Monday 7 May 2012 – Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea: Here’s a simple exercise. Try comparing the standard of living between the average family residing at the Toua Guba Hill suburb and Hanuabada village respectively.
One is a wealthy Port Moresby neighbourhood, and the other a modern village left behind by the process of modernization.
Generations back, the Toua Guba Hill surburb used to be traditional gardening land for Hanuabada clans. Now it is a suburb that boasts million kina real estate with 24-hour security, water, and backup generator support.
Just a stone’s throw away, contemporary Hanuabadans are still:
· using pit latrines and over-the-sea toilets;
· collecting water in a bucket at the communal tap in which water pressure is unpredictable;
· having an open-air bath;
· living in a crowded family house;
· looking for firewood to cook their daily meals;
· attending local schools that are run-down; and
· competing for health services daily at an urban clinic that also services other neighbouring settlement communities.
It is a wonder that salaried Hanuabadans and their counterpart Toua Guba Hill residents could be working for the same employers, and yet follow a different standard of living on a daily basis.
How can next door neighbours live worlds apart? For those from the Papuan region of Papua New Guinea, Hanuabada is significant. Not many people may be aware that in 1884, it was at Metoreia in Hanuabada where Commodore James Erskine hoisted the Union Jack to proclaim Papua as a protectorate of the Queen of England. This historical event occurred exactly 128 years ago but it is increasingly obvious that Hanuabada has been bypassed. It was also at Metoreia in Hanuabada where Polynesian pastors of the London Missionary Society landed in 1873 after a failed attempt at setting up camp at Manumanu village Central Province to evangelize locals.
So if Hanuabada is arguably the crucible of pre-Independence Papua New Guinea, how do we explain the absurdity behind Hanuabada’s present state of affairs? Who is responsible for allowing this to happen? It is arguable that successive Papua New Guinea governments, by action or inaction, have subscribed to an assimilation policy when it comes to urban landowner rights. History shows that urban communities such as Hanuabada have been systemically and systematically assimilated as an ethnic group and as a community. There is no denying that government laws and policies have been and seem to be aimed at accelerating acculturation; pushing an urban community like Hanuabada into the waiting arms of the metropolis that is Port Moresby city.
The problem and solution could be tied to land. In the National Capital District about 60% of land is State land, and 40% lies under customary ownership. As a problem, Hanuabada people cannot do anything about the State land that they once owned. The land laws and policies that govern former customary land owners are not in their favour. It gives so much power to the government to mess with urban landowners like it has done to Hanuabada.
Hanuabadans should not expect the government to clean up this mess! As a solution, one proposes that landowning clans that together own the remaining 40% of customary land in NCD should make a decision to title part or all of their customary land. If this is possible, each landowning clan should then come together by virtue of a trust deed and pool their land titles under a trust arrangement. A competent board of trustees should use the titles and trust lands to create equity for each landholding clan. Under this arrangement, the idea is that the board of trustees should be empowered by the landholding clans to engage with developers with a view to leasing titled clan land for commercial development and lease. In this way, it is argued that clans will directly participate in wealth creation activities, and that they will have a voice and a choice in creating the desired standard of living.
One argues that this should be the roadmap followed rather than choosing to wait for the government to create economic opportunities. Hanuabadans have been waiting for 128 years for goodness sake!
The government too cannot be allowed to turn a blind eye! It has an obligation at international law to act by virtue of provisions of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Article 26, in particular, states that:
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.
2. Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well as those which they have otherwise acquired.
3. States shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands, territories and resources. Such recognition shall be conducted with due respect to the customs, traditions and land tenure systems of the indigenous peoples concerned.
Furthermore, Article 26(3) imposes an obligation on the government of Papua New Guinea to recognize the various customary laws concerning ownership and use of these land and resources.
If the government does not act, then it should not expect urban landowners to be naive anymore. We know that the older generation has been speaking out for decades. But the problem is that either the members of the older generation were born without a voice box; or successive governments have chosen to be legally and medically deaf.
As the resilient people they are, already two clan elders, Arua Arua Miria and Boga Daroa, have taken the plight of the Hanuabada people onto YouTube. Theirs is a heartfelt story to tell the world that when you take a look at the Port Moresby skyline, do not forget urban landowners that live in between. Do not forget that bloodlines that make up urban communities like Hanuabada were here well before the Port Moresby skyline came to be.
Back home, the plight of the Hanuabada people should also be seen as a free lesson for Motu and Koitabu villages in Central Province affected by the Exxon Mobil-led PNG LNG Project. If the people of Boera, Lealea, Papa, and Porebada are not careful, modernization will bypass them. It has bypassed Hanuabada for the past 128 years. What government and commercial guarantees are there that what is happening to Hanuabada people will not happen to them?
*Editor’s note: Oala Moi is an aspiring Papua New Guinea writer.