IDRC Pan Asia Networking sponsorship

The 1994 Rabaul volcanic eruption:  human sector impacts on the Tolai displaced communities

By:  Caspar G. To Waninara , Melanesian Research Institute, Goroka

The Gazelle Restoration Authority Project Implementation Unit released its 1997 Second Quarter Report in July 1997.   It might have put into proper perspective speculations, misconceptions and criticism on how funds are being spent (by the Gazelle Restoration Authority - GRA) in the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Rabaul and Gazelle following the cataclysmic September 1994 twin volcanic eruptions.

Rabaul volcanic disaster aerial photo - CLICK FOR ENLARGED PICTURE

The purpose of this paper, being compatible with the theme of the Waigani Seminar - Information and the Nation: To Know and to be Known - is twofold.  First, it attempts to highlight the human sector impacts of natural disasters as an equally important component in need of rehabilitation and reconstruction in aftermath restoration projects and programs. Second, in citing an exploratory field exercise among the Tolai displaced communities after the 1994 Rabaul eruption episodes the hope is also to amplify, through the case study, the theory of a strong rural community base versus a weak or artificial central state in social relationships.


Infrastructure Projects

The National newspaper [1] had on its front page the headlines: "Volcano victims get little direct GRA aid". According to the article most of the money vested with the GRA for restoration of lives and livelihoods on Gazelle was paid to companies involved in implementing infrastructure projects rather than directly benefiting the displaced people, in terns of providing shelter at the resettlements. Fox example, a total of K874, 551.95 was spent on the now-abandoned Baliora satellite township project (Kl80,690.50 for clearing Baliora Plantation and K693,861.45 was spent on initial development projects, such as site works, temporary roads, design and water systems) at a time when over 30,000 displaced people remained at resettlement areas, many without basic necessary services. As a result some of those settlers are now seeking to return to their devastated villages.

Werena Settlement Neglected

Last April the people of Tavana, Valaur and Latlat, whose villages, estates of coconut and cocoa, permanent houses and buildings, dwellings, garden sites, sacred grounds and cemeteries are buried under 20 metres of volcanic ash and dust deserted their relocation site of Warena and cawed in tents in what used to be their homes.[2] They protested to force the government to remove the road linking Rabaul and Kokopo, and which runs through what used to be their homes. As it was explained by their spokesman, Ekonia To Malana:

Where the temporary road is today, our homes, dwelling grounds, garden and cemeteries lie below and we consider this an insult and trespassing.

The people from the three villages, hit hardest by the 1994 volcanic eruptions, were first allocated to Warena plantation on the south coast of the Gazelle Peninsula, 70 kilometres from their destroyed villages.  Other volcano-affected areas did not lose houses, cocoa, copra, fruit trees and garden sites but Tavana, Valaur and Latlat villagers lost everything. They returned claiming the government allocated them to Warena which is not fertile, as well as mosquito and criminal infested.  Their return was meant to reclaim their destroyed villages at the foot of Vulcan volcano and force the government to either remove the public road from their former dwellings, or resettle them in a more appropriate relocation site.  But it is now a known fact, as substantiated by its 1997 second quarter report that the GRA, as an agent of the government, is more committed to infrastructure and economic development than the private and socio-cultural life of even the most affected of the Tolai displaced communities.

Infrastructure Projects in Kokopo Area

Since the GRA was established by an Act of Parliament in 1995 and charged with restoration in Rabaul and Gazelle in the aftermath of the eruptions, much of the K50 million being spent so far has been committed to infrastructure projects. Most of them are located in the Kokopo area which was less affected by the disaster in contrast to Rabaul.

K75,880 of the K50 million had been paid to hire an Australian engineering firm, Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation (SMEC), to conduct a feasibility study on rebuilding the volcano-devastated town of Rabaul. The cited newspaper also claimed that the GRA report even appeared to ignore funding for minor repair projects, such as the two community schools at Matupit Island despite the gradual return of people, including children to the island.

The major expenditure of funds by the GRA has occurred in the Kokopo and adjacent areas:

  • Tokua Airport:  K5 million
  • Kokopo subdivision 34:  K197, 123.96
  • Kenabot subdivision:  K 2,766,940.1

Funding has been mainly sourced from the PNG national government, the Australian Government through AusAID, Japan, the European Union, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and Germany.

Major beneficiaries include contractors New Britain Quarries, Shorncliffe, Asia Pacific Surveys, CPS Palanga Survey, Talili Transport, Douglas Partners, Ove Arup and Partners Pacific, Ravalley Transport, Central Management Systems, the National Mapping Bureau, Dalmine Enterprises, and Daltron Electronics. The various entities have provided services mainly for infrastructure-related projects through GRA.

According to the GRA Project Manager, Robert Cohen, the projects listed in immediate term program were planned to be carried out between 1995 and 1997 at a cost of K100 million, while medium-term projects are planned to be implemented between 1998 and the year 2000.

Long-term programs are expected to be carried out by the Provincial Government which will eventually absorb the GRA implementation unit capabilities in its administration.

No Indicator for Basic Services Provision for the Displaced

The newspapers recorded that there was no provision in the GRA report submission as an indicator for any form of basic services such as water or housing for over 1,000 Matupit Islanders currently residing in the Ulagunan settlement (Ulamatis) near Kokopo.  Sikut, near Warongoi, was observed to have been the only settlement scheme which received funding commitment of K27,729.66 from the GRA. Funding information about Gela Gela, Warena, Warongoi, Tangala and Clifton settlements, which currently accommodate about 95 per cent of the total of some 30,000 people from the high risk areas in East New Britain lacked any indication in the latest GRA report release.

The high risk and heavily devastated areas include Matalau, Korere, Talwat, Bai, Nodup, Matupit and parts of Malaguna, Central Gazelle and North Coast.

GRA has spent fewer funds to restoring volcano devastated Rabaul, while more money was spent on infrastructure projects in the Kokopo area.  The former capital of East New Britain, which suffered total destruction during the 1994 twin eruptions, received only K 192,976.90 of the total K50 million, which the GRA has spent so far in restoration projects.  Of the K 192,976.90 the GRA spent on Rabaul, some K36,863 was spent on rehabilitation programs, including demolition and site work on Section 68, while K103,417 was spent on similar programs on section 46.

Since its inception, a total of K117.7 million was channeled through the GRA towards the Gazelle restoration program.  The national government contributed K14.5 million while the rest had come from overseas countries and aid agencies. Major contributors included Australia (K34.0m), Japan (K26.6m) and the European Union (K6.2m) which made their contributions through the form of international grants totaling K66.8 million. The World Bank (K33.3m), Germany (K2.4m) and the Asian Development Bank (K700,000) contributed a total of K36.4m through internal soft loans.

The Governor for East New Britain, Francis Koimanrea, meanwhile has called on the GRA to establish an office in Rabaul. He cited that numerous complaints had been lashed against GRA by Rabaul residents pertaining to the Authority's "one-sided" approach in the restoration process being concentrated only in Kokopo after the devastation by eruptions. The Governor pointed out that it was in everybody's interest that development is seen to be taking place in the devastated township:

"My government will ensure that Rabaul town gets back to where it was before the eruptions." [3]

Aid Not Meant fox Direct Assistance

However, the Governor was reported also to have reacted to the GRA second quarter report for 1997. In a newspaper article, "Aid not meant for direct assistance", [41 Koimanrea explained and appealed to the public to understand that much of the funding received by the GRA for restoration program had been provided by overseas sources. And the criteria for the expenditure of their financial assistance was to restore infrastructure services rather than assist individual victims. Thus, the GRA is perceived to be concentrating more on physical restoration than the non-physical (sociocultural) rehabilitation and reconstruction of the displaced communities' lives and livelihoods.


The GRA's second quarter report on the priority of the restoration Process seems to be ironical. First, some months ago there was the fierce debate and war of words between the GRA and some of its critics. On one occasion, the then GRA project implementation unit manager, Ellison Kaivovo, hit strongly against short term gains for a few.

The urgent social needs of the rural and urban dwellers looking for a safer place to live and work are far more important than the interest of a small group of business proprietors..... I would like to know and I am sure the people of Papua New Guinea would like to know, when short term private gain should take precedence over people's lives and livelihoods. [5]

Kaivovo's defensive comments are ambiguous. Was the former manager specifically implying the situation of the displaced Tolai volcano victims who axe currently being resettled or whether he was making a general and indiscriminate reference to also cover people who might have not lost dwellings, property and means of livelihood?

Second, the GRA sponsored infrastructure related projects which consumed most of the K50 million revenue funds are based in Kokopo and the adjacent areas. The question to ask is, how safe is Kokopo from a volcanic eruption having a magnitude similar to the two cataclysmic episodes (3400 years ago and 1400 years ago respectively). They were responsible for the formation of the Rabaul volcano-caldera, whose heart is currently occupied by Simpson Harbour or Rabaul Harbour.

Other considerations for the selection of Kokopo being developed as the new centre for East New Britain include, the area being vulnerable to landslides along the Kokopo road in the event of earthquakes. Also Kokopo, lacking Rabaul´s magnificent, deep harbour, may in the end be no more secure from volcanic eruptions than Rabaul. Both Rabaul and Kokopo towns are in the volcano's path, pending on the event of an eruption. As Russel Blong explained in his analysis of seismicity on the Gazelle:

If there is a really big eruption there's no point in moving the town to a place like Kokopo - the difference in the life expectancy of a building is a matter of minute or two. [61

The region has two strong prevailing winds. From May to November, the wind blows from the south-east, the wind that brought the disaster to Rabaul in September of 1994. However, from November to May, they blow in the opposite direction, towards Kokopo. At the beginning of this year, 1997, strong winds caused the sea to rise beyond its normal level along the Kokopo beaches. Houses in the Vunapope compound, for instance, were reportedly uprooted and carried into the sea when the tides resided. As a result more displaced mission workers and others along the Kokopo-Vunapope coasts were displaced.

According to Professor Russell Blong who wrote an analysis of the impact on Rabaul of a volcanic eruption similar to those in 1937, the earthquake hazard is actually grater than the volcanic hazard in that area. Moreover, Kokopo is in fact, nearer to the St George's fault, which is one of the main faults in the region.


Rabaul cannot be abandoned and should be resurrected and be better than before. The location is significantly close to the heart of every Tolai man, woman and child. It is their beloved madapai (home base or place of origin). Rabaul, before the 1994 eruptions, was a special place, not just because of its picturesque setting and colourful history - it was the living monument of a people's pride - the identity of the Tolai. As a "big man" would grieve for his maternal kinship clans and people, so was the then Premier, Sinai Brown, grieving at the loss of his provincial hone. Similarly, the destruction caused by the natural phenomenon would have broken the heart and spirit of the Tolai, particularly the most immediately afflicted and displaced communities.


Recovery processes in the aftermath of a natural disaster, such as volcanic eruptions, cover the areas of cultural, social, psychological, economic/ financial and environmental when focusing on the human sector impacts as a term of reference. This paper is part of a thesis, which attempts to document some preliminary data emanating from an exploratory field research. It was conducted among the displaced Tolai communities in the aftermath of the September. 1994 twin volcanic: eruptions in Rabaul. The exercise lasted for four weeks between the end of 1995 and the beginning of 1996 when the afflicted communities were contacted in the then care centres, which were just phasing out and in the relocation sites or new settlements. Care centres included Veaveo, Vunamami, Tapo-Tavui, Warongoi - all in the Kokopo area – and Livuan, on the North Coast Road of Rabaul. Visited were the settlements of Gela Gela, Toberra, Warena and Sikut.

The rationale embedded in the focus of the field study transpired from the human reality of experiencing a natural disaster like volcanic eruptions. By definition sudden natural disasters are sudden calamities caused by natural phenomena. They strike with little or no warning and have an immediate adverse impact on human populations, activities and economic system.

The latest Rabaul volcanic eruptions case is perceived as a disaster since it occurred as a sudden or major misfortune which disrupted i-lie basic fabric and normal functioning of the Tolai society. It gave rise to a few casualties - four from eruption related circumstances and one from a lightning strike - but more specifically to extensive damage and loss of property, infrastructure, essential services and of livelihood which was beyond the normal capacity of the affected communities to cope with unaided (Aysan and Davis 1993 [lst Ed.]).

The Gazelle Restoration Authority was a creation of an Act of Parliament and the National Executive Council. It was charged with the recovery phase to enable victims to resume normal lives and means of livelihood, and to restore infrastructure, services and the economy in a manner appropriate to long term needs and defined development needs.


The posed argument presented here is within the contexts of socio-cultural restoration in terns of rehabilitation and reconstruction within development processes which should embody two interrelated and complementary components:  physical (infrastructure projects) and human (social, cultural, psychological, economical/ financial and environmental).  Within natural disaster contexts, as stipulated in the above definition, both components axe impacted upon.  Therefore, recovery strategies being adopted as the approach, should be comprehensive, integrated and holistic. This is based on the fact of a danger in the temptation pertaining to the concentration of resources only on one sector(infrastructure)_without realising the importance of the other(human sector). Consequently, the linkage between physical recovery and socio-cultural recovery of the victims is riot being realised, appreciated and appropriately addressed.  The real aspired needs of the displaced communities for normalcy in life and livelihood may lie more within the socio-cultural categories.  Dislocation for them, for instance, is not just limited to the physical (environmental). Because of their physical relocation, the displaced communities have also been psychologically dislocated, due to their social dislocation.

The human experience for the displaced is that they have been torn away from their traditional roots.

There are two intervening factors towards infrastructure concentration in rehabilitation and reconstruction.

First, physical reconstruction (repairs to buildings; infrastructure building and repairs; economic - the development of industrial and commercial centres (e.g. Takubar, by the Catholic Archdiocese of Rabaul, and Ulaveo, which is a joint venture of the Papua New Guinea and East New Britain governments); administrative / political (such as institutional structures); and human resources (education and training) is essential for a return to normality.  It is demanded by society and of ten perceived as an easily, quantifiable and visible achievement, for the national and provincial governments, donors and agencies.  It is well demonstrated by the GRA second quarterly report on restoration implementation and spending in infrastructure projects, particularly in Kokopo.

Second, cultural, social, psychological, environmental and economic/ financial (from the perspective of the individuals and/ or families who are now permanently displaced since they lost everything during the volcanic disaster) - human sector - are less tangible for government, agency or donor investment.  And it is often considered in most cases as the responsibility of the community(ies):  to reconstruct and rehabilitate towards reaching pre1994 times (in the case of the Tolai displaced villagers).   The second point is well illustrated again by the reported comments made by the Governor for East New Britain when reacting to the GRA latest report and as discussed earlier:

Aid not meant for direct assistance .... the public must understand that much of the funding received by GRA for restoration programs was provided by overseas sources...... The criteria by which they wanted us to use was to restore infrastructure services, rather than assist individual victims.

However, as W. Nick Carter (1991: 305) explains: 
" .... relocation results in a number of problems even though the new environments tend to be better and safer to live in .... problems tend to arise from human factors (e.g. being torn away from traditional roots) rather than from material ones."

The Governor's explanation is echoed in a letter to the Editor of the Post-Courier by John Koimbe of the University of Papua New Guinea. It read in part:
" We have to listen to foreign corporations and governments because it is their money we are using..... Although we claim to be a sovereign state, we have to bow down to our ´helpers´.  The borrower is the slave of the lender.[7]"

Last October, 1996, Dr Bruce Yeates of the University of Papua New Guinea, presented a paper during the Mini Youth Conference which was held in the Granville Motel. It was titled:  National Development:  An Overview of development visions in contemporary Papua New Guinea. Dr Yeates outlined four visions (philosophies, paradigm or models) of development; their different goals, features and the orqanisations which sponsor them.  The four paradigms are namely:

  • Structural Adjustment with its goal of Economic Growth. Its features include spending less on health, education and social services. The vision of structural adjustment is sponsored by the World Bank (USA, Italy, Germany, France, Great Britain, Canada and Japan); the International Monetary Fund; Governments and Multi-national Private Business Companies.
  • Human Development with its goal:  to redistribute income from the free market. Its features include: to eradicate absolute poverty; have full: employment; foster safe, stable and just societies; have universal and equitable access to education and health services. The Human Development Paradigm is sponsored by the United Nations; UNDP - Human Development Index; UNICEF and UNESCO.
  • Local-level Governments. The paradigm includes some of these areas in its Law Making Powers: labour and employment; self-help and tokples schools; dispute settlement; social services; bride and groom wealth; village committees. Its Administrative Functions concern initiating and implementing youth and women programs; implementing national or provincial program when required.
  • People-Centred Development (PCD).  Its goal lies with the philosophy of "transforming the economic, social and political structures Which are the cause of poverty and inequalities that exist in today´s world". Its features are: covenant with marginalised groups in society; provide people with sustainable livelihoods; build people's capacity to meet their basic needs. PCD is sponsored by three main organisations: NGOS; Churches and Private Individuals.

Having outlined the four basic development philosophies in contemporary Papua New Guinea, the GRA Project Implementation Unit is perceived to be within the contexts of the Sty al Adjustment Vision with the goal of Economic Growth, in the light of its latest report on the Gazelle restoration and implementation expenditure. After all it is an instrument of the national government with its Mission Statement:

The timely implementation of an appropriate Restoration Program designed to return the self-efficiency and well-being of the East New Britain people to at least as high a standard as enjoyed prior to the 1994 volcano disaster, whilst ensuring the sustainability of the outcomes; and minimizing the adverse impacts of future volcanic eruptions on lives, properties and livelihoods.

Such a mission statement does not specifically address the plight of the displaced Tolai communities. It is seen as a statement which generalizes the restoration strategies for the whole Province and the general public. It is ambiguous as to how the most afflicted are going to be rehabilitated and reconstructed towards their pre-1994 level of normalcy in their lives and livelihoods. The Mission Statement does not specifically state anything about the human sector impacts of the eruptions on the displaced, and which are much more aspired, according to the field work findings, than the infrastructure projects being currently put in place.

For instance, most of the displaced Population were land based for cash crop cultivation and food production prior to the disaster. But the allotted land blocks of 0.42 of a hectare to each family in Gela Gela settlement, for instance, is insufficient, given the fact that in two to three years time there is envisaged a shortage of land and an unprecedented Population explosion in the area.[81 And still there is the impending question of land ownership and tenure. The dislocated families will have to adapt to a new system which is no longer along the vunatarai (clan) and lineage system and covering other related socio-cultural institutions such as the taraiu (secluded sacred grounds), tumbuan and dukduk (Tolai mask dances); kinship categories of consanguines and affines (involving the "axion of amity" [mutual support] that kinsfolk are known to habitually offer to one another - it being an expression of "a rule of altruism [Fteeman 1979:1091).

Tambu (Tolai shell money having commercial and ritualistic value in social transactions). In its interrelated contexts tambu functions to establish, sustain and manipulate social relationships for the vunatarai (group identity) and Tolai ethos and identity.

The big man "achieved" system of leadership, political power and authority, which is largely a sociological title more than it being politico-economical.

The institutions are rather vitally important for the "education, enculturation and civilization" of the young males towards the preservation of values, customs and practices towards Tolai ethnic identity.  Tolai women may not be initiated, but they have the means (tambu) to sponsor socio-cultural activities, for example, those of the t dukduk; mortuary rites and matrimonial ceremonials, such as bride-wealth. Today the women are able to incur debts which oblige reciprocal payments towards them when the opportunities arise. Sentiments of the socio-cultural activities consolidate a "strong community base" for socioeconomic relationships in contrast to what seems to be an "artificial" and "weak central state" that Papua New Guinea currently is, as a nation (the theory of d weak central state and the strong community base).


The theory of State-society relationships are embedded in a number of theories. For example, in Joel Migdal´s concept of strong society and weak, state, it is referred to as "the theory of strong societies and weak state" (Migdal 1988) and cited Jerome Semos (1996: 35). According to its proponent, the theory assesses the capabilities of the State to achieve the requires changes in society through State planning, policies and actions, are mobilised by the leaders, utilising four principles: 1. the capacities to penetrate (dominate society); 2. the capacities to regulate (control) social relationships in society; 3. the capacities to extract (exploit) resources. (including taxes and revenues); and 4. the capacities to appropriate or use (distribute) resources in determined ways. Thus, strong States refer to those with high capabilities to achieve the four goals stated above. Conversely, weak States are those with low capability achievement of the four target tasks.

In PNG's experience, the analogy would be that the State is weak, due to its incapacity to use and apply its penetrative, regulative, extractive and appropriative resources in society as evidenced by the steady occurrences of social, political and economic conflicts. There is a prevalent view that the PNG State has been unable to impose its control and legitimacy over most of PNG society (Richard Jackson 1992: 79), and as cited by Semos. As pointed out earlier, The PNG State has been unable to cope, not only with the demands of society in relations to socio-economic development, but is also greatly constrained by the demands of international capitalism. But much more prevalent and problematic is the questionable integrity and authority of the state's political leadership to govern effectively.

Another theory which agrees with Migdal´s analogy of State-society is Gunnar Myrdal´s (1967) notion of the "soft State", and as discussed as well by Semos. In PNG experiences the theory of "soft State" would reflect more the deteriorating state of law and order in the country, as it (theory) comprises "all the various types of weaknesses and social indiscipline which manifest themselves by: deficiencies in legislation and in particular law observance and enforcement, a wide spread disobedience by public officials on various levels to rules and directives, handed down to them, and often their collusion with powerful persons and groups of persons whose conduct they regulate" (Ibid. p. 1120).

Semos cites Wari Iamo, of the National Research Institute, as being very critical of the regulatory and appropriation capabilities of the PNG State. He was speaking during a January (1996) Constitutional Review Committee seminar held in Port Moresby. Iamo agreed that a majority of Papua New Guineans are still attached to their tribal groups, villages and customs and many of their daily security issues are met by the traditional village system rather than through the State regulatory mechanisms. Other key speakers agreed with the above assessment exemplified by headlines such as "Tribal fights, squatters get out of line", and "PNG suffers from lack of environmental protection". [9]

Another theory on State-society relationships is the State-Capital-Society Relationship. Richard Jackson (1991) contends that society is far from being powerless - even when excluded from mining negotiations, for instance. The weak State status which characterizes PNC, is largely attributed:

to the overall inability of the national government to impose its laws, regulations and tax systems upon its people, especially in remote areas. The inability of government to intervene, even where its own economic interests are at stake, is well illustrated by the Mount Kare gold rush (1991: 32).

In applying the same theory Bill Standish (1989), provided great insights into the Bougainville conflict and revealed how this great conflict illustrates and reflects the deeper political, economic and social naemorrhaging of the PNG State. It is assumed that the process of haermorrhaging reflects PNG's colonial history, its social and cultural contradictions and its heavy reliance on institutions such as resource multinational corporations (MNCs).

In the main, society is assumed to be an honest and passive participant, but becomes an indefensible victim of State haemorrhaging when faced with 'external forces' (dressed as internal problems] within society. The assessment of the 1989/90 period by Standish (1989: 4, 10) of the PNG government´s role in the Bougainville conflict sets the basis for the argument of this theory:

PNG State is dependent upon MNCs and is now fighting its own citizens to protect foreign enterprises which destroy the traditional landowner's environment.... PNG's situation in 1989 raises important questions about how to handle conflicts between a State and its citizens, and about the viability of post-colonial States dependent upon resource extraction and exports.

In reference to Tolai displaced communities, the community traditional methods of social integration and cohesiveness are located in the three principle socio-political and economic mechanisms: Land, Big Man Leadership and Tambu. Sentiments which relate to their significance are expressed in Mangamangana Nigunan - Balanagunan (Tolai Customs) which are interwoven in their Value System.

During pre-1994 times most of the Tolai might have engaged in the "push factors" in attaining land resource to continue being participants in contributing to their province's economy. It is envisaged that due to the experiences of land shortage which the displaced are now confronted with, the new trend would be within the perimeters of the "pull factors" towards sustaining that contribution. They would have to explore other income generating venues in order to be economically viable for production locally, nationally and/ or internationally.

Examples of the above theory where the state is seen to be unable to contain critical situations include the Bougainville crisis (at least prior to the formation of the current government); customary land ownership legislation in the country; the continuing escalation of the law and order problem; the search of employment, social services and education opportunities which are often unavailable; and the overwhelming experience of bribery, qraft and corruption, nepotism and favouritism in high places of authority. The "wantok system" is the modern version or extension of the kinship system in the country from the importance of who and how the ego is related to others in the kinship categories to one´s socio-economic and occupational status in modern contemporary Papua New Guinea. A report in one of the newspapers, once again illustrates the negative aspect of the convergence of the traditional kinship system being operative in the wantok system in Papua New Guinea. According to the report, "Top bureaucracy must go":

….for too long now, experienced public servants had been allowed to resign or missed out on promotion to political appointees, based on ‘political patronage and wantokism´ ….At the same time, Ministers have brought in relatives, friends and wantoks to these positions. For instance, the Finance Department has had four secretaries in four years…´ The government will have to give its commitment that these appointments will be based on merit…´[10].

It could be added in here that it is not only in government circles that an extension of the kinship mentality is experienced to be buttressed in wantokism. Even in ecclesiastical and religious groupings that the practice of wantokism as a phenomenon is detected, where locals have assumed responsibilities of authority to exercise their will over their subjects. For instance, there are cases where "wantoks", "friends" and "relatives" being appointed or promoted to positions without merit or credit. The usual religious argument that is offered in defence of the ill-fated moves is that those in authority are inspired by the Spirit of God to appoint specific members (wantoks)in promotion without experience or qualification, academic credibility or otherwise. Well, is it not a dangerous trend, from a sociological perspective, when a community or society lends legitimacy for the practice of nepotism, favouritism and injustice, for example, by appealing to some supreme spirit or deity? [11]

Moreover, some of these so-called 'Leaders could be observed to have become victim as well of the modern PNG "big man syndrome", to squander society's goods in "self-aggrandisement", and to secure one's status, and job and name descriptions. The abuses are a deviation from traditional categories where the big men put up lavishing feasts from their own resources and always for the purpose of social integration and the "togetherness" of one's group or community members. From a religious perspective, ecclesiastical leaders are supposed to be models of "service" as the charism, and not to be indulging in embedded human mechanisms just to save one's person and position.

The reality of wantokism is well captured as well by what one experiences in Papua New Guinea as the current ethic of "not what you know", but "whom you know", in sustaining goods and services.

The socio-economic and political upheavals being experienced in the country could be analysed as "scape goating, symptom of the root problem eating away at the fabric of society and as often been suggested to be indicative of a "lack of effective and honest leadership" and "vision" in the country. An example of the analysis is contained, for instance, in Sinclair Dinnen's paper, "Urbanisation, Inequality and Crime" (1993: 79-89). One is Reminded of the current situation in South Africa where the social evils of poverty, lack of education and unemployment are the root causes of an escalating crime rate as an offshoot.

In reference to the case study of the Tolai displaced communities, three specific areas or social institutions within Tolai social structure appeal prominently to have been impacted upon. As cited above, they are viz., land, tambu and the big man power and authority in leadership. To reiterate, the areas are the frameworks and mechanism for the human sector impacts in the aftermath of the eruptions. Infrastructure projects are important for the community in Gazelle and East New Britain Province at large. The first beneficiaries, however, could be people who are already well off and should be given second preference to the displaced, for instance, in term of employment opportunities. This discussion focuses mainly on the displaced who have been torn away from their traditional roots. Therefore, while in need of infrastructure projects for a return to the normalcy level of pre-1994 in live and livelihood, what they may be needing most is the rehabilitation and reconstruction of their socio-economic and cultural life too. Human sector impacts as a term of reference and in need of restoration, will complement physical restoration. Moreover, a bottom-up formulation of strategies for projects and program will enable the displaced as participatory actors in policy and decision making rather than bypassing them as mere dependent spectators in a hierarchical decision-making machinery. It is well proven though through experience and research that communities, such as the displaced, and individuals will co-operate and participate constructively arid positively in implementing policies which they have assisted in formulating through their own inputs (R.S. Stephenson 1991: 44 -lst.Ed.).  Hence, those projects and programs will be meeting their aspired needs.

During the field work it became very obvious from discussions with informants that the displaced needed sufficient land for cultivation to generate both money cash (national currency) and tambu (traditional wealth).  Moreover, having sufficient land to work by the displaced communities would be a contribution through their inputs to boost and materialize the rhetoric on the agriculture sector of the nation's economy.  The depletion of tambu due to the eruptions has led to a low level of the commercial and ceremonial functional features of the traditional wealth.  Such an experience is depressing for the displaced, so much so that some could be observed to have suffered from psychological traumas as a consequence.  The traditional big man system of leadership is waning due to a lack of tambu wealth and land holdings control.  Therefore, the recognition of the big man´s power of leadership and authority to rejuvenate "unity", sustain "law and order, harmony and peace", and the "togetherness" of kinship groupings) in assistance and moral and emotional support, are no longer operative.  The mechanism to sustain them do not have the social support systems as restoration processes for the area do not seem to include them in their strategies.   The big man plans, organises and sponsors matrimonial and mortuary celebrations.  These are of bringing people together: the villagers and the permanent wage earners; the Tolai at home and those in the diaspora; big men and kinship groups; men and women; lineages and clans. Cooperation in support and assistance among the big men are the vehicles for "tolainess" in group and ethnic identity (A.L.Epstein 1978, 1992; Klaus Neumann 1992).  The functions of tambu, the recognized leadership power and authority of the big man and the identification of land as a relationship, an ethical issue, more than it being a mere commodity, combine via commercial and ceremonial activities as nonverbal texts towards the reunification, intesification and reinforcement of social relationships.  The various groups and activities operate within the frameworks of the Tolai Papulum (Tolai Ethic of Work).  Hence, the eruptions of 1994 has disrupted one of the three important Tolai identity foundations, viz. the balanagunan component. The GRA will be fully meeting the aspired needs of the displaced populace if it heeds assisting them through the initiative of a support system of social services towards the revival of the socio-cultural and human sector being impacted upon as well. It is the basis for a strong community foundation, a pillar which is compatible with the proposed theory of a "strong community base" – for organizing together so as to socially transform together – versus a seemingly "weak or artificial central nation state".[12]


In spite of its strong advocacy, economic growth, as the goal of Structural Adjustment as a development philosophy in its strategies (and it is obviously the vision being implemented by the GRA for the Gazelle Restoration projects) is an illusion, according to Dr David Korten, another expert on development strategies. In his book "When the Corporations Rule the World", Dr Korten titles his third chapter, "The Growth Illusion" (1996:37). In his analythical frameworks, the economic growth strategy or vision for development, among other disadvantages, widens the gap between the few who control or own most - if not all - of the wealth and resources while the bulk of the population are left to fan for themselves. Korten highlights specific areas, such as unemployment, poverty, lack of education opportunities and other social problems, which have been exacerbated by the SAP. If economic growth has not created them, by the same token it has not done well either to alleviate them:

development depends on people's ability to gain control of and use effectively the real resources of their localities – land, water, technology, and human ingenuity and motivation - to meet their own needs.Yet most development interventions transfer control of local resources to ever larger and more ceritralised institutions that are unaccountable to local people (the displaced) and unresponsive to their needs. The greater the amount of money that flows through these institutions the more dependent people become (dependency syndrome), the less control they have over their lives and resources, and the more rapidly the gap widens/grows between those who hold central power and those who seek to make a living for themselves within local communities (such as the now relocated displaced communities after the 1994 eruptions in Rabaul). (Ibid. P. 5). (Emphasis added).

In the context of the recovery processes currently being implemented on the Gazelle Peninsula, a comprehensive, integrated and holistic approach(covering both infrastructure projects and support of social services to rehabilitate and reconstruct from the human sector impacts on the displaced) would certainly meet the objectives of what recovery entails in its intrinsic contextual values.

Rehabilitation and reconstruction program which encourage the affected population to act together in their own interest would help victim to be psychologically fit, socially coherent and economically self-sustained. It is envisaged to also reduce the dependency syndrome on external outputs and the victims' fatalistic outlook on their lives and livelihoods (Aysan et dl. 1993: 14).

The late volcanic eruptions, just like all major disasters, would have certainly had psychological in-pacts on the affected people, particularly communities which had been relocated. The episodes also disrupted their economic and social life. Family support system broke down due to life losses, mostly from the secondary effects, dislocation and migration (the painful experiences of separation.) of some members, in search of work, food, relatives and family members in other provinces in the country. Therefore:-

rehabilitation and reconstruction should not only be seen as a way of replacing what is tangible, but must be planned to strengthen what is intangible or not immediately visible, that is, the administrative, social and economic systems, as well as the environmental, cultural and psychological well being of the displaced communities involved (Ibid. P.11).

The danger in failing to address reconstruction in its complexity can have adverse consequences.

  • First, it may result in large investment on buildings and infrastructure projects, similar to what the GRA is currently engaged in, without the necessary inputs to help the victims (displaced) to become psychologically fit, socially coherent and economically self-sustained.

  • Second, it is important to recognize the links between physical and socio-psychological, cultural, environmental and economic/ financial (from the perspective of the displaced) recovery. Initiatives to assist the victims to restart their own lives and livelihoods could be in terms of access land allocation; mini loans or credit schemes; a centre for counseling, to assist them restart. The socio-economic support systems can have an important economic and therapeutic value (Ibid. p. 14).


Recovery, as the period and action taken following the emergency and relief phase, is aimed to enable victim to resume normal lives and means of livelihood. From the perspective of physical sector recovery the process is meant to restore

  • infrastructure: roads, bridges, ports and airports etc;
  • services: educational and health facilities, communication lines, electricity, water supply, sewage etc. and the economy, in such a way that it is long term and compatible with development strategies.  The non physical sector, as the term of reference for this research design and study, focuses on and attempts to highlight the psychological impact of the eruptions, economic losses and the social and cultural disruption to community life among the Tolai displaced communities the researched population.

Now for the discussion on the non-physical sector losses in the aftermath of the eruptions the direction I have taken is in line with the listing being made by Yasemin Aysan and Ian Davis (1993: 14-16) [1st Ed].

The damage and destruction resulted in a number of tangible (direct) and consequential (intangible or indirect) losses. The aim of any restoration processes in the aftermath of a natural disaster is initially to replace or normalise those losses: buildings, infrastructure, economic assets [including formal and informal commercial sectors, industrial and agricultural activities etc.], and administrative and political); and eventually to reconstruct them, if possible to a higher standard than existed before. However, to be comprehensive, integrated and holistic, human sector rehabilitation and reconstruction are momentously complementary as an integral component of natural disaster aftermath restoration.

1. Cultural 

Tangible Losses:

(National heritage), places of worship (such as church buildings, e.g. Malagunan, Vunavavar and Tokakai), traditional ways of living and farming, homeland (including traditional and vunatarai (maternal clan) heritage: taraiu and marovot (sacred places for the tumbuan/ dukduk and iniat male societies respectively), madapai (vunatarai's place of origin).

Consequential Losses:

(National symbols), history, local and national identity, social cohesion, moral values, continuation of traditions (e.g. low level of matrimonial ceremonials and mortuary rites due to tambu depletion, loss of land and the waning of the big man system of leadership to plan, organize and sponsor them towards the establishment, sustainability and manipulation of kinship and lineage social relationships among the displaced communities). Tambu (in depletion) is the cultural and symbolic representation and personification of Tolai group and ethnic identity.


2. Social

Tangible Losses:

Neighbourhood and community moral, law and order, social services.


Consequential Losses:

Cohesion, family structure, community coping capacity, breakdown of leadership, development of fatalism and dependency.

3. Psychological

Tangible Losses:

Mental and physical well being of individuals.

Consequential Losses:

Productivity, social cohesion, health, coping capacity.

Economic / Financial

Tangible Losses:

Crops - both garden sites and cultivated land estates of coconut and cocoa cash crops; food stocks; products; premises, such as warehouses, copra driers, cocoa fermentaries; cottage industries; storage.


Consequential Losses:

Economic outputs, opportunities and competitiveness in international, national and local markets, exports, jobs, taxes, financial stability.



Tangible Losses:

Forests, land, water resources, nature reserves, clean up costs.

Consequential Losses:

Risk of future disasters (volcanic eruptions); long term economic losses (exacerbated by the fact that most of the properties were not covered by insurance); health risks (those with chronic respiratory problems especially, would be very vulnerable to volcanic ash and dust) volcanic hazard has, in fact, already resulted in numerous deaths and sicknesses; dependence to outside provisions for resources; migration; relocation/ resettlement.

Death and injury are categorically identified as physical impacts of volcanic eruptions (for example, Blong 1984: 70). However, for the displaced communities as well as for the Tolai in general, the reality of death lies with the fact that it is a lasting separation that can also cause psychological adverse effects on the living. Although the deaths in Gazelle have resulted mostly as secondary effects" of the disaster event, the displaced in particular experience the lack of the cultural and social mechanisms(funerary rites and their function) to plug(so to speak) this gap caused by a separation through death in the families, and community circles (A.L. Epstein 1992: 171). That is why death could be seen in the context under discussion as a physical tragedy as much as a social and cultural disaster. Tolai society is perceived along the analytical frameworks of organismic analogy, as proposed by Radcliffe-Brown and applied by A.L. Epstein.

During the field study we heard of the common demeaning of the traditional rites: "Ave pupunang na lotu ka" (we performed only the Christian rite (for the burial of the dead). These were sentiments acknowledging the fulfillment of the lotu foundation of identity for the Tolai (Christian rites). However, for the displaced communities, the event was incomplete, since it lacked the performance of the balanagunan (traditional, customary) ceremonies. Conversely the contributing factors towards non-fulfillment of the other foundation of Tolai identity(balanagunan), encompasses a lack of tambu and pia na madapai (land of origin) for the funerary rites. According to official records (e.g. C. McKee 1995: 9; H. Davies 1995: 30), the death toll in the Rabaul volcano disaster was low [five] - four deaths resulted directly from eruption related circumstances and one from a lightning strike. However, the number of deaths resulting from secondary effects is higher and the phenomenon still continues to be experienced today throughout most of Gazelle.


Disaster victims, like the Tolai displaced population, feature a common pattern of behaviour. It largely stems from their perception and comprehension of disaster phenomena. The pattern of attitude and even behaviour is observed as a post-disaster response and becomes uniquely noticeable during the recovery phase after those preceding it, "search and rescue" (Pratt and Boyden 1985: 413 [4th Ed]) and "emergency and relief" (Gaius and Tenaen) [13].

The reference for the discussion is acknowledged and cited as W.N.Cater (1991: 303-305).

  1. Devastation

    Devastation is the first pattern of attitudes and it is identified as being manifested by general shock. The victims could also be in a state of numbness. Logically the state could be attributed to the failure of the victims or actors to fully comprehend the full impact of the situation of damage and destruction following a disaster strike like volcanic eruptions. Consequently victims could suffer from physical and psychological adverse effects following vivid memories and experiences of the scenarios of the eruption and its scale and magnitude. A clear illustration of the Rabaul eruptive events is captured in Tavurvur I Puongo (Klaus Neumann 1995 [Ed.]),.where the students expressed such sentiments in writing about their individual and personal experiences or those of their families during the eruption days: uncertainty, fear, being insecure and unsafe, confusion, and the feeling of being lost and at random.

  2. Realization.

    Realization is the second stage of the attitudinal patterns and occurs especially when the victims return to their former dwelling sites. When I first returned to Rabaul after the eruption I came across inhabitants of Tavana, Valaur and Rapolo searching among the rubble of what used to be their homes before the eruptions. As I was to learn later most of the victims searched for specific items, including money and very particularly tambu. Among all the memorabilia and other items of great sentimental value, such as a vamong/ vamarmar (decorations for specific Tolai dances), tambu was the first and foremost treasure. Tambu is both life and death for the Tolai as a symbolic representation of ethnic cultural identity and meaningful motivating purpose in life (it could be much more in the subconscious level than on the conscious in contemporary times)[14].

  3. Rationalization.

    After the eruptions had subsided the victims took stock of the events and assessed their past, present and future. A most common question they would ask themselves would be: "Why did this happen to me?" Research and disaster victims confirm the same tracks (Ibid. p.304). As it was to be observed later during field work, the elderly in particular, seemed to develop the idea that God punishes them (victims) through catastrophes for transgressions and wrong doings (Blong 1984: 175-179). Belshaw (1951: 241-252) and Schwimmer (1977: 296-341) reported the similar observation among the victims of the Mount Lamington eruption of 1951. The eruption for them was God's manifestation or visitation to them for their lack of cooperation with the colonial government and the Anglican Mission in development schemes in the region.

    Beliefs and superstitions are a strong phenomena to be experienced among the affected during times of volcanic eruptions. This is compatible with what behavioural scientists hypothesize: that in times of stress and uncertainty many individuals seek security in supernatural beliefs, rituals and related behaviour. However, these views are not only confined to less developed societies, but even to sophisticated societies as the United States (Blong 1984: 176 ff.). In the case of the Rabaul eruptions, the affected claimed the different kaia of the various vents of the Rabaul volcano complex Tavanabatia, Turagunan, Rabalanakaia, To Malagir, Vunakokor, Watom, Duke of Yorks, etc. had assembled to ignite both Tavurvur and Vulcan. They had been upset, according to Tolai emotional and cognitive interpretations, with the laxity of contemporary Tolai to uphold the balanagunan principles and practices of their culture.

    The Christian God (Deo, Kalou) had been called upon to halt eruptions. During the field work, informants in the Sikut settlement explained that the victims simply survived due to their praying, hymn singing and other devotional practices, such as recitation of the rosary and paying homage to prominent patron saints. All of a sudden the Christian God who had been remote for them until the disaster struck, could have become so important for the survivors as "the God of the gap". Conversely fatalistic views and attitudes could be an escape mechanism from the reality of one's real world. Instead of positively responding victims could be left to continue expecting miracles and be on the receiving end of free handouts without contributing their own inputs.

    Some of the Orokaiva survivors of the Mount Lamington eruption episodes maintained the eruption was a manifestation of the anger of their traditional deity, Sumbripa, over the breaching of certain taboos. For some of the Tolai displaced, on the other hand, particularly among the middle aged and elderly, the Rabaul episodes resulted from the anger of the kaia powerful spirits over transgressions of traditional norms, customs and practices [15]. Modern changes had led to some of the Tolai to part with their past. The eruptions were a var-va-lingan (to caution the contemporary Tolai to rethink and have a metanoia-change from the wrong direction and turn to the right and proper way according to the Tolai Balanagunan identity foundation in particular).

    Those who were interviewed were divided in their rationalization. Some were positive, saying it was providential (or through the power of kaia)[16] to recreate and renew the geo-physical features of Rabaul and Gazelle, and which has been part of life in the region. Others were negative and blamed the episodes on the laxity of the Tolai to honour the three complementary foundations of their identity in life: matanitu (which covers the western system of education, police, the judiciary, and administration: from the level of prime ministership to the local levels of government); lotu (Christian values, principles, attitudes and practices) and balanagunan (the expression in custom of Tolai core values [17]. These could be briefly summarized as:

    First, search for a fullness of life here on earth. In practical terms it connotes, to enjoy good health, long life and an abundance of cultural goods: spouses, children, land, crops, animals, game and fish, physical beauty, power, local wisdom and knowledge, kaia, prestige, etc. In the negation, the things the Tolai are most afraid of are death, sickness, barrenness of women, loss of power, loss of physical beauty, loss of ancestral land, drought, famine, eruptions, strong and destructive earthquakes, etc.

    Second, community life, which is for them the only source of the fullness of life. For the Tolai, just like the rest of Melanesian societies (e.g. Mantovani 1984: 199©210), their tradition has taught them the fullness of life is attainable only within a community. It comprises human beings, ancestors, local spirits - kaia, animals and land. Hence the greatest ethical principle, whatever enhances community life is good; whatever endangers community life is ethically bad/ wrong. The whole traditional Tolai ethical system is clannic (vunatarai) or lineage (apik tarai) in nature. It is the subject(s) which has a nearly absolute value. The other's community counts only in so far as it assists or enhances the subject's community. The greatest punishment therefore is to be socially alienated or ostracised from one's community.

    Third, community life is generated through relationships by those comprised in the community. There are different kinds of relationships but all are featured by rights, obligations, duties and expectations (duties and responsibilities): brother-brother; brother-sister; child-parents; maternal uncle-nephew; maternal uncle-niece; in-laws (maku/ uralai); clan-clan in the same moiety; village-village (papar a gunan). For example, big men, due to their stocks of great wealth in tambu, and their control of vunatarai land, possess the achieved but recognized power and authority, and as shrewd entrepreneurs, plan, organize and sponsor mortuary rites, matrimonial ceremonials and the activities of the tumbuan and dukduk. The sentiments are venues as socio-cultural and interrelated activities to re-intensify, reinforce and regenerate group (vunatarai) cohesiveness, and ethos (cultural) and identity for the Tolai. These non-verbal texts are interwoven in the identity of "tambu" and its functions. Together with the tumbuan/ dukduk [18], they remain as the symbolic personifications and representations of Tolai culture (the balanagunan foundation for Tolai identity). Via tambu, social relationships among the Tolai are established, sustained and manipulated. Apart from human relationships, the value is also extended to include the environment: land, the sea, rivers, mountains, forests, animals, birds, reptiles (the snake in particular, as symbolic for fullness of life, and for metamorphism by specialists in divination). Community as a value, even comprises ancestors and other spirits, especially kaia, and in specific reference to their associated power to create or destroy. Kaia are associated with volcanoes and eruptions (Danks 1995: 3; A.L. Epstein 1992: 32; Neumann 1992: 235-236) in the emotional and cognitive translations of Tolai according to their horizontal worldview (Swain and Trompf 1995: 121).

    Fourth, relationships are created, maintained and mended through exchanges which are seen to be reciprocal giving and receiving. By tradition, the Tolai have always exchanged in the form of tambu as the medium, sometimes together with consumer goods and artefacts. Tambu is significant both in its commercial value, as well as in its uniqueness for the establishment, sustainability and manipulation of social relationships among the Tolai in clan and kinship ties. Exchange is of a very high value because it "builds" and "expresses" relationships on which the community, the only way to the fullness of life is constructed.

    Fifth, the above principles are embedded in the subconscious and expressed in "custom" (Tolai mangamangana nigunan/ balanagunan) [19]. The Tolai feel strongly about their customs because of the values they express.

    The main reasons offered as rationale for the late Rabaul volcanic eruptions were based on the three principle explanatory theories: magico-religio and mythical and legendary (traditional); Christian (as punishment for disobedience and other immoral transgressions) and geo-physical (scientific - matanitu). On the levels of the magico-religio and Christian theories the eruptions could have been prompted by either Tolai kaia (powerful spirits) in the cognitive interpretations in their worldview, or Deo-Kalou (Christian God) for failure to comply with their lotu identity foundation.

  4. Accusation

    Accusation is the fourth of the main attitudes attributed to victims in the aftermath of a disaster. Through the mass media or other venues, such as public meetings (with their representatives in Parliament), the displaced accused those they considered to have been responsible for their plight and suffering. It was reflected in the case of the Member for Rabaul, Sir John Kaputin, lashing out against certain Tolai leaders whom he was prompted to accuse for capitalising on the plight of the displaced people due to their (Tolai leaders) conflict of interests in favour of their egoistic motives. The knight labelled them "opportunists". During field work we experienced the same accusations. For example, the case of the spokeswoman in Veaveo care centre lashing out against some members of the security forces and government officials in positions of authority who, through their care©less attitude in their work commitments had exacerbated the magnitude of the eruptions. There was also the case of a particular Radio East New Britain personality who, after interviewing members of the displaced, produced the programme on a number of Sunday nights, and at the time that the field exercise was being conducted. The purpose was to air the grievances of the displaced people over the slow process of restoration by the GRA. The actor in question was a displaced himself.

  5. Accumulation

The fifth stage or pattern of attitude, accumulation, is described as the most unsavoury, for any observer, agent or researcher involved directly or indirectly in dealing with disaster victims. It is observed as creeping in immediately after the stage of accusation. It is the time of avarice and greed, which can exaggerate to the extreme where the victims no longer see what their aspired and genuine needs are in order to restart their lives and livelihoods. Rather what they would like to acquire is based on wants which are a great deal more than what their true needs are. Culturally such an attitude would contradict the traditional principle of receiving and reciprocating. It was clearly indicative of the dependency syndrome enhanced by the free handouts from donor agencies, such as the Rabaul Caritas based in Vunapope, and which need not be reciprocated.

The Rabaul volcanic eruptions might not have been a real agent of change in the life patterns of the displaced population, but it would have certainly been a catalyst also for changes -for better or for worse -in their socio-ultural life (Blong 1984: 180). To illustrate, in pre-994, some of the Tolai displaced members might have already been enduring chronic shortages of tambu for commercial and ceremonial transactions. With the episodes of eruption, such an impact would have exacerbated their situation and thus, leave them with prolonged traumatic effects in the guise of volcanic eruption effects.


On the question of the relocation exercise for Rabaul to Kokopo and the displaced communities into the hinterland there are important points to be considered pertaining to relocation versus reconstruction on the same site. Often times the common assumption, which could be based on conventional sociological wisdom and liberal dogma, is that starting afresh resolves all the inherent problems attached to rebuilding in a vulnerable site, place or environment. However, past experiences (e.g. Rabaul has been rebuilt twice after the 1937 twin eruption and after the Second World War), reveal that there are several reasons why the option may not be desired by the communities or be successful in the long run.

  1. Safer land is often unavailable. No wonder the displaced communities in the settlements of Gela Gela, Warena and even Ulagunan complain over insufficient land been allocated to them by the GRA or the Provincial Government to compensate their loss of original land holdings in the eruptions.

  2. The vulnerable site may also be essential for the economic livelihood of the affected communities. For instance, the fertile volcanic soils in and around Rabaul for cash crop cultivation and subsistence economy; the Simpson Harbour is the most important for the economic viability of Rabaul and the whole New Guinea Islands region. Proximity to work and market can be critical for those with economic alternatives, for example, the Matupit and the rest of the Tolai displaced communities who are now farther away not only from Rabaul, but even Kokopo. In other words - the "benefits" of the original site seem to outweigh the risks.

  3. The cultural, symbolic and historical value of the damaged site –Rabaul (and fringing villages) cannot be easily transferable to a new site. Rabaul is the identity of the Tolai, a symbol of their pride.

  4. Attachment to the place, neighbours, lineages, kins, extended families, friends, may be more important than safety. It is precisely for these reasons that one observes and experiences the current social mobility in Rabaul of the displaced people, between relocation sites and their pre-1994 dwellings. For example, the Matupit villagers, as cited earlier, remigrating to the island, in spite of the posed hazards of sporadic emissions from the Tavuvur vent.

  5. Relocation requires substantial investment in infrastructure (as the GRA latest report indicates), but it seems the very people who miss out on the benefits are the displaced communities themselves.

  6. Relocation of communities or settlements can affect local and regional balances negatively. For instance, to relocate a market town like Rabaul, may create problems of transport, etc. for the displaced communities to sell their produce (if they have any). In fact the displaced communities in their new relocation sites are much farther away from Kokopo market now than they were from Rabaul prior to the eruptions.

However, relocating communities may be desirable in some specific cases where:

  1. The proposed area is sufficiently close to the existing settlement to enable livelihood patterns to be retained. Currently the new settlements of Gela Gela, Warena and Sikut are approximately sixty to ninety kilometres away from Rabaul and the original villages of the displaced Tolai communities.
  2. The original area is often under threat of damaging events (tidal waves; tsunami; earthquakes; volcanic eruptions) with high losses especially in terms of goods and services.
  3. Risk reduction measures are astronomical and difficult to implement for the area.
  4. The benefits of relocation outweigh the rebuilding of the original location as it is under constant threat.
  5. Psychological impact of the event (eruptions) associated with the original site might be too strong on community.
  6. The area has been under considerable decline before the disaster struck due to, for instance, environmental degradation, pollution, economic changes, etc.

Conclusion - summary

All major disasters, such as volcanic eruptions, have a psychological impact on the affected populations, such as the Tolai displaced communities, as well as disrupting the economic and social fabric of their society.  With all the available and vital information on how important and urgent the human sector impacts are on the Tolai displaced communities, hopefully the GRA will seriously address their plight with socio©cultural and economic support systems. So much so that the strategies for the Gazelle Restoration Project Implementation Unit are comprehensive, integrated and holistic, as well as being compatible with infrastructure projects implementation.

When the community base is revitalized, strengthened and consolidated, pertinent social ills which could become offshoots of a breakdown of the web of relationships due to the natural disaster strike of 1994 could be prevented. Social problems, such as the lack of opportunities for all school age youngsters to pursue further education; unemployment; land shortage in the context of Tolai papalum [work] ethic [20] and the extensive use of their tambu in commercial and ceremonial socio-cultural contexts [21]; law and order problems due to the waning of the Tolai big man "achieved" leadership system [22] graced with power and authority to control the young, feature the similar patterns of social problems which the nation as a whole is currently confronted with.  Among the Tolai displaced communities those social anomalies can be alleviated or even prevented. Crime and the deteriorating law and order situation, for instance, are an offshoot of deep seated social deviations from the norms, such as those being cited, and do not have to be awaited to be cured.  Information is vitally important and which can only be elicited from the afflicted communities themselves . Researched information - to know and to be known - has to be within the interactive/ interpretive technique of research methodology towards appreciating and addressing the true and genuine aspired goals and needs of the displaced communities.  Human sector recovery for the displaced in Rabaul and Gazelle must be compatible with infrastructure and services restoration.

Infrastructure projects
- Werena Settlement
- Kokopo area
- Rabaul
- Restoration approaches
- Notes
- References


  1. The National, Thursday, August 14, 1997 p.1

  2. Post-Courier, Wednesday April 3, 1997; Thursday April 16, 1997

  3. The National, Monday, August 18, 1997 p.6

  4. The National, Friday, August 15, 1997 p.15

  5. Post-Courier, Tuesday October 29, 1996 p.12

  6. Post-Courier, Thursday September 29, 1994 p.11

  7. Post-Courier, Thursday August 21, 1997 p.10

  8. Post-Courier, Monday November 4, 1996 p.4

  9. W. Iamo: Regulatory system out of touch" Post-Courier, 16 January, 1996, p. 12. Post©Courier, January 1996, pp.12©13. Statements were expressed by then Acting Police Commissioner, Bob Nenta and NGO representative, Brian Brunton, respectively; see also Post©Courier, 17 January 1996, pp. 1, 4-5.

  10. Post-Courier, Monday September 1, 1997 p.39

  11. When people are so fanatical about their faith and practice, they do not question what is said or practiced since it comes from the above authority. By the same token those in the forefront of the faith life and work of religion can easily capitalize on the religiosity of coherents. So much so that an outsider can at times, easily detect rejudice, and other abnormalities in the administration of the faith in the guise of divine inspiration.

  12. Dr Jerome Semos of the University of Goroka elaborates on the interrelated theories pertaining to society-State social relationships. In the main PNG also serves as an illustration of "strong society, weak State" in its social and political economy. Semos' thesis is titled: Natural Resources, Nasioi Society and the PNG State: The Mining and the Undermining of Resource Sovereignty in the Bougainville Copper Project, 1963 to 1990". The Bougainville case could be an illustration of the reality of a strong society or community in contrast to that of a weak state. Semos develops these in his doctoral thesis in relation to the Bouganville crisis which led to the formation of the Political entity of the Bougainville Interim Government (BIG) and its military arm, the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA). People in Papua New Guinea would be more willing to go by their traditional means of social integration and cohesiveness as expressed in customs and in according to their core value system than by following the western patterns as currently executed by the national Government. Semos' thesis is currently being reviewed for publication.

  13. Kathy Gaius lived and worked with mothers and youths for eight weeks in various care centres during the emergency and relief phases of recovery, during and after the September 1994 volcanic eruptions in Rabaul. Her report on observational studies "Operation Unity: From the Women's Desk" was submitted to the Dept of Home Affairs.Â_X_______ÂLike Gaius, Robinson Tenaen also conducted observational studies in the care centres for about two weeks. His report, "Operation Unity: Observational Visits to the Care Centres", was also submitted to the same Department. After the September 19 volcanic eruptions. Both works are unpublished.

  14. Following Freudian frameworks in his analysis, A.L. Epstein (1992: 184-197) discusses Tolai strong attachment to tambu, balaguan and matamatam (mortuary rites) and leo (scaffolding for tambu coils display during mortuary ceremonies and the activities of the tumbuan/ dukduk). Such tenacity is in spite of today's so many changes in their social structure. As a cultural device for socio-economic and political equality and stability, tambu, like the tumbuan, sustain their prominence as personifications of Tolai culture.

  15. According to traditional knowledge, Tolai elders as repositories of their culture explain how and why there are volcanoes and eruptions in Rabaul according their cognitive interpretation of kaia. Volcanoes and eruptions are not without explanation and meaning in Tolai worldview and within their emotional and cognitive contexts.

  16. Kaia, the Tolai name for powerful spirits is comprehended to be in a hierarchical order in three main categories. There is kaia on the first level where the most powerful Spirit could be identified as God (Christianity) © regulative, creative. On the second level are other kaia which are powerful, can be vulnerable to human beings but not too remote from them. In the third category of kaia, human beings, big men who become members of the Tolai male iniat society (for the purpose of uniting lineages and clans, as well as for making sure that members of society toe the line at all times) could be endowed with attributes of kaia through the process of metamorphism. To Marnakat and To Vup were such men (Neumann 1992: 50 ff, 236; see also A.L. Epstein 1992: 32). It would have been more from the third level that the different kaia came and assembled in September of 1994 to work the Rabaul volcanic eruptions. This is the emotional and cognitive translation that was offered by such informants as To Varpiam, To Kapa, To Vunuvung and To Geregor during field work.

  17. Ennio Mantovani (1984: 199©210) analyses the Melanesian Value System which is also a reality even today among the Tolai.

  18. Klaus Neumann (1992: 99) elaborates on the Tolai three identity foundations - matanitu, lotu and balanagunan. The balanagunan component encompasses what is cultural, traditional and carries experiences and feelings of "tolainess" in their ethos and identity (A.L. Epstein 1978).

  19. During the Mataungan uprising on Gazelle in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the tumbuan was adopted as emblem for the movement. It was symbolic of Tolai culture (S.T. Epstein 1969-1970: 8-14; H. Janssen 1973: xvii; K. Neumann 1992).

  20. Both Klaus Neumann (1992) and A.L. Epstein (1978, 1992) discuss Tolai papalum or ethic of work which embrace the political, socio©economic and cultural spheres of their life. So much so that in the villages tambu is the truer of the two currencies © kina and toea, and tambu. It has significance in commercial as well as in social relationships interrelated activities. Equality and competition are markedly evidenced in papalum in Tolai and in terms of sex, gender, age and even western type of education and socio©economic status. Closely associated with papalum is pia (land) in Tolai contexts. The various authors cited © for example, Neumann, S.T. and A.L. Epstein, Bradley, Stone, Sack, To Vaninara and particularly Gunther (1970: 25©36), discuss tambu, a ngala (big men and papalum in closer collaboration with land and commercial and traditional rites and rituals.

  21. Tambu (a tambu) is the traditional money wealth of the Tolai. It is the finished product after manufacture from the raw material of "nassa" shells (Elias R.M. 1970: 69©76). Its significance lies with the fact that it is both a highly developed instrument of commerce as well as a much prized ritual object. In Tolai contexts it is understood as a currency, as well as representing a focal interest that lay at the heart of traditional Tolai culture. Different scholars of various backgrounds have documented material on the Tolai tambu. These include ethnographers and anthropologists, as well as immanent scholars such as Mary Douglas (1967) and Geza Roheim (1923), as noted by Neumann (1992: 183). Contemporary material on the traditional wealth could be found in reports of the following researchers: A.L. Epstein 1969, 1974 [Ed], 1978, 1992; S.T.Epstein 1968, 1970, 1972; P.Sack 1974; C. Bradley 1982; C. To Vaninara 1979; K. Neumann 1992; P.Stone 1994.

  22. The Tolai big man system of leadership is analysed variously by a number of authors: S. Epstein 1972: 41©59; A.L. Epstein 1969; 1978, 1992; Neumann 1992; To Vaninara 1985: 142©148; Knoebel 1976: 122©141. Tolai big men are the repositories of Tolai culture. They are responsible for the organization, planning and sponsorship of mortuary rites and matrimonial ceremonials, for instance, towards Tolai group identity and cultural ethos and identity in the embedded values, meanings and attitudes which are expressed in customary practices.

By:  Caspar G. To Waninara , Melanesian Research Institute, Goroka
e-mail author:  c/o John Evans evansjoh3@email.com
Papua New Guinea © 2000



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By:  Caspar G. To Waninara , Melanesian Research Institute, Goroka
e-mail author:  c/o John Evans evansjoh3@email.com
Papua New Guinea © 2000

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