Last year there was an advertisement in one of the dailies in PNG requesting submission by interested researchers in PNG to contribute towards a monograph that was being published by the National Research Institute. I decided to submit mine because I was doing some preliminary research on the link between tribal wars and spread of HIV/AIDS in the highlands of PNG. I am based in the Enga Province so that was where I was focusing (I have not received any reply from NRI so I think my application was not successful).
So what is the link? What I found from the few interviews that I did was something I did not expect. I am not sure what I found is also practised anywhere in the world. I assume it may be so.
This is what happens. When a tribe in Enga goes to war with another (I am talking about modern PNG) tribe, one tribe may hire gunmen. These gunmen can come from any tribe, as long as they are promised money, pigs, women or all. It is kind of a verbal contract. The actual fighting are not done everyday. Usually a group of 10-12 men would go on dawn raids to ambush their enemy.
When there is no fighting these hired gunmen just hang around. And they can pick and choose any female from the tribe that hired them. I have heard that even married women are taken by these hired men. And they are allowed to keep these women for as long as they want. Some even take young women as their fourth or fiveth wives. Some can share women. As long as the tribal war is on, this practice continues. The hiring tribe has no say whatsoever. After all they have an agreement. The security and safety of the whole tribe takes precedent over individual concerns.
Another scenario is where you have people displaced due to tribal wars. During a tribal war, one tribe can win the war and take possession of the land of the loosing tribe. To take back their land, some form of compensation payments have to be made to the wining tribe. When this happens, the people are displaced and become refugees. I personally think it is something the government of PNG has not acknowledge yet- Internal Refugees due to tribal War!
The displaced people will move away and in live with another tribe which may agree to accommodate them because of ally agreements or intermarriages. When living there the displaced people can and tend to be abused. The main victims are young women. They can be raped or even allowed to have sex with young men from the tribe so that their families can live there safely until such a time when they are free to return to their original land.
And I believe because such practices occur during tribal wars, the environment is created for women to be abused. The women become infected with HIV at no fault of their own. The Gutnius Lutheran Church in Enga has recognized this and taking steps to address it. I hope our government can also recognize what`s happening and address it. The first step I think would be to acknowledge this link and the creation of “internal refugees”.