On Wednesday, some of the bodies of 18 women and children were buried by the roadside in Karida Number One village. They were the latest innocent victims of a 20-year tribal war driven by local warlords in the Tagali Local level government area. Karida Number One was not directly involved in the fighting that initially left seven people dead in neighboring Munima village.
But they were accused of harboring an in-law involved in the attack.
And the women and children paid the price.
For the older generation of the Hela, the killing of women and children has broken the traditional protocols of tribal fighting.
“This, I have never seen this in my life. This is new,” Chief Hokoko Minape said in Tok Pisin. Chief Hokoko is a household name in the Tagali LLG.
He had been councillor for as long as anyone can remember. Then, expressing himself poetically through his grief he said: “The women and the children are like my mothers. I died with them. They are close to my heart. I died of grief. I am already dead.”
Muks Maia, the local church pastor, lives on a nearby hill in Karida village. He ran to the site when he saw the fire from the burning houses. He was too late to do anything.
“When I got there, I saw the women and children. They had been cut up like animals. There were no men. The total number of those killed is 18.”
Beside the smouldering remains of a hut, one of the men said the women who died were the anchors in the community. Their lives firmly rooted in the village. They cared for the land and the animals, while the men traveled in between Tari, Port Moresby and Mt. Hagen. It has been difficult to mourn for them, with the people unable to settle into their normal lives.
The hut where the worst of the attacks happened, still stands. A whole family, including two pregnant women and their unborn children also died in the attack. On Wednesday, the Hela Provincial Government declared the Tagali Local Level government area a fighting zone.
The Police and the Defence force numbers are stretched with only 40 police personnel and one PNGDF platoon. The only thing giving them some sense of security are the army and police patrols that have been going into the village since the raid.
Like Chief Homoka Minape, police and provincial authorities say the killing of women and children is unprecedented.
Three months into office, the Provincial Police Commander, Chief Inspector Teddy Augwi, is facing his first major crisis. He says dialogue remains key in finding a solution and bringing the warring parties together.