Custodians, not “Landowners”

Most land in Papua New Guinea is occupied and controlled by clans or communities. They have extensive rights over how the land is used and who has access. These rights are recognized in our Constitution and Land laws. This ‘customary’ land has provided the basis for our very existence for generations. Without our land, we cannot survive.

But recently we have seen the rise of Papua New Guineans who claim to be “landowners”. It is a term that implies exclusive right and has been introduced purely for the convenience of the State and corporations that need a ‘landowner’ to grant them rights over the land or permission for their activities.

However, the term “landowner” does not correctly describe our relationship with our land. Land is not something that we own and it is not something that we have the right to sell or give away.

The truth is that we are the stewards of our customary land and we occupy and hold that land in trust for both our past and our future generations.

The term ‘landowner’ should be recognized for what it is – an imported colonial term introduced to help foreign companies to get access to our land and resources. It implies rights that we don’t have and therefore we should abandon this foreign terminology and replace it with ‘custodian’ or ‘custodian owner’.

Since we are the custodians of our land, it is our duty to make sure it is protected at all costs and must not be sold or leased to outsiders.

Our land is the source of everything in our lives as Papua New Guineans and it is our duty to protect it – we are not landowners we are custodians.