Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Lihir Destiny

The Lihir Destiny: Cultural Responses to Mining in Melanesia

Nicholas A. Bainton
Volume: 5
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: ANU Press
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Lihir Destiny
    Book Description:

    The people of the Lihir Islands in Papua New Guinea have long held visions of a prosperous new future, often referred to by local leaders as the 'Lihir Destiny'. When large-scale gold mining activities commenced on the main island of Lihir in 1995, many hoped that this new world had finally arrived. The Lihir Destiny provides a nuanced account of the social structural and cultural transformations engendered by large-scale resource extraction. Tracing the history of Lihirian engagement with outside forces, from the colonial period through to recent mining activities, this book brings new light to bear on the bigger question of what 'development' means in contemporary Melanesia. The Lihir Destiny explores how Lihirian leaders devised future plans for a cultural revolution based upon the maximisation of mining activities and the influential philosophies of the Personal Viability movement. However, reaching the 'Lihir Destiny' is no simple affair, and many Lihirians find themselves negotiating divergent formulations of culture, sociality and economic engagement. The Lihir Destiny will appeal to readers interested in the social impacts of large-scale resource development, the processes of cultural continuity and change and the ways in which modernity is configured in local terms.

    eISBN: 978-1-921666-85-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Martha Macintyre

    Mining communities are the subject of a rich tradition of ethnographic study. As the major industry and employer in any region where they are located, mining operations provide a physical, social and economic focal point for the anthropologist. Approaches to the subject have varied greatly. From June Nash’s (1993) study of a Bolivian mining community, We Eat the Mines and the Mines Eat Us, to Michael Taussig’s polemical and literary reflections on capitalism, greed and exploitation in The Devil and Commodity Fetishism (1980) and My Cocaine Museum (2004), there has been close scrutiny of the complex inter-relationships between mines, their...

  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Selected Tok Pisin glossary
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. Selected Lir glossary
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  7. Abbreviations
    (pp. xxiii-xxiv)
  8. 1. Introduction: New Lives for Old
    (pp. 1-12)

    When a large gold mine was constructed on the main island of the Lihir group in 1995, Lihirians began to envision that the sort of life they had long dreamed of was closer to being in their grasp. For the past century, Lihirians have been beguiled by the sort of development that would genuinely enhance their lives. Unlike so many of their Melanesian compatriots, Lihirians were going to witness the realisation of past prophesies for material and social change that arose during previous social movements — albeit in decidedly unexpected ways. This large-scale resource development project has precipitated tremendous economic change...

  9. 2. The Presence of the Mine
    (pp. 13-40)

    Papua New Guinea has a long and turbulent history of mining activities reaching back to the latter part of the 1800s, when hundreds of Australians and Europeans came in search of gold on Misima, Sudest and Woodlark islands and on the Waria, Gira and Mambare (Yodda) rivers (Demaitre 1936; Healy 1967; Newbury 1975; Nelson 1976; Gerritsen and Macintyre 1986). While the scale and the impacts of these activities might not be comparable to contemporary large-scale mining, in most cases Papua New Guineans have hardly benefited in the same ways as foreign miners from the resources being extracted from their land....

  10. 3. Las Kantri: Lihir Before the Mining Era
    (pp. 41-72)

    This chapter offers a short economic and political history of Lihir to illuminate historical influences on the ways in which Lihirians have responded to mining, and to illustrate the genesis and escalation of desire for economic and political autonomy (not necessarily outright secession), and the rising antipathy towards the colonial administration and later the State. Earlier social movements — namely the Tutukuvul Isakul Association (TIA), which evolved into Tuk Kuvul Aisok (TKA),1 and later the Nimamar movement — are the combined result of moral inequality between Lihirians and Whites, and the gradual process of pauperisation that encompassed Lihir under the Australian administration,...

  11. 4. Lihir Custom as an Ethnographic Subject
    (pp. 73-108)

    The cultures of New Ireland have long held a certain level of anthropological attention, which is largely due to the Western fascination with the elaborate mortuary rituals and the production, form, use and iconography of malanggan mortuary carvings found in the northern part of the province.¹ The Lihir Islands are situated between the ethnographically better known islands of Tabar and Tanga, and are easily visible from central mainland New Ireland, where there has also been extensive ethnographic documentation, yet somehow Lihir remained comparatively blank on the ethnographic map. However, since mining activities began, Lihir has been more ‘anthropologised’ than any...

  12. 5. When Cargo Arrives
    (pp. 109-140)

    In PNG, it is still a moot point whether the economic benefits of large-scale resource extraction balance the tremendous social and economic upheaval typically generated by such activities. If there is a willingness to gamble on the hypothesis that the size of the compensation package will offset any negative impacts from the project, then it is also worth remembering that many of the social divisions caused by mining directly result from an inability to reach consensus on the correct way to distribute this pile of money.

    The Bougainville conflict, which began in late 1988 around the Panguna copper mine, remains...

  13. 6. Personal Viability and the Lihir Destiny Plan
    (pp. 141-174)

    After seven long years, Lihirian leaders, the company and the State finally reached an agreement on the revised Integrated Benefits Package. Several times negotiations reached a stalemate. By 2007, there was considerable pressure from all sides to finalise the review. The company was offering the most attractive benefits package in the history of Papua New Guinean landowner compensation. They were committed to spending K100 million over five years until the date of the next review. This included the entire range of compensation payments and the development of infrastructure and service provision. Lihirian leaders accepted this offer when the company lent...

  14. 7. Custom Reconfigured
    (pp. 175-202)

    Throughout my first weeks of fieldwork in late 2003, I was immediately drawn into a web of mortuary rituals and kastom politics. Several days before I had landed on the island, a young man named Stanis Kanpetbiah from Lesel village had unexpectedly died. When I eventually found my way to Lesel, I made my way into the men’s house and sat with the men from Tiakwan clan who had adopted me during my previous visit. This was home for several weeks: here we ate, slept, socialised and remembered Kanpetbiah. Throughout this mourning period, pigs, shell money, cash, garden produce and...

  15. 8. Conclusion: Society Reformed
    (pp. 203-208)

    Having traced the transformations that have taken place over the past century, it is obvious that Lihirians are not simply advancing towards a final destination in an inevitable world-historical teleology. They are actively shaping their lives and the forces that impinge on their existence. They are using new things and opportunities for their own purposes, although often with unforeseen outcomes. Lihirian society has been irreversibly reformed, but Lihirians have never passively capitulated before the global capitalist system, nor does everyone regard all of the changes as entirely unwanted. While there is a definite nostalgia for an idealised past, exacerbated by...

  16. References
    (pp. 209-230)