“Our isolation has given us strength and energy to survive”, said Simeon Malai, Secretary of Manus Province. It could well be that Manus’ geographical isolation, it is the smallest and least visited of all PNG provinces, has reinforced certain characteristics. Manus people are self- reliant, gifted. They care passionately about their island, about each other and their families. There is a tremendous pride in Manus culture and heritage.
Manus has the smallest land area (2100 square kms) and population (32,713) of any province. It is the most northerly province of PNG. A scattering of 208 islands along the equator give it an 800 km border. The largest island, Manus, is part of the Admiralty group. Most of it is rugged mountain covered in forest.
Traditionally its people are fishermen and farmers, who export copra, cocoa and timber. However one of the big successes for Manus, and its top export, is welleducated young people who get jobs outside the province and send money home. In 1994 Manus received K9 million in remittances. This achievement lies deep in the history of Manus.
Manus islanders were always great mariners sailing large outrigger canoes, some up to 10 metres long with three sails, to trade extensively around the islands. A Spanish sailor was the first European to find them and some Spanish touches remain – the airport is on an island called Los Negros. Germans attempted to colonise Manus in the early 20th century but the fierce independence of the people and the infertility of the soil inhibited colonisation. It was World War 2 which made the biggest impact. First the Japanese and then the Americans caused much damage to villages and built huge bases. The Americans used Seeadler Harbour, a fine protected anchorage, to harbour its fleet in preparation for an assault on the Philippines. At times there were more than 600 vessels docked there. A year after the war they left but not before scrapping everything.
It was this wartime exposure to outside influences that initiated the development of education in Manus, though it began in a curious way. It led to cargo cults one of which, dubbed the New Way, has an impact today. Cargo cults had appeared sporadically in PNG. It was a way of explaining the extraordinary technology of Europeans – it must have come by supernatural means. Paliau Moloat led the movement in Manus. Although it shared many of the attributes of cargo cults, it is now recognised as one of the first post-war independence movements. It brought together diverse, often warring tribes in unified resistance to the Australian administration. It was a radical Church movement which resulted in throwing over old cults and rituals and rebuilding European style villages, schools and government. Paliau was imprisoned for his activities in 1949 but later released and eventually awarded a knighthood.
The Paliau movement gave Manus a head start on the rest of PNG. By the early 1950s a minimum of 4 years schooling was compulsory for every child on Manus. Some classrooms had 400 pupils but dedicated teachers won hearts and minds. Manus has the highest literacy rate in PNG and the highest proportion of pupils who have completed Grade 6. 42% of the schools are run by Churches. Government and Church work together on Manus. “We are a 100% Christian community” said government official Paliau Lukas. For those unable to attend secondary school there is a ‘School of the Air’. In PNG it is unique to Manus. These high standards of education have led not only to good jobs off the island but to Manusians taking more than their share of positions of power and influence in PNG.
Perhaps it was also due to high educational attainment that Manus tried time and again to develop a plan for the future of the province. Expert opinion was bought and found wanting. It was only when political scientist Steven Pokawin took over the leadership that a plan was devised which appears to work. Casting aside the topdown approach, they asked for an expert demographer from the University of PNG and, with WHO funding, began a random sample survey of 30% of the population. It was based on interviews, district by district, village by village about what people perceived their basic minimum needs to be. The breadwinner, man or woman, was asked to set needs in an order of priority. The answers came back, for the majority of districts shelter came first. So that was put into the new plan.
The whole approach is characteristic of Manusian traditional emphasis on independence and self reliance. “Since Independence people had become dependent on hand-outs. In 1975 probably 95% of the cash in the economy came from the National Government. It was a disaster to initiative and to dreams. If God created you to be a doctor, then look to it. Go see what you can do to help yourself achieve a medical degree. But recognise your needs. Recognise what is realistic and then solve the problem yourself”, declaims author of the plan, James Pokris. “Once the people have identified their problems then it is the political responsibility of Church and government to make the projects happen.”
In the last ten years Manus has some notable achievements. The shelter programme was begun by offering designs and setting villagers to building the houses themselves. By 1991 every village in Manus had at least 4 permanent dwellings. In 1995 they have at least 16 per village built out from light timber frames with corrugated iron roofs and solar panels. This is where the remittance money goes. It also goes on outboard motors.
Manus is a province of islands. 75% of the people are dependent on sea transport and there is a network of coastal vessels linking outlying islands. In 1975 there were 10 outboard motors on Manus and 5 speedboats. Now there are 5,000 speedboats and 10,000 outboard motors. It means that each family on Manus has on average 2 outboards and a speedboat – all bought with remittances.
Manus is rich in fish and marine resources, especially trochus and pearl shells. All live fish export has been banned within a 3 mile zone leaving it to subsistence fisherfolk. The 3 to 12 mile limit is for local and ex-pat ventures only and the 12 to 200 mile zone falls within the National Government remit. Manus is most anxious to preserve stocks, by understanding where the breeding grounds are and protecting them from exploitation. No-one is allowed to cut mangrove swamp, the breeding ground for many crustaceans. The estuaries are left undisturbed. Every schoolchild in Manus is taught the importance of preserving these places to conserve the future.
Unfortunately the lesson was learnt too late to save the West coast of Manus. Palius Lukas explains, “Manus does not have the huge forest resources of other provinces but it did agree to harvest 84,00 cubic metres a year for fifteen years. Since 1987 logging has brought in a revenue of 15k million and that has been redistributed to the people. But it has cost them dear. The West coast is scarred. 4,000 people have been torn from sustainable subsistence to dependency on rice and tinned fish. Where rivers flowed and you could harvest fish and crustaceans or keep pigs, now there is nothing but dry gullies. In 6 years all has been lost. There have even been outbreaks of lawlessness in this peaceful island.” It is a sad story.
In true Manus style the response is to ban logging, despite the fact that it is the only project currently earning money, and to plan a major spiritual revival which will make people conscious of the importance of family life (and the value of small scale enterprise). Churches and government have to pull together to care for fatherless children and unwed mothers. Youth groups and community centres are encouraged. Morning devotions are part of every Manus day. Spiritual renewal is second to shelter on the Manus plan. Next came medical care, family life, peace and harmony, population and family planning, water, food, communication, money, education and land.
Of all these communications is well on the way to being exceptional, not just in PNG, but in the whole South Pacific. Part of the plan was to build a rural telephone network initially with 2-way radio and then with VHF and SSB links. Already every community of 100 persons has a solar powered radio available, usually in a school or community centre. The next stage will be links by satellite to the internet – going global. Modern communications could well be the key to unlocking the door to tourism.
Past attempts to encourage tourists failed because, James Pokris says, “Tourism was geared towards creating another Waikiki Beach in Manus. It should be linked with shelter. Well planned, it should provide stimulant for village people to have better housing. Let tourists use village houses where monetary benefits may be shared to the villages and not just the hotels and main shops in Lorengau”. Now they are looking at attractions like white water rafting and sea kayaking. They plan the first world championships in sea-kayaking in 1997. The championship is not just a sporting event but an opportunity to share Manus’ concern its water-ways, both coast and river. The paddlers will be attracted to a pristine environment and taught how to care for it. It will probably involve just about every aspect of island life. It would certainly put Manus on the tourist map. And if sea-kayaking sounds too strenuous there are marvellous caves, beaches, dive sites, and the village where famous American anthropologist, Margaret Mead, lived which has a memorial to her work and to the Pere people she lived amongst.
Manus may be small and unvisited but it is big in ideas and determined to go its own way. “The rest of the country hides behind conventions”, says Secretary Simeon Malai. “Manus has moved in a different direction. It challenges all agencies to be imaginative and creative. This is the way to go”.