The guys in the Kovol team are just back from spending 6 days in Kovol for a land signing agreement. The goal of our trip was to get a contract signed that would give us a bit of land we could build our houses on.
Written contracts are a western idea, but still very important for tribal missionary teams. By having a signed contract we hope to avoid things like the land-owner seizing our houses as soon as they’re built because it’s his ground, being forced into compensation payments etc. etc. We’re under no illusions that our signed bit of paper totally protects us from all ‘hevis‘ down the road concerning the land, but it is at least a tool we can point back to when (not if) disputes come up.
In the end we managed to get our contract signed by the landowners (as best as we could identify them), and witnesses from each Kovol village.

Our agreement is that we get use of the land the village have indicated for free for the duration of our ministry and that once we’re done the land returns to the land owners and the houses are put at NTM PNG’s disposal. We wanted to make sure our land owners weren’t secretly holding onto the hope that our houses would become theirs someday – you can imagine the problems that might cause!
As we worked through things with the Kovol people we learned that the land they offered us was a sort of community land. Long ago they decided that if ever a school, or aid post or something like that would come to Kovol this land was to be where it was built. That’s the ground they’ve offered us and explains why it was a little tricky for us to identify the true owner of the ground, in their mind it was already given.

Village picture

The contract itself wasn’t the focus of our efforts though. It was more of a ‘we’re westerners and we do funny things like sign papers’, the real work was lengthy discussion with the community followed by eating a meal together. In some ways I can understand their attitude – ‘we’ve already said the land’s yours, what’s the problem?’ 🙂 The meal was the PNG way to show we’re all ‘one stomach’ with each other. After all the discussions were finished we asked if we could buy a pig from them that we could use in a big meal together. We had brought money specially for it thinking we could be a double blessing to the community by buying from them and then eating with them, but our land owner insisted on providing the pig for us free of charge. Free of charge for now at least; since we were moving into land that was already given a long time ago towards some kind of development project I don’t think our land owner could have accepted payment even if he wanted to. The group voice saying ‘yes we agree to everything’ dominated the discussion. We’ll be keeping an eye on how things develop. Usually nothing is free in PNG, people keep track of who owes them what and may decide to settle the bill years later.

Sealing the contract with pig

Land in PNG is a huge, huge issue. It’s the most valuable thing people have and the culture surrounding it is complex and still a little unknown to us; but on the whole it looks like the Lord has helped us. The Kovol people are genuinely excited to have us come. Right now they’re saying yes to everything we ask of them – which of course isn’t ideal and likely to cause some problems later; but we can’t see any cause for real alarm.

With the contract signed (in our mind that meant the signatures on paper, in their mind it meant we’d eaten pig together) we were able to lay down some rope to show where our houses were going to go and the Kovol people got started clearing out the jungle there. We tried to help, but we were more a hinderance than a help really! The area we marked out became a blur of machetes being swung in arcs as all the vegetation and trees came out. The Stous’ area turned out to be not too flat. Usually that’s OK as we build our houses on stilts to allow for uneven ground, but they wanted a bit of a downstairs and so we had to get to work digging out the mountainside. Everyone brought their spades and for wheelbarrows we used limbum leaves. You pile the dirt on the leaf and then the village children drag it down the hill. It would have been a job for a digger back home, but 50 Kovol people are more than a match for a digger 🙂

Our plot of land

Not only did we clear the areas our houses were going to go we marked the trees we’ll be cutting in a few weeks time to make lumber. Some of them are enormous, the largest we found was 3.6m in circumference. The challenge is that of the 30 or so trees we were shown that we could use not a single one was in a flat area. We’ll be milling on a slope. We wanted to make sure we weren’t using up all the trees leaving the Kovol people with nothing – but ideally they’ve marked all of the largest trees for us. These trees are just too big for them to bother with cutting by hand with axes, we won’t be using up their resources at all!

More blogs will follow this one about the last week. It’s been an intense time with much to say about it. The Lord’s been with us though. We quickly realised just how out of our hands the whole trip was. We had our ideas about how things would look, but it ended up looking nothing like it and we had no idea what was happening for almost the entire trip. We weren’t steering events, but neither were the Kovol really, we were glad to rest and allow the Lord to steer things.


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