Friday, February 25, 2011

The Kaiwatara mines in folk literature

The Kaiwatara mines lie in the remote and higher altitudes of Cape Vogel called Kukuyaland, once a province or district of the Great Anuki Country, ruled by the Warakouta aristocrats of Ribua. Not only is the region remote and wild, but its terrain remains equally tyrannical for those who may dare to venture into its fringes and hinterland.
How a Queensland-based company managed to move the heavy American-made mining equipment from the coastal regions of Giwa (south coast of Cape Vogel) into that wild and dangerously precipitous terrain remains a mystery. But local folk literatures mention the use of horses and donkeys along with long lines of human labourers to move the heavy machinery which were as large and hardly transportable looking as those found at the abandoned Purari Delta mines, the Wau-Bulolo goldfields, the Woodlark Island mine sites and others throughout Papua New Guinea.
But of course with the Wau-Bulolo goldfields modern transport modes such as air planes had helped in transporting pieces of equipment such as dredges and then assembling these pieces upon arrival. With those at Kaiwatara mines none of these modes were available aside from sea transport so think of the amount of human and domestic animal labour expended in transporting such heavy equipment. All this happened during the 1920s.
The pipe end shown here goes almost a mile down.
The Kaiwatara mines are said to have been flourishing as they existed during the 1920s the economically boom period at the global level. Workers to the mines came from virtually all over the world local folk literatures report, but just as any other oil and gold mine in the country such an economic boom would come to a close as suddenly as it had started.
The impact that these mines had had on the social fabrics of local populations was enormous and as we all know at once positive and negative. A new era of borrowed Western type of trade began to take place among the local populations along with unceasing migration of people from other parts of the then British Papua. But again these would cease as suddenly as they had begun.
What then remains of these abandoned mines are the replicas of equipment left to rust away but at the same time serve as sources of inspiration for the mind that is creative. Thanks to the Kaiwatara mines and what remains of it today so many traditional songs, operas, orals histories and contemporary compositions such as poroga have be composed and are still sung today in as many as eight different languages of Cape Vogel. Among these compositions are the classic nipogana (traditional epics) Dobodobo, Menaga, Bonubonu and Kiara, storyboard’s favourites and as sung by the Anuki greats Doboro Tupotupo and Doboro John Bill – equivalents we could say of Enrico Caruso and Luciano Pavarotti, respectively, in the Western world.
The Kaiwatara mines have long been the source of inspiration for storyboard himself, having published a book of poems in 2000 in which this region of Cape Vogel is mention through a long elegy titled “Siapa.” The elegy is based on storyboard’s two years of education at the ages of 6 and 7 and under the care of his grandmother, Kwabura Sylvia Kawakoka. The region is also talked about in the last chapter of Bishop David Hand’s remarkable book, MODAWA: Papua New Guinea and Me 1946-2002. In that book Bishop David’s contemporary, Bishop Blake Kerina, merely talks about the winding up of the company from 1931 to 1934.
Sometime last year, storyboard found himself talking about the Kaiwatara mines with a colleague, Vincent Kewibu, of the archaeology section of the Anthropology & Sociology Department at the University of Papua New Guinea. Since both men are from Cape Vogel they often refer to the mine site as the “King Solomon’s Mines” of the whole of Cape Vogel Basin. Over the Christmas-New Year break, Vincent did visit the Kaiwatara site. The following is a brief report of his visit to the Kukuyaland:

“It takes about a day’s walk to Kaiwatara from Giwa and Didiwa. Kaiwatara is one of the early sites of oil and gas prospecting projects established in the late 1920s. By the early 1930s operations ceased.
A Queensland-based company held the licence to prospect for oil and gas at Kaiwatara. The remains of the pipes, machinery (rusting away) and well are still there. The machinery was supplied by the Buda Company of Illinois and Armstrong MFG Company of Waterloo, USA.
The well is located at the end of the grassland about 5 metres from the cliff-face (30-40m up from the water) of the Kuuru Creek. Kuuru Creek is a tributary of Kwipa River which joins the Awitapu River. Remains of materials related to the prospecting activities are located in the grassland nearby.
Kaiwatara is located within the territory of the Kukuya people. Today the people are settled at Kiiyagha on the plain near the Kwipa River. It is within the Giwa ward of the Makamaka LLG.”
 There are several explanations to the mine’s sudden closure. 
First, folk literature explains the sort of negative impact such mining industries can have on local populations. These include excessive and random migrations to other areas of a country or province. They also contribute largely to the breakdown of traditional family units and social systems. Of this latter explanation, the Anuki folk literature is full of it. Fearful that their traditional system of government would disintegrate rapidly the Warakouta aristocrats advised their wise counsellors to cast a spell of ibumutu upon the mining company, hence its sudden closure.
Second, an argument erupted between the two partners of the mine. The Kukuya folk literature reports a kind of high noon showdown (American fashion) imminent between the two who might have been brothers. Thus, the sudden closure.
Thirdly, some scientific as well as economic explanations reveal that the 1920s were economically the boom period of the Western world, particularly its imperial powers. Hence, the desire there was to claim extra territory and set up mining industries throughout the world. All this came and went as suddenly as the appearance of the economic depression of the 1930s just around the corner. That would in turn leave the Kaiwatara mines as desolate as any other mine site in Papua New Guinea.
We bring you this story with special regard to the sort of mining industry activities we experience through LNG and similar large scale projects in our country today. We hope they shed some light on how best we can handle certain social problems deriving from these. 
You can learn more about the Kaiwatara mines from Vincent Kewibu at this email address: