AN IPILI STORY

by FRAZER LIU

I am one of 24 brothers and sisters. We own a large piece of land, which has an abundant natural occurence of a mineral. One day someone came and told us that the minerals under our land are valuable and that we can be rich beyond our wildest dreams. His name was Mr Developer. He sold us tales and promises of wonder, we could not resist.

He came with a familiar looking neighbor who knew my language, and another bloke who told me that he was Mr. Government and that we had a duty to listen to him because despite us owning our own land; anything below six feet belonged to him. This was all very confusing to my family and I, but they looked much wiser and smarter than us, so we listened.

They introduced us to Mr Lawyer, who wrote up a paper called a Special Mining Lease. Mr Lawyer said that this paper was the agreement between ourselves, Mr Developer, and Mr Government. We asked him what the details of the agreement were.

Mr Lawyer told us a large mine will be built on our land to take out the mineral and sell it to people overseas. He said that we would share with the profits from the mine on our land. We asked what was our share? He said 2.5%. I looked confused so he explained to me that when they sold the mineral called gold, if they got 100 pigs from the sale, 2 and a half pigs would be for my family and I to share amongst ourselves. Another 2 and a half pigs for the provincial government (the familiar looking guy that spoke my language) and 95 pigs would belong to Mr Developer and other parties like Mr Government (later on in 2006 this changed).

Seeing us confused at this distribution, Mr Lawyer told us that despite the gold being under our land, it really did not belong to us, it belonged to Mr Government, and besides, he added, we did not have the knowledge or money to remove the gold ourselves. Mr Developer will be spending his own money to do that, so rightfully he gets the largest share. Mr Lawyer said we had no choice on this matter, so we agreed.

We asked them, so you will take our land and where will we live? They told us not to worry. The agreement includes our proper resettlement and those of our neighboring clans so that we can live away from the mine and continue our lives.

They told us that they would build schools so our children can be taught and one day become smart people like them. They said, we would also work and benefit from the mine in many ways.
They sold us the sun, the moon and all the stars.

Had I known then what I know now, I would have asked more questions. Questions like:
Would the mine affect my environment that our people depend on?
After the mine, will I ever resettle back on my land?
A great many other questions I should have asked. But who was I? A nobody they said, in one of the roughest and remotest places on earth. I didn't even own the gold I lived on to start of with; is what they told me. Mr Government, Mr Developer and Mr Lawyer were all on one side. Who was I to say no?

So my family unanimously agreed to lease our land to Mr Developer. Before we signed, I asked one final question. How long is this agreement for?
Mr Lawyer softly tells me. "It's only for 30 years." So I nod silently, thinking. I would still live to see the end of this agreement. And maybe, just maybe one of my sons will go to this thing they call school, and become like these men. I could only hope.

We signed.
After I signed, I looked into Mr Developers eyes and saw the glint of gold and greed. For that moment when I looked into his eyes, I knew what he was thinking. He and the gold would be long gone before the 30 years was up.
What happened next, changed our world forever. We never got resettled as promised. People came from all over our region and settled close to the mine. Greed does a lot of strange things to people - It ruined us. Our land was gone and our peoples way of life, changed forever.
As fights and disputes erupted, Mr Government and Mr Developer would send negotiating teams and police to stop these from escalating. Many many people have died. Each ounce of gold the mine sold is processed with blood.

Mr Developer started hand picking a few of my brothers and sisters and turning us against each other. The mine brought many people, parties and interest groups. Confusion, fear, greed and threats were the modus operandi.

Finally the 30 years ended.
Mr Developer realized too late, 30 years was not enough to take out all the gold. He sees that there is more - so much more!

This time I know all his tricks. He has played them all before. He will use my brothers and sisters to fight each other. He will threaten us with Mr Lawyer. He will try to convince Mr Government to help him once more. He will come with promises and try to sell us the sun, the moon and stars again.
Yes we have seen the sun, the moon and the stars. They were all painted red with blood.
I remember as I closed my eyes to sign 30 years ago with my brothers and sisters. I remember staring into the windows of time. I remember that silent prayer I made.
My prayers were answered.

Today, may sons have grown. They have gone to this school Mr Lawyer and Mr Developer went to. Today, Mr Government is not on Mr Developer's side - he is my own brother, and he is on my side.
Our time is now my brothers and sisters. Let us not repeat the mistakes of yesteryear. The future might seem uncertain, but let it be our own future, and not one that is forced upon us to live.
We are the sons and daughters of an unbroken line of proud and free people that have thrived on this land since time immemorial. Our ancestors bowed to no conquering army or king. Through the challenges we have faced, the many mistakes and hardships - we are still here.
Our land. Our home. Our destiny.

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