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The Foi Incorporated Land Group: law and custom in group definition and collective action in the Kutubu oil project area, PNG

CollectionsANU Dept. of Pacific Affairs (DPA) formerly State, Society and Governance in Melanesia (SSGM) Program
Title: The Foi Incorporated Land Group: law and custom in group definition and collective action in the Kutubu oil project area, PNG
Author(s): Weiner, James
Keywords: incorporated land group
Kutubu Joint Venture
petroleum industry
Papua New Guinea
Land Group Incorporation Act
land ownership
customary law
Date published: 2001
Publisher: Canberra, ACT: State, Society and Governance in Melanesia (SSGM) Program, The Australian National University
Series/Report no.: State, Society and Governance in Melanesia (SSGM) working paper series: 2001/2
Introduction:......In this paper I examine the genesis and progress of the incorporated land group (ILG) in Papua New Guinea. The ILG is a legal entity empowered by legislation passed in 1974 to give legal and formal recognition, protection and powers to customary landowning groups in PNG. Foi and Fasu clans and Gulf Province clans in the Kutubu oil project area, at the instigation of the Chevron Niugini Company (CNGL) the managing partner of the Kutubu Joint Venture, have become incorporated under the Papua New Guinea Land Group Incorporation Act (1974) and have been receiving royalty payments from the sale of petroleum. The Incorporated Land Group has been viewed by the Company as the best mechanism with which to: · establish stability and remove ambiguity over ownership of territory · establish acceptable mechanisms for the selection of landowner representatives · effectively channel royalty and other petroleum-derived revenues to landowners · build upon what is perceived as a customary social unit of long standing in Papua New Guinea and thus capitalize upon the stability of customary cultural units (Power n.d., emphasis added). But since the original round of ILG registrations, there have been numerous applications for new ILG status from sub-groups within these original ILGs incorporated in the early 90's. In 1998, thirteen new Fasu ILG applications were lodged, all of them by sub-groups within already incorporated clans. The most common complaint being made is that the income is not being satisfactorily shared by those members of the executive committee designated by the ILG to distribute its income. These new ILG's wish to have their own passbooks and receive their income payments directly. The Company interprets this trend in two ways: as a sign that local clan leaders are dishonest and that local people themselves have not yet sufficiently understood the nature of contemporary managerial procedure. They stop short of admitting the possibility that the clans themselves are not “customarily” either corporate or collective units that exist for the common interest of its members. I will argue here that it is the ILG mechanism that is essentially faulty, not the behavior or the moral quality of land owners. One of the main points I wish to make is that, in line with Goody’s earlier observation quoted above, there is too much assumption that the internal affairs and composition of landowning social units are both practically and ontologically prior to their external relations. The companies and government departments who have attempted to implement the Land Group Incorporation Act have made an ethnographically indefeasible apportionment of the “political” to external relations among land-holding units and consequently see the resulting conflict and competition within them as adventitious and subversive of the “customary” land-holding units themselves. The LGIA is based on a quite erroneous assumption of the communal nature of land-holding and transmission within the Melanesian “clan”, and of its essentially “collective” interest. As Evans-Pritchard reminded us, however, and which became a founding approach of the Manchester school of African social anthropology in the 50’s and 60’s, the whole concept of the segmentary lineage system around which the attributes of corporateness were first empirically examined was founded on the notion of enduring and regular structural relations of conflict and consequent group fission as the mode of societal reproduction. Acts of legislation such as the PNG LGIA have disregarded this aspect of societal formation in PNG with the resulting problems that companies such as Chevron have encountered in applying the LGIA to customary “land holding” units.


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