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Land – source of sustenance

OOn behalf of the Melanesian Indigenous Land Defense Alliance (MILDA), we are writing to provide a different view on a recent editorial promoting land registration for the Pacific. We wonder who authored this letter and in whose interest it was written? For Pacific peoples, land isn’t just about making money, land is about ensuring Pacific families continue to maintain a high level of self-reliance and to control their own destiny. This includes feeding and housing their families well, as they have been doing for thousands of years. This is already happening effectively through customary communal systems of land tenure.

Land as it exists and functions now already provides for millions of people, so that we have a very low rate of absolute poverty – there’s almost no real hunger or homelessness. In the independent nations of Melanesia (PNG, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu), customary community control of land is enshrined in our Constitutions and we maintain a special relationship with our land that is based on many generations living on and with the land as well as traditionally managing the natural resources.

MILDA is well aware of the history of how land registration has been used over the past few hundred years to alienate land from indigenous peoples around the world, and we are not going to let history repeat itself and fall into that same trap. MILDA is also mindful of the historical context of how land registration came to Melanesia and the Pacific at different times following first contact with the outside world through to independence and continues to date.

Land registration is ostensibly promoted for the same purpose; to free up land for ‘development’ and to parcel it out in the name of individuals, companies and those with hard-cash. But for us, land is held communally for the benefit of all, and remains a central part of our cultural heritage and identity. Land, particularly in Melanesia, is not a commodity but is an inalienable part of our peoples’ very existence. It has spiritual and historical values and other attributes that economists do not consider in their equations. In almost every part of Melanesia, the fact remains that land is our source of kastom, mana, sustenance and economic empowerment. Even if it doesn’t necessarily pay you in hard cash at the end of every week, although it may, if that is what a family or clan wants from it. 

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Joey Tau Media and Campaign Officer Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG)

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