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By Rebecca Kuku in Port Moresby

At least 32 people have been killed in an all-out war between Kulumata and Kuboma tribes in Milne Bay’s Kiriwina island.

Internal Security Minister Peter Tsiamalili Jr confirmed that the killings had erupted early last month after yam gardens were destroyed.

“A police team from Port Moresby was deployed yesterday morning to the island to contain and manage the raging war,” he said.

“The Commissioner of Police David Manning is in charge of the operations and directives.

“He has advised me that he is taking swift and appropriate action.

“Police will help forge peace,” he added.

According to sources on the ground, the fight started in early September when a man from Kuboma tribe was killed in a fight over a soccer game in the remote Trobriand archipelago.

Situation still tense
The situation has remained tense since then and escalated on Monday, when the Kuboma villagers (seven villages inland that include Bwetalu, Yalaka, Buduwalaka, Kuluwa, Luya, Wabutuma and Gumilababa villages) allegedly destroyed all the yam gardens of the Kulumata villages (Kavataria, Mulosaida and Orabesi villages).

The Kulumata villagers went up to the station to demand answers from the district development authority on why their yam gardens were destroyed and for authorities to address the situation when they were attacked by the Kuboma villagers who were already there waiting for them.

All-out tribal warfare with traditional spears and bush knives broke out between the two parties, that led to 26 people being killed from the Kuboma side and about six people killed from the Kulumata side.

Kiriwina island in the Trobriands
Kiriwina island in the Trobriands . . . “Tribal fighting has always been part of our lives and culture. But normally when someone got killed, the fighting stopped.” Image: Scott Waide/RNZ Pacific

Another source said it was “frightening to see such violence on their island” that is locally known or dubbed as the “island of love”.

“Tribal fighting has always been part of our lives and culture.

“But normally when someone got killed, the fighting stopped, they cease fire and start the traditional process of dealing with the death, and they do not just continue fighting like this.

“The Kulumata and the Kuboma people are all related to each other and it is heartbreaking for us as mothers, sisters, daughters to watch our people fight among themselves like this.”

“But you must also understand that our gardens are very important to us.

Painted in war colours
“Our yams are important and very valuable, to see them chopped off, destroyed — yes our men would be so angry, because we value our gardens.”

They [men] painted themselves in the traditional war colors and went up to the station to show their frustration.

When they met the other party, they started fighting, and we ran away with our children.

“They will not harm women and children but it was just too frightening to watch, so we ran away,” the source said.

Attempts to get comments from the local MP and Deputy Opposition Leader Douglas Tomuriesa was unsuccessful yesterday.

RNZ Pacific’s PNG correspondent Scott Waide said the clash during the football match five weeks ago left two people dead.

He told RNZ Pacific Waves that in this week’s retaliatory attack a 13-year-old boy was among the dead and several women were wounded.

Kiriwina Island Area Manager Nelson Tauyuwada said in the lead-up to the massacre, crops were damaged, threatening livelihoods.

Rebecca Kuku is a reporter with The National in PNG. Republished with permission.

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