As we get closer to revealing the underlying reasons that led to Storyboard's sacking as a columnist in the National Weekender, we warm up by looking at some points of relevance through this article by a fellow writer, Jan Hasselberg. Note some details which could hardly be represented in the pages of any existing media within the country.
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Keroroa is weeping
Keroroa (Mount Victory) is a mountain with strong and special powers. In 1890 it awoke from its sleep and let rivers of lava flow down its mountain sides, wiping out several villages and sending many people on the run. To avoid being hit by the disaster, the Ogayo people living in the Wanigela area below Keroroa’s southern slope gathered their magical powers, holding mats up towards their mighty guardian while spraying the right mix of chewed herbs, and calling out the right words. The lava stream turned to the east, and their villages were spared.
Only a few years later the same people were to make a terrible mistake that now, more than a hundred years later is bringing trouble to the area. When the white administration arrived at Wanigela, the tribesmen traded a large land area below Keroroa’s side for some steel axes, knives and tobacco. This land has later been made into state land. Today they are witnessing how foreign exploiters have tricked their way to access this land and now the forest is going down.
The rainforests of Collingwood Bay (Oro province) have been a sought for trophy for a series of logging companies for several decades but up till now local resistance has been strong enough to win the battles. The biggest triumph came in 2002 when a Court Order finished a long, strenuous struggle by securing legal protection for all customary land in the Bay. So how do you get around an obstacle like that if you are a logger looking for big and easy money? Well, here is how you do it:
First you find out that the three lots of state land are not protected by the court order. The next step is to work on individuals that hold key positions in Port Moresby and Popondetta, making them tender enough to support your venture in departments and assemblies. At the same time you start making contacts with a few local landowners (and leasers in this case) to make sure you have someone on the site that will open the door for you and greet you when you arrive. It’s essential not to contact the LLG or other bodies representing the community because that is bound to slow down your progress. A split community gives you much higher odds for success than a united one.
The last component is to find partners who work with agriculture or other rural development programs. This is to give your project a façade of good intention and decency, and it might also attract additional funding from government and other sources.
When all this is in place you can start up, and with the backing you have now secured in the national and provincial capitals you can do pretty much as you please. By the foot of Keroroa this can be witnessed in a number of ways: the Matufi company (the logging partner of the venture) have used foreign labour without work permits; the rivers where a thousand people have their daily wash, do their laundry and get water for cooking, have been polluted by milky sand for days on end by irregular roadwork practices; clay sites where the local women fetch clay for their famous pots were destroyed by construction work, and they have been refused compensation; roads have been built without agreements with the legitimate land owners and attempts have been made to reach out into customary land. To top this, Moresby police (who for some reason were present) didn’t take action when a local girl was brutally raped by a Malaysian chainsaw operator!
The political and economic reality of the people in Collingwood Bay, and the whole Tufi Sub-district, is that one over the last thirty years have seen a gradual decline in all public services and there have been no development initiatives from either national or provincial governments. Money intended for both education and health services, yes, even much of the restoration funds after the 2007 flooding disaster, have ended up in ‘the pockets of Popondetta’. The school situation has deteriorated to the point where only a portion of the district’s students eligible for high school are getting their education. At the same time food and petrol prices (8K/litre in the bay) have risen substantially – the list of disappointments is endless.
In light of this it is truly shocking that the authorities in Port Moresby and Popondetta open the gates for foreign exploiters who have no other aim than to tap the area of its recourses and bring the profits out of the district and out of the country. However little or much these companies have put into selected bank accounts in PNG, it is obvious that no one here knows the size of the profit that ends up abroad. What we are witnessing at Wanigela today is yet another example of how the assets of the people and the nation are given away to end up as luxury cars and diamond rings in Kuala Lumpur and Sydney, or turtle- and shark fin soup in Shanghai.
The first load of logs is now piled up on the primitive jetty in the bay to be shipped away past the horizon. These logs are from the road clearing – soon the clear felling of the area will start up. International agreements call for an immediate stop in forest destruction driven as it is by greed more than demand; threatening as it is to CO2 levels and global warming; devastating as it has proven to be to soil and land; crushing as it is to customary land use. Despite these well-known and both moral and economic realities, PNG opens up for more.
The Wanigela people, who once gave their land to the colonizers for axes and smoke, now see their wealth being taken away, and with the authorities’ blessing. Only some local clans are taking part in the activities and economic benefits – the community is split. In most camps resistance is strong and one court case is already rolling, but the wounds to the community will take decades to heal.
Today Keroroa is weeping. But it’s a powerful mountain. Will it silently witness how its foothills are stripped or will it again awake to show its strength? And will the Ogayos and other Wanigela clans again lift their mats, spray their herbal mixture and call to the mountain? And where will it direct the lava flow? To the logging camp, perhaps.
itinerant Tufi resident