Tribal Fighting in Papua New Guinea

Disputes concerning land and women have frequently led to warfare. Tribal fighting, endemic at the time of European contact, was partly suppressed by the Administration during the colonial period, and the practice (limited to a few regions) of eating enemies killed in battle died out. There has been a considerable increase in tribal fighting over the last decade. Today firearms as well as traditional weapons are used. Death and injury are increasing and the police are unable to control major fights. The national government, or provincial governments, declare a state of emergency, impose curfews and ban or restrict the sale of alcohol when fighting becomes acute. Fighting is mainly in rural areas, particularly in the highlands, but disputes sometimes spill over into armed conflict in the towns. The “payback” system under which a tribe seeks revenge if the death of one of its members is attributed to a rival tribe can lead to ongoing warfare.

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