Communal Ownership of Land is the Peoples’ only safety-net

2 Jul 2014


On behalf of the Melanesian Indigenous Land Defense Alliance (MILDA), we are writing to provide a different view on recent editorials promoting land registration for the Pacific. We wonder who authored this letter and in whose interest it was written? Because for Pacific peoples land isn't just about making money, land is about ensuring Pacific families continue to maintain a high level of self-reliance and to control their own destiny.

MILDA is also mindful of the historical context of how land registration came to Melanesia and the Pacific at different times following first contact with the outside world through to independence and continues to date. Land registration is ostensibly promoted for the same purpose; to free up land for 'development' and to parcel it out in the name of individuals, companies and those with hard-cash. But for us, land is held communally for the benefit of all, and remains a central part of our cultural heritage and identity.
Land, particularly in Melanesia, is not a commodity but is an inalienable part of our peoples’ very existence. It has spiritual and historical values and other attributes that economists do not consider in their equations. In almost every part of Melanesia, the fact remains that land is our source of kastom, mana, sustenance and economic empowerment. Even if it doesn’t necessarily pay you in hard cash at the end of every week, although it may, if that is what a family or clan wants from it. Land under traditional tenure in Melanesia remains the largest employer and has sustained us self-reliantly for thousands of years. Land under indigenous control also makes our communities resilient to the upheavals often felt by global markets, and ensures that our children will also have this security.
For regional governments to venture into such propaganda promoting land registration, one needs to explore the legacy left behind by our colonial masters and other land registration programs across the region such as the Incorporated Land Groups (ILGs) and Special Agriculture and Business Leases (SABLs) in Papua New Guinea, the customary land registration program in the Solomon Islands and the Vanuatu Land Program. These programs have assisted to facilitate the alienation of traditional lands and leave traditional custodians sidelined from the lands that have sustained them for generations and beholden once again to foreign masters. Significant degradation of pristine environments rich in unique biocultural diversity along with undermining of food security and traditional economies due to clear-cut logging, mining activities, coastal developments and monocultures such as palm oil plantations are closely linked to these programs.  These programs have robbed people of the independence they fought so hard for only a generation ago.