Dialectical Anthropology

, Volume 36, Issue 3–4, pp 317–341 | Cite as

The trans-national gold curse of Papua New Guinea



This paper reviews gold and copper mining in Papua New Guinea (PNG) along the “triad stakeholder model” (Ballard and Banks 2003) proposing a triad relationship between (1) trans-national mining corporations, (2) the nation-state of Papua New Guinea, and (3) indigenous local communities, their socio-ecological environment and claims. Gold mining could be a huge asset, but turns out to be a curse to the independent part of the world’s second largest island known as “a mountain of gold in a sea of oil.” Our paper is based on research that began during our year-long residency at the country’s only Technical University in Lae. We are discussing several issues related to the nation’s gold resources and their exploitation: varied mining technologies and locations, the environmental impact, economics, human cost and gender issues, indigenous culture versus international corporate culture, state interferences, and urban development. One example is the industrial port city of Lae, founded during the gold rush of the 1920s that inaugurated rapid urban development. Once gloriously known as the “Pearl of the Pacific,” the town experienced administrative expansion and suffered from the subsequent exhaustion of nearby gold mines entailing a reverse development.


Indigenous People Transnational Corporation Mining Project Gold Rush Gang Rape 


  1. Alvarez, Ignazio J. 2003. The Right to water as a human right. In Linking human rights and the environment, eds. Romina Picolotti and Jorge Daniel Taillant, 71–82. Tucson, AZ: The University of Arizona Press.Google Scholar
  2. Appadurai, Arjun. 1986. Introduction: Commodities and the politics of value. In The social life of things. Commodities in cultural perspective, ed. Arjun Apparudai. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Auty, R.M. 1993. Sustainable development in mineral economics: The resource course thesis. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Auty, R.M., and R.F. Miksell. 1998. Sustainable development in mineral development. Oxford: Clarendon.Google Scholar
  5. Baker, Damian. 2009. Porgera gold mine: Killings and burnt villages. www.theangle.org Independent Australasian news and analysis, 10/19/2009. Retrieved 29 Nov 2011.
  6. Ballard, Chris, and Glenn Banks. 2003. Resource wars: The anthropology of gold mining. Annual Reviews of Anthropology 32: 287–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Ballard, Chris, and Glenn Banks eds.. 1997. The Ok Tedi settlement: Issues, outcomes and implications. Canberra: Research School of Pacific Studies. The Australian National University.Google Scholar
  8. Ballard, Chris. 1997. “It’s the land, stupid! The moral economy of resource ownership in Papua New Guinea. In The governance of common property in the Pacific region, ed. P. Larmour, 47–65. Canberra: Australian Natl. University.Google Scholar
  9. Banks, Glenn. 1998. Compensation for communities affected by mining and oil development in Melanesia. Malaysian Journal of Tropical Geography 29: 53–67.Google Scholar
  10. Banks, Glenn. 1996. Compensation for mining: Benefit or time-bomb—the Porgera case. In Resources, nations and indigenous peoples: Case studies from Australasia, Melanesia and Southeast Asia, eds. R. Howitt, J. Connell, and P. Hirsch. Melbourne: Oxford Univ. Press.Google Scholar
  11. Banks, Glenn. 1999. The economic impact of the mine. In Dilemma of development: The social and economic impact of the Porgera gold mine, ed. Colin Filer, 1984–1994. Canberra: Aust. Natl. University.Google Scholar
  12. Banks, Glenn. 2002. Mining and the environment in Melanesia: Contemporary debates reviewed. Contemporary Pacific 14: 39–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Bedford, R., and A. Mamak. 1997. Compensating for development: Issues, outcomes and implications. Canberra: Aust. Natl. University.Google Scholar
  14. Biersack, Aletta. 1999. The Mount Kare python and his gold: Totemism and ecology in the Papua New Guinea highlands. American Anthropologist 101: 68–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Brunton, R. 1992. Mining credibility: Coronation Hill and the anthropologist. Anthropology Today 8: 2–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Bryant, Bunyan. 1995. Environmental justice: Issues, policies, and solutions. Washington, DC: Island.Google Scholar
  17. Burt, B., and C. Clerk eds. 1996. Environment and development in the Pacific. Canberra: Austral. National University.Google Scholar
  18. Burton, B. 1998. Getting engaged? Mining Monitor 3(3): 2.Google Scholar
  19. Clark, J. 1993. Gold, sex, and pollution: Male illness and myth at Mt. Kare, Papua New Guinea. American Ethnologist 20: 742–757.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Connor, Walker. 1978. A nation is a nation, is a state, is an ethnic group is a …. Ethnic and Racial Studies 1: 377–400.Google Scholar
  21. Collier, P. 2000. Economic causes of civil conflict and their implications for policy. World Bank Group Policy Research Paper, 2000. http://www.worldbank.org/research/conflict/papers/civilconflict.pdf. Retrieved 30 Nov 2011.
  22. Collier, P. and A. Hoeffler. 2000. Greed and grievance in civil war. World Bank Group Policy Research Paper 2355. Washington, DC: World Bank.Google Scholar
  23. Daniel, Valentin. 1996. Charred Lullabies: Chapters in an anthropology of violence. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Dinnen, S. 1997. Law and order in a weak state: Private military contractors in Papua New Guinea. In: Challenging the state: The sandline affair in Papua New Guinea, eds. Dinnen, R May, and A. J. Regan, 112–128. Canberra: Asia-Pacific Press.Google Scholar
  25. Dinnen, S. 2001. Law and Order in a Weak State: Crime and Politics in an Age of Globalization. Adelaide: Crawford House; Honolulu: University of Hawai.Google Scholar
  26. Eisenhower, Dwight, D. 1961. Military industrial complex. Speech.Google Scholar
  27. Ernst, T.M. 2001. Land, stories and resources: Some impacts of large-scale resource exploitation on Onabasulu lifeworlds. In Mining and indigenous life worlds in Australia and Papua New Guinea, ed. A. Rumsey, and J. Weiner, 125–144. Adelaide: Crawford House.Google Scholar
  28. Evans, G., J. Goodman, and N. Landsbury eds. 2001. Moving mountains: Communities confront mining and globalization. Sydney: Ortford.Google Scholar
  29. Feld, Steven. 1996. Waterfall of song: An acoustemology of place resounding in Bosavi, Papua New Guinea. In: Senses of place, eds. Steven Feld and Keith Basso. Santa Fee, NM: School of American Research Press.Google Scholar
  30. Feld, Steven. 1982. Sound and sentiment. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
  31. Filer, Colin ed. 1999. Dilemma of development: The social and economic impact of the Porgera Gold Mine, 19841994. Canberra: Aust. Natl. University.Google Scholar
  32. Filer, Colin ed. 1990. The Bougainville rebellion, the mining industry and the process disintegration in Papua New Guinea. In The Bougainville Crisis, eds. R. J. May and Mathew Spriggs. Bathurst, Australia: Crawford House.Google Scholar
  33. Filer, Colin ed. 1996. The Melanesian way of menacing the mining industry. In Environment and development in the Pacific, eds. Burt, B. and C. Clerk, 91–122. Canberra: Austral. National University.Google Scholar
  34. Filer, Colin ed. 1997. Compensation, rent and power in Papua New Guinea. In Compensation for resource development in Papua New Guinea, ed. Susan Toft, 156–189. Papua New Guinea Law Reform Commission Monograph No. 6 and National Centre for Development Studies Pacific Policy Paper 24. Port Moresby and Canberra: Australian national University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Filer, Colin ed. 2001. The dialectics of negation and negotiation in the anthropology of mineral resource development. In The anthropology of power: Empowerment and disempowerment in changing structures, ed. Angela Cheater. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  36. Filer, Colin ed. 2000. Review of: ‘Papua New Guinea: the Struggle for Development,’ by John Connell. Oceania 71:70–71.Google Scholar
  37. Filer, C., D. Henton, and R. Jackson. 2000. Landowner compensation in Papua New Guinea’s mining and petroleum sector. Port Moresby: PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum.Google Scholar
  38. Geertz, Clifford. 1983 “From the native’s point of view”: On the nature of anthropological understanding. In Local knowledge: Further essays in interpretive anthropology, ed. Clifford Geertz. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  39. Godelier, Maurice. 1979. The appropriation of nature. Critique of Anthropology 4: 17–27.Google Scholar
  40. Godoy, Ricardo. 1985. Mining: Anthropological perspectives. Annual Reviews of Anthropology 14: 199–217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Gupta, Akhil, and James Ferguson. 1992. Beyond culture: Space, identity, and the politics of difference. Cultural Anthropology 7: 6–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Handelsman, S.D. 2002. Human rights in the mining industry. MMSD Working Paper no.9. http://www.iied.org/mmsd/mmsd_pdfs/009_handelsman.pdf.
  43. Hirsch, Eric. 2001. New boundaries of influence in highland Papua: ‘Culture’, mining and ritual conversions. Oceania 71: 298–312.Google Scholar
  44. Howard, MC. 1988. The Impact of the International Mining Industry on Native Peoples. Sydney: University of SidneyGoogle Scholar
  45. Howitt, R., J. Connell, and P. Hirsch. 1996. Resources, nations and indigenous peoples: Case studies from Australasia, Melanesia and Southeast Asia. Melbourne: Oxford Univ. Press.Google Scholar
  46. Hyndman, David. 1988. Ok Tedi: New Guinea’s disaster mine. The Ecologist 18(1): 24–29.Google Scholar
  47. Hyndman, David. 1994. Ancestral rain forest and the mountain of gold: Indigenous peoples and mining in New Guinea. Boulder, CO: West View Press.Google Scholar
  48. International Water Tribunal. 1994. Ecological damage caused by the discharges from the Ok Tedi copper and gold mine. In Mining. Second international water tribunal case books, 49–85. Utrecht: International Books.Google Scholar
  49. Jackson, Keith. 2010. The indictment of Lae: Beyond the green zone; Lae-A story of Gross Neglect’. Editorial. Nasfund e- Newsletter, 25 January, 2010. http://asopa.typepad.com/asopa_people/2010/01. Retrieved 27 Nov 2011.
  50. Jackson, Richard. 1982. Ok Tedi: The pot of gold. Port Moresby, PNG: The University of Papua New Guinea.Google Scholar
  51. Jackson, Richard. 1993. Cracked pot or copper bottom investment? The development of the Ok Tedi project 19821991: A personal view. Townsville: Melanesian Studies Ctr., James Cook University, North Queensland.Google Scholar
  52. Jarecki, Eugene. 2006. Why we fight (DVD). Sony Home Entertainment.Google Scholar
  53. Jorgensen, D. 2001. Who and what is a landowner? Mythology and marking the ground in Papua New Guinean mining projects. In Mining and indigenous life worlds in Australia and Papua New Guinea, eds. Rumsey and Weiner, 68–100. Adelaide, Aus: Crawford House.Google Scholar
  54. Kirsch, Stuart. 2006. Reverse anthropology. Indigenous analysis of social and environmental relations in Papua New Guinea. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  55. Kirsch, Stuart. 2004. No justice in OkTedi settlement. Cultural Survival Quarterly 28(2): 52–53.Google Scholar
  56. Kirsch, Stuart. 2001. Lost worlds: Environmental disaster, ‘culture loss’, and the law. Current Anthropology 42: 167–198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Knauft, Bruce. 2002. Exchanging the past: A rainforest world before and after. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  58. Lepowski, Maria. 1993. Fruit of the motherland. Gender in an Egalitarian Society. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  59. Linke, Robert. The influence of German surveying on the development of New Guinea, shaping the change. XXIII FIG congress, Munich, Germany, 8–13 Oct 2006.Google Scholar
  60. Marcus, G.E. 1995. Ethnography in/of the world system: The emergence of multi-sited ethnography. Annual Review of Anthropology 24: 95–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Marshall, Will. 2001. Papua New Guinea government obtains shaky weapons disposal pact in Bougainville. World Socialist Web Site, 23 May, 2001. Wikipedia: Accessed on line 4 March 2008/27 Nov 2011.Google Scholar
  62. Martinez, David. 2007. Barrick goldmine transforms Pacific Island. San Francisco, CA: Corp Watch, 21 Feb 2007.Google Scholar
  63. Matit, Elizabeth. 2005. Papua New Guinea: The impact of the OkTedi mine on indigenous women along the Fly River. In Third international women and mining conference: Defending our lives, demanding our rights, ed. K. Bhanumati, 41–43. Hyderabad, India: Mines, Minerals, and People.Google Scholar
  64. Maun, Alex. 1994. OkTedi mining: Human environment and tragedy. In Development and environment in Papua New Guinea: An overview, ed. Hans-Martin Schoell, 87–98. Point Series 18. Goroka: Melanesian Institute.Google Scholar
  65. Mcintyre, M. 1993. Women and Mining. In Papua New Guinea and Australia: Towards community aid and freedom from hunger, ed. Fitzroy, Aus, 43–46.Google Scholar
  66. Mcintyre, M. and S. Foale. 2011. Politicised ecology: Local responses to mining in Papua new Guinea. RMAP Working Paper No. 33. http://rspas.anu.edu.au/rmap/Wpapers/rmap_wp33.pdf. Retrieved 30 Nov 2011.
  67. Meggitt, M.J. 1974. Pigs are our hearts. Oceania 44: 165–203.Google Scholar
  68. MMSD (Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development Project). 2002. Breaking new ground: Mining, minerals and sustainable development. London: Earthscan.Google Scholar
  69. Moreno, A.M., and A. Tegen. 1998. World Mining Directory. Surrey: Metal Bull Books; Stockholm: Raw Mater GroupGoogle Scholar
  70. Muehlenbach, Andrea. 2001. ’Making place’ at the United Nations: Indigenous cultural politics at the U.N. working group on indigenous populations. Cultural Anthropology 16: 425–448.Google Scholar
  71. Nelson, Hank. 1976. Black, white & gold. Gold mining in Papua New Guinea 18781930. Canberra: Australian National University Press.Google Scholar
  72. O’Fairchelleaaigh, C. 2002. A new approach to policy evaluation: Indigenous people and mining. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  73. O’Hanlon, Michael. 1999. ‘Mostly harmless?’: Missionaries, administrators and material culture on the coast of British New Guinea. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (n.s.) 5: 377–397.Google Scholar
  74. Ortner, S.B. 1995. Resistance and the problem of ethnographic refusal. Comparative Studies in Social History 37: 173–193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Osodi, George. 2011. The rape of paradise. London: Trolley Books.Google Scholar
  76. Padel, Felix, and Samarendra Das. 2010. Out of this Earth; East India Adivasis and the aluminium cartel. Hyderabad, India: Orient Black Swan Ltd.Google Scholar
  77. Papua New Guinea. 1986. Sixth supplemental agreement. 28 Feb 1986.Google Scholar
  78. Parametrix Inc. and URS Greiner Woodward Clyde. 1999. Draft executive summary: Assessment of human health and ecological risks for proposed mine waste mitigation options at Ok Tedi mine, Papua New Guinea. Detailed level risk assessment. Prepared for Mining ltd. http://www.oktedi.com. Retrieved 29 Nov 2011.
  79. Pemberton, Ash. 2011. Papua New Guinea: Mining giants react as new gov’t promises reform. Green Left Weekly, issue 893, Sunday, 28 Aug 2011. www.greenleft.org.au/node/49596. Retrieved 29 Nov 2011.
  80. Pietz, W. 1999. The fetish of civilization: Sacrificial blood and monetary debt. In Colonial subjects: Essays on the practical history of anthropology, eds. P. Pels and O. Salemink. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan.Google Scholar
  81. Polier, N. 1996. Of mines and min: Modernity and its malcontents in Papua New Guinea. Ethnology 35: 1–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Pollock, N. 1996. Impact of mining on Nauram women. Natural Resources Forum 20:123–34.Google Scholar
  83. Rappaport, Roy. 1984. Pigs for the ancestors. New Haven: Yale University Press. (1968).Google Scholar
  84. Robinson, K.M. 1996. Women, mining and development. In Resources, nations and indigenous peoples: Case studies from Australasia, Melanesia and Southeast Asia, ed. R. Howitt, J. Connell, and P. Hirsch, 137–322. Melbourne: Oxford Univ. Press.Google Scholar
  85. Ross, M. 1999. The political economy of the resource curse. World Politics 51: 297–322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Rumsey, A., and J. Weiner eds. 2001. Mining and indigenous life worlds in Australia and Papua New Guinea. Adelaide: Crawford House.Google Scholar
  87. Schieffelin, Edward L. 1985. The retaliation of the animals: On the cultural construction of the past in Papua New Guinea. In History and ethnohistory in Papua New Guinea, eds. Deborah Geweertz and Edward L. Schiefellin, 40–57. Oceania Monograph No. 28. Sydney: University of Sydney.Google Scholar
  88. Schoell, Hans-Martin. 1994. Development and environment in Papua New Guinea: An overview. Goroka: Melanesian Institute.Google Scholar
  89. Sinclair, J. 1978. Wings of gold: How the aeroplane developed New Guinea. Bathurst, New South Wales: Pacific Publications.Google Scholar
  90. Stelzig, Christine, Eva Ursprung, and Stefan Eisenhofer eds. 2012. Last rites Niger delta. The drama of oil production in contemporary photographs. München: Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde.Google Scholar
  91. Strathern, Marilyn. 1992. The decomposition of an event. Cultural Anthropology 7: 244–254.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Strathern, Marilyn. 2000. Environments within: An ethnographic commentary on scale. In Culture, landscape, and the environment: The Linacre lectures 1997, ed. Howard Morphy, and Kate Flint. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  93. Stretton, H. 1976. Capitalism, socialism, and the environment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  94. Switzer, J .2001. Armed conflict and natural resources: The case of the minerals sector. MMSD Working Report no. 12, 2001. http://www.iied.org/mmsd/mmsd.pdfs/jason_switzer.pdf. Retrieved 30 Nov 2011.
  95. Sykes, Karen. 2004. Negotiating interests of culture. In Transactions and creations: Property debates and the stimulus of Melanesia, ed. Eric Hirsch, and Marilyn Strathern, 132–148. New York: Berghan Books.Google Scholar
  96. Toft, Susan ed. 1997. Compensation for resource development in Papua New Guinea. Law Reform Commission Monograph No. 6 and National Centre for Development Studies Pacific Policy Paper 24. Port Moresby and Canberra: Australian National University.Google Scholar
  97. Trayer, Thais-Lyn. 2011. PNG judiciary makes incremental progress on human rights in extractive industries. Papua New Guinea Mine Watch, 5 Nov 2011. http://ramumine.worldpress.com/2011/11/05png-judiciary-makes-incremental-progress-on-human-rights-in-extractiveindustries/. Retrieved 29 Nov 2011.
  98. Torpey, John. 2001. ’Making whole what has been smashed’: Reflections on reparations. Journal of Modern History 73: 333–358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  99. Townsend, William. 1988. Giving away the river: Environmental issues in the construction of the OkTedi mine, 1981–84. In Potential impacts of mining on the Fly river, ed. J. C. Penetta, 107–119. UNEP Regional Seas Reports and Studies No. 99 and SPREP Topic Review No. 33. Nairobi: United Nations Environment Programme.Google Scholar
  100. Wagner, Roy. 1981. The invention of culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  101. Watts, Michael and Ed Kashi ed. 2012. (photographs) Curse of the Black Gold; 50 years in the Niger Delta. Brooklyn, NY: Powerhouse Books.Google Scholar
  102. Weiner, Anette B. 1985. Inalienable wealth. American Ethnologist 12: 210–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  103. Wesley-Smith, T. 1990. The politics of access: Mining companies, the state, and landowners in Papua New Guinea. Political Science 42: 1–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  104. World Bank. 2000. Ok TediRisk assessment of mine waste management. Technical Note. Washington, DC: World Bank.Google Scholar

Further references retrieved from www.Wikipedia.org

  1. “Gold’s Costly Dividend. Human Rights Impacts of Papua New Guinea’s Porgera Gold Mine”. Human Rights Watch. Feb 2011. Retrieved 19 April 2011. Retrieved from www.Wikipedia.com 29 Nov 2011.
  2. Amnesty International, “Undermining rights: Forced evictions and police brutality around the Porgera Gold Mine, Papua New Guinea”, Feb 2010.Google Scholar
  3. MiningWatch Canada, Newsletter 21: Saturday April 8, 2006—Placer Dome Admits to Killings at Porgera Mine in Papua New Guinea.Google Scholar
  4. “Mining for the Future. Appendix I: Porgera Riverine Disposal Case Study”. Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development, International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). April 2002. Retrieved 19 April 2011.Google Scholar
  5. “Porgera Gold Mine, Papua New Guinea”. mining-technology.com. 2006.Google Scholar
  6. Alexander, Wanek. 1996. The state and its enemies in Papua New Guinea, 145. Curzon Press. ISBN: 0700703047.Google Scholar
  7. “The Mine, its People and the Future”. Porgera Joint Venture (PJV). March 2009. Retrieved 26 April 2011.Google Scholar
  8. “Mining & Processing”. Porgera Environmental Advisory Komiti’s (PEAK). Retrieved 26 April 2011.Google Scholar
  9. “Information Booklet”. Porgera Joint Venture (PJV). 2009. Retrieved 26 April 2011.Google Scholar
  10. “Porgera Mine”. InfoMine Inc. Retrieved 26 April 2011.Google Scholar
  11. “Gold’s Costly Dividend. Human Rights Impacts of Papua New Guinea’s Porgera Gold Mine”. Human Rights Watch. February 2011. Retrieved 19 April 2011.Google Scholar
  12. “Villagers block off Porgera gold mine” The National 24 April 2007.Google Scholar
  13. “Porgera resumes operations” Post-Courier 3 May 2007.Google Scholar
  14. Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, Sunday, June 04, 2006—Canadian mine in New Guinea ‘a shooting field’—Papuan villagers killed scavenging for gold: company says they were often violent.Google Scholar
  15. Amnesty International, “Undermining Rights: Forced Evictions and Police Brutality Around the Porgera Gold Mine, Papua New Guinea,” February 2010.Google Scholar
  16. “Cyanide Management: Porgera, Plutonic gold mines certified”. Canadian Mining Journal. 15 November 2009.Google Scholar
  17. “To the Ministry of Finance. Recommendation of 14 August 2008”. Government Pension Fund—Global. 14 August 2008.Google Scholar
  18. “Press release: Mining company excluded from the Government Pension Fund—Global due to contribution to serious environmental damage”. Ministry of Finance of Norway. 30 Jan 2009.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ogbuide FilmsBrooklynUSA
  2. 2.New Jersey Institute of TechnologyNewarkUSA

Personalised recommendations