Then she killed him.

By PNG Echo

PNG women in celebration mode

This is the first of a series of articles that seeks to give voice to the suffering of PNG women at the hands of PNG men. PNG women are NOT merely domestic violence statistics to be marvelled at and/or tut tutted over. Every one of these women or girls is a dignified human being who has had that dignity stripped away in often the most degrading, humiliating and horrific fashion. If the details of their stories hurt your sensibilities, I don’t apologise. Imagine what it felt like to go through some of their ordeals – like the ten-year-old recently gang-raped to death – all alone with her attackers. No one came to help – no one showed her any mercy. What about her sensibilities? And there are others… too many… Read on:

There was something not quite right about her.  Her eyes darted from one side to another like someone who was seeing things for the first time. It reminded me of my son’s birth. When first emerging into the world, he did similar.

But she looked vacant, far away, and when her eyes would inadvertently fall on my face she’d avert them quickly. Her demeanour was suggestive of someone suffering severe trauma.

I’m going to call her Yvonne. It is not her real name. Because her identity needs protecting, I am loath to use her real name. Yvonne is a person – more than a statistic – she ought to have a name.

She was not the first accused murderer I’d interviewed that day and she wouldn’t be the last. There was Nancy, Maggie, Sharon, Betty, Esther and more.  All of them had their own tales of horror, each of them increasingly difficult for me to listen to. I felt a heavy burden of privilege; the fortunate sister who’d abandoned them. I felt culpable – still do.

Yvonne endured 17 years of torture from her husband before she ended up killing him. In that time he raped her continually and kept her a virtual prisoner in the house. Yvonne’s husband had an untreated venereal disease, possibly Gonorrhoea – he repeatedly passed this on to her and would only allow her to go and get it treated when it became urgent.

Like the time when her tongue swelled up so badly that she could not swallow. There were often times when the infection got so bad that she would develop chronic urine leakage and she told me that she smelled bad.

Yvonne’s husband would not only rape her vaginally but anally and orally. She didn’t understand why he wanted to use places that “were not meant for that” She said she would cry in pain during the violent bouts of anal sex. But it had little effect.

Apart from the rapes, there were also the beatings. He broke her arm with the branch of a tree; he broke her back and almost broke her neck by standing on it. Yet no one helped her- and she had tried police, the church, family and whatever friends she had left.  He was a respected member of the community and she was his wife – the suggestion that if she were a better wife it wouldn’t happen was always just below the surface.  She was unable to leave him – in PNG it’s difficult or often impossible for a woman to exist alone, without the sponsorship of a man.

When she was at the end of her tether, she decided to end her own life – 17 years of despair were enough. Her life had become not worth living, she told me.

With her husband asleep in the house, and in a moment of lucidity, she decided that she would take him with her – that he didn’t deserve to live. She stabbed him then ran out of the house and deliberately fell on the knife– it penetrated her breastbone. She had already taken all and any medication she had found in the house – still,  he died, she didn’t. She showed me her scar.

“I was his victim for 17 years,” Yvonne said. “Now I’m a victim of the state of PNG for the next 20 (her sentence).

I now better understood why Yvonne appeared so fragile.

Anomalies and indications

Inside Bomana Prison

It was March of 2012 and I was in Bomana Prison, outside the Papua New Guinean capital of Port Moresby, to do a story on women who had murdered their husbands. At the time, the female prison was housing 38 women, all but one or two were there for murder – either in remand waiting for their day in court or already serving a sentence.

This fact, in some ways, is anomalous with global findings, while, at the same time, in other ways, being indicative of them. It is anomalous that such a high percentage of the accused and convicted were there because of committing a violent crime. Violent crime only accounts for a low percentage of crimes committed by females – around 10%.

However, it has also been found that women invariably kill an intimate partner, family member or an acquaintance, in the home – with a spouse most likely to be killed in around 50% or more of cases. In this they were consistent

Violent offenders were over-represented in this milieu while their victims were not.

Justice for women in PNG? – Where are the findings of justifiable homicide?

The clear reason for the anomaly was the presence of extremely high rates of sexual and domestic violence in PNG, these factors being the major cause of creating violent female offenders from otherwise gentle individuals. It was kill or be killed in so many cases – but in a society such as PNG where violence against women is prevalent and even normalised, there was little hope that their plight would get much public sympathy – or indeed judicial justice.

There was a recent case in PNG where a fight between a woman and her spouse resulted in his death because one of her blows ruptured his spleen. The judge gave her a heavy custodial sentence, notwithstanding that there was a long history of domestic violence where she had been hospitalized by him on more than a few occasions and could have expected more that day had her blow not proved fatal. What’s more, many of the beatings she received were while pregnant.

The escalation of the problem to killing was the direct result of her having to defend herself because no one else would.

A surprisingly nice environment  

This was not the first prison I’d been inside, but to my surprise, this one was almost pleasant – especially when contrasted against downtown (or uptown) Port Moresby. It was a series of buildings amongst well-tended gardens with shelters here and there for shade. There seemed to be less evidence of razor wire and armed guards than there was around expatriate compounds and five-star hotels in the nearby capital.

Even surrounded by accused and convicted murderers, never did I feel any fear. The women, were generally, softly spoken, and pleasant. Most were eager to talk – to tell their story. In every case, the killing was preceded by a history of domestic violence.

What came through loud and clear was how the perpetrators of the violence (Men) had completely stripped these women of all their dignity and if they were to avoid prison, the courts would tear a few more strips of dignity off as the victims justified the course that most were forced to take.

They carried the scars of their torment

Many of the women had been raped by their husbands often while children looked on, sexual humiliation being a usual weapon in the wife basher’s arsenal.

As with Nancy, who had killed her gambling, drug-head husband who bashed her up regularly.

Nancy had borrowed money to survive, as her husband was not providing any. He exhorted her to pay back the money by taking up prostitution. Nancy’s husband sold her baby to another woman.

When Nancy killed him, it was self-defence. She feared for her life. “I just wanted him to stop hitting me,” she said.  Nancy claimed, that in spite of all this, she loved him and didn’t engage the police because he was the sole provider. The irony completely lost on her; the hopelessness of the situation leaving me dumbfounded.

One young inmate with a baby on her lap, told me of how her husband’s nephew would visit and rape her. When she complained to her husband he laughed. She ended up killing the nephew – but not until he had cracked open her skull with a bushknife and burned down her house. When he came back the day after the burning armed with a knife and started hitting her again, she managed to get the knife from him and stabbed him with it. Dead.

Other causal factors 

The  paradigm beloved of TV shows and Hollywood where jail wardens are cruel sadists was not anywhere in evidence in the women’s section of Bomana.  In the main, the wardens seemed to have a clear understanding of the reason for their wards incarceration and seemed sympathetic. With the prevalence of violence against women in PNG, many of them could well have been empathetic too, suffering similarly. Who knows?

What they all agreed upon was that polygamy was one of the major contributing factors.

That was certainly true in the case of Brenda who said that her husband would beat her up first when he wanted to go and see another woman. He was not polygamous but adulterous and with an unhealthy dose of religious guilt under his belt, this is how he’d cope with the affairs.

But it doesn’t matter whether it’s adultery or polygamy, it’s all about competition and economics. Not only is the partner humiliated by her ‘man’ preferring another, she also has the problem of the husband’s monetary resources going to another family and her family being starved.

It is why Brenda ended up killing her husband’s girlfriend during a fight. She explained that it was the easier option – her husband was too strong physically for her and besides, she needed him to earn money to keep her family.

When Sally’s husband turned up with a new wife, he took all Sally’s belongings and he gave them to his new wife. When he then stopped paying their children’s school fees, Sally ended up killing the rival for her husband’s affections and money. But this was not before her husband had held Sally down while the new wife urinated into her mouth. Sally said that killing the new wife was the easier road to take as she was afraid of the husband’s family and the compensation she’d have to pay to them in the event of his death (compensation being a large feature of PNGean customary law).

In PNG, it is not rare to see two women physically fighting in the street over a man while the man in question looks on.

With this rivalry rife and encouraged, both by polygamy and rampant adultery, there is very little evidence of a ‘sisterhood’ support network, most women viewing other women as rivals.

The system is broken, it needs to be fixed.

Share Button

A matter of innocence

By PNG Echo.

Graham Romanong did not deserve to die.
Graham Romanong did not deserve to die.

For the tragic death of student Graham Romanong and the subsequent ransacking and burning of property, blame is being apportioned to almost anyone and everyone.

The opposition are blaming the government, the government are blaming the opposition while some are blaming non -student opportunists.

They all seem to agree, however, that the students themselves, and especially the dead student, are all’ “innocent.”  They’re not!

How do you plead…?

Students hold a meeting on campus
Students hold a meeting on campus

To suggest that the country’s recognised young intellectuals, who were politically agitating for a legally and democratically elected Prime Minister’s downfall, are sweetly “innocent,” is drawing a very long bow.

God help PNG, if these students, the future leaders and hope of Papua New Guinea –all young adults – were not aware of the possible consequences.

If they weren’t aware, then they are abjectly stupid, if they were aware, then where is the innocence?  Neither scenario is exactly desirable – there’s no third alternative.

829504683 (1)
Kenneth Rapa “My students are but human.”

In his press statement, Kenneth Rapa, student leader at UPNG, went to great lengths to condemn the murderous actions, yet he couldn’t resist the mitigation “…my students are but human…” while urging the public to have an “empathetic understanding” of what happened.

He at least didn’t use the word ‘innocent’ but that’s what he meant.

If you are not an infant and you commission an act – you are the one responsible. Not the 40-years-ago-exited colonial government for being…well…colonial, nor the beaten and murdered woman for being a woman, nor the government/opposition/police for urging/suppressing/provoking you.

No one was holding a gun to the students heads – in fact, it was the students holding the gun (metaphorically, in the form of blackmail – more on that later.)

The students provoked, intimidated and from there went on to commit murder – in an act of free will

Victim status

A campus building set alight.
A campus building set alight and burning

The word on the street is that the killing was retaliatory for the earlier stabbing of an Engan student. In other words, it is highly likely that the murdered student was not all that innocent.

The targeting of this student was not totally random – they knew who they were after.

Nevertheless, he did not deserve to die and the murderers must take responsibility for their actions.

A murder is a murder, and is not more horrifying because of the status of the victim’s virtue. One life is as precious as the next.

It is why I am against state-sanctioned murder (ie – the death penalty). It is the slippery slope. If we can happily agree to this type of penalty to legally kill a human being that is judged not worthy of life, how long is it before we start to decide outside of legal processes who should live and die?

And that’s exactly what’s happened here, it seems.

Enter the Commission of Inquiry

A popular British political satire called ‘Yes Minister’ that ran from 1980-1984 had the wily and savvy Permanent Head of Government (Public Servant) educating the forever bewildered Minister on Commissions of Inquiry thus:

The terminally bewildered Minister with his public service advisors in the political satire "Yes, Minister."
The terminally bewildered Minister with his public service advisors in the 1980s British political satire “Yes, Minister.”

Take an honorable retired judge, a doddering old fool, and put him in charge of the inquiry, with a sizable honorarium. Help him to arrive himself at the required conclusions. Feed him the appropriate facts and hint at a peerage. From there on, everything will work out as desired.

This is an overly-cynical parody of what is about to happen in Papua New Guinea.

And while there will be, no doubt, people uncovered whose role, behind the scenes was less than exemplary – ie vested interests – let’s not get carried away.

If there were those, in the political opposition, that will be proven to have bankrolled the students, inspired them and urged them on with promises, threats or whatever, then they should be brought to account. But, as my mother used to say,  “would you jump off a cliff, if she told you to?”

It all comes back to free will.

For while I suspect that the students were merely collateral damage to someone’s political ambitions, it’s not as if they were conscripts, they joined up.

As for the accusation that all this could have been stopped if the Prime Minister had stepped down – as per their demands. That argument is fatally flawed.

Demanding that the Prime Minister step down (or else) is blackmail. Blackmailers are never satisfied.

This is in evidence when the Prime Minister answered all the students’ queries and issues, in a very comprehensive statement – but they still weren’t satisfied. They wanted more.

Had the Prime Minister acceded to their demand and stepped down there would have surely been yet another demand.

The Prime Minister is right to protect his office from these sorts of extra-legal, unreasonable political demands.

All the students would have achieved is political mayhem and anarchy – a scenario that would have favoured the political opposition but not Papua New Guinea as a whole.

They need to wait until next year and try to remove this Prime Minister legally, if they can. It’s only then we’ll see who this ‘silent majority’ is that keeps being bandied around as justification for their actions.

The inquiry may well find that the students have been used by the unscrupulous and I concede that the finding of ‘cannon fodder’ wouldn’t surprise me – but make no mistake, ‘innocent’ they’re not..

Share Button

A step too far: Consequences and backlash

By PNG Echo.

Noel Anjo (with his arm around Belden Namah) and other 'corruption fighters', embrace the political anti-hero and member of the political opposition, in a testament of their true colours.
Noel Anjo (with his arm around Belden Namah) and other ‘corruption fighters’, embrace the political anti-hero and member of the political opposition, in a testament of their true colours.

Anti-government forces, the ones disguised as anti-corruption fighters, have gone a step too far to achieve their political goals.

Up until now, they have been tolerated, even supported – their thinly-disguised political ambitions overlooked as some Papua New Guineans hoped they were the genuine article, while suspecting that they may not be.

But the love affair is over.

The people have lately been given a small taste of the consequences of what activists such as Noel Anjo have visited on PNG – as they drive their masters’ political agendas – the faceless men.

Underlying provincial tensions have been driven to the surface by manipulating, competing political interests with murder and mayhem being the dire consequences – all whipped up by these faceless men, through their agents, such as Anjo, using university students as cannon fodder.

Is it a mere coincidence that the main protagonists in the violence are from the Southern Highland’s Province and Enga – as are the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition respectively?

The Backlash

Noel Anjo’s short article on the killing of the student on Lae campus, published on his popular Facebook page ‘The Voice of PNG’ today, was not given the usual wholehearted approval – even though ‘The Voice’ is demographically ‘stacked’ to exclude any known dissenters (such as myself – who was ‘blocked’ some time ago).

Seen on his posting were comments such as:

Noel Anjo you and your fellow colleague keyboard warriors have blood on your hands. Constantly having a go at the students to take action against government, are you and Don Pomb Polye and team happy now? An innocent life has been lost and the first thing you guys do is call on O’Neill to step down? Not even a word of sorry? Happy that your plan worked and is bearing fruit? Students fleeing for safety while you still sit behind the comfort of your keyboards and continue on? Shame on you. Fight your election campaign yourself and stop using students. No wonder you never succeed at elections.

A woman commenter gave a feminine perspective:

So it’s clear from Noel Anjo, the trumpet, that it was Southem Highland’s fault.
An innocent young man’s life has gone from merciless murderers.
Noel it’s a mother’s plea. Please shut up.
You want to dissolve parliament or arrest prime minister please you go and do it yourself.  Stop it, stop it, stop it, please.”

And yet another commenter has summed up what many of us have known for a while:

Noel Anjo, your comment is the worst!! Believe me, if you think like that you don’t have qualities to lead the group that you represent!

Anjo removed the post soon after.

The lauded, anti-corruption fighter's inadequate response to the students casualties - the crying selfie. Where's the 'mea culpa?"
The lauded, anti-corruption fighter’s inadequate response to the students casualties – the crying selfie. Where’s the ‘mea culpa?”

Pandora’s Box has been opened – what do they intend to do about it? – Take a crying selfie?

In a recent press release, just to hand, the Prime Minister has laid the blame squarely at the feet of the political opposition claiming that they have “blood on their hands.”  In this, he’s not wrong.

Share Button