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Navigating the Future

5. Navigating the Future

Zavia came to our house carrying several sheets of paper on which he had listed 150 names that he wanted us to type and print. This list, he said, would provide the basis for registering an Incorporated Land Group (ILG) as, under government regulations, this was necessary before benefits from the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Project could be paid to those who proved to be eligible. But his list was puzzling. We expected that members of Zavia’s clan would form the basis of the list, and we thought we knew most of these in person or by name. Our understanding was that the clan Yawuasoso comprised two geographically separated sections, one to the west of Suabi, close to the Strickland River, and another to the north of Suabi across Osio River in territory attributed to Febi-speakers. Zavia was affiliated with the latter. We knew of 39 men, women and children who were affiliated with this branch of Yawuasoso; the Strickland River branch included one man and his six children, and three or four additional children could have qualified as Yawuasoso by adoption. Even if all had been included, Zavia had listed three times as many people.

For each of the 150 people on his list, Zavia had recorded ‘name’, ‘surname’, ‘sex’ and ‘age’. Under ‘surname’ we expected to see either father’s name, husband’s name or, because some people used a different convention, the name of the senior male in the household where the person resided. At best, and with some creative thinking, we could link 19 of the names on Zavia’s list to people that we knew—and only four of these were Yawuasoso. A few were the wives, or former wives, of Yawuasoso men. The rest of the 19 were people from at least six other Kubo, Febi or Konai clans together with one person from Morehead in the southwest corner of Papua New Guinea (PNG).

‘Who is this?’ we asked, pointing to the first name on the list—Zavia Habufa. As we suspected, it was Zavia himself. We had thought his father was Yameka, and had not known that Yameka’s brother Habufa died soon after Zavia was born and that Yameka had married Habufa’s widow. Yameka was Zavia’s stepfather but he, himself, was not listed. Indeed, the name Yameka appeared only once, as the attributed surname of the man from Morehead. The second name on the list was Zavia’s wife, Mefus, but the third and fourth—a boy and a girl reported to be one year old—were not known to us. Their surname was Zavia. ‘They are my children,’ Zavia said. But Zavia had been married for less than a year. His wife was pregnant and would give birth in a month’s time but, as yet, there were no children. Zavia explained. He did not know whether the expected child would be a boy or a girl and he did not want to leave that child off the list. So he had advanced the date of birth and, to be sure, included one child of each sex.

‘And who are these?’ We pointed to the last four names: Dimogai, Ebine, Diremi and Kofainsa, all with the surname Boboko. Zavia told us that Boboko was his stepfather Yameka, Dimogai and Ebine were his stepsisters Robyn and Livia, Diremi was Robyn’s out-of-wedlock infant child Jeremy, and Kofainsa—‘my small brother’ Zavia explained—was the son of a deceased man from the Strickland River branch of Yawuasoso. The name Diremi was simply a variant on the spelling of Jeremy. Boboko, Dimogai, Ebine and Kofainsa were ‘custom’ or ‘tumbuna’ names. Most people at Suabi seemed to have at least two names—one in the local language and another that was English—and preferred usage by others switched back and forth through time or varied with context. But we had not previously encountered the names Boboko, Dimogai or Kofainsa. They had made their appearance for the purpose of Zavia’s list. Indeed, the last of these three names was associated with Yubi, a mythologically important, crocodile-infested lake on the land of the northern branch of Yawuasoso.

With Zavia’s guidance we could now put faces to many of the other names on the list. We could identify 18 purported members of Yawuasoso clan—though that tally included the two named but unborn children. For these and many other people, Zavia simply had used names we did not know, and that did not have currency in conversation. Often, however, he combined a person’s custom and English names, treating one as ‘name’, the other as ‘surname’. Sometime he used the name of a person’s grandfather as their ‘surname’. And, sometimes, as with Kofainsa, he gave the name of a mythological being to someone who had never before been known by that name. But, in devising his list, his reach was further. Most of the people he included lived far from Yawuasoso land. For example, he included geographically distant kin of his mother. In the late 1960s, Kubo people living immediately west of the Strickland River hosted a party at Sigiafoihau (see Chapter 3). Their guests included Habiei people, five of whom were killed and eaten. But at least two young girls—they were sisters—were spared, and taken as wives by Kubo men. Zavia’s mother, Gisio, was a child of one of those marriages. Zavia had listed a Habiei man—Gisio’s classificatory brother—and four of that man’s children.

There was additional information on Zavia’s list. He had assigned ‘land rights’ to 21 of the named people. All who were Yawuasoso were in this set. Other people were classed as ‘members’ of the intended ILG; they could use the land in question but would always be beholden to those who held ‘land rights’. Later, Zavia provided a cover page for his document. Here he had written the names of five men who would serve the ILG as ‘Chairman’, ’Vice-chairman’, ‘Secretary’, ‘Treasurer’ and ‘Committee’. Only two were Yawuasoso—Zavia was Chairman—and, Zavia aside, none of the others featured on his list of 150 names. Of greater significance, however, was the fact that Zavia’s document made no reference to Yawuasoso. The cover page was unambiguous. The list was on behalf of a newly devised subclan (Tafenfen) within a recently designated major clan (Mogotie) within the purported ‘tribe’ Fembi (Febi). What had once been a named area, perhaps a named subclan, within the land of Yawuasoso was now upgraded to the status of ‘major clan’. But there was no listed person who, by birthright, was affiliated with that area of land so, Zavia and others told us, that clan had been ‘given’ to him; it was now his task to oversee the allocation of subclans within Mogotie and membership within the subclan he had chosen for himself.1 In a court of law, all the names on the list could have been judged invalid. And Zavia himself, though he had visited Yawuasoso land, had never lived there. From early childhood he had lived at Suabi. His first language was Kubo, not Febi.

Through the early months of 2014, at Suabi, people devoted much time and effort to preparing lists of names like the one Zavia brought us. It seemed that the entire landscape of social relationships was being redrawn. Two decades earlier, at Gwaimasi and Mome Hafi, oobi identity had been grounded in the interactions of particular people with others and with place. Now, it seemed, clan ‘membership’, as encoded in those lists, was something that could be bestowed on someone or withheld from them. And where, before, boundaries had been mutable they were now being fixed on paper. In seeking paths to a barely imaginable but greatly desired future of vast wealth and influence, people at Suabi were seeking to navigate the complexities of government and company bureaucracy—complexities that were ever-changing, impossible to pin down and could be known only by paying constant attention to rumours that trickled in from outside. In this process, however, people were exploring very different ways of being in the world; indeed, they were bringing into being different kinds of people and different kinds of social entities. These changes, and the navigation of imagined futures that frame them, are the themes of the present chapter.

Constructing Lists

Drawing up lists of people was not new to people at Suabi. ‘Class lists’—names of all pupils in each class—had been prepared each year by teachers at the school that had opened in the late 1980s. These provided a familiar model when people started to draw up their own lists. Indeed, on the earliest lists the names of people, both adults and children, were listed under the heading ‘Pupil’. The first list we saw had been drawn up by members of a clan that held land adjacent to the Baiya River, downstream from Suabi towards its junction with the Strickland River. It was a ‘family list’, prepared at the request of International Timbers and Stevedoring (IT&S), which was seeking access to local land and, to this end, needed documentation of who was entitled to grant permission for that access.

In the mid-to-late-2000s representatives of IT&S visited communities east of the Strickland River. The understanding of many Kubo people was that this company planned to build a road—a ‘Trans Papuan Highway’—that would commence at Kiunga in the west, pass through Nomad (25 km south of Suabi) and continue to Port Moresby. The distance to be traversed, across large rivers, through swamps and forest, would be of the order of 600 km. It was understood further that side roads would link Nomad with Suabi, continue north to Juha and turn west to Komagato on the Strickland River. The chief executive of the company—Neville Harsley was known to Kubo people—stated that IT&S would develop cash crops, timber plantations and a sawmill in exchange for rights to selectively log up to 5 km either side of the road (Chandler 2011a, 2011b). He had offered at least one Kubo man an all-expenses paid trip to Port Moresby where the lease would be signed.

IT&S’s highway proposal fell within a Papua New Guinean ‘lease-leaseback scheme’ under which customary land rights may be converted into legal titles, then transferred to the National Government to be transferred to private companies as Special Agricultural and Business Leases (SABLs). For the duration of the lease ‘all customary rights in the land, except those which are specifically reserved in the lease, are suspended’ (Filer 2011a: 2). A Forest Clearance Authority covering the Nomad area was issued to IT&S in November 2010 (Mirou 2013: 120). The lease would stand for 99 years and was modified to include vastly more land than that entailed by a 10 km-wide corridor along the proposed road. It now embraced virtually all the land of several Western Province language groups.

Across PNG there has been a dramatic increase in take-up of SABLs since the year 2000, and considerable concern that proposals for local ‘development’ within, or near, the areas covered by the leases have not come to fruition (Filer 2011b; Nelson et al. 2014). In 2010 the National Government instituted a Commission of Inquiry into these leases. Reports from the Inquiry were submitted to Parliament in June 2013 (Mirou 2013; Numapo 2013). Of 42 leases examined in detail there were only four cases in which the consent of genuine landowners had been obtained and in which a viable agricultural project was initiated. With specific reference to IT&S the Commission found that the company had been ‘directly manipulating the SABL lease back process’ and had done so in ways that were ‘encouraged’ by the ‘gross negligence’ of agencies of the State (Mirou 2013: 402).

At Suabi, people did not understand the intricacies of the SABL system. In 2011, most were excited by the prospect of a road. They resented the fact that two Europeans—the long-term missionary Tom Hoey, and a Kiunga business man and former government minister, Warren Dutton—were publicly opposed to the lease, arguing that those men wanted to keep people as they were, backward and without ‘development’. The list we were shown had been drawn up with the intention of complying with the wishes of IT&S. It was prepared on behalf of Mithy clan and, under the heading ‘Pupil’, named 60 people, most of whom were members of Mithy, Dabamisi or Buwo clans. The land of Dabamisi clan is contiguous with that of Mithy and a recent marriage between a Mithy male and a Buwo female rationalised inclusion of members of the latter clan. Wives to members of these three clans were also included, though they were assigned ‘user rights’ rather than ‘full rights’. Two deceased people were listed as heading one household, and a woman from Ialibu, in the Highlands, was listed as the second wife to one Mithy male. This marriage had not in fact occurred, nor had the couple ever met; their ‘love affair’ was via mobile telephone and the intention was that they would marry when the man concerned had become wealthy and could pay the required bridewealth. He had expected that the IT&S project would provide him with immediate financial benefits.

The second list that we saw was motivated by a claim to land that had already been alienated rather than by a claim that would enable alienation. A man named Michael asserted that he and his kin were the true landowners of the area at Suabi on which the airstrip, mission station, school and community health centre have been established. His listing of 86 names was one of a number of actions that he took, over several years, to promote his claim. His target audience was, variously, other Kubo people and visiting outsiders. In 2013, near the airstrip and facing the exploration camp, he erected a large sign that comprised two paintings—one a rock with an inscribed face, the other a landscape that located Suabi relative to mountains and river (Fig. 5.1)—and the following words:

Welcome to Soabi Airstrip, Baiya River

Tibidibo is my name. I am a sacred stone with a human face. I come from my sacred swamp called Sodu’u. My home is in the Baiya River adjacent to the Soabi Airstrip but when the Missionaries came to Soabi and built the airstrip, they destroyed my sacred home. This is my home and inheritance and nobody takes my right away from me. AS LONG AS I EXIST, I AM TIBIDIBO.

Figure 5.1: ‘Tibidibo is my name.’ Sign erected at Suabi airport.

Source: Photograph by Peter D. Dwyer, 2013.

Few people at Suabi paid much heed to Michael’s proclamation. One commented cynically that ‘Company will go. The trees will grow back. The sign will be covered. No one will know it was there. It doesn’t do anything’. And his assertion of ‘ownership’ over the airstrip land was similarly ignored; several people told us it was simply wrong, though none overtly challenged him about it. Certainly, exploration companies had little interest in Michael’s clan list and associated map. Money paid for the use of land beside the airstrip—the base camp was close to what all acknowledged had been Tibidibo’s home—was handed to representatives of three clans, not just to Michael’s line.

In 2013 and 2014, however, the focus on drawing up lists of names increased dramatically.2 The stimulus now was the PNG LNG Project and the requirement, as local people understood it, that financial benefits would accrue only to those who had registered an ILG. But the people had little reliable information about the registration process, and had not seen the necessary registration forms. They knew that a list of prospective members was to be prepared, and that a management committee and a dispute resolution authority had to be nominated. But there was much less certainty about the form that any of these should take. For this, they turned to rumour. They gathered that prospective members were to be identified by name, age and relationships to others, and could be differentiated according to rights held, but were unsure how these were to be recorded. They were, however, sure that each list should comprise exactly 150 names, and that no name should appear on more than one list.

With these minimal guidelines in mind, the task of drawing up lists began (Minnegal et al. 2015). In many cases, a single person—the sole member of a newly designated ‘subclan’—was responsible. In other cases, a senior man advised a literate son, daughter or wife who to include. Sometimes members of a major clan met, to compare notes and decide who should be included in which subclan and under what name. But the eventual lists were drawn up by individuals, young men for the most part, who could be seen crouched over paper under a house, head in hand, sighing loudly as they agonised over the task. Both Febi and Kubo people drew up lists. (It seemed that earlier ILG applications by Febi people had not come to fruition.) But people from neighbouring language groups—Konai to the west, Samo to the south and Bedamuni to the east—also prepared lists. In all cases, people strove to include the names of 150 people; though not specified in the Land Group Incorporation Act, people insisted that they had been told this was the number needed.3 We ourselves suggested that it was not necessary, that elsewhere in PNG people were registering ILGs with relatively few members (Weiner 2007; Bell 2009; Goldman 2009: 3.13). The unanswerable response was that our own understanding was prejudiced by Australian law while they were striving to comply with PNG law. We conceded ignorance and typed and printed the lists as we received them.

Though the layout and terms used differed somewhat between lists, they were all presented as an assemblage of families, each comprising a married man, identified as ‘head of family’, his wife (or wives) and unmarried children. Married sons were listed as heads of their own family, while married daughters were usually excluded on the expectation that they would be listed elsewhere as part of their husband’s family. The importance of ‘family’ to status was immense. The overall structure of the lists conveys a strong impression of patrilineality, at odds with the distinctly cognatic orientation of much past and present practice. This was reinforced by comments from some people that ‘under PNG law, only men can own land’. In almost all cases, the ‘father’s name’/‘surname’ listed for wives was that of their husband, not of their father. But closer analysis reveals a more complex picture. The lists included not just agnates—families of men clearly identified with the subclan, or those of ‘brothers’ from the same clan—but also a range of affines—the families of mothers or even wives’ brothers. In two cases, in-married men were included: former community health workers from Morehead and Oksapmin who had married local women while posted at Suabi and still spent much time in the community. In several other cases, lists included natal families of in-married women from other language groups.

As with cases mentioned above, some lists also recorded marriages that had not occurred and attributed children to people who were not their parents. There was no consistency in the attribution of ‘full rights’ or ‘user rights’ to named people; some lists accorded full rights to everyone, others to all males but not to females, while other lists, like that of Zavia, were more selective. For people older than about ten years, attributed ages were a matter of guesswork and often wildly inaccurate. (For example, the documented ages of many children and their mothers were such that births had purportedly occurred when the woman was herself an infant.)4 Attributed birth order, however, usually matched what we knew from our own earlier records and was clearly more salient than any concern with actual year of birth. Though no name appeared more than once, in many cases the same individual was recorded on two or more lists under different names. Two brothers, who produced separate lists, each named their father and mother together with six of their parents’ children but, in all cases, the attributed given names and surnames differed between lists. One list was accompanied by a brief origin story, four with logos that represented clan stories or clan resources, one with a map depicting the border of clan land (Dwyer and Minnegal 2014: 42, Fig. 2) and one with a detailed account of waterways, ridges and gullies that marked the border together with lists of 60 mountains, 83 creeks and sago swamps and 83 rivers and creeks found on clan land. These last two lists were the only ones we saw that specified the land that was taken to be associated with the group in question.

Few of the listed names of people were fictional. In the struggle to find 150 names—and several people spoke of how difficult this task was—their reach was broad. Despite the use of multiple names for the same person, and the extension of lists to include allies and affines, there were simply not enough local people to fill lists of the desired length. So they were expanded in other ways. People who had attended school at Kiunga or in the Highlands listed members of families with whom they had boarded, or who had otherwise cared for them, during those years. People who had travelled to Tari, Mount Hagen, Goroka, Lae or Port Moresby listed people who had facilitated their journeys by feeding them or providing accommodation. And one man listed the families of people he had come to know through his long experience with the Seventh-day Adventist Church—his list extended to Manus, an island 700 km northeast of Kubo land. The outcome was that thousands of people were listed as having an affiliation with land that they had never visited. The extreme case was probably that of Simiti. He showed us the lists he had paid someone in Goroka to draw up under his guidance. There were ten of these, each representing a recently devised subclan within a recently devised major clan of Febi, and each included 150 names. None of those names were duplicates though many were alternative names for the same person. Simiti’s lists recorded 1,500 different names as being associated with the land that he claimed as his own. His immediate kin—those in the assemblage Wuo which had recently fragmented as eight major clans—were engaged in the same exercise. The lists produced by these groups alone were likely to comprise 9,000 names but the entire Febi population is less than 500 people.

We asked several people how they intended to distribute money once they received it. Would they share to all the far-flung people they had named? One said that he might ‘throw them a few coins’. The others responded that they would give them nothing, that those people did not know they had been listed. We ourselves were asked, more than once, whether we would like to be listed. We declined and, again, appealed to legality. ‘But no one would know,’ one man explained. ‘The list is secret.’ There were, however, people from distant places who did know they had been listed, and some who grasped the opportunity this might afford. One woman from the Highlands applied to ExxonMobil for a grant to support her enrolment at the University of Queensland, attaching a letter of acceptance from the university stating that her enrolment was contingent upon fees being paid in advance. She declared in her application that she was a landowner in the Juha area—naming the clan of which she was a ‘member’—and thus entitled to benefits from Juha. But, in general, people were cautious. When naming people who would comprise the Executive of their intended ILG they listed only local people, often immediate members of their families and often, because again the number of people available was few, they ‘appointed’ children, less than ten years old, to positions such as ‘secretary’, ‘treasurer’ or even ‘Chairman’.

At Suabi, it seems, the process of drawing up ILG lists was informed by deeper understandings of personhood. Persons here are made, and remade, throughout their lives as they interact with other beings, other persons around them. And thus, to those engaged in their preparation, the lists were a right and proper record of all who had a stake in the world they inhabited. But clearly, too, it is recognised that not all contributions are equal. Indeed, in the ways the lists were conceived and constructed, categorical distinctions—between heads of households and members; between men and women; between married and unmarried persons; between ‘owners’, ‘users’ and those who have no place on the list—have been reified in ways that were perhaps not intended but will undoubtedly have ongoing effects.

Reconfiguring Groups

While the lists that people produced were problematic with respect to the names they recorded, there were implications of greater importance at a broader scale. These entailed realignments and reframing of social groups in ways that were very different from what had been in place before. These changes, and their present and future consequences, may be traced to two primary causes: PNG bureaucracy and one remarkable man, Bob Resa. We should start with Bob, whose actions precipitated a dramatic series of realignments.

Division and Amalgamation

In 1995 we walked west to east through much of Febi territory. Two weeks into our trip we spent one night at Siabi, the village nearest to the Juha well heads. Through the previous days the Siabi community had hosted a tok save school at which people were taught Tok Pisin. The event finished with a feast. But a dispute had arisen. Bob, who had for several years guided the community in the ways of the Christian Brethren Church (CBC)—he himself had spent time at a CBC mission in the Sepik—was a central protagonist and, in keeping with common practice, responded to the dispute by departure. With his wife, first-born son and others he headed south to Suabi. We caught up with him on the track. He carried his young son on his shoulders and was teaching him Tok Pisin: the language, Bob told us, that Jetha would need in the future. For the next 12 years Suabi was his primary place of residence. He ran a small trade store, wondered about the potential for tourism, established a small plot of agarwood,5 and obtained funds with which he bought the equipment—a rice mill and a portable saw mill—needed to initiate small-scale rice farming and walk-about logging. There was, however, no external market for rice and sawn timber, and these two ventures failed. Bob’s wife died, he remarried and fathered three daughters. By the mid-2000s he was engrossed in the potential of the PNG LNG Project. He was, after all, of Wuo clan—the least ambiguous of landowners in the Juha area.

In 2005, under the guidance of Huli patrons, Bob registered a landowner company with 11 named directors each representing a purported Febi clan. Through the next two to three years Juha Development Corporation (JDC) provided casual labour associated with drilling of two of the Juha wells (Goldman 2009: 3–101; Jackson 2015: 66). The work was managed by the Huli company Gigira Development Corporation (GDC). In late 2007 or early 2008, JDC received PGK810,693.13. The money was distributed to 11 named men; three (including Bob) had been listed as directors of JDC, three were other Febi men and five were Huli men at least some of whom had connections with the directorship of GDC, but eight of the original named directors of JDC received no money. In May 2008, JDC was deregistered and, soon after this time, encouraged by Huli patrons, Bob left his wife, married a Highlands woman, declared himself ‘Chief of the Febi Tribe’ and relocated to Port Moresby.

By October 2008, with several other Febi men, Bob had registered another company and, thereafter, from time to time, sometimes with others, sometimes alone, he registered yet other companies. He told people that, in Port Moresby, he could keep a watching brief on bureaucratic and legal problems, and would be better placed to ensure that Febi and Kubo people would eventually receive what was rightly theirs. Through the next five years, Bob’s companies accessed more than two million kina as Infrastructure or Business Development Grants. This money was diverted to living in Port Moresby, purchasing a house, leasing office space, supporting a coterie of young male acolytes who assisted him with preparing documents and translation (he could not write or speak English), hiring legal advice and ensuring that his daughters continued their high school education. None of the money was directed to developments within the territories of Kubo or Febi people and, indeed, local people who had paid to become shareholders in Bob’s companies did not receive dividends. More seriously, however, rumours began to filter through that Bob had ‘given’ his Huli patrons rights to two of the five well heads at Juha.

In December 2012, Bob returned to Suabi. His kin at Gweobi Corner had organised a ‘party’ at which numerous pigs would be exchanged, and used this to summons back from distant towns not only Bob but also others who were living elsewhere. People at Owabi Corner, concerned that those at Gweobi would build alliances that excluded them, decided to hold a series of exchanges at the same time, and people at Suabi Corner followed suit. All summonsed their kin to return and participate. Most responded to the call, some walking five days from Kiunga, others walking from the Highlands. A few, like Bob, had not been back to Suabi for several years, attending high school in Goroka or technical college in Lae, or simply caught up in the excitement of town life. At Suabi, anticipation had been building for weeks; more than 65 pigs had been rounded up for the occasion, to be killed, butchered, cooked and the meat exchanged.

Bob had chartered a plane for his return and, as he stepped from it, filmed the many people waiting to greet him. He had insisted that the feast should be accompanied by a ‘cultural revival’—mock raids, costumed dancing, hilarious performances by men disguised as ogres, and speeches in which he himself would talk of the future. He filmed these activities, telling us that he would show the outside world that the people of Juha were ‘primitive’ and ‘remote’ and needed support. From a purpose-built stand overlooking the festivities, he spoke of all he had done, and was doing, for the community, hinted at planned autonomy for the Juha area and the desirability of electing a ‘Juha president’. His audience was cynical. There was no direct confrontation but the mood was apparent and Bob felt it; he spoke to us of his distress at sensing that his efforts were not appreciated. But others spoke to us too, of their sense that Bob had failed them. He had been their ‘pipeline’ to the outside world, to the bureaucratic procedures that they needed to navigate but did not understand. He represented them, but there was nothing to show for it. He lived the ‘good life’ in Port Moresby, with access to money, with a succession of wives—he had married a second Highland woman—and travel to Australia, while they remained a ‘remote’ backwater. ‘Development’ did not come. Bob had been a ‘good man’, but now he was a ‘big shot’.6 He even looked the part. People observed that he was fat, that he neither ate nor worked as they did. In dress and mannerism he was modelling himself on PNG’s first Prime Minister, Michael Somare. But fatness was a recognised characteristic of sanguma (magic-men), and there were growing murmurs within the community at Suabi that those who—like Bob—chose to spend their time in towns seemed at risk of becoming sanguma; they were, in a sense, ‘supping with the devil’, and the effect could be seen.

Bob’s brief return to Suabi in late 2012 initiated a cascade of changes. In 2014, when we conducted a population census, other Febi-speakers insisted that he should not be counted as a Suabi resident. If he came again, people said, he would be charged rent or could sleep beneath coconut palms that he had planted years before. Members of his own clan—Wuo—remained appreciative of Bob’s earlier contributions, but concluded that he was now too powerful, that he no longer had their interests at heart. They could not remove him from his position as a senior member of Wuo, so instead they decided to marginalise him. And they did so by asserting that eight subclans within Wuo should each be recognised as a distinct ‘major clan’. Bob would remain ‘Chief’ of one of the eight, be acknowledged as owner of the land around one of the Juha well heads, but he would have no rights to, or right to speak for—much less give away—the other well heads. These were on the lands of other ‘major clans’, for each of which another man was appointed as ‘Chief’. This was done in advance of, and in preparation for, an expected clan vetting process that would be organised by the Department of Petroleum and Energy (DPE) in November 2013. But the decision to restructure Wuo had implications for other groups. It was thought that benefits from the PNG LNG Project would be distributed as equal shares to either recognised major clans or recognised subclans within major clans. No one was sure, but it was necessary to be ready. Headubi reorganised as four major clans, Yawuasoso as three, Gumitie, Kesomo and Mora each as two. And within these five assemblages—all major clans, people had been told, should have subdivisions—there was now a total of 131 named subclans. None of the latter had existed as named social groups before. Given the size of the Febi population in 2014, the average number of people in each of these newly devised subclans would not reach five. As Ernst (1999) reported for Onabasulu, people were deeply engaged in a process of ‘entification’. The ‘entities’ they created were eventually accepted as legitimate by DPE.

Many of the divisions that produced these new entities were made at very short notice, and with minimal consultation. Zavia, then a young man of 25, was the only representative of Yawuasoso at the clan vetting forum. He saw what others were doing, and decided to split his clan. He told us of his fear and uncertainty about whether he was doing the right thing, of coming back from the meeting a few days later and having to tell his older clan brothers of what he had done. He was greatly relieved when they approved, telling him he had done well. But all must now live with his decisions—decisions not only about splitting his clan but also nominating subclans—each associated with a focal site—for each of the new major clans, and then determining who would belong in which of the new segments.

For those who were creating subclans there needed to be either some sense of prior existence as a named group of associated people or some sense of past association with a particular area of land where the people concerned, and their forebears, had often planted gardens, harvested sago or hunted. But the potential members of these subclans were few. At the same time there were people in other groups, particularly non-Febi groups, with a different problem; they might not be recognised as having rights to benefit from developments on Juha land. The solution arrived at was to the advantage of everyone. Clans with little claim to the area where gas wells had been drilled, or where the proposed pipeline would run, were invited to affiliate with clans that were understood to hold unambiguous rights to those places. In the ILG lists that these groups drew up, they declared their ‘clan’—it might be Kubo, Samo, Konai or Bedamuni—to be a subclan within a Febi or a Kubo major clan of Juha beneficiaries. In the former case, they usually asserted that they were members of what they named the ‘Febi Tribe’. Primary realignments that followed from these decisions are summarised in Figure 5.2.

Figure 5.2: A schematic representation of social realignments.

Source: Authors.

Note: The figure shows realignments of Kubo clans or subclans, together with some Awin, Pare, Samo and Bedamuni groups, within Febi clans or other Kubo clans as revealed in the process of compiling lists of members of ILGs. To enhance clarity, arrowed lines converging on Yawuasoso are dashed.

Most of the realignments shown in Figure 5.2 are with the eight clans now representing Wuo and the three clans now representing Yawuasoso. Thus, Awasoso and parts of both Dawisoso and Udubi—all are Kubo—identified as subclans within the greater Wuo assemblage. Similarly, Seaso, Strickland River Yawuasoso, Bosua, parts of both Dawisoso and Udubi, and a Samo group all identified as subclans within the greater Febi Yawuasoso assemblage. Thus, while Wuo provided places for groups from some Kubo clans, in seeking to find members for a greatly expanded list of subclans Yawuasoso came to encompass people from language groups even further afield (Pare, Awin and Samo together with Kubo).7 One member of a Yawuasoso group was named the official representative of the Kubo clan Woson, and another named as the representative of a subclan within the greater Wuo assemblage. (This last arrangement arose because the man in question had caused difficulties for his immediate family and his father was unwilling to assign him his own subclan within Yawuasoso.) One Konai clan (Watia) realigned as a subclan of the recognised Febi group Deima, and finally, Abameti was accorded subclan status within the Kubo clan Nomo, though the senior Abameti claims affiliation with Wuo. One of that man’s daughters has, in fact, been named as the representative of one of six subclans within a Wuo clan that is overseen by her husband.

What is evident in Figure 5.2 is that while Febi clans have tended to split—to create more clans—Kubo clans have tended to amalgamate (Minnegal et al. 2015: 506–7). The former is unsurprising given local understanding that there was little ambiguity about the status of Febi clans as Juha landowners; members of those clans could thus focus on strategies to maximise their own share of anticipated benefits. There is, however, more ambiguity among local people about the status of different Kubo clans as legitimate beneficiaries. Those who seemed to have at least some claim to benefits sought to reinforce their position by recruiting others to their cause, while those who feared missing out entirely sought to ensure at least some entitlement by aligning with groups whose status seemed more certain. Baiyameti and Andibi, for example, are Kubo clans with land that encompasses the airstrip and its approaches at Suabi. These clans have been recognised by Febi landowners as legitimate beneficiaries on the basis that, for three decades, the airstrip has provided the entry point and servicing base for the companies working at Juha. Baiyameti has only one living member, a woman. In an earlier generation, a geographically separate branch of this clan occupied land to the west, near the Strickland River, but this branch has no living members. The nearby clan, Dumiti, now ‘speaks for’ Baiyameti and, with reference to the PNG LNG Project, is taken to be synonymous with it. The referents of Baiyameti have been expanded further by according Bowa, Demeti and Domiti subclan status and, similarly, the referents of Andibi have been expanded by according Osomei, Gobogometi, Wendibi and Hoho subclan status. Demeti, however, is also regarded as a subclan of a greater assemblage named Dobiti which itself has, for ILG purposes, been included as a single subclan of Osumitie. Finally, the clan Woson—with land located in foothills near the confluence of the Osio and Strickland Rivers—has been included, along with Baiyameti and Andibi at Suabi, within the set of three Kubo major clans that are to share two per cent of benefits from Juha. Woson was included in this set on the basis that the senior male was a key translator during the period that benefit-sharing meetings were held at Suabi and Moro. Among others, however, Woson has granted subclan status to Gomososo (though not by that name) and Sisu, though the latter is simultaneously regarded as a subclan of Osumitie.

One other example warrants mention. Hobuo is a Kubo clan. As a child, in the 1960s, the now most senior Hobuo male was kidnapped by, and reared as, Bedamuni. He married an Etoro-speaking woman and commenced a family. In the early 1990s, with his family, he was living at Suabi and was being encouraged to reassume a Kubo identity. His oldest son attended high school at Kiunga and was killed there. In the intervening years, Sosogoli, with his family, moved back and forth between Bedamuni and Kubo land. In the 2000s, he established a community on his natal clan land, about 3 km northeast of Suabi. Most members of this community are Bedamuni. The Hobuo submission to DPE identified seven subclans, two of which were named as Mougulu and Adumari. There was potential ambiguity here, for Mougulu and Adumari qualify as both named Bedamuni clans and named Bedamuni villages. The villages include residents of many different clans, and the 2011 National Census recorded their combined population as 839 people.

Not everyone at Suabi was comfortable with what was happening. We asked Doiyo, the senior Nomo man, what subclan he belonged to. Nomo people were holding many long meetings at this time, and drawing up documents in which they named eight subclans. We had known of two of these for 20 years, but not heard of the others. Doiyo was puzzled by our question. He was ‘Nomo’. He was unwilling to refine that classification. On a separate occasion we asked his oldest son Asnah the same question. He too said he was Nomo. We challenged him. We had, after all, seen and typed a list in which Doiyo and Asnah were named as the representatives of specific, different subclans. ‘Nomo stret’, was Asnah’s response; he did not identify with a particular subclan. To these men, identification with particular subclans was appropriate in the context of drawing up ILG lists but had not, as yet, been generalised to all contexts.

Samwan—a Morehead man who had married into the community—did not approve of attempts to provide 150 names on the ILG lists that people were compiling. People should give gifts to those who had supported them in the past, he said, but they should not give a permanent share of their income. Another young married man, Yasa, acknowledged that he was confused about the requirement for 150 names. He asked us to type two different lists, one with 150 names and the other more focused on kin with only 57 names. He would prepare both and, later, would listen to what government people said and know which list to provide. A third man, Mark, very recently married, was sure that people could compile lists with less than, but not more than, 150 names. But, to be safe, he would include the higher number on his own list.

Pastor Martin was exceptionally thoughtful and, at least to us, forceful in expressing his opinions. He was scathing about people declaring subclans within new major clans. ‘How are they finding these? They are making things up. They are not following custom law.’ He insisted that Wuo was a single clan, not a confederacy of eight major clans. ‘When we see someone from there, we say Wuo people are coming, not any smaller name.’ He argued that people should be cautious in drawing up their lists. People thought that vast amounts of money would be coming, enough for everyone, he said, and so they have focused on inclusion rather than exclusion. But no one knows yet how much money will come, it may be limited. He himself knows that among Pare-speaking people west of the Strickland River there is a ‘fire clan’. They will be distantly—mythologically—related to him, but he will not be including them in his ILG list, or assigning them subclan status within Osumitie.

Opinions of this sort were in the minority and rarely voiced in public. But throughout our time at Suabi there was other evidence of discomfort. When our conversations were explicitly concerned with Juha and ILGs then the language of ‘major clans’ and ‘subclans’ was to the fore; the new divisions and amalgamations of social groups were central to people’s remarks. But in less formal contexts—when we were able to put Juha and ILGs to one side, and that was not always easy—the language, and the social groupings spoken of, often harkened back to our earlier experiences and understandings. Sometimes, in the ‘new’ context, it seemed that the Kubo word oobi had been forgotten or abandoned, replaced by the Tok Pisin klen or the English ‘clan’. In lighter conversations, however, when anxieties about accessing money could be put aside, the word oobi often resurfaced, and did so spontaneously. In these contexts too, it was more likely that people—women especially—would use people’s tumbuna names, even in cases where the person concerned preferred that that name be forgotten.

Inclusion and Exclusion

In PNG, petroleum prospecting, retention and development licences are granted over areas of land that comprise a set of ‘graticular blocks’. These blocks are predetermined as areas delimited by one degree of latitude and one degree of longitude, and each has a unique numeric identifier. In drawing up ILG lists many people identified the block with which they asserted affiliation. Irrespective of the actual location of their own clan land, nearly everyone who identified a block nominated either the block on which the Juha well heads are located or a block to the immediate southeast that is traversed by the proposed pipeline. Further, at the clan vetting meeting in 2013, people who had not affiliated with Baiyameti or Andibi asserted that Siabi, where the meeting was held and the nearest village to the well heads, was their place of residence. People were anxious. They were doing all that they could to establish their credentials as legitimate landowners. In those endeavours, to the extent that they understood what was expected they complied with the bureaucratic requirements of the State. The lists of names, clearly delimiting membership of named groups, and the aligning of those groups with government-designated classification of lands and locations, were undertaken in an effort to render themselves visible to the State, and to the companies that held control of hoped-for benefits. But the logic of government was not theirs. Nor were the bureaucratic requirements clearly understood.

It is clear from the foregoing that many individuals have been named on more than one intended ILG list. Similarly, many clans, either in their entirety or in part, have been subsumed as subclans within more than one of the current catalogue of major clans. What, however, was the basis for inclusion or exclusion? The reasons people offered varied. Affinal connections, long-term friendships, indebtedness arising from support in the past, or anxiety about past offences and the concern that there would be ‘trouble’ if a particular person or group was not included—these all influenced the likelihood that a person or group of people would be listed. Equally, current or long-standing tensions, or unresolved disputes, influenced the likelihood of exclusion. Some people were invited to be listed. Many did not know they were listed. And some asked to be listed. When two Mithy men, for example, asked to be listed within a subset of Wuo the man they approached responded dismissively ‘who do you associate with, Koli clan or who?’ He was reminding these Kubo men that they had few close connections with any Febi group. Though he added, more generously: ‘Sorry, my lists are finished’.

We have seen that Wuo men sought to marginalise Bob Resa. After the clan vetting meeting, they sought also to marginalise most other claimants. One man drew up a document in which he listed, separately, the ‘Principal Land Owners’ and the ‘Land Users’ of areas encompassing the Juha well heads. The first list included 11 major clans within the Wuo, Headubi and Koli assemblage and specified the well head with which each one was associated. The second list, including the names of 27 major clans, was, in effect, an assertion that these groups may have used land in the vicinity of the well heads but they did not do so by right. In drawing up these lists, this man was marginalising people and clans with whom, to this time, he had had close personal and political relationships. Increasingly, people were negotiating in secret. Trust was breaking down. The effort to ensure access to future money was disrupting internal relations among Kubo and Febi people.

In the years that followed the 2009 Moro meeting (see Chapter 3), Kubo and Febi people, working within the constraints of an unfamiliar bureaucracy and a more familiar social world, reordered the latter as a means of formally representing themselves to outside authorities and ensuring their legitimacy (compare Jorgensen 1997). They were anxious, they were strategic and they often produced representations that ran counter to previous social arrangements. In part, they were successful. The Recognised Major Clan and Sub-clan List released by DPE in April 2014 conformed, with few exceptions, to their presentations at the November 2013 clan vetting meeting.

But their success was limited. A detailed comparison of the clans listed as entitled to benefits, and the share each could expect, in the 2009 Moro agreement and the 2014 DPE document is provided in Table 5.1. There are many differences. The number of recognised major clans has increased from 24 to 53 and the benefits expected to flow to Febi and Kubo clans has decreased from 92 per cent to approximately 65.5 per cent of the total. Insistent lobbying in Port Moresby by Hela Province claimants had paid off. Two Kubo clans that were not named in the Moro agreement appear in the later document (Andibi and Baiyameti). Himiti, which was named as a Kubo clan in the Moro agreement (though it was not known to us as a stand-alone oobi), has been reclassed as a subclan of Iodibi, with the latter itself now classed as a Region 1 clan—that is, as having very strong rights in the area of the Juha well heads. Strong affinal connections with Febi and an experienced Iodibi lobbyist explain this listing. A few names were missing from the DPE document. Osumitie, for example, was not listed as a subclan within the major clan of the same name. DPE officers accepted Martin’s listing of subclans, but eliminated Osumitie because there were no living members. The Kubo clan Udubi was not recognised in its own right, though people in that clan were accommodated elsewhere. And Sisisti, a long-standing subclan of Nomo, was missing from the list. Some people suggested this was deliberate, asserting that DPE officers had eliminated this subclan because the man who represented it had been too outspoken. He had irritated them.

Table 5.1: Proposed distribution of benefits from Juha gas wells.

Moro agreement

December 2009

Language

Recognised Major Clan and Sub-clan List

April 2014

CDOA equity [%]a

Major Clan (subclans) [region]

Benefits by clan/subclan [%]

Febi clans

Uwo

15

Febi

Wuo Fofasoso (10)

[1]

2 / 2.25

Wuo Masumitie (10)

[1]

2 / 2.25

Wuo Kulimitie (5)

[1]

2 / 1.13

Wuo Kokora (7)

[1]

2 / 1.58

Wuo Tigidin (5)

[1]

2 / 1.13

Wuo Masisomitie (10)

[1]

2 / 2.25

Wuo Manatie (6)

[1]

2 / 1.35

Wuo Siyogutie (7)

[1]

2 / 1.58

Hiadibi

15

Febi

Hiadibi (4)

[1]

2 / 0.90

Huisi (4)

[1]

2 / 0.90

Barami (7)

[1]

2 / 1.58

Mendo (7)

[1]

2 / 1.58

Koli

15

Febi

Koli (8)

[3]

2.71 / 2.98

Yawasoso

5

Febi

Dobametie (7)

[1]

2 / 1.58

Yawososo (7)

[1]

2 / 1.58

Mogotie (7)

[1]

2 / 1.58

Gumitie

5

Febi

Gumitie (5)

[1]

2 / 1.13

Abain Kotie (7)

[1]

2 / 1.58

Howotie

5

Febi

Hwotie (7)

[1]

2 / 1.58

Kesomo

5

Febi/Kubo

Kesomo (9)

[1]

2 / 2.03

Febi

Tebesutie (7)

[1]

2 / 1.58

Diema

5

Febi/Konai

Deima (7)

[1]

2 / 1.58

Botie

5

Febi

Botie (7)

[1]

2 / 1.58

Ulatie

5

Febi

Ulatie (7)

[1]

2 / 1.58

Osumitie

5

Kubo

Osomitie (5)

[1]

2 / 1.13

Mora

5

Febi/Tsianib

Mora (8)

[3]

2.71 / 2.98

Febi/Hulib

Amodo (7)

[3]

2.71 / 2.61

Not listed in Moro agreement

Febi

Bilatie (8)

[1]

2 / 1.80

Other Western Province groups—Subclan (Tribe)

Nomo

2

[0.33 each]

Kubo

Nomo (7)

[3]

2.71 / 2.61

Hubowo

Kubo

Houbua (7)

[3]

2.71 / 2.61

Himiti

Kubo

Now included as subclan within Iyodibi

Yiodibi

Kubo

Iyodibi (4)

[1]

2 / 0.90

Udubi

Kubo

Not listed as recognised clan

Woson

Kubo

Woshon (6)

[4]

0.67 / 0.71

Not listed in Moro agreement

Kubo

Andibi (5)

[4]

0.67 / 0.59

Kubo

Boiyemety (6)

[4]

0.67 / 0.71

Southern Highlands Province Subclan (Tribe) Now within Hela Province

6 groups

8

[1.33 each]

Variousc

10 groups (89)

[2]

10

[1.00 each]

Variousc

9 groups (65)

[3]

24.43

[2.71 each]

Sources: Moro agreement (Juha Petroleum Retention Licence 2 Licence Benefits Sharing Agreement) 2009 and DPE Recognised Major Clan and Sub-clan List 2014.

Notes: Proposed distribution to named Febi, Kubo and other clans according to the Moro agreement and the DPE Recognised Major Clan and Sub-clan List. The penultimate column of the table records regions as diagnosed by DPE: ‘1 = Fembi Western Province’ (50% of benefits), ‘2 = Fembi Hela Province’ (10%), ‘3 = Tuguba and others’ (38%) and ‘4 = Other Western Sub- clan (Tribe)’ (2%). With the exception of ‘Southern Highland Province Sub-clan (Tribe)’ the final column shows per cent allocation of benefits based on, respectively, a distribution to major clans and a distribution to subclans. All spelling of clan names is as in original documents. We have provided language attributions.

a. The Moro agreement specified benefits distribution only with respect to Coordinated Development and Operating Agreement (CDOA) equity. The Licence-Based Benefits Sharing Agreement produced for Hides 4 APDL 7 was more thorough and informative than the equivalent Moro document. The former states that the distribution of benefits to recognised landowners is the same for different categories of benefits: royalties and two forms of equity. We have assumed that this was intended to be the case in the Moro document (viewed 11 August 2014 at: actnowpng. org/sites/default/files/PRL%2012%20Hides%204.pdf).

b. The people classed as Mora appear to be the descendants of Etoro-like people who, in the early 1970s, lived on the slopes of Mount Sisa towards the headwaters of Baiya River and spoke a language that is sometimes named as Tsiani (see Chapter 3, Note 6; Denham et al. 2009: 4–23). In Ernst’s (2008: 61) list of Febi clans, Amado is listed as a subclan of Mora; in the DPE list of recognised major clans and subclans Amodo is listed as a major clan. We have assumed they are the same; they may be more Huli-like than Febi-like. In the context of the PNG LNG Project, Mora and Amodo people emphasise their connections with Febi. If the latter are regarded as Huli, the benefits to Kubo and Febi would be somewhat less than 65.5 per cent.

c. The language affiliations of these named groups are mixed. The six groups named in the Moro agreement include at least one that is Duna-speaking (Yandika; Goldman and Ernst 2008: 97). Pari is considered to be a Huli-speaking group by Goldman and Ernst (2008: 97). The list of recognised major clans and subclans names ten groups from Region 2 (Fembi Hela Province) and, excluding Febi and Kubo clans, nine from Region 3 (Tuguba and others). It is possible that some of the latter represent upgrades of former Koli subclans to ‘major clan’ status. At the clan vetting meeting held in November 2013 the Region 2 groups asserted residential affiliation with Siabi, the village nearest to the Juha well heads. Most of these appear to be Huli-speaking groups based in Hela Province, some of whom (for example, Bebe) assert that their origins lie in the Juha region (Denham et al. 2009). Two of these ten groups—their binomial names are prefixed with Pogaiye—may be Bogaia-speaking (Goldman and Ernst 1980: 182). The groups from Region 3 asserted residential affiliation with villages named Gesesu, Sebitu, Timalia or Tokaju. Some of these are associated with land that spans Western and Hela Provinces in and near the upper reaches of the Baiya River watershed (for example, those affiliated with Sebitu) and, though primarily Huli- speaking, at least a few are strongly connected by both marriage and residence with the clans Koli and Mora. Of the 19 named groups discussed here, only one (Togumu) appears in both the Moro agreement and the list of recognised major clans and subclans. This is because previous claimants refined their own understanding of the classification of groups and because other groups were successful in claiming rights to benefits. We ourselves have no direct knowledge of any of these groups.

A copy of the DPE list arrived at Suabi on 17 April 2014, two weeks before we departed. Those who saw it, or were asked by others what was in it, had one immediate interest. They needed to know whether they, their subclan or their clan was named. Most who expected to be named were happy. When we asked about groups that were missing the usual response was ‘That’s their problem’. A few noticed that some Hela Province clans that they thought had been excluded at the clan vetting meeting had reappeared on the list. They didn’t know why that had happened: ‘perhaps bribery’ was the suggestion. But in those two weeks nobody had engaged with the fact that the stated distribution of financial benefits from the Juha gas wells was totally at odds with the distribution of benefits that had been set out in the Moro agreement. Their concern was with their own eligibility as future recipients of benefits. At this time they were not alert to the ‘losses’ they would incur because the share to Febi and Kubo clans had been greatly decreased. Nor, yet, were they aware that the distribution among Febi and Kubo clans—among the people they lived with on a daily basis—would differ substantially if that distribution was made on the basis of equal shares to subclans within a designated region rather than equal shares to major clans within that region. In the former case, more benefits would flow to those major clans that had subdivided to the greatest extent. For example, under a distribution to major clans, Wuo Fofasoso and Wuo Tigidin would each receive 2 per cent of benefits; under a distribution to subclans the benefit to Wuo Fofasoso would increase to 2.25 per cent and that to Wuo Tigidin would decrease to 1.13 per cent (Table 5.1). Or, again, where members of the greater Headubi assemblage would share 8 per cent of benefits under a distribution to major clans, this would drop to 4.96 per cent under a distribution to subclans. At the present time these disparities exist only on paper. They will be made real, and their consequences will be felt, when, or if, money is actually forthcoming.

The environment of bureaucracy is never stable. In PNG the process of registering ILGs had become messy (Koyama 2004; Lea 2013; Weiner 2013). The Land Group Incorporation (Amendment) Act implemented in 2012 was designed to address issues of economic inefficiency and corruption that were associated with that process. To that end, the requirements for registration were made more rigorous than had been the case before. People intending to register an ILG would be now obliged to provide, among other things, a constitution, a minuted record of meetings, a formal birth certificate for all listed members and a sketch map of the land under consideration. The birth certificates were to be obtained from the Office of Register General (Civil Registry), Department of Community Development, at a cost of PGK15 per adult. The sketch map was to ‘consist of a boundary walk by clan leaders, Provincial and District Lands Officers, a land Mediator and the Provincial Surveyor’, clearly mark ‘any disputed boundaries’, be ‘signed by the disputing clan elders to acknowledge the existence of the dispute’ and be ‘drawn on a A3 paper by the Registered Surveyor using topographical map of the area or GPS coordinates to indicate the size, location and the exact boundary’ (GoPNG 2012a: 3). Across PNG, pre-existing ILGs have been terminated, and new applications that meet these criteria will have to be submitted.

People at Suabi were unaware of the revised requirements. Nor, in early 2014, did we know of them. And people would have been unable to comply with them in the form they had been enacted. No one at Suabi has had their birth formally registered and few adults know their age, let alone their date of birth. Procuring birth certificates necessitates filling in an intricate form for each person, and for an ILG comprising 150 members could cost as much as PGK2,250. An individual who appeared with different names on different lists would, presumably, need more than one birth certificate. Further, the practicalities and costs entailed in preparing a sketch map in accordance with the strictures summarised above would place the exercise beyond possibility for either local people or nominated officials. At Suabi some people have prepared written accounts of waterways, ridges and gullies that mark the border of what they consider to be the land of their clan. But these accounts have not been prepared in consultation with others who might dispute that border. Indeed, in the recent past there were no such borders. In the 1990s, Desa, who was then a young teenager, explained the geographical relationship between her natal land and that of Martin, who was of a different clan. She held her hands in front of her, placing the fingers of one hand between those of the other. ‘Our lands are like this,’ she said, flowing one into another. Identification with land gradually decreased as a person moved away from key sites of activity. In those years ‘foci, not boundaries, inform[ed] Kubo discourse about land and, for each individual, these [were] established as salient through personal and shared experience’ (Minnegal and Dwyer 1999: 66–7; see also Minnegal and Dwyer 2011a; Dwyer and Minnegal 2014). Lines drawn on maps—with their connotations of ‘ownership’ and ‘property rights’—intrude on the lives of other people. They may be acts of appropriation, of taking to oneself (Busse and Strang 2011: 4). They can fuel disputes. The revised ILG system is likely to reverberate through the lives of Kubo and Febi people for a long time to come.

Accessing Money

At Suabi, people understood that the Juha wells were not scheduled for production until 2020. Only then would they begin to receive massive royalties for the gas from those wells. In the interim, however, it was also their understanding that some royalties would be paid to all landowners involved with the PNG LNG Project from June 2014, when the Hides field was to be brought into production and the first gas shipped overseas. Later, when Juha came on line, those advance payments would have to be reciprocated, but for the present that pending constraint could be ignored. The first shipment of gas took place, ahead of schedule, in May 2014. But the Bank of PNG Governor, Loi Bakani, cautioned stakeholders, including the government, not to ‘expect a windfall of revenue in the first year of production’, warning that ‘Export receipts and revenue for the government may be minimal and therefore expectations of windfall revenue and any associated appreciation of the kina might not materialise in the near term’ (Sharma 2014). Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said that it would be 2015 before money from the ‘multi-billion Liquefied Natural Gas’ project was available (PNG Today 2014).8

Though royalty payments would come in the future, there was other money set aside by government that was, officially, already available—PGK1.2 billion as Infrastructure Development Grants and PGK120 million as Business Development Grants, with PGK11 million of the latter earmarked to assist in the development of local business ventures within the Juha licence area (see Chapter 3). At Suabi many people, or groups of people, sought funding through both categories of grant. Often they brought their applications to us to be typed or discussed. Infrastructure grants were available to communities for projects such as school buildings and health centres, airstrip construction or maintenance and upgrading of walking tracks that linked well separated villages. Business Development Grants were available to assist locally registered companies start up small businesses.

Between May 2005 and May 2014, some Febi and Kubo people were named in association with at least 49 Business Names, Business Groups, Associations and Companies registered with the PNG Investment Promotion Authority. Registrations peaked in 2010 (n = 17) and 2014 (n = 9 before May) following, respectively, the Licence-Based Benefits Sharing Agreement held at Moro and the clan vetting meeting held at Siabi.9 Febi people were more likely to be named as company directors than Kubo people (45 of 54 unambiguous listings) and most registrations included the names of people other than Kubo or Febi. These names were often those of lawyers, accountants or others (including Huli men) who had been contracted to assist with the registration process. In some cases the person who had provided assistance was the only named shareholder. With the exception of Bob Resa’s companies we know of only one other case where a local landowner company was awarded ‘seed funds’ and, here, as in Bob’s case, the key recipient used the grant to relocate to Port Moresby. During the years 2011 to 2014, some people who lived at Suabi felt that they had been cheated by those who received money and departed. Most, however, felt that they themselves must have erred, that they had not gone about the process of accessing funds in the right way. They wanted to start again and, where possible, do so with our guidance. In what follows, we describe people’s actions through the period we visited Suabi.

Infrastructure Development Grants

By December 2013, at Suabi, one infrastructure grant of PGK81,500 had been received to support maintenance work on the airstrip and fund the building of a new community health centre. Several thousand kina of this money ‘disappeared’ and was rumoured to have been misappropriated. For several months, at the market and at a concluding court case convened for the purpose, there was a succession of accusations and counter accusations and, on one occasion, men came to blows. The court case—held at an open-sided shelter beside the Council’s house over two days, overseen by the Law and Order Committee (the Council was one of those suspected of misusing the funds), and attended by a floating audience of men, women and children from all Corners—eventually provided a public resolution to the matter, though it left some people unsatisfied. Many people spoke. Details of expenses were written on a large board for everyone to see, receipts were presented and the money was ‘traced’ from its origin point—its arrival at Suabi—to its current endpoint. Once the ‘path’ of the money had been established, the matter was judged to have been resolved. A small payment was made as compensation to a man who had been falsely accused of misappropriating money. There was no discussion of the wisdom of how the money had been used. Some had been spent on personal needs by men who were tasked with buying building materials in Kiunga. Those men regarded the money as appropriate exchange for the services they were rendering. To bring materials from Kiunga a plane had been chartered at a cost of PGK5,000. Three drums of fuel, at PGK1,013 each, were included in the cargo, intended to run a walk-about sawmill that had been purchased more than six years earlier and was currently stored in a privately owned container. It was only after the fuel arrived that the container was opened and condition of the sawmill checked. There was no battery. New spark plugs, blade, tyres and filters were needed and all parts were thick with rust. A mechanic from Juha inspected it and judged it to be inoperable. An earlier inspection, before the fuel was bought and a plane chartered, might have encouraged different decisions about how the money might be best spent. But earlier inspection would have been counter to Kubo practices; these people are very disinclined to maintain equipment in advance of a need to use it. Nor had an additional complication been resolved. The man who had been nominated as the sawmill caretaker—the owner now lived in Port Moresby—had set rent at PGK600 per day.

Three other applications for infrastructure grants were prepared in the next few months. All sought money to fund new community school buildings. All stressed that Suabi was a remote community receiving little government support, and that current school buildings had been made of bush materials and were now in very poor condition. All three applications sought funds for a single classroom, a double classroom with central office and two teachers’ houses. They were independent submissions. One sought PGK150,000, one sought PGK450,000 and the third sought PGK2,000,000. Neither the first nor the second provided any rationale for what was requested or provided justification for the amount of money requested. The third, however, was exceptionally detailed. It originated from the combined efforts of one Suabi resident and friends of his who were the directors of a Goroka-based company. There was little doubt that the Goroka friends were more interested in feathering their own nest than in providing school buildings for a remote village they had never visited.

Esau had not yet drawn up applications for infrastructure grants. But that is what he intended and his preliminary efforts entailed a grand vision. He had recently been appointed Council to an area that included most of Febi territory. On a visit to Goroka, in the Highlands, he had paid someone to draw up a five-year plan for the Ward that he oversaw. The document stressed, accurately, that there had been no development in the area since Independence; there were no roads, no schools, no health centres, no government-based law and order system and there was no cash cropping. Esau’s five-year plan was to change all this. It envisaged a vehicular road from Nomad to the Juha area and three towns, each with airstrip, schools, community health centre, streets and shops, emerging where currently there were none. Cash cropping—in particular, vanilla—would be developed.10 The document named the places where these towns would be developed, and assigned to each starting populations of between 300 and 800 people. Esau agreed with us that these numbers were very high—in fact no one lived at one of the three places—but said that he had included all people who had expressed interest in those places. To emphasise the remoteness of these locations their distances from Nomad and Kiunga were recorded, and exaggerated by a factor of 100. And, for each of the three selected town sites, in tabular form, the document provided breakdowns by sex and age and summaries of major causes of death and hospitalisation. (All numbers were fabrications and the percentages recorded for deaths and hospitalisation tallied to more than 100.) Another table listed law and order problems, with violence directed against women ranking highest and drug use considered significant. Neither applies to the Febi and Kubo populations.11 Esau’s document was strongly influenced by the understandings of the Highlanders who helped him prepare it.

Business Development Grants

Access to Business Development Grants was more difficult than access to infrastructure grants, because only those with a registered company were eligible to apply. In earlier years some people had submitted applications through Bob Resa’s company; none had received money, though some suspected funds had been forthcoming and not passed on. Few were now willing to submit applications through that company, despite considerable pressure from Bob to do so. Instead, people now expressed a need to establish and register their own companies. But they were unsure how to go about this, and the majority did not appreciate that registration of a company and application for a Business Development Grant were distinct procedures handled by different arms of government.12 Thus, for example, three women’s groups drafted letters in which they asked, in the one document, that their proposed company be registered and that they be provided with sewing machines, rolls of cloth, needles and cotton to make clothes to sell at local markets.13 At least these women knew what kind of business they wished to initiate and, wisely, were modest with respect to its size. Others were quite unsure what kind of business they might establish. One man had obtained a government document that outlined the sorts of businesses that could be eligible to receive funds. His subsequent application to register a company included rice cultivation, livestock husbandry, inland fisheries, production of minor crops (vanilla, chilli, cardamom), market gardening, bakeries, artefact sales, trade stores and logging as the kinds of businesses that the company would undertake. He simply listed all those offered as examples on the guide sheet.

The eight applications that we saw (though none had been submitted by mid-2014) varied in the detail provided with respect to the planned business, but were consistent in failing to provide justification for the funds requested. One well constructed application, from a Kubo community to the south of Suabi, sought PGK250,000 to establish farming activities (crops, livestock and aquaculture), sawmilling and a tourist lodge that would take advantage of horticultural and forest-growing orchids. The application outlined preliminary efforts and local competencies in some of these areas and asserted that their viability would be enhanced by the Trans Papuan Highway that the applicants expected to reach Nomad. The application itemised material goods that would be needed to fulfil some of the stated objectives but provided no costings. Some people asked for ‘seed money’—this approach had scored a satisfactory outcome when used a few years earlier—but with no clear indication of what that money would ‘seed’. When we asked one comparatively well educated and literate man what he would do with the money if his application were successful, he responded simply that he would put it in his bank account.

Money that had been allocated by government to fund Business Development Grants was understood by local people as a potential resource that was desirable but difficult to access. There was little prior experience, and few guidelines, with respect to access mechanisms. At face value our examples above are discouraging, implying incompetence on the part of applicants. But they may be also understood in a different light. Garnering resources from the environment always entails use of appropriate techniques. If the category of resource is new then new techniques are called for. At Suabi, people were experimenting with possible techniques. Some acknowledged that they were ‘just trying’, that if what they were currently doing failed then they would try something else. That is what they had always done. That is why, in the 2000s, they switched from hunting and trapping wild pigs to snaring them; the latter technique proved more efficient in the new context of the large number of people, and their impact on forest land, at Suabi. Once resources have been appropriated, however, they belong to the person who appropriated them or to the people to whom he or she is in relationships of debt, trust and responsibility. It is this collective of people who decide how the resource will be distributed and used. Those judgements are not made prior to the act of appropriation. People at Suabi were, therefore, confronted by a dilemma. It was necessary to employ complex techniques that they did not understand to garner funds under the Business Development Grant program. But only if, and when, they were successful would it be time to decide how the allocated funds should be distributed and used. From their perspective, the procedures they were obliged to follow placed the cart before the horse; they were required to state, on paper at least, what they would do with the money before they had received it. For this reason, at least in part, there was more secrecy with respect to these intended transactions than in other financial domains. As people moved towards finalising applications they became anxious that others might see their documentation and, as they expressed it, ‘steal points’. For a few people that anxiety intensified and spilled over as depression.

Navigating the Future

When we arrived at Suabi in December 2013, one of the men we expected to see and wanted to talk with was absent. Urie was in the Highlands. He had gone to Goroka, we were told, to ‘buy a wife’. The news puzzled us. Urie was a Febi man but not from the group of clans that form Wuo. He had worked at Juha for several months before the November clan vetting meeting. Through that time he would have earned, perhaps, PGK5,000; enough for travel and support in the Highlands but by no means enough to pay bridewealth for a Highlands woman. Moreover, he had seemed content in his marriage and his oldest child was in his twenties.

It was early February before Urie returned to Suabi. He came to see us three days later, and again on several subsequent occasions. We talked for hours. He was depressed, overwhelmed by feelings of ignorance, not knowing where to turn for help. In November, at the Siabi clan vetting meeting, he realised that men he had regarded as close kin were sidelining him. His mother’s first husband was a Wuo man, and he regarded her son by that man to be his brother. But his ‘brother’ now excluded him from ILG lists and from proposals to register companies and seek grants for developing businesses. Senior Wuo men were treating Urie’s clan as having few, if any, rights to benefits that would flow from the Juha wells. Urie decided, therefore, that he would have to find his own ‘road’ to secure the future of his clan. But he was unsure how to go about this, felt he needed the guidance of a ‘savi man’—a man of knowledge. He would like this to be a white man or white woman who understood the intricacies entailed, knew how to negotiate them, and would help without charge. But the only white men or women he knew—people like us—came and went, and always had their own agendas. We asked about his son Madison who, it was said, had completed Grade 12 and been accepted to study at university in Port Moresby. ‘He is a student,’ Urie told us. ‘He is not a savi man’. Young men of Madison’s generation were inexperienced, lacked the maturity that comes with marriage, and were too often fickle or self-interested in contributing to such serious endeavours. And, though Urie did not say it, he did not want to be beholden to those who were a generation younger than he was.

So Urie travelled to the Highlands where, he knew, there were many Papuan New Guineans well versed and experienced in the bureaucratic procedures he needed to navigate. He bypassed Tari, where Huli-speakers angered by the outcome of the Siabi clan vetting meeting had threatened harm to any Febi or Kubo people who passed through their land. Indeed, for the first few months of 2014, people at Suabi considered that Tari was too dangerous to visit and a few school students made alternative arrangements for that year. Urie travelled further east, to Goroka, where he would be distant from Huli influence. He bought a return air ticket to ensure he could get back to Suabi when his money ran out. And he found ‘knowledgeable’ people who he thought might be able to help. He presented himself as a Juha landowner, as a person who, very soon, would receive massive royalties from the PNG LNG Project on ‘his land’. He was introduced to a young woman as a prospective future wife. If he married her and established affinal connections with her kin then they would be bound together in relationships of mutual trust and responsibility. It would potentially be a ‘win-win’ outcome. But nothing was finalised. His prospective affines wanted to see and receive the money before they would do what Urie wanted. And, as yet, there was no money. As yet, Urie could not even be sure that his name and that of his clan would be listed by DPE as legitimate beneficiaries. Urie had spent all the money he had to put a possibility in place, a possibility that, as is always the case with the future, remained deeply uncertain. He had embodied that uncertainty and was depressed.

Kubo have always lived in a world of uncertainty. There is a strong sense that they are agents in shaping their future—that who they are, or might be, is not determined by what they, or others, have done in the past but, rather, is shaped (and revealed) by their own actions in the present. Their focus is on recognising, and acting on, the ever-changing opportunities that emerge in the world. Always, however, this is done in the knowledge that outcomes may not be as hoped; other agents, too—human and non-human—are pursuing their own agendas, and this may alter the consequences of action.

Through the past decade, Kubo have glimpsed new possibilities, become tantalised by hopes and desires for a very different future. As before, they are acting on the opportunities they see in the present to bring that desired future into being. But the mechanisms entailed have not yet been mastered. There are agents at play now who they do not know, yet whose decisions have profound effects on both the opportunities available and what must be done to seize those. Possible paths to the future are ever-changing, as legislation alters, bureaucracy brings in new rules, and others pre-empt moves. And the ‘destination’ has been no more than glimpsed. As Kubo strive to move into the future, the world moves around them, shifting currents and waves that converge on Suabi often from beyond the horizon. Thus, as Vigh wrote:

Beacons translate … into hope (or fear)—not a given, durable point in a ‘scape’, but a somewhat frail and delicate imagined position in the yet to come, which changes in relation to both the movement of the agent and of the social environment (Vigh 2009: 433).

People at Suabi continue to seek new ‘roads’ towards that beacon, continue to navigate imagined future possibilities. In the process, they are transforming their own social world, bringing into being new collectivities, and new kinds of collectivities, that will dramatically alter potential actions for each of them. But that same process has, paradoxically, been grounded in a revisiting—and re-visioning—of past actions and interactions.


1 One woman was said to be the only living person in the group named Mogotie. She was not included in Zavia’s list but was named as the ‘representative’ of a different subclan within Mogotie.

2 In the first four months of 2014, we typed 30 different lists, saw another 20 complete or partial lists, and typed an additional seven lists detailing the Executive for intended Incorporated Land Groups.

3 We suspect that someone, taken to be knowledgeable, had said that it was inadvisable to include more than 150 names on an ILG list and that this was misheard, or misunderstood, and taken to mean that each list should include that many names. Jorgensen (1993: 69) reported that, at Tabubil, in the 1970s and 1980s the local government council, encouraged by government employees, passed a set of rules that aimed to limit bridewealth inflation. Among Telefolmin villagers, however, these rules were interpreted as setting a minimum rather than a maximum bridewealth payment.

4 There is no formal system at Suabi for registering births and deaths. At best, and very intermittently, resident community health workers have kept records—125 recorded births and 26 recorded deaths since 1999, with no birth records kept in the years 2001–02 and 2005–07—but there is no system whereby these are officially lodged and record books, if maintained at all, are often lost. There is now, however, much interest in date of birth among young men and women. Some were very excited when we could tell them the date, based on our earlier field records, and others were disappointed when we could not. Some people assume that it not merely the date but also the day—a Monday or a Friday for example—that is carried forward from the year of birth into the future.

5 Agarwood is a species of Aquilaria (also known as eagle wood, gaharu, ‘gold tree’ or the ‘wood of the Gods’) that produces a dark resinous wood in response to fungal infection. It the Middle East and Asia it is used as incense and for medicinal purposes and has a role in various religious ceremonies. The resinous wood may fetch up to USD30,000 per kilogram. With a decline in availability in Asian countries, there has been increasing attention to sourcing the wood from PNG. In 2001, payments to Papua New Guinean harvesters varied from PGK371.66 to PGK1,139.5 per kilogram, depending on grade (Zich and Compton 2002; Gerber and Roberts 2005).

6 Keir Martin (2013: 3, 123) writes that Tolai use ‘big shot’—biksot—as a derogatory label for men who they consider ‘have forgotten their obligations to others in their eagerness to join the ranks of an emergent socio-economic elite’ and whose engagement in ritual may be commercially motivated. People at Suabi did not use the expression but the sentiments they expressed were in keeping with it.

7 Ironically, in these cases the Kubo groups were seeking alignment with a named Febi group that, on the basis of recent subdivision, was no longer extant.

8 Through the early months of 2014, people at Suabi were under the impression that government officers would either come to the village or call them to Kiunga and assist with the registration of Incorporated Land Groups. Such assistance had been guaranteed under the Moro agreement (see Chapter 3) but had not happened by December 2016. Nor, to that time, had people received any royalty payments; they had been told at different times that payments were on hold because global oil and gas prices had collapsed or because clan vetting had not been finalised.

9 We searched the PNG Investment Promotion Authority website (www.ipa.gov.pg) for registrations that included likely language, clan, village and other place names allowing for multiple variations in spelling.

10 The desirability of establishing new villages or towns, similar to Suabi or larger, was mentioned at different times by a number of people. People were concerned that the land associated with many clans was seldom visited and understood that, in both their own customary practice and government expectations, ownership rights over land that was not used could disappear. They argued that as local population size increased people would be able to return to their own clan lands, establish large communities, and continue to enjoy the advantages that currently existed at Suabi.

11 There is very little violence against women at Suabi. In seven and a half months we knew of one fight between husband and wife and two occasions when a man hit his wife when he learned that she had had an adulterous affair. Concerns about young people—‘school boys’—drinking and taking drugs (marijuana) was a common theme in speeches at the market though, in fact, there was a low incidence of both. Some alcohol was smuggled into the village on Mission Aviation flights and some home brew was made. On one occasion several youths behaved raucously after consuming home brew, and one, who was very drunk, shot an arrow at his father after being ordered to stop. On another occasion, at Kiunga, a Suabi resident was jailed for fighting with people, including police, while drunk. This was a source of much gossip and, for the man concerned, deep shame when he eventually returned to his home village.

12 The PNG Companies Act 1997, Section 13(1)(a), states that persons seeking to register a company must provide an address that includes the suburb, street name and number of the registered office and, where the address is an office, ‘particulars of the location within the building’. Neither a post office box number nor the name of a village is acceptable as a legitimate address. People living in remote areas of PNG can comply with this requirement only by establishing a relationship of indebtedness to a lawyer or other person who acts on their behalf with respect to providing that address.

13 In these and some other cases, the proposed corporation was termed a ‘Business Group’ and not a ‘Company’. Under PNG legislation, however, ‘Business Groups’ and ‘Companies’ differ with respect to rights, obligations and registration procedures, with the latter subject to more constraints than the former (GoPNG 2014a, 2014b; Kalinoe 2003; Jackson 2015). At Suabi, people did not understand these differences. They were under the misapprehension that a legally registered ‘Business Group’ would be eligible to access Business Development funds.


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