Background to the project

Since the early days of the mining operation Lihirians have expressed concerns over the social and cultural changes taking place in their society. The mining company has sought to support local cultural programs, which included the establishment of a cultural awareness office within the company’s community relations department.

In 2008, a group of committed Lihirians, together with a support team comprising an anthropologist, an historian, an ethnomusicologist and a heritage specialist, held a series of community workshops across Lihir to develop a long-term plan for managing and strengthening Lihirian cultural heritage. This project was supported by the mine operator Lihir Gold Limited. An action plan was developed, known as the Lihir Cultural Heritage Management Plan (2008).

This plan was also given the Lihirian title: A irir wana mamalien a anio Lir, which means ‘A plan for social stability and harmony on Lihir’ (see Bainton et al 2011).

The original working committee was later registered as the Lihir Cultural Heritage Association. With support from the mining company and funding made available through the community mining benefits package (The Lihir Sustainable Development Plan), the members of the Association are now working to implement the Lihir Cultural Heritage Management Plan. The plan outlines a series of programs and projects designed to assist Lihirians to revive, maintain and strengthen their cultural heritage.

Canoe making and inter-island voyaging for the trade of pigs and shell money is a foundational part of Lihirian culture. Members of the Association identified the art of canoe making and sea travel as a priority project to ensure that these skills and knowledge are maintained for future generations.

In 2010 the Association began working with community members on Masahet Island to develop a ‘canoe revival’ project. The intention was to create a project for Lihirian youths to work with senior men to ensure that the knowledge, skills and rituals associated with canoe making and sea voyaging are passed on to the next generation.

Archival images of Lihirian canoes were brought to Masahet which inspired older men to revive these skills (figure 1). It was soon decided that such an important project should be captured on film as a record for Lihirians and to showcase Lihirian culture to the outside world.

With support from the mining company and the LSPD fund, the Association were able to engage Rebel Films for this project. David Batty lived on Masahet Island for nearly two months becoming immersed in village life as he followed the construction of the canoe. As he filmed the project from start to finish, from the selection and felling of the tree through to the launching, he became an integral part of the project.

The project also provided a great opportunity for the Papua New Guinean staff working in the mining company’s media outfit to learn more about film making.

On Saturday 28thMay 2011 the canoe was formally launched at Malal village on Masahet Island. It was named Kabelbel after the local cultural group that was involved in this project.

The canoe travelled around Masahet for its customary maiden voyage, stopping at different villages along the way so that clan leaders could walk out on the reef to meet the voyagers and make presentations to support the new canoe. All of this was followed by a customary feast to celebrate the event and mark the completion of the canoe.

The film was first screened in Lihir on Masahet Island in November 2012.

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