBLES were exchanged for guns and sorcery-practising items were surrendered at a peace ceremony to end a 26-year old tribal fight in remote Gimi area of Okapa district Eastern Highlands province.
Leader of Salvation Army in PNG, Lt-Col Hans van Vliet, and his wife Lt-Col Marja van Vliet, Major Jim Cocker and Eastern Highlands team leader Major David Temine officiated at the peace ceremony between the Agivu and Asarupi tribes.
The Salvos presented bibles to leaders of rival factions, who in return handed over guns, bows and arrows along with traditional items used in sorcery.
The peace ceremony in Gimi last Friday put an end to a 26-year conflict that has wrought death and destruction into the area.
It also ended a secret practice of male infanticide, in which mothers in this isolated area put to death male babies born to them in a desperate act to deny the male population of their tribe manpower that would only prolong the war.
The peace ceremony was an initiative of community advancement and reform enhancement (CARE) programme of the church.
Lt-Col Vliet told around 2,000 that gathered that the day was a new era for Gimi, but just laying down weapons and items used in sorcery was not enough.
“You know what tribal warfare is all about. Many relatives have died. Leaders, you are making the promise not only in front of us but also in front of God. You must change within your mind, heart and soul,” Lt-Col Vliet said.
He said the new chapter in their lives was one of love and care for their neighbours.
He presented two live pigs, one each to the warring tribes as a token of appreciation for their peace efforts.
Tribal leaders from both factions called on the Government to allocate Gimi’s share of development funds to the three main churches of Salvation Army, New Tribes and Lutheran churches to build health centres and schools for them, and fix their roads.
“We want the National and provincial governments and the Okapa district to allocate our share of funding from the budget to these three churches to build schools and health centres for us,” Ruben Lamaiyu of Asarupi tribe said.
Dorin Paul, a woman spokesperson, said it was the male folks’ actions that bore them much pain and suffering with their children.
“I call on Salvation Army to facilitate the building of schools and health centres for us as we have been suffering for the past 26 years,” Mrs Paul said.
Lorna Robert, another woman who spoke, said mothers killed their baby sons in frustration during the long years of conflict because they saw no value in raising boys who would only take up arms to bring misery to their lives.
The infanticide story was revealed to The National when women from the area attended a peace training workshop in Goroka last year.
They wanted to make this public as a way of bringing help to their area, even though they were aware of repercussions by their male counterparts back home.