Academic journal article Ethnology

Of Mines and Min: Modernity and Its Malcontents in Papua New Guinea

Academic journal article Ethnology

Of Mines and Min: Modernity and Its Malcontents in Papua New Guinea

Article excerpt

If the narrative of multinational capitalist development has a common plot, its local experience and expression on new frontiers need to be understood in specific terms - what Cardoso and Faletto refer to as a "history of diversity" (1979:xvii). The expansion of global forces to border zones of imperial conquest has constituted new arenas for local contestation and struggle among men and women variously situated in the modern world. These include overt manifestations such as labor strikes and uprisings; arguments over land ownership, usage, and entitlements; as well as subterranean shifts in ethnic identity, seniority, sexuality, manhood, and social knowledge. Thus, global forces may simultaneously deny and constitute social difference: deny, say, the traditionally sacred relationship between a local people and the home of their ancestors, while constituting a neighboring people as the sole, legitimate occupants of that land, newly defined by the state as an "economic item." Meanwhile, local fault lines of gender and generation may emerge in the context of external intrusion, and constitute internal dispute.

For Faiwolmin people of the North Fly interior of the Western Province, Papua New Guinea, modernity arrived on a slowly rising tide of Australian colonialism in the 1960s, Quebecois Catholic missionization in the '70s, and the penetration of Ok Tedi Mining Limited, a multinational mining operation in the nearby Star Mountains, in the '80s. The mining company has created a massive new center of power and wealth on a hinterland of colonial and capitalist expansion. It is the source of a labor market, foreign capital and high technology, and imported commodities for domestic consumption by expatriates in the township. It has a virtual monopoly on technological and infrastructural improvements in the region surrounding the rich, white enclave at Tabubil where the mine is located. More than the kiap (colonial patrol officer) or the priest, the gold and copper industrial giant has inaugurated a new terrain on which local constructions of gender, sexual identity, and ethnicity are contested. As Faiwolmin miners sometimes express it. the company is the corporate parent of PNG. This raises important questions about the reorganization of social space by mining capital and about the relationship of Faiwolmin to that space, and to a weak, new nation. In short, changing identities are at stake in the restructuring of local communities and localities (Pred and Watts 1992:14).

Since its independence in 1975, with the advice of the World Bank, PNG sought foreign investment in mining as a source of revenue that might enable a road to national development and lighten dependency on Australia. Throughout postcolonial PNG, large-scale, capital- and technology-intensive mining has brought the nation (until recently a backwater of foreign capitalist investment) directly into the global economy (Ogan and Wesley-Smith 1992:56). Mining capital has had internally uneven consequences in PNG and has created social inequalities throughout the country, and in particular in the orbit of mining enclaves themselves (Ogan and Wesley-Smith 1992). PNG welcomed OTML in the Western Province at a time when Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) in the North Solomon Islands was seen as a pathway to national prosperity. Today, BCL (closed late in the 1980s due to local insurgency) is exemplary of the conflict generated between the state and its subjects over a thicket of issues.

This essay concerns the encounter of a specific process of capitalist transformation with a specific people over such a thicket of issues. It considers the various ways Faiwolmin men have confronted, challenged, and consented to a state and multinational development initiative since the end of formal colonial rule, and some of the more salient consequences of these transformations for local lives and livelihoods. Men coming of age over the last two decades have increasingly defined themselves as marginal to this new center of power, but also to older meanings of manhood. …

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