Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Anatomy of a Tribal Fight

During our time in Enga Province, eleven houses were burned down in the village of Sakarip, which is where two of the Enga Bible translators live. We took the time to find out the cause of the fighting, and we wanted to share what we discovered with people here in Ukarumpa.

In order to understand the causes of this particular tribal fight, it is first necessary to understand the tribal structure of those involved. The tribal system in Enga is hierarchical. There are roughly 100 large tribes in Enga that are then broken down into sub-tribes, clans, sub-clans, and family lines. The particular tribal fight that was happening during our time in Enga took place within the Potealini tribe. The Potealini tribe can be broken down into the following hierarchy (only lines that are relevant to this fight are shown).

Potealini Tribe
   Komboto Sub-Tribe
      Wambyen Clan
      Pepetae Clan
   Langape Sub-Tribe
      Mupa Clan

During the summer of 2012, Papua New Guinea held its national elections. One of the candidates for the Wabag Open Seat was Paul Pandan, who belongs to the Wambyen clan. Nikolas Mangen, an Engan accountant in Port Moresby, who is a member of the Pepetae clan did not vote for him, even though it is usually expected that a person will support any candidate from his own sub-tribe. A few weeks later, Nikolas Mangen got into an altercation with two men from the Wambyen clan, who killed Nikolas by chopping his head with an axe. The cause of the fight was the fact that Nikolas did not vote for Paul Pandan, who was the Komboto candidate. At least some of the men were drinking, which contributed to the fight.

In accordance with Engan custom, the members of the Wambyen clan began to pay compensation to the Pepetae clan because of the murder of Nikolas Mangen. This willingness to pay compensation paved the way for peace between the two clans for a year. After a year, however, some Wambyen men, who had been drinking, went into Pepetae territory and stirred up trouble by saying things to provoke the Pepetae sub-clan to fight. When the Wambyen men left, the Pepetae were so enraged that they pursued the Wambyen men and killed one of them.

At that point, the Wambyen declared war on the Pepetae, and all of the people from each clan fled into neighboring sub-tribes to seek refuge, particularly the women and children. Some of the Pepetae sought refuge among the Langape sub-tribe, who live immediately to the east. The village right on the border of the Pepetae territory, is Sakarip, which is where two of the Enga Bible translators live. In particular, Sakarip is where people of the Mupa clan live.

As the war between the Pepetae and Wambyen went on, the Pepetae proved themselves to be superior fighters. killing 6 Wambyen men. It appeared that the Pepetae had won and the Wambyen had lost, and so there was a period of peace. After a couple of weeks, however, a Pepetae man was killed when he was alone in a field and the fight erupted again.

The Wambyen later discovered that two young men from the Mupa clan were assisting the Pepetae in the war. As a result, the Wambyen came into Sakarip and burned down the houses of the closest relatives of the two young men. In all, eleven houses in Sakarip were burned down, and at least seven pigs (which are highly valuable pieces of property in Enga) were stolen. As a result all of the women and children left Sakarip and sought refuge with neighboring clans in other areas.

Now at the same time a man of influence who sympathized with the Wambyen has supplied ammunition, machine guns, and mercenaries who are skilled in operating machine guns. The Pepetae see that they are now outmatched, and they have fled even farther away. However, the mercernaries are still roaming through Sakarip with machine guns, especially at night, looking for enemies from the Pepetae clan. This was the state of affairs when we left on September 10.

When we visited Sakarip after the houses had been burned, it was clear that people did not have much time to flee. As we looked through the charred remains, we found charred school books, lanterns, cooking utensils, and even a metal bed frame. Other signs of the war were evident. Just across the Lai River in Pepetae territory we could see dozens of trees that had no bark at the base. The Wambyen had removed the bark to kills the trees, which is another tactic of tribal warfare. By killing the trees, the Wambyen make it difficult for the Pepetae to have a supply of wood for fires or for building new homes.

On the day when the houses in Sakarip were burned down, Maniosa Yakasa, one of the Enga Bible translators, was driving from Wabag town, where we work, back to Sakarip (a 20-minute drive) to drop off his family. He was stopped by a police officer, who told him that there was fighting going on in Sakarip and that he could not continue. Maniosa came back to Wabag town, and he continued working on the translation without a break. Ruben Yonasa, the other translator from Sakarip, although visibly shaken, also continued in the translation work. Both of their homes were spared although seven of Maniosa's pigs were killed and two bush material houses on his property were burned down. Maniosa and Ruben are still sleeping in Sakarip, but their families have fled and are now also living as refugees in other villages.

Unfortunately this scenario is not an isolated incident in Enga Province. This sort of fighting happens all over the province all of the time. This is one of the reasons why the Enga people so desperately need the Bible in their own language. They are stuck in a cycle of violence, and they don't realize that there is another way based on love and forgiveness.

Please pray for the fighting to cease and for God to speed our translation work so that people can be exposed to another way of living that doesn't involve fighting. The message is not getting through in English and Tok Pisin.

Please note that we were not living in the area where this fighting was happening. We were living in the town of Wabag, which was safely removed from the fighting.