A mammoth gold mine on Papua New Guinea’s Lihir Island is currently shut down due to a compensation dispute. There is, of course, nothing unusual about that situation, for conflicts between foreign mining companies and local interest are par for the course in the resources-extraction game. What makes the Lihir protest notable, however, is the means by which the island’s landowners made their displeasure known: By placing taboo markers from a ginger root plant, known locally as gorgor, around the site:
Under Melanesian custom, landowners on Lihir island have traditionally raised grievances with local miners through the traditional cultural practice of placing ginger plants, known as a gorgor, on the site, signalling that talks are needed.
“People in Papua New Guinea are good at making their feelings known, and if mining companies don’t take note of what they are concerned about it can lead to a disruption in operations,” said Annmaree O’Keeffe, acting director of the Lowy Institute for International Policy’s Melanesia Program.
I am impressed that the mining company in question, Australia’s Newcrest, had the cultural chops to recognize that such a seemingly insignificant gesture was a sign worth heeding. I have no doubt that many prominent firms would have simply ignored the plants, thereby leaving the landowners to contemplate more violent means of articulating their grievances.