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Review and Reflections on Tim Anderson and Gary Lee: In Defence of Melanesian Customary Land

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eJournal of the Australian Association for the Advancement of Pacific Studies
Issues 1.2 and 2.1, April 2010


  1. 'Hot off the press' and published by AID/WATCH in a format that is easily portable, foldable and readable by Melanesians educated in English, this detailed series of papers relating to traditional Melanesian attitudes to land and its potential use and misuse by outside interests deserves to be read, understood, and acted upon as widely as possible both inside and outside the Pacific. Although dealing with specific areas within Melanesia, its ramifications and implications are relevant and important also for many areas of the Pacific and for many indigenous cultures worldwide. Its publication, made possible with support from the Christensen Fund, follows upon the March 2010 'Our Land, Our Future' speaking tour throughout Australia of two members of MILDA (Melanesian Indigenous Land Defence Alliance), Steven Sukot and Joel Simo. An accompanying DVD, Defending Melanesian Land , available from the publishers and released at the time of the speaking tour, complements the texts by giving a background to Melanesian concerns and the setting up of MILDA in PNG in June 2009.
  2. The booklet is divided into eight sections, as follows:

    • Tim Anderson and Gary Lee (eds), 'Introduction: Understanding Melanesian customary Land', pp. 2–4.
    • Steven Sukot, 'Downplaying defects in state-systems and overemphasising customary land tenure conversion for development in Papua New Guinea', pp. 5–10.
    • Tim Anderson, 'Land registration, land markets and livelihoods in Papua New Guinea', pp. 11–20.
    • Almah Tararia & Lisa Ogle, 'Incorporated land groups and the registration of customary land: Recent developments in PNG', pp. 21–26.
    • Rosa Koian, 'Women in patrilineal and matrilineal societies in Melanesia', pp. 27–29.
    • Ralph Regenvanu, 'The traditional economy as source of resilience in Vanuatu', pp. 30–33 (edited version of paper given by the author at the Lowy Institute 'The Pacific Islands and the World: The Global Economic Crisis' conference, Brisbane, August 2009).
    • Lara Daley, 'Hijacking development futures: 'Land development' and reform in Vanuatu', pp. 34–39.
    • Joel Simo, 'Land and the traditional economy: 'Your money, my life'. Hu i kaekae long basket blong laef?', pp. 40–44.
  3. The authors are from Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, and Australia, and their backgrounds are outlined in the publication. This reviewer considered describing each one individually as well as giving an overview of each section, but decided that it is better for each reader of this issue of PacifiCurrents e-journal to do that themselves. If you are reading this review, you can easily read the report, as it is also available for downloading from the Aid Watch website (and this site includes an order form for hard copies). So there are no excuses for not reading it and distributing it as widely as possible, as the views in it are important, need to be taken seriously, and discussed openly. This reviewer will, however, give a brief personal overview of aspects related to Melanesian traditional land views and current dealings with or threats to it, in a type of philosophical, argumentative, style that hopefully may give some readers outside of the Pacific an idea of how serious the topic of land is. Many of these aspects are very well dealt with in the publication, but a few others will be mentioned, all with a slightly different approach. This writer would humbly like to point out again that these are personal views (and not necessarily the views of the rather numerous cultural institutions with which he is associated) formed over and gleaned from an oft intense, continuous, and ongoing relationship with parts of Melanesia, particularly Vanuatu, since 1973 – so apologies if certain generalisations may be slightly Vanuatu-oriented, but attitudes and events there are relevant for most of the rest of the western Pacific.
  4. Melanesia is so linguistically and culturally varied and complex that it is often almost impossible to make generalisations, except about attitudes to land. Traditional land access, custodianship, 'ownership', use and disposal systems vary greatly throughout the vast numbers of Melanesian cultures, but all Melanesian peoples and cultures are joined with land and sacred spaces in ways that link specific peoples with specific land areas in profound and unbreakable ways. Strict laws regarding these topics are slightly more fluid than in the western sense, but are 'fluid', though, only in the sense that a meandering river has internal currents, within its banks. All Melanesian cultures revere the land, have strong spiritual beliefs and attitudes regarding it, view it as a communal rather than individual asset and, in an ideal world, consider it perfectly normal that one should have access to one's family/lineage/clan etc land and its fruits directly from birth (or later by marriage) in one form or other. For coastal peoples, land usufruct rights usually include and extend beyond the fringing reefs, 'gardens of the sea'. Land and humans exist together as part and parcel of the same life force, and one cannot really exist without the other. In this part of the world, Land=People=Culture. One of the strongest insults one can give a Melanesian would be to accuse him/her of 'not having any land' (i.e., not having any 'place'). This situation is traditionally almost unthinkable, as it would basically mean that that individual does not actually exist; that he or she is like a piece of driftwood, wandering aimlessly with no proper roots or cultural identity, a sorry state to be in. There are of course exceptions to this, as there always are in Melanesia, but this is generally true. Western ideas of 'freehold' land ownership, in which land can be bought and sold like a bag of coffee beans, do not gel well with traditional Melanesian beliefs and values, and come from a completely foreign (and not well-understood) view of the world. Within most Melanesian cultures there are ways to lease land, but not 'sell' it permanently (unless there are extreme circumstances). The Western way of looking at land would be considered by most Melanesians as lacking in respect, being evidence of a childish, short-sighted, greedy and non-Christian nature. It should be pointed out that Christian churches have a lot more influence (and percentage of followers) in most areas of Melanesia than they do in most western nations. Melanesians can often be rather shocked to discover that a significant percentage of the foreigners that they may come across either have no land, or very little of it – which may help, in their view, to explain aspects of the seemingly insane assault on the land and its resources currently being conducted by outsiders in parts of the western Pacific. Expatriate readers should note, moreover, that many Melanesians consider outsiders from the English and French-speaking worlds to be representatives of a type of nomadic society, one whose major cultural characteristics is perpetually attempting, by whatever means possible, to steal other peoples'land. History tells us that this opinion is not necessarily incorrect, to put it as politely as possible.
  5. Certain outsiders might say that such attitudes are those of a global minority and are outdated, but such a perception would be wrong on both counts. Firstly, Melanesia possesses nearly a quarter of all the languages and cultures on the face of the earth today, so such beliefs are not 'minority viewpoints'. Secondly, innumerable writers, scientists, think-tanks and NGOs have written millions of words over the last decade or more, urgently trying to persuade the public worldwide that it needs to rapidly develop more sustainable lifestyles, ways of life that are less destructive and less consumer-driven. Melanesia contains the largest concentration of societies on the face of the planet which are still essentially self-sufficient – and all this literally on Australia's northern and northeastern doorsteps. Most Melanesians (excepting Kanaks in New Caledonia and those in urban centres) are still based on their traditional land, still produce most of their own food, and most are not completely reliant on 'modern money', the latter being a possibly useful partial addition, but not an absolute essential, for life. Many Melanesians are still closely linked into aspects of their own traditional economic systems which, combined with the safety of traditional land and food, provide immense security and enable continuity of life and culture without having to rely exclusively on monetary or other inputs from outside. Most Melanesian peoples are agricultural experts par excellence (and archaeological evidence shows that certain types of agriculture were developing in PNG around the same times as the origins of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent and Asia). They are also superbly efficient users of bush, reef, and certain marine resources. The 'developed' world can learn a lot from them.
  6. Many overseas economists would class the Melanesian nations (excluding New Caledonia) as amongst the world's 'poorest' as well as having possibly amongst the highest levels of 'unemployment.' Such views, however, are only relevant to someone who thinks 'poor=lack of money' and 'unemployment=lack of a paid job'. Neither comparison is actually all that appropriate for large areas of Melanesia outside of the capitals and other urban centres (the major centres of real poverty). The vast majority of Melanesians are 'employed' on (or by) their land, as they have been for untold generations. From this point of view, actual 'employment' levels within Melanesia are probably currently higher, say, than in the US or some parts of Europe. Although traditional communal land-holding systems are a lot more complex than western freehold systems, almost all Melanesians could actually be classed as 'land owners'. This is not something that can be said about the inhabitants of most nations in the so-called 'First World'. Because of these in-built safety factors, Melanesia was/is probably the area of the world least affected by the recent and still unfinished GFC (Global Financial Crisis), in spite of the attempts of numbers of economists, think-tanks, overseas governments and multilateral organisations to try and convince Melanesian governments otherwise. These basic traditional safeguards, then, should be recognised positively as such, and be protected and promoted and not seen, as many outsiders seem to think, as a 'barrier to development'.
  7. This of course brings us to the question of what one means by the concept of 'development'. Certain projects that many overseas specialists might class as 'good' development could actually be classed by certain aware Melanesians as 'bad' development. Cutting to the core basics, most Western (and western-educated) economists and planners seem to think that the bottom line in this is to try to make everyone get (i.e. work for, or let go their land for) more 'money'. There is a good and bad side to this in Melanesia. Of course, people may need more modern money to pay school fees, medical expenses, certain living expenses, etc, but money should not be considered the be-all and end-all of life – and of course it would be nice if governments could provide free education (but that education needs to be Pacific-relevant) and medical care (especially those governments raking off incomes from logging, mining or gas projects, etc). Countless generations of Melanesians have survived rather well without it – until recently. Most Melanesian cultures, however, have (or had) their own forms of traditional currency and their own forms of trading and economic systems, and many of these still continue to function, albeit often in modified form. Recognising the supreme importance of the combination of land, food, and such systems, the then Vanuatu government declared (in late 2006) 2007 to be the 'Year of the Traditional Economy', and to emphasise this extended it to cover 2008 as well. This was an outgrowth and recognition of an extremely important Vanuatu Cultural Centre project on traditional wealth items begun in 2004 and supported by UNESCO through funding by the Japanese Funds in Trust for the Preservation and Promotion of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. One of the reasons for the declaration was also to forewarn the population of the fragility of the money-based economy. Sustainability has been the condition most desired, and this aspect was emphasised by the theme of Vanuatu's Third National Arts Festival, held in the capital in November 2009, whose theme was 'Cultural Diversity towards a Sustainable Economy'. A relatively common feature of many (if not most) recent major 'development' projects throughout Melanesia has been a lack of effective sustainability, partially due to an over-obsession with purely financial returns. Although many Melanesian cultures have dabbled with various forms of 'modern' money for well over a century, it has not completely displaced traditional systems in most areas, but has merely been added on to them. Often it has become a sort of 'special purpose currency', useful for the non-essentials in life whilst traditional currencies continue to function as the 'real money for the real things in life' (marriage, ritual, status, compensation and mortuary payments, etc). Reliance on these traditional forms lessens the overwhelming need to fully adopt modern money and therefore is a positive factor in minimising real poverty. Local, provincial and national governments, overseas governments and aid organisations, NGOs and multilateral organisations should all be more aware of this and be sympathetic to the supporting of such traditional economic systems – and the agricultural systems that go with them – as ways of 'minimising poverty' and promoting cultural identity.
  8. Another major local benefit of continuing with the use of traditional currencies and economic systems (including agriculture) is that Melanesian peoples are themselves mostly in control of their production and valuation and therefore not beholden to the instability and fluctuations of modern financial systems based in 'remote islands faraway'. It does seem rather farcical to this reviewer that certain economists have not yet seemed to have learnt anything from the recent (and continuing) global financial crises and continue to try and promote a type of western financial economic model whose actual fundamental theory, structure and financial workings have proved to be faulty, dangerous, and often definitely lacking in ethics. Moreover, from a Melanesian standpoint, those western individuals, institutions, systems and tactics responsible for the Global Financial Crises have been those who have supposedly had access not only to the 'best' forms of modern overseas education and the 'best' theories about 'development' but also access to the 'best' forms of modern technology (the latest computers, etc). Thus it would seem logical that any normal intelligent Melanesian aware of this would be rightly wary about any of the above – 'education', 'development', 'technology' – particularly as it now seems as if some of the agents of that worldwide economic private sector hell-bent-for-leather-for more-money overseas world now seem to be massing their forces to try and gain easy access to, and eventual control over, that most important Melanesian asset: Land.
  9. Moreover – again from a Melanesian standpoint – it all seems to be being done under the umbrella of the mantra of 'Development,' aided and abetted by a type of outsider called an 'investor'. Any Melanesian worth his salt/betel nut/kava will usually tell anyone willing to listen that many so-called major foreign-inspired 'development' projects have not necessarily brought the benefits promised to – or hoped for by – those who were supposed to be the alleded benefactors: rural islanders. Timothy Kalangis, the son of Chief Tivate Kalangis from Utaune, north Efate, Vanuatu, put it 'straight' when he came to the capital (Port Vila) recently to complain about development and investors in his area: 'Development is a good thing, but it must not make us poor…there is a danger that we ni-Vanuatu may become strangers on our own land' (Vanuatu Daily Post, 23 February 2010). These sorts of comments are heard often within Melanesia – and most are less polite than that quoted. For those on the ground, so to speak, a significant percentage of those new types of foreigners called 'investors' might actually be described more accurately in English as 'speculators', 'opportunists', 'carpet baggers' – or even 'rip-off artists'. There are, of course, many beneficial development projects and some good investors but the latter unfortunately seem to be in a relative minority, overshadowed by much bigger outside interests that may not necessarily have the well-being of Melanesians as a priority.
  10. Many overseas individuals, organisations, companies, and even governments can at times become intrigued, puzzled, annoyed, and even angry about Melanesian attitudes to land that they often see as 'holding up development'. Those from overseas may have to resign themselves to more of the same or try and educate themselves in a different way of viewing the world. A basic mistake is that those mentioned above often assume – as they think it is a given worldwide norm – that 'modern money' is an adequate compensation for (what is potentially often effectively permanent) land alienation. It is not. Melanesian cultures have in general, with a few exceptions (including those moneyed elites in the capital cities), not fully adopted the use of money to the exclusion of all else. There are reasons for this and these often have nothing to do with the fact that it is in extremely short supply in most rural areas. Most rural Melanesians (who are the overwhelmingly vast majority of the population) look upon modern money with a combination of desire and apprehension. Money can be useful but it can also be extremely socially disruptive, even dangerous. This is not because of the fact that its overseas valuation base is inherently unstable, but because of its fluid, light, and anonymous nature, which can easily promote envy, jealousy, disputes and violence. Large amounts of it can often act, as white people might say, like a bull in a china shop – or, in a more relevant analogy, like a wild pig accidentally stuck in a full classroom. Unlike most traditional currencies it tends to promote the individual (in a western sense) rather than the group (in a Melanesian sense), unless it is strictly controlled all the time. Some peoples in Melanesia today almost refuse to use it (e.g. many of the Kwaio peoples in the interior of central Malaita, Solomon islands, and segments of the Nivhaal/Naüvhaal-speaking populations in the southwestern interior of Tanna, Vanuatu). For Melanesians, the most relevant comparison might be to liken 'money' to a rather powerfully addictive drug: possibly rather nice in small, regulated, doses, but often extremely noxious if those controls are lifted. There are, moreover, widespread beliefs that one of the reasons one has to be careful of it is that it has a potential disease attached to it – in Vanuatu's Bislama (pidgin) this is known as 'sik blong mani', 'money disease'. Many foreign outsiders nowadays (not previously) are believed to be infected carriers of this disease, either in latent or fully-blown form, or are intent in trying to infect Melanesians with it so that the former, or whoever they represent, can eventually benefit in some way or other. Many inhabitants of the US (and elsewhere) might now grudgingly and sardonically agree with this point of view since September 2008, so it is not completely outrageous.
  11. This timely and important publication, In Defence of Melanesian Customary Land, comes as a result not only of rapidly-increasing strains on traditionally-held land in this part of the Pacific, but also as a partial Melanesian addition to and critique of the large AusAID-funded 'Making Land Work' project (2008). The AusAID project, still ongoing, came about largely in recognition of the same pressures, to try and assess the situation and encourage discussion. The written outcomes of this extensive project are published in two volumes available online:

      AusAID (ed), Making Land Work, Canberra, 2008.
      Volume IReconciling customary land and development in the Pacific, 132pp.
      Volume IICase studies on customary land and development in the Pacific, 355pp.

  12. These two volumes are a serious and admirable overview of aspects of land and development in the Pacific, and give historical examples of the ways certain areas have tried, successfully or not, to come to terms with what might seem to be conflicting aspirations of social change. Aware of the extreme sensitivity of land issues in the Pacific, the AusAID editors plainly state that the publications have been done not to push any particular viewpoint nor development model, but as an awareness aid to a complex topic in a part of the world at a social crossroads. It will be widely read by expatriate academics, specialists and planners outside and within the Pacific. The weighty format, however, is of a type that most Melanesians will not necessarily be queuing up to read, even if one is a government official and free copies are sitting on one's office shelf. Most rural Melanesians have no easy access to functioning computers, so may not necessarily be queuing up either in forest internet cafes to download the rather massive file to read it online. This does not detract from the fact that it is a hefty and important work, but many Melanesians are uneasy – not necessarily because of the report itself but because of what it may represent, and subsequent linked projects or pressures. 'Making Land Work' is a very nice title, but Land in Melanesia has been working well with and for its inhabitants since before any of the current nations in Europe were actually founded. Most of the sections are written by scholars and researchers, mostly expatriate or jointly with a Pacific islander, but a significant number come from expatriate consultants some of whom are linked into the 'development' world/industry. The term 'consultant' does not necessarily have, amongst Melanesians, the same cachet that it might have in the outside world and those called by that term are often viewed with a certain amount of suspicion. Real grass-roots voices from Melanesia are few and far between and, although some of their views are outlined, they are often done so in a way almost as if these are voices from a disappearing world that has to be made respectful reference to but will soon have to change. The combined weight of the presentations effectively subconsciously pushes a rather market-oriented economic approach, whether it means to or not. This may be why many Melanesians feel uneasy about it: they don't necessarily have to read it to know what the real aim may be, and although the real aim may not necessarily be what they think, the ultimate end result may be what they think. They will eventually lose their land, the only real security they have. Within Melanesia, part of this apprehension, and sometimes anger, is currently associated with linked projects of land title registration or 'land reform' that some feel are being forced hurriedly upon them.
  13. They are possibly right to be concerned. Land title registration in parts of the western Pacific (and many other areas of the 'developing' world) has had a very chequered history, and it is only normal for Melanesians to be suspicious about it. Outsiders should be sympathetic to these apprehensions. Within parts of the western Pacific, various types of such 'legalising' approaches, some forced and some not, have often caused acute problems for many Melanesians for well over a century. Current concerns must be seen in this historical context. Many Melanesians, moreover, doubt the real long-term validity and safety of modern legal-type agreements, often saying that although traditional laws always remain the same, 'white man's law' (which can often mean also the laws of modern Pacific states) changes frequently to suit the purposes of those 'in charge'. To put it mildly, the 'outside' world does not necessarily have a good reputation in much of the Pacific for matters dealing with land. Nor does it have a good reputation in many other areas of the world, where the history of land reform or registration projects have often been the prelude for eventual land theft by either colonial or independent governments, mining companies, or whatever. Taking land out of its safe control and sustainable use under communal traditional oral systems and agreements and putting it into some 'legal' written form can be looked upon as the thin end of the wedge for eventual land alienation, in whatever form. Of course, development advisors and overseas and Pacific governments themselves may say 'Ah, but now things are different', but they are not really. In fact, because of the seemingly mad race for the exploitation of resources and 'development', in many instances the situation is currently potentially even worse.
  14. Resource hunger from the outside world is an increasing threat to Melanesian populations. Although almost all land in most of Melanesia is still under customary control, there are numerous ways that this can be taken from them. Let this reviewer give an example from another area of the world: Alaska. Indigenous land rights were legally recognised when the US originally purchased Alaska from Russia, and were re-recognised when it became a US state in 1959. These land rights proved to be an impediment to those forces that wanted to build a pipeline and extract the oil and gas deposits so, on behalf of the potential exploiters (who eventually turned out to be BP and Exxon), the US Nixon government began legal manoeuvrings from 1969 to take corporate control of indigenous land. This resulted in the reassuring-sounding Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. The act, however, contained a trick clause 'unique in US history: Rather than create reservations in which there would be a sovereign territory held for Natives in perpetuity, Alaskan Natives would be given shares of stock in a dozen or so corporations. The corporations, not the Natives, would own the land…. Most important, because the land was corporate real estate, not reservation property, it could be sold. Today, most of the Native Alaskan corporate land of the Prince William Sound is owned by people who don't live in Alaska. The remaining Natives are now tenants of the land their ancestors have lived on for 3,000 years…Native leader Gail Evanoff told me, that was the plan from Day One. 'They set it up for us to fail. They put it in a form they could take away.'[2]
  15. At the moment, Papua New Guinea is the Melanesian independent country most likely to benefit – or have its population largely marginalised or ripped-off – from or by potential resource-extraction projects.[3]. As of September 2009 there were 79 mining companies working in the nation. Including PNG itself, those overseas companies come from Australia, Canada, China, South Africa, Japan, Singapore and the USA. The massive new LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) project (mostly linked with Exxon Mobil), to pipe liquefied natural gas from the Southern Highlands promises massive potential incomes to PNG, and could be very beneficial if done correctly. In spite of supposed massive campaigns to enlist public agreement and traditional landowner support, however, there is much local concern – and growing violence – related to worries about correct recognition of traditional land rights and appropriate (and reliable) compensation. Some Southern Highlands groups seem relatively positive about the project, others not. Not all the current (May 2010) tribal fighting – involving, it is said, several major groups and 18,000 people – in Hela and Southern Highlands provinces are linked to this project, but some might be a spin-off from the feelings generated by it. The Tuguba/Hewa peoples near Hides in the Southern Highlands have traditional knowledge, and associated beliefs and rituals, regarding the gas deposits in their area. There called Laekebo (nicknamed 'the fire that never dies'), surrounding peoples say that it should not be given to the 'red leg' (white man) without proper and adequate compensation. The presence of a relatively small Australian gas extraction company there for the last couple of decades, allegedly providing minimal benefits to most people in the area, may have led such groups to be more cautious about the big LNG project. In May 2010 a spokesman for some of the Tuguba peoples, Simon Ekanda, commented on the LNG project with the words 'It's just like raping a woman.'[4] Concerning the LNG project, neither the overseas company/companies nor the PNG government departments involved seem to inspire much confidence amongst many landholders nor amongst local environmentalists.
  16. Regarding the Environmental Impact Study done for the PNG LNG project in the Gulf area, an environmentalist employed by the Gulf Provincial Government has said that the impact assessments paper done by the developer would, if presented in countries like Australia, Canada or the US, be used as 'toilet paper'.[5] Looking at the actual formal agreement between the PNG government and the developers for the LNG project, Dr Allan Marat (former PNG Attourney-General and Justice Minister) has said, 'This gas agreement was drawn up overseas. It was taken away from our government negotiating team and structured overseas. And now we are forced to dance to the music of foreigners.'[6] It is not, however, only foreigners to blame. In the race to get the LNG project going as quickly as possible, the customary land registration pressure is immense, and many Melanesians are worried or holding back any form of agreement. In May 2010 Pepi Kimas, the PNG Secretary for Lands and Physical Planning, tried to reassure landholders with the words 'Customary land registration is not going to remove land from customary land owners, its about them registering their land to develop and create wealth for themselves and their families'.[7] A month before he issued this statement, it had been reported that the PNG government Department of Petroleum, responsible for paying out regular agreed fees for land use for other similar and already ongoing projects, had been breaching the terms of the Oil and Gas Act by not regularly paying many landowners their monthly royalties. The accounts were said to be in a chaotic state, and some potential recipients, in the Gobe and Kutubu areas, were said to have had no payments listed since December 2007.[8] In the type of move blatantly familiar to anyone with a knowledge of resource extraction in the 'developing' world, the PNG parliament hurriedly passed, on 28th May, the Environment (amendment) Bill 2010. This fundamental change to the Environment Law 2000 effectively prevents traditional landowners and third parties from instituting legal proceedings against developers over alleged environmental problems. Typical of 'corporate-friendly' legislation amendments worldwide, it was introduced in the parliament by the Environment and Conservation Minister, the government official supposedly tasked with protecting the environment.

    Meanwhile, across the border in the Indonesian province of Papua…
  17. But the above is possibly enough for the moment, although it is only touching the tip of the yam heap. Read In Defence of Melanesian Customary Land, and read between the lines. It is a cry from the Melanesian soul. This is not just about land rights; it is also about human and cultural rights. Congratulations to the authors and publishers. Maybe certain overseas advisors, companies, institutions and also certain Melanesian government officials should be given listening time alone in a large hut full of irate rural Melanesian women. That would quickly teach some of the former not to denigrate the widely-held Melanesian concept of 'Mother Ground' (or in some areas is 'Father Ground'), and might induce them to envisage a more beneficial, sustainable, form of development. Following wrongly-conceived and outdated economic development models that emphasise money instead of land security, food security and social and cultural contentment are extremely worrying to most intelligent Pacific Islanders. Such actions may eventually lead, to borrow a language term from our Pacific brothers and sisters far to our east, in Tuvalu, to a vast number of Melanesians being considered as faka'alofa: 'a person with no land, deserving pity and charity'. This is to be avoided at all costs.


    [1] Tim Anderson and Gary Lee (eds), In Defence of Melanesian Customary Land, Sydney: AID/WATCH, (April) 2010, 44pp, ISBN 978-0-646-53237-0, online:, accessed 2 June 2010.

    [2] See G. Palast, 'Emperor Hickel: The Man Who Invented Alaska…and Sarah Palin,' in Greg Palast: Journalism and Film, 10 May 2010, online:, accessed 1 June 2010.

    [3] For those of you who may wish to learn more about how certain big resource-hungry companies actually work, and what influences they often have on nations, read John Vidal's 'The real cost of cheap oil.' Bear in mind that what is said is relevant not just for certain oil and gas companies, but also for some of those extracting gold, copper, nickel and whatever, and not just in the 'developing ' world. Of course, one should also bear in mind that however much one complains about certain western concepts, approaches, or companies, the increasing influence and power of similar pressures from Asia may eventually prove to be even more harmful for Melanesian interests. See John Vidal, 'The real cost of cheap oil', Guardian, UK, 27 May 2010, available online at, accessed 2 June 2010.

    [4] Simon Ekanda, in 'Resource Rage' by Amos Roberts, a 20-minute documentary film broadcast on Australian TV, Dateline, SBS, 9 May 2010.

    [5] R. Palme, 'Environmentalist says PNG LNG environment report rushed,' in Sunday Chronicle, PNG, 4 April 2010.

    [6] 'LNG law foreign, says former AG,' The National, PNG, 18th May 2010, online:, accessed 2 June 2010.

    [7] Quote from Pepi Kimas cited in Harlyne Joku, 'Wealth from land, answer to poverty,' Post Courier, PNG, 13th May 2010, online:, accessed 2 June 2010.

    [8] Robert Palme, 'Royalty trust accounts in chaos,' Sunday Chronicle (PNG), 4th April 2010, online:, accessed 2 June 2010.

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