Hela province in the grip of tribal fights
By Fr Nicholas Yambu
Parish Priest, St Francis of Assisi
MENDI, 21 NOV 2014. There are three or four tribal fights now in Hela province. I have been here in Mendi for this week and I hear that two new tribal fights have started in the Koroba Kopiago electorates. I don’t know if this is true. As of two weeks ago the fighting zones involved only the two electorates of Tari Pori and Komo Margarima. These two electorates have been declared fighting zones by the government.
Tribal fights in the Hela area are a common thing. The recent fights have been different though as traditional rules of fighting and engagement are not observed. In the past rival enemies were not allowed to burn houses when their enemies are inside the house or asleep. It was also a taboo to kill women and children or to hunt and kill an enemy in other people’s territory. Only people who are directly related to the fight were considered enemies. But these rules of engagement are broken now and women and children have been killed in these fights. About ten years ago I didn’t see any factory made guns used in tribal fights. Now the M16 is considered an ordinary gun in the area.
I don’t believe that the declaration of fighting zone will really solve the problem because the fights are mostly happening in the bush. Enemies are hunting each other and mobile phones are being used which makes it easier to identify enemy targets. The culprits or “owners of fights”, as they say here, will easily hide.
The fights have started over different things. People may fight over one thing such as a pig, but it is easily connected with a previous tribal rivalry or political differences. I’m sorry I can’t say what these fights are really about. These people have so many different fights over different things so frequently that over time it becomes complex and hard to trace the cause of the fights sometimes.
The government services in the towns and in no-fighting areas are still operating. People who are not related to the fight are free to go into towns and move around.
As far as the Church work goes, things are not affected as much. Church buildings are generally respected by the warring tribes. Only the Church workers and Christians from the warring tribes are affected and are in hiding. Some have taken refuge in other areas. And so those affected can’t gather for Church meetings and activities.
Declaring a state of emergency and pouring in more police and army or money is a short term solution. Long term measures are to be taken if Hela is to stop these fights and move ahead with development. The leaders starting with the elected MPs must cooperate, work together, and pour in their resources to address these issues. They must spend more time in their electorates in Hela and be in regular contact with their people. Their people must see them as being on the ground with them to address the issues head-on instead of living in Port Moresby and only coming into Tari to distribute money or on important occasions.
Money allocated for development by the government must be used for the intended purposes so that people can see real change happening in their places and make them happy. When you have so many unhappy and frustrated people, it leads to things like the tribal fights we are seeing. Leaders must come down to the level of the people and empower their people for their own development instead of making them wait around for cash-handouts. Hela leaders must work in partnerships with the Churches, such as the Hela Council of Churches to address some of these issues. Unless there is a real political will and heart for the people, very little is going to be achieved.