This project examines people-to-people strategies to collaborate with communities to develop strategies to mitigate and prevent conflict and engage in reconciliation processes. The project takes a multi-layered and multi-generational approach to facilitating dialogue among groups in conflict and addressing the power relations at play within certain groups and communities. It does so by engaging in a creative practice approach creating safe environments for expression and designing non-violent solutions to conflict.
The project is supported by the Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development Initiative of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). A variety of government partners as well as Australian and PNG universities are involved in the project.
Fieldwork in four sites in Papua New Guinea. Will involve active engagement with community participants.
Chevening Scholarships are now open for applications for masters by coursework postgraduate study in the UK starting in September 2017. The normal requirement is the achievement of an upper second class bachelor degree (called a “2:1” in the UK system and equivalent to an overall Distinction in this part of the world) + at least two years working experience.
In practice, a DWU applicant will need a local postgraduate qualification of some kind. Unlike the case for applicants for Australia Awards, it will be necessary to pass an IELTS test with a score of 5.5. or higher.
Opportunity for female PhD holders, with priority to those <5 years post-PhD. It’s for a 1-4 month research project which you would do as an associate with an Australian academic institution and/or organisation, 1 July 2017 and 31 December 2017.
Good points: For Papua New Guinea female PhD holders.
A challenge: only two fellowships on offer, and probable fierce competition with applicants from Chile, People’s Republic of China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.
Providing financial support for high-achieving female researchers from developing APEC economies. The 2017 round of the fellowship will open in February 2017.
The Australia – APEC Women in Research Fellowship will provide financial support for high-achieving female researchers from developing APEC economies to pursue research opportunities in partnership with Australian education and research institutions.
This fellowship program aims to encourage the mobility of post-doctorate female researchers in the APEC region. It is therefore designed to assist with the particular challenges female researchers face in undertaking cross-border research activities such as lack of flexibility and extra financial support for child care.
Each year up to ten fellowships will be awarded to facilitate a research project of between one and four months. Within the pool of successful recipients, two fellowships will be offered to early career researchers with less than five years’ of professional research experience.
In a rare win for biodiversity conservation in Papua New Guinea (PNG), an alliance of ten clans shared in UNDP’s Equator Prize for their collaborative project on rainforest protection, winning US$10,000, praise at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP21) last December and recognition at a national award ceremony in PNG recently (Figure 1).
The Wanang Conservation Area is one of approximately 60 protected areas created in Papua New Guinea since 1962. The ten rainforest-dwelling clans, who work in conjunction with the non-governmental New Guinea Binatang Research Centre in Madang, a university town on the northern coast of the country, have chosen to protect 10,000 hectares of forest for their future livelihoods, rather than allow logging permits to be issued over their land.
The Binatang Research Centre is a practical demonstration that excellent science does not have to wait for government or big universities in order to be successful. The Research Centre operates as part of a network with six other ‘grass roots’ conservation groups in Papua New Guinea and has partnership agreements with five universities and research institutes in the country, the PNG government’s Conservation and Environment Protection Authority (CEPA), as well as more than a dozen universities and research institutes in other countries. Small amounts of funding comes in the form of collaborative projects with research groups and PhD students who come to Madang to make use of the facilities, and moderately-sized research awards, such as a climate change mitigation award from the GEF Small Grants Programme and private sponsorships, such as from Steamships Trading Company Ltd, a Papua New Guinea business founded in 1918.
Led by its director, Professor Vojtech Novotny of the Czech Academy of Sciences, the centre has had also success on a bigger scale, with collaboration in internationally-funded research including the recent award of a European Research Council Advanced Grant for the five-year project ‘Ecological determinants of tropical-temperate trends in insect diversity’ with institutes in the US, Czech Republic and Japan.
The governmental scene in Papua New Guinea rainforest conservation
This contrasts with the poverty of domestic funding for conservation in Papua New Guinea itself. The World Bank reclassified PNG in 2010 from a ‘low income country’ to a ‘lower middle income’ country largely on the basis of capital inflows surrounding an ExxonMobil-led LNG project that tipped GNI over the threshold of US$3,855 per capita. An optimistic government vowed to start spending 5% of the public investment part of the budget on research and development in its Vision 2050 plan and another 5% on environmental sustainability and climate change. Since the 2016 public investment budget was US$1.5 billion, these two items would come in at a tidy US$150 million this year, or about PGK450 million, if the promise was kept.
Alas, after falls in export prices the country is now struggling with a large budget deficit. In the midst of this, it is no surprise that basic funding commitments to tertiary institutions have not been met. Unrest at two of the state-run universities in 2016, with police opening fire on students in one incident, have resulted in the partial loss of the academic year. In this context, the absence of a domestic competitive grants scheme, desultory expenditure on any science facilities, and woeful internet access are the least of the science sector’s worries. The PGK450 million a year for R&D and environmental sustainability spending? The entire university sector, with some 15,000 students, is struggling to operate on a budget of far less than that.
What of the remainder of the 60 protected areas? Once upon a time, when carbon trading was going to be the next big thing, it was Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister who proposed the Coalition for Rainforest Nations and got conservation talks going at the 2007 UN Climate Change Conference in Bali. Unfortunately, there has been glacial progress since Bali in linking the international schemes, like the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, to what might happen in the protected areas of a country like Papua New Guinea. A decade later, ‘inception workshops’ and ‘explanation of the project to relevant stakeholders’ are still the order of the day.
However, a Climate Change and Development Authority (CCDA) has been created and a Project Management Unit has been created within it for FCPF ‘activities’. Is this joined up government at last that will progress conservation? Not really, the protected areas are the responsibility of CEPA not CCDA. Neither agency has a web site or has published a substantive report recently. Which means that ‘home made’ organisations like the New Guinea Binatang Research Centre will outpace the efforts of the government sector for some time to come. Well done Professor Novotny and colleagues!
Both fellowships are awarded for 12 months in the first instance, renewable for a further 12 months. The EWC Fellowship is specific to that institution and may not cover 100% of costs (air travel not included). The ADB-JSP award is for full costs (inc travel) and may be taken in Japan, Sydney, Melbourne, ANU (Crawford School), Auckland as well as at the EWC.
The ADB-Japan Scholarship requires applicants to have 2 years of full-time professional work experience after a 4 year university degree. See the FAQ for full requirements.
Application deadlines: November 1 for August 2017 start.
Previously (El Niño hits Papua New Guinea…HARD), I wrote about the effects of the 2015-16 El Niño event in Papua New Guinea. People in the high altitude and rain shadow areas of the country had suffered severe food shortages, while neither the National Disaster Centre nor its provincial affiliates had the resources to send staff outside their urban bases to examine the situation for themselves. Worse, the government appeared to block offers of help from those that provided assistance the last time around: the agricultural assessment experts, the NGOs, and various bilateral and multilateral donors.
In the face of adversity, I said, outside experts managed to assemble a credible picture of the disaster with the assistance of civil society organisations, churches and citizens using email, social media and instant messaging apps, all made possible by the rollout of low cost cell phone networks across the country since 2007.
A glimmer of hope was that images of malnourished children brought to the capital and shown on Facebook in January 2016 had – so I thought – finally stirred the government into action. The media quoted a spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s office saying that a helicopter was being moved to the distant station of Nomad in the Western Province to start distributing emergency supplies.
Sadly, this proved to be a deception. As the photographer, Sally Lloyd, said in a comment to my blog, a helicopter did fly around the area, but it departed without assisting local communities. Seven weeks on, some food has at last reached the area, but deaths of weakened people have been occurring on a regular basis.
I can now give an update both on the continuing food security assessment and reflect on the absence of a monitoring capacity for anything of a biophysical nature in the remote, and largely mountainous interior of the country.
The World Food Program’s Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping (VAM) unit has spent the last three years developing a mobile VAM, or mVAM, project to collect data remotely using voice and text (SMS) surveys through mobile phones. As of early 2016, mVAM was being used in 11 countries for food security assessments.
Recently, a WFP mVAM team worked with the PNG National Disaster Centre and the phone company Digicel, owner of the broadest network coverage in PNG, to bring in fresh reports from across the country. After three days of training on mVAM, operators were able to obtain 3,709 completed surveys from 233 of PNG’s 303 Local Level Government (LLG) areas (Figure 2).
As much as this is a huge step up from the inaction of 2015, if you know what you are looking for, you can still see that the hardest hit areas, like the above-mentioned Nomad, typically had just one call response each. mVAM is a great solution to doing rapid assessments, but the situation really points to the fact that Oceania as a whole is a blank for bio-physical science infrastructure.
In the last century, places like Papua New Guinea captivated fantasy writers and inspired titles like The Land that Time Forgot (Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1924). Today, these same places find themselves playing a part in a new fantasy: the world as constructed by development agencies and the numerous branches of the UN.
On measure after measure, from the obvious to the obscure – the Gender Development Index, performances of 15-year-old students in reading and mathematics, total tax revenue, R&D expenditure, fossil fuels as a percentage of primary energy supply, employment in agriculture, labour force with tertiary education, violence against women, exports and imports as a percentage of GDP, trust in national government, population living on degraded land – you name it, the international agencies report ‘missing or insufficient data’. And the same is true of food security in Papua New Guinea, according to the World Food Program (Figure 1).
But on measure after measure, countries like PNG find themselves constructed, whether they like it or not, as Lands that Data Forgot. Why is this?
Sometimes it is true there are no data but, as I have been at pains to demonstrate, there often are. The mentality seems to be that Pacific nations do not ‘do’ science or data reporting. Pacific political leaders, as they did after COP21 in Paris in respect to climate change, are good at making dramatic international appeals for external action on issues of the day – but both they and their public service heads tend to forget that they have their own domestic research institutions, like the university that I work at and many others. Copying them, the international agencies appear to be fooled into thinking that Pacific research institutions have nothing to say, instead of engaging with them and getting some answers.
So this is why we have the ‘mobile tech innovation’ of an mVAM survey but not GNOMO-listed mountain observatories – it is as much about the belief that big science infrastructure belongs in the small countries of Oceania that occupy a wide expanse of the earth’s surface as finding the means to make this happen.
In an earlier post (The Pacific missing in action at Perth III?), I mentioned the devastating effect that the 2015 El Nino event was having in Papua New Guinea (PNG): frosts in August 2015 had killed the sweet potato crop in areas above 2000m and severe drought conditions had set in elsewhere.
The rains began to return in December, but there is no clear picture of whether the start of the wet season has been even across the country. As I said in November, the National Weather Service has lost most of its observatories and weather stations of the last 40 years.
Historical taim hangri (‘hungry times’) occurred in 1914-15, 1941-42, 1972, 1982 and 1997. It is now clear that severe droughts, and the frosts in high altitude areas that go with clear night skies, are associated with a fall Southern Oscillation Index (SOI), the standardized difference in surface air pressure between Darwin and Tahiti. In 1997, the SOI fell from +12 to –25 in the early part of 1997. This gave 3 months warning of the worst phase of the drought in most areas.
As it happened, a team of experts from the Australian National University, the PNG Department of Agriculture and Livestock (DAL) and the PNG National Research Institute were in full flight on the Australian Aid-funded Mapping of Agricultural Systems Project (MASP) at the time of the 1997 drought, and the human resources existed to activate (a) an assessment response and (b) to feed information to government decision-makers for a recovery response.
The National Emergency Services were late to respond to warnings of drought and it is unclear whether high levels of government in Australia were being briefed, but a Sydney Morning Herald article by Lucy Palmer on 15 September 1997, entitled ‘Cry for help as our neighbors start to die’ with a colour photograph of a woman at Tambul (at 2200m) lying on a frost-damaged sweet potato mound had a shock effect and shortly afterwards international logistical support was forthcoming for a countrywide drought assessment. Thirteen field teams, coordinated by MASP staff and the Department of Provincial and Local Level Government Affairs (DPLLGA), then spent 21 September-11 October 1997 doing a rapid appraisal of all 19 provinces. Email was very rare in PNG at this time and the appraisal depended on specially forms being faxed to headquarters. The report, completed on 24 October was very clear: a total of 540,000 rural Papua New Guineans had insufficient food supplies (deemed to be in Categories 4 & 5), with 80,000 surviving only what they could scavenge in the environment (typically bush roots and leaves, some with unknown toxicity). Water was being obtained from alternative sources, typically from bigger watercourses that were likely to be polluted. An estimated half of PNG’s schools had closed.
The government of Prime Minister Bill Skate appeared paralysed and was only shamed to act after interventions by humanitarian organisations. It allowed the air supply of emergency rations by Australia’s RAAF (Figure 1) and set about delivering rice to affected areas.
Post-disaster analyses showed that the government response was ineffective: 7000 tonnes of donated rice did not leave the port city of Lae, and what was sent to affected areas mostly reached them after the crisis had passed. The RAAF air supply operation only helped a fraction of the severely affected areas.
In the end it was private expenditure by urban-dwelling citizens that saved lives. Cash remitted to family members in rural areas was spent on replacement foods, notably rice, as could be seen by a sharp spike in rice imports.
I have gone into this detail because the timelines of 1997 and 2015 bear close comparison. The big difference is that the current government led by Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has blocked offers of help from essentially the same organisations that provided assistance in 1997: the remnants of the MASP group, CARE Australia, OXFAM and UNDP to name a few. They are neither able to provide official advice to government nor get involved in the logistics of drought relief.
Between late August and mid-September, National Disaster Centre officials did assessment in the four regions of the country, but few of these were based on field observations. Most information was collected by interviewing administration staff at provincial and district headquarters.
Acting independently, on 2 November 2015 Michael Bourke and Bryant Allen, of the 1997 MASP team, gave an assessment seminar in Canberra, just 8 days adrift from first assessment report on the 1997 timeline. This time their information came not from field teams faxing in assessment forms, but from organisations like CARE, the United Church and Red Cross, supplemented by reports from citizens and the occasional foreign visitor in a remote area using email, social media and instant messaging apps, all made possible by the rollout of low cost cell phone networks across the country since 2007.
It was not the ideal way to conduct the assessments, but a remarkably coherent picture was assembled using these methods. A repeat of the seminar was hosted in Port Moresby on 2 December 2015 by the Institute of National Affairs, a privately supported civil society organisation. A 2016 Policy Brief sets out their formal findings. The unofficial assessment map shows a core of badly affected high altitude areas, some of which carry heavy populations, with the rain shadow areas of the Western Province and remote small islands also in severe need. Some 750,000 people were assessed as being Categories 4 & 5 (red and purple in Figure 2).
Reinforcing this picture of real crisis in the remoter areas, reports of people eating clay to stave off hunger pains were received from the Western Province in mid-December 2015 and confronting images of malnourished children were brought to a disaster meeting in Port Moresby in January 20016 by Sally Lloyd, an Australian visitor to Mougulu, a mission station near Nomad in Western Province, and posted on facebook.
Will the worst affected people survive and what does the limited, reactive government response say about disaster recovery capabilities in Papua New Guinea?
Firstly, the Nomad people should survive as the shock of the Mougulu pictures has, according to newspaper reports, stirred provincial authorities into basing a helicopter at this remote outpost to ensure supplies do reach its hard-to-access villages.
In other places, people are taking matters onto their own hands – two days ago frustration boiled over at Tambul in the Western Highlands and stores of rice were looted. This is the same area hit by frost as in 1997, and the damage occurred, not last week, but in mid-August 2015. It has yet to be explained why ‘stores of rice’ even existed in an area known to have had little food availability for the best part of five months.
Secondly, Papua New Guinea commenced participating in the World Bank-led Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) in 2012 with the PNG Office of Climate Change and Development (OCCD), Department of Agriculture (DAL), and Department of Works as lead agencies – but not, it seems, the National Disaster Centre or the (essentially unresourced) Provincial Disaster Committees. But the World Bank was accurate in its April 2015 country profile: ‘However, the country lacks institutional capacity to effectively implement its [Disaster Risk Management] strategy’.
Despite this, the national government’s stubborn rejection of help from the international development agencies is comprehensible in terms not of technocratic failure but of an international posture maintained by national leaders that rejects PNG’s image as a mendicant nation, and that PNG should claim a place as a leader among the 24 Pacific Island countries and territories. What citizens think of this will be seen at the July 2017 national elections, by which time the political caste will be banking on the fact that memories of hunger in rural areas will have faded away. Perhaps they will, but it is very likely that effects of collapsed agricultural exports, and the loss of mining production for months on end, will bring economic headaches to the rest of society that will not be so easy to paper over.
 Administrative areas of the country, meaningful in terms of physical access and internal homogeneity, were rated into Categories 1-5 for drought severity, Category 1 being ‘Unusually dry, but no major food supply, or drinking water or health problems’ and Category 5 being ‘Extreme situation. Only famine food available, and/or water very short, and/or many people ill, and/or small children and old people seriously at risk.’ A total of 638 one-page assessment forms were faxed from the provinces to DPLLGA headquarters by 14 October 1997.
 Bourke, R.M., Bryant Allen and Michael Lowe 2016. Estimated impact of drought and frost on food supply in rural PNG in 2015. Canberra: Australian National University, Development Policy Centre, Policy Brief 11 [ www.devpolicy.anu.edu.au ]
The Perth III: Mountains of our Future Earth conference was notable for the absence of Pacific researchers. Pies summarising the geographical representation of the 400+ conference presentations in 2010 and in 2015 showed that Pacific participation remained steady at a feeble 1% (Plate 1). In 2015, I and a single researcher from New Zealand were responsible for this weak statistic.
Does this tiny proportion reflect the real state of mountain research in the Pacific? Of course not. In Australian, New Zealand and US institutions, Pacific geosphere-biosphere studies are very well covered, though the poor turnout at Perth III highlights the fact that researchers may not be connected through the particular networks represented at the conference. Areas of particular strength include sustainable agriculture, biosecurity, earth sciences of all kinds, the social impacts of resource extraction, human ecology, Indigenous studies, land care, climate science, oceanography, and Antarctic and subantarctic research. Specifically mountain research is more likely to be found in sub-departmental research centres like the University of Otago’s Alpine Ecology Research Group and or cross-institutional centres like the Australian Institute for Alpine Studies.
More broadly in the Pacific, individual researchers of many origins and disciplines may have put in decades of mountain research in vulcanology, in the alpine zones of West Papua and Papua New Guinea, or in the highland valleys of these jurisdictions, where around 5 million people live. Unfortunately, this picture of strength in geosphere-biosphere studies is not replicated in Pacific universities and research institutions.
Pacific Island countries and territories form a complex patchwork of jurisdictions that are themselves grouped in networks of political cooperation.
The presence of ex- (or current) colonial powers in these groupings is variable and politically charged. The pre-war colonial powers founded the South Pacific Commission (SPC) in 1947. Four remain active in the modern incarnation, renamed the Secretariat of the Pacific Community in 1997. The EU Pacific Group includes none of the large economies. The PIF includes Australia and New Zealand, while the Fiji-sponsored PIDF was created as a snub to Australia and New Zealand (and as a rival to PIF) following the suspension of Fiji from the Commonwealth after Fiji’s 2009 military coup. Confusingly, all five of the PIF, PIDF, SPC, Delegation of the European Union for the Pacific, and CLGF are headquartered in Suva, the capital of Fiji.
Three additional jurisdictions have adjunct statuses: New Caledonia as an Associate Member of the SPC; Timor Leste as a Special Observer in PIF; and West Papua with a somewhat ambiguous status in MSG.
It is necessary to enter into this detail because squabbling about which pieces should be on the Pacific chessboard, rather than what they should do, sucks oxygen away from any substantive game-play and – in terms of science – sustained, internationally credible research programs.
Four current problems illustrate the urgent need to transcend barriers to Pacific science cooperation in the area of mountain studies.
The first is the 2015 El Nino event. The Pacific is severely affected: frosts in August 2015 killed the sweet potato crop in Papua New Guinea and West Papua in areas above 2000 m; severe drought conditions are expected to persist across the Pacific well into 2016, meaning that several million people will be facing extreme food shortages for many months. You would think El Nino would be a regional science priority, recurrences coming round like clockwork every 12-20 years, and given that the last one, in 1997, brought famine for months on end and, in Papua New Guinea, caused exports to crash and triggered 50 million Euros in Sysmin funding under the Lomé IV convention.
The second is the state of climate science in Pacific Island countries. The most strident calls for action have come from the lower-lying countries like Marshall Islands and Kiribati, but climate effects on things like Nothofagus dieback, crop pests, and human diseases with insect vectors means that environments, livelihoods and human health at all elevations are vulnerable. Again, you would think this would be another urgent priority.
The third is the state of resource governance and of ESIA studies of the extractive industries that already dominate the economies of Papua New Guinea (gold, copper, nickel, oil and gas – most in highland areas) and New Caledonia (nickel), and appear set to have a wider scope in the Pacific in coming years. Here too, the impacts on local communities are profound and it might be imagined that this should be a priority area (Plate 2).
The fourth problem, instigated to combat the effects of uncontrolled development, is the state of the region’s Protected Areas. Papua New Guinea now has 60, most in mountain areas. West Papua’s World Heritage-inscribed Lorentz National Park at 2.3 million hectares is one of the biggest protected areas in the Asia-Pacific and extends from the glaciers of Puncak Jaya, 4884 m, to highly bio-diverse marine habitats in the Arafura Sea. The wealth of natural reserves in these jurisdictions is of global significance and merits a multi-partnered, multi-disciplinary research and management effort to create high quality science and monitoring data, and to safeguard the areas for future generations.
But, in fact, science capabilities in the Pacific countries have stagnated in recent decades. Never mind a Global Mountain Observatory network: Papua New Guinea’s National Weather Service has lost most of its observatories and weather stations (it currently lists just two for the entire country, highest altitude 73 m); there is no dedicated research centre for resource industry impact studies, and a possible candidate, the PNG University of Natural Resources and Environment, is currently incommunicado with a defunct website and derisory funding. The 50-year-old Wau Ecology Institute – a gift of the Bishop Museum in Honolulu and which, at 1200 m, was one of the country’s handful of research stations at altitude – lies unstaffed and defunded. In West Papua’s spectacular glacier-to-mangroves Lorentz National Park, a February 2015 assessment by the IUCN found ‘concerns’ including road-building in the park in breach of park regulations, poaching, and underfunding and weak capacity in the park’s management. Fiji has 48 terrestrial protected areas and aims to protect 100% of remaining upper montane and cloud forest but, by its own assessment, no department or agency has the technical and financial resources to undertake proper assessments and manage the areas into the future.
Some new initiatives may repair this. With help from UNESCO and an initial 3 years of funding, ten Pacific universities collaborated to form a Pacific Islands University Research Network in 2012. Its latest aim is roll out a Research Skills Development Framework (RSDF) in all ten signatory universities from 2015. In Papua New Guinea, a new Science and Technology Secretariat held a ‘Science and Innovation Strategic Plan’ workshop on 5 November, to ‘align … all research agencies … and priority research needs of the country’ (not the first attempt at a plan, it should be added). With a PACE-NET Plus (Pacific-Europe Network for Science, Technology and Innovation) seed funding grant, my colleagues and I came together for a workshop in Suva 17-19 November to design a Pacific Centre for Social Responsibility and Natural Resources within the Geoscience Division of SPC. An MRI Oceania is also on the wish list, but you can’t do everything at once.
Like all previous networks, initiatives and plans, none of these is going anywhere unless what follows is the commitment of real funds to credible research projects and to address the long-term science infrastructure problems of the Pacific. We shall see – collaborators welcome!
 Both Australia and New Zealand have island archipelagos in the Southern Ocean, in both cases UNESCO World Heritage sites
THE GIDRA: Bow-hunting and Sago Life in the Tropical Forest. By Toshio Kawabe. Melbourne: Trans Pacific Press, Kyoto: Kyoto University Press; Portland: International Specialized Book Services [distributor], 2014. xxviii, 268 pp. (Photos, tables, figures.) US$89.95, cloth. ISBN 978-1-920901-18-9.
This handsome book has been in gestation for some time, Professor Kawabe having first gone to the Wipim area of Papua New Guinea where the Gidra people live in 1980. These people and their hunter-gatherer-cultivator lifestyle are well known from the work, published from the early 1980s, of Ryutaro Ohtsuka and Tsuguyoshi Suzuki among others, as well as from Kawabe’s earlier publications.
By contrast, I doubt very much if many Papua New Guineans have ever heard of any of it. I took Ohtsuka’s Oriomo Papuans (1983) with me on fieldwork among the lagoonal people on the Middle Fly in 2014 and the book drew a blank among my companions, who were otherwise well-qualified field staff from the same province.
This is a pity because Papua New Guinean students appear universally convinced that research has ‘never been done’ in their own areas, despite the fact that French, or German, or Swiss, or American teams of researchers have been coming and going for decades, and sending the next generation of students after themselves. Sadly, some lecturers perpetuate this falsehood, becoming complicit in an indigenised ‘Land that Time Forgot’ narrative, which is an awful pity given the richness of the findings of these highly collaborative, long-term research programmes.
Such is the case with the research of Prof. Kawabe and his colleagues and students who have lived and worked among the Gidra, just inland of Daru in the Western Province doing fieldwork in 1980-81, 1986, 1989, 1997 and 2003. The present book is an attempt to understand the traditional life and subsistence techniques of the Gidra as a representative of peoples around the world who live in and rely on the various kinds of tropical rainforest for their livelihoods. The Foreword draws attention to the recognition of the importance of rainforests at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and sites the relevance of the research programme in that context. It is ironic that Prof. Kawabe should mention this, because part of the Western Province’s ‘Special Support Grant’ for 1990, a K3.1 million giant cheque presented at the Tabubil basketball courts in 1990 to help compensate the province for the Ok Tedi copper mine, was diverted away from rural development in order to send a delegation of the province’s custom and political leaders to Rio. How the delegation’s attendance furthered the cause of people in the province living a traditional lifestyle is unclear: in the foreword to his government’s National Assessment Report for the Rio+10 summit, the PNG prime minister spoke of the country’s ‘minimal performance’ in implementing the Rio Agenda.
In this context, the author’s work helps to raise the profile of one group of rural Papua New Guineans to show the complexity of the forest way of life. ‘Gidra’ itself means ‘forest people’ in the neighbouring Kiwai language, he says.
The author has his background a bit muddled up: we haven’t heard much of ‘the Papuans and the Melanesians’ (p. 13) since the time of Sidney Ray and Charles Seligman and it is odd to say that prehistoric migration from Asia started ‘more than 5000 years ago’ – I will assume this is a typo for ‘more than 50,000 years ago’.
It is a little concerning is that the first part of the book is taken up with anthropometry. Here headings take on an early 1900s look: ‘Visual acuity as a sensory function’, p. 50 (cf. Seligmann ‘The vision of natives of British New Guinea’ 1903!). What’s it all for? I guess it is to examine whether forest people are physically limited as they go about their daily life. We have long known that they are not, but I don’t mind this being confirmed (as long as the Gidra didn’t mind being measured multiple times – hats off to them for being super patient).
A time-and-motion approach is taken to the study of hunting and subsistence activities. A breakdown of what villagers eat was obtained by following what was eaten in six households in Rual, one of the thirteen Gidra villages, for a fortnight. Few researchers have done this – it would be a difficult task in a ‘modernised’ village where people travel about on buses, snack all day long from roadside stalls, and generally do things away from the ethnographer’s gaze – but there is in Western Province today a pressing need for such data.
The villages of the Fly River are impacted by wastes from the Ok Tedi mine, such that sago production in some parts of the lagoonal country has dropped to negligible levels. Large amounts of money have been spent on environmental studies over the 30 years of mine production, but the village-level effort put into finding out what mine waste has done to village subsistence production has been almost non-existent. I have heard a company-aligned expert say that ‘we are unsure as to whether sago existed in large enough quantities to support the existing [population of X] in the past’. Prof. Kawabe, at least, has knocked this one on the head for Rual, which is not affected by mine wastes. Sago was eaten at 76 (98.7%) of 77 main meals observed; it made up 54% of the daily kCal intake of an adult man (average weight 54kg), with 27% coming from bananas, taro and yam. Wild plants and purchased food made up most of the rest. Hunting (2.3% of kCal) and fishing (1.3% of kCal) made up a small part of the energy intake but a quarter of the protein. When people say they eat sago, they eat sago, QED.
Minor quibble: Kawabe gets his planes mixed up. The ‘eight-seat Fokker’ in Photo 1.1 and the ‘Cessna plane’ in Photo 1.7 are both Britten-Norman Islanders.
Divine Word University, Madang, Papua New Guinea
Professor and DVP Research, Divine Word University