Manam, an attachment between Land and People

By Joanita Nonwo – EMTV Online

Our surroundings affect us much more than many of us even realise. Every day we are affected in some way by the environment we live, work and play in.

Place attachment is an emotional bond between a person and a place, and is a main concept in environmental psychology.

Environmental psychology is a field of psychology that focuses on the study of how humans are affected by their environment, or surroundings.

It is believed that land in most culturally based Pacific societies is more than an economic asset, holding an important position in providing sustenance, cultural and spiritual beliefs in social and ritual activities,  social organization, and in creating an individual and group’s sense of social identity and belonging.

For many thousands of years in the Melanesian culture, land has always been crucial to the past; essential for the present and critical for the future. A community’s land also holds a special significance as the place where parents and ancestors are buried. Such ties form a strong emotional bond between people and their land.

In the 21st century, Papua New Guinea finds itself facing the challenges of forced migration of the people of Manam Island of the north coast of Madang Province.

Manam, currently an active volcanic island, had a major eruption in 2004 destroying food gardens, shelters, water wells, cash crops, and livestock and caused deaths.

The islanders who have become Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), now take refuge at three care centres of Asuramba, Mangem and Postdam on mainland Madang. These Manam Islanders are part of the statistics that make up the 59.5 million displaced people worldwide, of that, 38.2 million are displaced within their own country.

Since being evacuated to the mainland after the major volcanic eruption, the Government of Papua New Guinea has declared Manam Island as a disaster zone, and the islanders who wish to return do so at their own risk.

Many of the old and elderly relocated at the care centres have died due to psychological stress of being away from their island home.

Almost more than a decade since the relocation of the islanders, some have returned back to the island to build a life again, simply because it is home.

Houses and gardens, the people and their livestock, and the lush green vegetation of the forest on the island speaks of a rebuilt life, however, just how long it can last is uncertain.

When asked if the volcano instills a sense of fear, a local elder replied:

“Bai mi poret lo wanem? Em peles yah.. volcano stap, mi stap. Sapos em pairap na kilim mi, em i mo beta osem mi dai long bus giraun bilong mi yet, na ino bilong narapela mahn.”

“What will I be scared of? It is home, if the volcano erupts, and kills me, it’s better that I die on my own land then on someone else’s land.”

The village elder shared that though the reality of the situation is quite risky, he points out that it is his home, regardless of living near an active volcano, life continues on as it has always been for many generations.

That bond between the people and the land is undeniable, some people may not understand why the islanders have returned to the disaster zone but it does somehow do justice to the saying: Home is where the heart is.

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