Skulls, skeletal remains and bits of old pottery, have been uncovered on a beach at the edge of the Fisherman Island in the last two weeks following the visit of a king tide.
Fisherman Island is located to the southwest of Port Moresby and is inhabited by six clan groups who originate from Hula in Central Province.
The Museum received report of this ‘chance exposure’ from Joel Keimolo, an inhabitant of the Island and works for the PNG Tourism Promotion Authority.
So we made arrangements with UPNG archaeologists, notably Mathew Leavesley and Vincent Kewibu, the anthropologist Linus Digim’Rina and the historian Keimelo Gima so we made a short reconnaissance trip to the Fisherman Island last Friday.
The trip included three of us from the Museum including our archeologist, Kenneth Miamba, and two young female archeologists from UPNG, Joel Keimelo and an intern from UPNG attached to Tourism PromotionAuthority.
Some village leaders took us to the site where the skulls have been exposed under a reef on the eastern beach side.
From observation our archaeologists were able to tell the age distribution of the skeletal remains by looking at the jaw bones and teeth structures. So we are left with the remains of very old and very young people which are kept in this site.
We don’t know if its a burial site or just a convenient place to keep the skulls and skeletal remains. We don’t know too if it is part of a ritual or the remains of war or headhunting in the past.
What we can tell is that Fisherman Island is an important transit point that connects the east to the west and north to the south. It is where people and things find a temporary sojourn before the next move. It is an important node in the traffic of the Hiri trade for instance.
So the details and provenance of the skulls and skeletal remains are not immediately known. A bit of oral history might help and archaeological investigations will tell us a bit more about the history of these remains.
We are working to layout a research and management plan of these discovery and to work with the Fisherman Island to look after these finds in the future to come.
PNG Minister for Mining Johnson Tuke in a recent meeting with the European Union Ambassador to PNG His Excellency Jernej Videtic on Sustainable Mining highlighted that the PNG Government is mindful and aware of the impact mines have on the environment and people’s livelihood and is addressing these issues by updating the regulatory framework and by demanding from investors to introduce new modern and sustainable technologies to diminish the negative impact of mining on the environment.
This is total bullshit coming from the Minister. The government has made no effort to update the regulatory frameworks to regulate current and potential mining companies operating and wanting to operate in PNG. The Government has not made any demands to the to the mining companies to introduce new modern and sustainable technologies to diminish the negative impact of mining on the environment.
The extractive industry has been detrimental to the environment and the people of Papua New Guinea. Large scale extractive activities like mining and logging have resulted in the loss of biodiversity and loss of life.
Waste disposal from process plants and sediment runoffs from open cut mines are dumped into rivers and oceans. Smothering of riverbeds and oceans, heavy metal contamination and acid mine drainage are consequences of mine waste disposal into the environment. (McKinnon, 2002)
PNG is currently using mining waste disposal methods that have been outlawed in other parts of the world because they are destructive to the environment and the people. PNG embraces the waste disposal methods like Riverine and deep sea tailings that dump waste into rivers and oceans have been detrimental to the environment and the peoples livelihood.
The Fly River is DEAD because of Riverine Tailings. The Basamuk Bay was polluted because of Deep sea tailings placement. Recently the people along the Fly River made a call to the Government to help them because the only source of their survival is dead. There was also a pipeline failure at Simberi, in New Ireland province recently, a mine which uses Deep Sea Tailings Placement (DSTP).
Deep Sea Tailings Placement (DSTP) has been in use since the 1970s but is currently banned in many countries due to its controversial nature. It is now only in operation in a few countries, including PNG. The many risks posed by DSTP include smothering of the seabed, chemical re- actions that release toxic metals into the ocean ecosystem, tailings upwelling and contaminating inshore marine environments that locals rely on for subsistence and livelihoods.
Nautilus recently pulled out in their venture to mine the depths of the sea in New Ireland in the controversial sea bed mining, thanks to the fierce resistance and people like Jonathan Mesulam , Oigen Wandalu Schulze and Nat Lowrey among others.
PNG Government and Mayur Resources are also pushing for Coal Mining in PNG, an extractive industry that is out of date and should not be even. All the while, the government keeps talking about so-called responsible and sustainable mining. There is no such thing as a responsible and mining mining.
New mines that the government is planning to open will use the environmentally destructive methods like DSTP and Riverine Tailings or Dam Tailings.
These new mines include Wafi-Golpu, Woodlark and Frieda Mine.
The Wafi-Golpu Mine waste will be dumped into the Huon Gulf while Frieda Mine will see the company storing waste at the head of the Sepik river in a dam, which according to experts will collapse and destroy the Sepik river.
The Save the Sepik campaign in East Sepik is fighting to protect the Sepik river. People in Morobe are also against the DSTP.
The European Union is also pushing their ‘Green Deal‘, also known as ‘The Green Mining Concept’. We must not be blinded by greenwashing and allow this environmental terrorists to plunder our resources and environment.
The Government and companies people do not care about the environment or the people that will be affected. We have seen and witnessed many environmental destructions.
The Parliament Haus of PNG is one of the most fascinating architectural structures in the world. The building incorporates different structures in PNG but the design that stands out is the architectural structure style of Maprik in East Sepik province. Sepik boasts some of the world’s finest architects of the ancient world, this can be seen in the magnificent structures they erect. One of the structures that was incorporated into the architectural design of the parliament haus is what we have come to know as the Haus Tambaran, Spirit House or Haus Man.
The parliament haus is commonly referred to as the haus Tambaran in reference to the original structural design it was borrowed from.
The building has received wider criticisms from the people of PNG. We often blame the structural design and the carved figures in the parliament house for our politicians’ shortcomings, widespread corruption and moral decay in our society.
And so, as a son of Melanesia, I am obligated to clear any misconceptions and defend my cultural heritage by writing from a Melanesian perspective.
What do the people of Sepik call their magnificent structure?
I have often argued that the names “Haus Tambaran” or “Spirit House” carry a negative connotation and does not truly reflect/portray the house. Of course, spirits and the deities dwell in there, carved into beautiful and scary figures and totems but that is just one aspect of the building and everything that goes on in there.
It is important to define terms before we go any further. Tambaran in Tok Pisin means evil spirit or demon if you are religious. Calling the building Haus Tambaran gives you a clear picture that evil spirits inhabit the building and that those who go in there go to do magic and cast evil spells or engage in some evil rituals.
The building has a name in the local languages, interestingly I have discovered the name have no bad connotations associated with it like Tambaran. (Refer to my other article)[i].
Foreign anthropologists have studied our cultures and written about them including the Sepik house from what I would say, an etic approach. I employed the emic approach to understand this structure and its functions during my stay in one of the villages in Middle Sepik river region where I was given the privilege to sit in the house and talk about the issues concerning the society.
In Iatmul culture of Middle Sepik river, the building is called “N’gego”. Other parts of Sepik have their own names. N’gego is a place of meeting/gathering.
The house is a governing body, a complex system of governance that was developed over thousands of years.
It is a Melanesian school of thought or rather a university, where the learned men of the society impart to the younger generation the knowledge of their ancestors and traditional values that weave the moral fabric of the society. Philosophy, politics, law, art among others are the main subjects.
The building also serves as a temple where the spirts and deities are honored. It houses the spirits of the ancestors and the deities which are carved into wooden figures or totems, some are beautiful and some fierce and frightening to look at.
The most notable practice in the N’gego is the initiation ceremony. This involves young men transitioning into adulthood by acquiring the knowledge of the land and undergoing the painful scarification practice. The initiated have pass to sit in the N’gego and talk among men and discuss matters of importance. Those who have not been initiated are not allowed to enter the N’gego.
In my time in Sepik, I found out that the building has different functions in the society. However, in this write up, I will only be talking about the Melanesian governance function of the N’gego.
As a governing structure, the N’gego is a single chamber legislative body consisting of male members of different clans. Each clan is represented by their chief with other initiated men of the clan. In the N’gego, each clan has a platform. In the village I was in, there were four platforms in the house for the four big clans, it could be more in much bigger villages. The big clans share their platform with their sub-clans who come under them. The Chief of the village is the overall chief in the house and is seated at the north end of the house.
The debating or speaking stool is in situated in the middle of the house. It is a carved human figure standing almost one and a half meter high. The carved figure has a stool carved just above the groin. On the stool are clusters of coconut leaves tied in a small bundle. Anyone who wants to speak in the house walks up to the stool, picks up the clusters and starts talking. After speaking, he uses the cluster to strike the tool. He leaves the clusters and returns to his platform, the next speaker is expected to do the same.
This allows order in the house and ensure’s there is respect for the speaker. Those in agreement with a speaker usually say ‘huuuuuu’ in a chorus. I have not heard someone in the house make a sound of disagreement yet so I would not know.
Only the initiated male members of the village come to meet, debate on issues and look for solutions to address issues in the society. Laws of the land are also enforced in the building to punish offenders and maintain law and order so justice and peace prevails.
The N’gego is recognised as the centre of the village and the Iatmul society. It is regarded as the pillar of the society, for without it, a society would collapse into a state of anarchy (refer to my other article).
To ensure that the men in the N’gego do not have too much power and control like an authoritarian government, the women are there to keep checks and balances.
Even though the women are not allowed into the N’gego, they are an important part of the whole system and therefore are not excluded in decision-making.
In Iatmul culture, the women are referred to as ‘Niamun’, this translates to elder. This is because in the Iatmul culture, the women are regarded as older and wiser than the men.
The men on the other hand as referred to as ‘Suambu’, translating to young or small. The men are regarded as young and sometimes lacking wisdom.
To maintain checks and balances, a ‘Niamun Suambu Bangra’ takes place during the big meetings/debates in the N’gego. When the house is in session, the women sit outside the N’gego and listen in on the meeting. The men are inside talking and debating, when a matter cannot be resolved quickly and requires special advice on the matter before the house, the chief of the village splits a betel nut (Bangra) bunch in half and sends it out of the N’gego to the women.
This is for the women for chew the betel nut and speak. This practice is referred to as ‘Niamun Suambu Bangra’. translates to ‘older, younger, betel nut’. The younger gives betel nut to the elder so the elder can advise him on what to do or how to approach the issue so there is no conflict between different parties on the matter.
The women as the older and more wiser of the genders are full of insight and knowledge and so are in a better position to advise on the matters and provide counsel to the men. The women address matters pertaining land and other issues.
This is paints the picture that the N’gego has no gender associated with it. That women also have a voice in the house and are important part of decision-making and governance in Iatmul culture.
Coming back to the structural design I introduced in the opening lines, the parliament haus is rightly designed after the Sepik house of Governance. The architects I would say were not wrong in their planning though I do not know if they understood the significance and importance of the Sepik governance structure and the significant decision of incorporating the Melanesian government structures into modern government systems.
The name of the structure is not ‘Haus Tambaran’ and therefore I call to remove the word from our vocabulary and stop referring to the house as such. It is a disrespect to our Melanesian heritage and way of life.
I finally also would like to note that the Melanesian values of the house are no longer held in high regard and practiced by those who go in there to make decisions on behalf of and for the people they represent.
With the current government, there is also no representation and voice of women to advice men on important national issues and correct them.
But then again, cultures, traditions and values in Melanesian societies are not uniformed.
Many people living along the Sepik river have raised concerns about the serious destructions to Sepik river. The river and the people are being affected by the movement of tug boats and pontoons on the river but yet their calls fall on deaf ears.
The logging operations are in West Sepik. However, the companies use the Sepik river to transport their logs. Us8ng the Sepik river is the fastest and most efficient way to ferry logs. Tug boats and pontoons belonging to logging companies frequently use the river to ferry logs from the headwaters of Sepik river down to the sea. But little do they know and understand that their actions are affecting the people and their livelihood.
The continuous movement of the boats, according to locals has caused problems on the river.The build-up in sedimentation, river bank erosion, river pollution from oil spills and disturbance of the fishing grounds were some of the serious concerns raised.
An elder from Avatip village, Middle Sepik said, ‘the logging is in West Sepik, why are the logs being brought down our river? we’re being affected by these boats. We do not want them on our river’. The same sentiment was echoed in the 24 villages in Upper and Middle Sepik river we visited. There is resentment towards the logging companies who are using the river and destroying it.
I interviewed a couple of people who shared their concerns on the use of the river by logging companies and how it was affecting them. From those interviews, I put together a video to help put their voices out there for the government to see. The video interviews were captured with my mobile phone during Project Sepik’s re-education patrol to Middle and Upper Sepik River in December 2020.
Civil Societies in PNG Submit Joint Report to the United Nations.
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) commenced in 2006. It involves a review of the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States, every five years. The UPR is a State-driven process, under the auspices of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC). It provides the opportunity for each State under review to announce the actions they have taken to improve its human rights record and for the fellow States to make recommendations to the country under review to foster the implementation of its human rights obligations on its territory (UPR- OHCHR).
Following PNG’s second UPR in May 2016, 161 recommendations have been addressed to Papua New Guinea (PNG), which accepted only 101 recommendations. To implement them, the country established a multi-sectoral agency working committee with the mandate to oversee and coordinate sectoral implementation. However, there has been slow progress in the implementation of these recommendations .
PNG will once again be reviewed for the third time under the UPR mechanism in October/November 2021 at its 39th Session by member states for its commitment in improving human rights.
The International Catholic Centre of Geneva (CCIG), together with its partners Edmund Rice International (ERI), the Marist International Solidarity Foundation (FMSI) and the Dominicans for Justice and Peace, organized a three-day workshop, ahead of the UN UPR of PNG. The capacity building workshop took place on the 15th to 17th February 2021, at Emmaus Conference Center inside Don Bosco Technical College in Port Moresby.
The workshop was aimed at enhancing the participation of representatives of the local civil society in the UPR of PNG, by training them on the functioning of the UPR and the advocacy opportunities around this process. CCIG with its partners formed a Steering Committee based in PNG to lead the UPR Process. A total of 25 participants from various national associations involved in the defense of human rights across the country were invited to participate in the third cycle of UPR.
The participants were organized into groups to discuss on some key issues in PNG. They formed working groups on four thematic areas: 1) women’s rights, 2) children’s rights, 3) rights of people with disabilities and 4) environmental issues.
The working group on women’s rights discussed the issue of ‘Equal participation in Parliament, politics and decision making, Gender-based violence (GBV) and Sorcery accusation-related violence (SARV)’. The working group on children’s rights discussed the ‘Right to education, Right to health, Juvenile justice and Violence against children’. The working group on rights of people with disabilities discussed ‘Children with disabilities, Violence against persons with disabilities and Participation in public affairs’. The working group on environmental issues discussed ‘Mining and Logging’.
The civil societies contributed to the review by monitoring the implementation of the government’s international commitments. They then drafted several recommendations and submitted a consolidated human rights report to the UN.
The next step in the UPR process will be advocacy and lobbying to local and international authorities.
The UPR Joint Report on PNG can be downloaded below in PDF format and shared broadly among NGOs, Government Departments and International missions.