We came to Benny Mangua’s village at about Midday. This trip was for a story of how a foreign company allowed into the country by the government of Papua New Guinea was treating the local people – the original owners of the land.
I had packed a camera and several tapes not expecting anything major apart from a few disgruntled landowners who had not been paid their dues. As I was going to discover, I’d come to Kurumbukari mine site quite unprepared mentally.
Benny Mangua an elderly man of in his mid sixties greeted a teammate of mine, Steven Sukot – quite warmly but then whilst I shot a few seconds of footage, the old man broke down and wept. Steven responded as any Papua New Guinean would – embracing the old man and tried to calm him down as best he could.
“My tears keep falling. I’ve lost my land. I’ve lost my home.”
He continued to weep as I brought the camcorder around to him and clumsily adjusted the audio settings . In 10 years of television this, to me, was truly a rare moment. I never dreamed that I would live to see the day when this happened. This was a Papua New Guinean landowner who had been forced off his land by a foreign company. Benny Mangua of the Mauri Clan was born and raised on this land on which his ancestors had settled many generations ago. In a matter of months, he had become a landless Papua New Guinean.
“I’ve become like a parasite. I have no place to stay.”
He wasn’t exaggerating when he said it. For Benny Mangua’s entire clan’s land area contains some the richest nickel deposits in the Southern Hemisphere. It is here that the Chinese owned company – MCC – will begin the controversial US1.4 billion dollar nickel mining project.
About 50 of his clan members left for a temporary resettlement area – a forbidden, sacred site where Benny Mangua’s ancestral spirits dwell. It was a kilometer from where we were. But sacred as it was to the Mauri Clan of Kurumbukari, the site has been designated as a stockpile area for nickel ore.
Only two houses now stand on Mauri clan land. Both belong to Benny Mangua’s two sons – Peter Kepma and his younger brother, John. They’ve refused to leave.
“There is a permanent relocation area. But the land belongs to another person… another clan, says Peter Kepma. “If we go and live on the blocks of land there, we won’t be able to plant food gardens or hunt.”
MCC began issuing food rations to the Mauri clan since the relocation began. But the clan members say the food rations can only last them a few days.
“ The company is annoyed that we made gardens here,” John Kepma says pointing to cassava and taro growing on the stockpile area. “Even where the forest is… they don’t allow us to plant food.
“But we have to. If we don’t we’ll starve to death.”
John Kepma chuckles as he tells me about the company’s attitude towards local people.
“If we have a problems and we try to bring it to the company’s attention, they treat it like a criminal matter.”
Police have came to his elder brother’s house eight times already. Peter Kepma is the more serious type. Quiet undemanding yet stubborn.
“They tried to intimidate me,” he says. “They came well dressed in their uniforms and carrying their weapons. But I told them: “You’re not from China. You all own land just like me… I’m here because of my land. This isn’t State land. This is my land and I’ve still got it.”
To say “the Mauri clan faces a difficult future” is a gross understatement. As I filmed along the track leading to the temporary settlement, a five year old girl, walks ahead of me. She is in the shot nimbly picking her way through the kunai grass. I can see the audio levels on my camcorder peaking to the patter of her tiny feet on the yellow nickel rich earth.
I wondered if she understood why the old man had wept in front of total strangers about half an hour earlier.
He understood very well that She would not have the pleasure of learning the ways of old on her grandfather’s land nor gather eggs from the forest like her mother’s mother did many years ago. The old man understood that unlike other Papua New Guinean’s she was leaving behind the land that sustained her ancestors for generations. She was leaving behind her past and future.