LUHAI and Christopher are tribal leaders from Mendi in Papua New Guinea.
Luhai is from the ‘Kondup Tribe’ and Christopher is from the ‘Humsen Tribe’, both consisting of over 4000 people each.
Between 1993 and 2000 Kondup and Humsen were locked in fierce tribal wars. However, with the support of Caritas Australia they have been able to arrive at a peace agreement.
Tribal conflict comes at a terrible price.
In the time that Luhai and Christopher’s tribes were at war many people were killed, homes, schools, health clinics and other buildings were destroyed, hundreds of people were displaced and the lives of thousands were disrupted.
During the conflict many families were forced to run away from their homes and stay in the highlands.
Despite the fact that tribal fights were often caused by little more than false rumours, they caused communities to lose virtually everything. People were forced to collect water from the rivers and many of the villagers suffered from typhoid, malaria, TB and diarrhoea.
During the conflict many children had their education interrupted or missed out on an education entirely, profoundly affecting their futures.
The introduction of guns to replace traditional weapons has greatly increased the destructiveness of tribal conflicts.
The clash between young and old in the community, combined with high levels of unemployment and the introduction of drugs and alcohol, are also destabilising factors.
Add to this a political system that is often corrupt and encourages tribal fighting and the obstacles to lasting peace become apparent.
In tribal war, entire communities suffer. Only when the warring parties are reconciled can rebuilding begin to take place and that is why the peace building work Caritas does is so important.
Caritas Australia, through its partner agency Caritas PNG, implements an Integral Human Development (IHD) program focusing on peace building in areas such as Mendi.
As part of the IHD program, Caritas officers visit communities throughout the country to talk with people about the difficulties they are facing. Through this process, specific problems and target groups are identified.
The first objective of the IHD program is to educate and empower individuals so they are aware of the role they play in their community. Later parts of the program identify community issues and possible community projects to address them.
The Caritas program brings tangible and integral human development by teaching people to use themselves and their resources to make a better life.
Caritas works with the warring factions to help them appreciate the counter productiveness of their fighting. This work is very labour intensive but also highly effective.
Raymond Ton co-ordinates Caritas’ PNG-wide peace program. Over the years he has helped to bring peace to at least six tribal wars, including the conflict between Luhai and Christopher’s tribes.
Raymond knows that working for peace is a long, difficult process.
‘In a tribal war, people don’t just experience property loss. They lose loved ones and their lives are disrupted. They experience psychological loss.
‘When they’re at ‘peace’ they will see the people who hurt them and they have to be prepared for that. I don’t just work with people so that they will stop fighting. I help them to be prepared so they can live in peace’, Raymond said.
The role of a peace builder is a difficult one, so what keeps people like Raymond going?
‘I want the world to know PNG for being a peaceful, strong and self-sufficient country, not one of violence and corruption.
‘I want all Papua New Guineans to have the chance to access things like education and health care. And to live in peace.’
Assisted by the Caritas peace program, Luhai and Christopher have pledged never to fight again and are committed to rebuilding their communities. A new school has been built and Caritas has supplied water tanks, garden tools and a new pastoral centre. The children of Mendi are now able to walk freely and without fear.