Manam Island (Photo: Peter John Tate)

From the outside looking in,  the resettlement of   more than 10,000 people displaced by the Manam  volcano  eruptions of 1996 and  2004,  revolves around the passing of the  Manam  Restoration Authority (MRA) Bill.
                It  seems a straight forward matter in which  Parliament passes a legislation that creates a legal entity that will manage  the resettlement t of the  Manam  Islanders.   At least in theory,  that is  how it is supposed to work.  
                But in reality,  the  intention of the legislation and  the  needs of the Manam Islanders   is grinding  against   age old  cultures  and   complex customary land tenure systems  of    the Andarum    people  where the proposed resettlement  is to happen and the Bogia people where the “ Manam care centers” are located.
                While the  National Government   attempts to sell the idea  of  Manam resettlement to the Adarum people,    their representatives have expressed,  in so many words,  that they are not keen on having   some 10,000 Islanders settle on their ancestral land.
                Generally, the people of Madang province are   relatively very diplomatic.  But the resistance  over the resettlement is coming  to the fore as the people who  are expected by the government to play  host   start looking  at a possible future  of  cultural friction and turbulence between them and   another tribal group  occupying their land.
                This is a fear that is not unfounded.  Since  resettlement after  the 2004 eruption,  there have been multiple clashes  between  the Manams and the Bogias  –   whose traditional land  before colonization,    has been used as “care centers.”
                In 2008, four people were killed in clashes sparked by ongoing tensions.  In  2009, a three-year-old child  was abducted and killed  sparking further violence.   Then,  in March 2010,  the government  held a special cabinet meeting to  look at ways to ease tension after three years of  continued violence.
                Understanding the violence  requires a detailed look  at  how Papua New Guineans are attached to their land.   For the Manams,  leaving the island  has   meant  the  severing a relationship    from  a  spiritual source of life for them.  
It is harder for  the old men and women, many of whom,  have died in grief  after  being unable to express their loss of a connection to the land where their parents  and grandparents are buried.  For younger generation,  the  lack of freedom to  use water and harvest building materials from land owned by the Bogias  has had a direct impact on their  health and living standards.
The Bogias, in a sense, feel cheated by the government. 
The initial  understanding was for the Manams to be settled on their land for six months before being moved to a permanent resettlement  area.   After   more than a decade,  tensions over land and resources  remain.
The Manam  volcano,  has been relatively quiet.  However,  with the recent volcanic activity, what the government ignored for a decade has come back  to haunt them.   It  has become a  problem compounded by an island population that has doubled,   whilst living on the mainland,  and a new host unwilling to take in  clans made landless by a force of nature.
Prime  Minister, Peter O Neill,   has chosen to look beyond the petty politics of  Madang’s  politicians  and has given an ultimatum for them to sort out their differences.  Regardless of whether  or not they reach a compromise, the government will use its numbers to pass the long overdue   Manam Restoration Authority  Bill  and start the process of resettlement.
Madang Governor, Jim Kas,  has provided some sense of direction by bringing the MRA  Bill to parliament after  10 years of provincial indecisiveness. However, there is conflict stemming from the make up of the MRA board and it  remains a major obstacle to progress.
While  the National Government is on a path to  accomplishing its duty,    Madang’s political leadership   is  still in disarray and have been  that way for  10 years. 
That  political chaos, is costing lives.


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