On the morning of the 8th of September 2010, John Kepma was suddenly awakened by noise outside his hut . He peered through the cracks in the wall and saw several policemen who had begun pulling down his dwelling.
He came out of his hut and was confronted with a sight he had come to both dread and expect. Armed policemen had begun an eviction of remnant members of the Maure clan who had refused to move to a temporary relocation site. His clan members included his father, his uncles his older brother, Peter and several children.
“One of the ‘officers of the state’ told us that we were weren’t landowners and that he would get three other clans to burn our houses down and chase us off the land, ” John recalled. “He said: ‘all of you come out and pack your things and leave,’ then he began breaking down the houses.”
Since January last year, John and his older brother Peter had become the face of a people’s resistance against the Chinese owned Ramu Nickel Mine’s push to evict them from their own land. On eight previous occasions last year, older brother Peter was confronted by heavily armed police who demanded that he pack up and leave. But each time he refused.
“They came armed and dressed in their uniforms. They wanted me to leave.,” he said. “But I told them: this is my land and I will stay here. This is an issue between me and MCC. You all are not from China. You’re all Papua New Guinean like me. You own land as well.”
The Maure of Kurumbukare are a small clan that control a small land area. For Peter Kepma, the success of this resistance is crucial. His clan’s survival depends on the land on which they live. But this large scale mining development has taken away their very means of survival – their ancestral land. “Our entire clan land will be mined for nickel, ” Peter says. “We’ve been forced to move to a temporary relocation site but that too will be mined later.
“They’ve told us that we’ll be moved to a permanent site but that land belongs to another clan and we won’t be allowed to plant gardens or hunt.” Like the majority of rural Papua New Guineans, becoming landless is unthinkable. It simply doesn’t happen. But for Peter, John and members of his clan, it has become a reality. With nowhere else to live, the clan planted a food garden on an area designated as the mining company’s ore stockpile area. John says that they had no choice but to plant on what is now the company’s land. Members of their family now reside on the fringes of what was their customary land. Their huts perched on a small mountain ridge overlooking the mine site. They’ve been living there for the last two years despite talk of relocation. When the eviction began, John documented it all using a digital still camera.
He took pictures of his village being demolished and of his displaced family. He even took pictures of a Chinese company worker who told him not to go to the media. John and Peter said they want the world to know about the things that are being done to them and how they’re being treated on their own land.