Were traditional Papua New Guineans conservationists?

LSC1 (220)This essay is based on three papers. These papers document practices  of seasonal hunting and harvesting and protection of certain species of importance to three communities in Papua New Guinea.

Kwapena (1994) documents the hunting practices of the Moapa people of the Mashall Lagoon,  Central Province. Foale (2002) records the “tambu” reef system of the New Ireland while Silitoe (2001) provides insight into the hunting practices of the Wola of the Southern Highlands.

In two of  the three case studies, the authors documented that a hunting ban was imposed periodically on their  respective communities.

The Maopa people in Mashall Laggon Area, Central Province had a hunting ban that would last over three to four years.

On the coast, the “tambu”reef involves the closure of fishing on a particular stretch of coastline for a specific period of time, usually from a few months to a year or in some cases a few years. The closure was quite often associated with a death within the clan that controls rights to that stretch of coastline and is a ritual component of a cycle of feasting associated with that death.

The hunting ban would then be followed by an intense period of hunting, where even the grassland is burnt to force animals out into the open (Kwapena 1984).  In the “tambu” reef, the accumulated stocks of many species, particularly benthic invertebrates are then removed, often with alarming efficiency (Foale 2002).

The local knowledge of these people was directed to identifying patterns that maximise capture success. They did not show concern for aspects of  biology (recruitment etc) that conservationists are interested in.

In the case of the Wola,  Silitoe (2001) observed that the Wola people, who were not “enthusiastic” hunters, would at times expand high energy to capture high value animals like cassowary and wild pigs for customary activities. From his study, Silitoe (2001) observed that in their hunting sprees, the Wola treated the forest as having …” an infinite buffering capacity”  to their destructive hunting activities.

Melanesian’s exist through relationships, and these relationships needs to be maintained all the time.  Value has been placed on nature to facilitate these social relationships. Resources are stockpiled only to be harvested to facilitate social transactions and to maintain relationships and alliances (Silitoe 2001). The hunting spree with the Maopa of Marshall Lagoon was to strengthen and reiterate family relationships (Kwapena 1984). Tambu reef was also a means of stockpiling resources, often for a specific purpose, such as a feast; and had nothing to do with maximising and sustaining yields for conservation (Foale 2002).

So, how did people coexist with nature for thousands of years?

Silitoe (2001) proposes that unintentional conservation  may have been achieved indirectly because these traditional knowledge and practices were created in conditions of small population, large forest covering and richer biodiversity and hunting tools which were less deadly.

Fear of spirits also ensured sacred areas became refuge and replenishing grounds for wildlife.  For instance,   most of these cultures attribute their hunting capacity to spirits and not human hunting skill. In this instance, hunters let game go if they miss after a few attempts, taking this to indicate the spirits are discontent.  Beliefs that spirits governed everything contributed to unintentional management of resources

This system however, will not protect nature which is now threatened with with pressure from, high human population densities, new and efficient hunting technologies and a readily available market for wildlife.

That is why the indigenous people of Papua New Guinea must learn the concept of conservation to ensure that food security and the currency for maintaining relationships  is available both now and into the future.


Foale, S. (2002) Commensurability of scientific and indigenous ecological knowledge in coastal Melanesia: implications for contemporary marine resource management strategies. Resource Management in Asia-Pacific Working Paper No. 38

Kwapena, N. (1994). “Traditional Conservation and Utilization of Wildlife in Papua New Guinea.” The Environmentalist 4(7): 22-29.

Sillitoe, P. (2001). “Hunting for Conservation in the Papua New Guinea Highlands.” Ethnos 66(3): 365-393.

Poverty in PNG. What did they measure?


According to Oxfam Australia, poverty has increased in PNG since the mid-1990s. It now stands at 37%. In other words, just over 2.6 million people out of a population of 7.5 million total population of PNG live on less than USD $1.25 per day.

To get a picture of the 2.6 million poor people in PNG – combine the population of the five highland provinces plus Morobe Province.

At today’s exchange rate, being poor in PNG means, having less than K3 at the end of any given day.

Indeed, in an urban setting, a K3 cannot buy the standard daily town meal of rice and tinned fish. A K3 is only enough for an unhealthy lunch of one deep fried flour ball and one boiled sausage. Similarly, at the market, a K3 can only buy a small heap of kaukau or potato for just one meal.

In contrast, in the rural area, a K3 has more value at the market but dramatically decreases at the trade store. At the market, a K3 can buy kaukau, greens and a piece of fruit or a coconut. However, a K3 in the village is not enough to get anything, except a packet of biscuit or two. A rural family wishing to eat both rice and fish need to have at least a US$7 or K20.

The K3 has different value at different places. Economists may explain this as the impact of supply and demand. The value of a K3 is high in the rural market because the demand for vegetables is low where supply is high. Demand for store bought goods however, is high in the rural areas. The price hike is probably because of freight charges as well as the fact that imported stuff including food are luxury items in rural area.

A luxury item is not needed for survival but is acquired for various reasons including to make life more pleasant or as a status symbol. Luxury goods are typically more costly and are often acquired by people who have more money than an average person.

What is money when people maintain their livelihood from the environment at no charge? This reason makes the current definition of poverty irrelevant in a place where cash is irrelevant.  The question now is, who are the 37% poor people in PNG?  What did they measure to come up with that number?

Definitely, the poor people are not the politicians and their cronies, who make up 1% of the population. It definitely is not the 10% working class who get paid enough to eat more than just rice and tinned fish until the next pay day. Because of the reasons above, the 75% rural people are out. The only group remaining are the vagabonds – the village runaways who have left the village for a life in town.

The absence of good data makes it hard to verify the Oxfam data if indeed, vagabonds when rounded up can fill up the highlands region and spill into Morobe province. Current assumption elsewhere put vagabonds at around 15% of the total population. Where then, is the other 22% of poor people as reported by Oxfam Australia?

Making lists and ranking people according to an irrelevant target can affect the psyche of human beings.  When people are made to feel helpless, they stop looking at ways to help themselves. They become dependent, feel impoverished, and disillusioned.

Change your mind and change your life. That is all it requires for us to take our life back from dependency. Since time immemorial, people have depended on their environment to maintain a livelihood. The instinct for turning soil into food is not lost to even the urbanites. Go to any house with a yard and you will see banana, or cassava or even fruit trees incorporated into the landscape. Go to any settlement and you will see people tending any piece of soil they can find.

Therefore, poverty in the PNG context is not about money. Living in poverty in PNG is when households go to sleep hungry because they are not willing to turn soil into food.  Poverty in PNG is when people forsake food security in the village for town where cash is king.

The use of a single currency as the only legal tender has disadvantaged the rural people. If the government cannot support economic activities in rural areas for people to earn money, then it must allow rural people to barter using wealth from their environment. They can barter for food and especially medicine using wealth from the forest when they have no cash to buy those select items.

Smaller families will ruin kinship, says ACK bishop

Link: http://www.the-star.co.ke/news/2016/02/15/smaller-families-will-ruin-kinship-says-ack-bishop_c1294565

A cleric has urged Kenyans to moderate family planning.

Anglican Church of Kenya Nairobi Bishop Joel Waweru said couples are practising “extreme family planning” that could result in extinction of communities.

He said the notion that families can only have two or three children is putting a strain on some communities and could worsen in a few decades. Waweru said extremely small families will ruin the concept of kinship.

He said children would be unable to understand the importance of relatives in their lives.

Waweru said children brought up in families with a few members are likely to get fewer children.

He was addressing parents during a thanksgiving ceremony at Green Cottage Academy in Murang’a East on Saturday.

Population growth is good

Tanya Zeriga_Synod_Thur14 (26)

Survival is a number game. The bigger the number, the greater the rate of survival. On the other hand, extinction happens when numbers get so low that recruitment via birth or migration is suppressed.   In the primitive sense, human beings are part of the system and the same rules  apply.

With over 75% of PNGeans still living in rural areas while maintaining a livelihood from the land – having bigger families increases the adaptive capacity of those families to impacts of climate change. The bigger the family, the more people who can diversify their efforts in supporting the family especially in terms of looking for food as well as any other assistance.

Having more people in the family is advantageous when it comes to family projects like building house and canoes to withstand the impacts of climate change.

More people means the family can easily defend their land and even resources from others since these resources are becoming scarce.

The chances of a family member getting a job in town is also increased in big families and the other family members benefit from cash remittance.

For rural communities, being able to adapt to climate change seems to be with families with bigger numbers. Smaller families trying to survive in a rural economy will struggle because they have to put in extra effort to achieve an outcome similar to the family with many children.

Escalate the same thinking to the nation – the more people there are , the increased manpower of building a nation. Because more people equals a big market, a big market equals more opportunities, more opportunities equals growth.

The bigger the population, the bigger and diverse the talent pool. The bigger the population, the bigger and better the gene pool.

To proudly take our place among the other nations of the world, we need to have more people. We cannot put our growth, our safety and our sovereignty in somebody elses hands. Surely we will not wait for consultants to build our nation, just because we have a very tiny population.

Some tribes in PNG have less than 1,000 members. These tribes are at risk of going extinct if their population growth is suppressed.

The main reason cited against growing a family is a lack of resources to cater for many mouths. A lack of resources may lead big families to poverty. Where poverty is defined as having less than $3 in your pocket at the end of a day.

At today’s exchange rate, being poor in PNG means, having less than K9 in your pocket.

As per the definition of poverty, over 80% of PNG who grow and hunt for their own food, live below the poverty line. If they grow their own food, why do they need the K9 for?  Rightfully, this definition applies to people who depend on a supermarket for all their food.

A better definition for poverty in PNG is hunger. When you work the land, you have food to eat. When you don’t work, you will go to sleep hungry. Having a bigger family to work the land is security against hunger.

In the name of world peace and the brotherhood of men, ideas and cultures are borrowed, stolen, adapted and even imposed onto other cultures. Instead of just accepting every new idea, we have to weigh new ideas against our existing “kastam”. We had a reason for doing things we did. We did not just exist.  Some “kastam” we can cut off, but others we may be cutting off at our own detriment. The key message is, think before we accept foreign ideologies that may be detrimental to the growth of our societies.





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