Forests For Climate: “I Told Them, ‘Don’t Fear, Let’s Move’.”

9 September 2008

Kila Oumabe, Beseremen Clan, (pictured at left with hands raised) is a mother of three daughters and three adopted children. She is at the frontline of impacts from Turama Forest Industries’ rainforest logging in Papua New Guinea.

Kila has visited the Esperanza in PNG, as a representative of all the women living in the 1.7 million hectares of the Turama Extension*. Her experiences are typical of women across the extension:

“I have to walk six to eight kilometres to find food for my family. It takes all day. Before it used to take two to three hours or half a day. I used to walk out my back door to find the plants and animals to feed my family. Sometimes a woman can’t find anything and comes home at 9 o’clock or midnight and cooks sago only and goes to sleep.”

“The children sometimes complain and cry. So we explain to them what has happened.”

“At this stage the animals and the fish – which are eaten for the strength of the family – are hard to find. Now they are some kilometres away because the machinery is too noisy and the trees have been cut down.”

The people in the Turama Extension area are forest people. The tulip tree is significant in this part of Papua New Guinea.

Explains Kila, “Everybody is taught how to use this tree. The tree is very important for rope, string and food. We eat the leaves like cabbage everyday. From the bark of the tree we make string bags called bilums. Our great-grandmothers taught us. And will in the future too. They are the most special tree for us.”

“When the logging operation comes, they go to a place to get the logs. When the tulip tree is in the way, they are knocked down.”

The women of Turama Extension know what they want for their future.

“The logging workers are from other parts of PNG and from overseas. When we want to talk to them, they ignore us when we need help, (like going into) labour and sickness, very big accidents. They do not accept us, they ignore us. But this is our land, our resources”.

“Right now, there are woman at all the (forestry) camps. At the protests the women are going to lead. They are there with their bags packed. The woman have gathered.

“I told them, ‘Don’t fear, let’s move’.”

* In 1988, a logging permit was granted in Gulf province, PNG, to Turama Forest Industries, covering 187,000 hectares. Over the next 14 years, around 80,000 hectares of ancient forest was logged. In 1995, the Papua New Guinea government granted an astounding 1.7 million hectares as a logging ‘extension’ to Turama Forest Industries – the extension was almost 10 times bigger than the original concession. The timber permit for this new concession, called Turama Extension is valid for 35 years (until 2030). Most timber permits are only valid for 10 years.