Land Issues (Inheritence) in Papua New Guinea - Some Facts.
With regards to your wealth. Have you planned on how much to leave to each of your children, grand children and relatives? Did you make sure they will not have problems to collect these inheritance after you are deceased? Are your next of kin responsible and will they continue managing things the way it used to be nor will they share the profits with the other siblings or relatives fairly? Did you nominate someone to make sure the inheritance is distributed fairly and take care of things for a young next of kin until they are older and responsible? These are some of the things you will worry about. Having a written will takes care of most of the concerns. A written will may be legal or written by an individual themselves and has details on how the inheritances will be distributed or managed.
What happens to your wealth when a written will is not formulated or does not exist? It's a real worry, isn't it? There are other forms of will. In a country like Papua New Guinea, written wills are rare. The most common will is the one that is verbally formulated, also known as oral will or nuncupative wills. It had been used for generations. However there are some very serious setbacks. No real numbers are mentioned when the information on the wealth is passed down. It is difficult to visualise the size of ones wealth or inheritance. Details such as the one below are non existent.
Total Land Area=20 hectares, Estimated Valued at us$500,000, 5 hectares leased to John Doe and relatives since, 1980, lease expires 2015. The inheritance will be distributed as follows; John 15%, Mary 15%, Luke 20%. Jane 20%, John (II) 30%.
The lack of information such as these are a cause of a lot of problems. Described below are three of the problems.
1. Unequal Distribution
In Papua New Guinea, a persons wealth is measured (visually) on how much land he/she has. For generations, the wealth (land) had always been passed on from father to son (patrilineal society) or father to daughter when there are no sons. (The matrilineal society also exist however, will not be discussed here). The details of the inheritance is passed on verbally. By default, the oldest of the son is usually in-charge and attends to all land and family affairs and ensures that everyone (sons) gets a fair share of the inheritance. It can be a problem when there are more than one son. There may be situations where one or two of the sons are more domineering than the others. They tend to grab more land and will keep it and pass it onto their children. There may be a son who lives in the city and did no work on the land so the others take over and he misses out on his share. If there is a daughter or daughters none of them have much say on the land or are not free to do whatever they please on the land. If necessary, they will be given a piece of land to live on. However, there is no guarantee that they can stay permanently, they can be evicted whenever there is a dispute within the family especially with a brother or an uncle.Therefore, an oral will is not an ideal way of stating how someone's wealth should be managed or distributed. There is unequal distribution of the inheritance/wealth.
2. Disputes and Abuse
With oral will, there is a high chance of disputes between clans and family members. The will is not accompanied by any of the following things (written records, audio records, photos, letters, land registration documents, transaction records) to indicate how much wealth (land) is available, show where the boundaries are, how much is sold, given away or leased or show who gets what and how much. Even worse is the fact that, there are no real numbers associated with the size of the wealth (land), nor are there any real numbers on the value of the wealth (land). Natural land marks like rivers, stream, hills, large boulders, vegetation types, old gardens, land use, large trees and local knowledge are used for demarcation and identification. And there is usually one or two witnesses (not member of the extended family) with information on the inheritance .These sort of information is not sufficient to justify ownership and as a result there are a lot of land disputes.
On the instance where the person passes on before he had the chance to inform the next of kin, the surviving relatives or an elder will step in to provide information on the inheritance. Information passed on this way can be misleading and/or conflicting.
Some elders or villager take advantage of the chaos during transition in ownership and extend their land boundaries as the next of kin will not notice the changes sooner. And because he doesn't have written records he will not be able to prove ownership or defend his actions should there be a dispute later on.
3. Mismanagement and loss
When it comes to inheriting wealth, some kin are very responsible and use their inheritance wisely and ensure it is available for years to come. However, the irresponsible ones will tend to use it all up as soon as they get it. It is the same with land, a careless and irresponsible son may sell all the land or does not see the importance of caring for it and eventually looses it all to developers and other villagers. Without land, there is loss of identity or loss of that sense of belonging. If one feels insecure about leaving their wealth with an irresponsible or young kin, a care taker is usually appointed to ensure all goes well until the next of kin is older and more responsible. However, this does not guarantee loss of land.
Land (inheritance) will be lost during the transition in ownership, land boundaries can be extended without the knowledge of the next of kin, as it is a common practice to take advantage of the chaos surrounding ones death. Unless there is a written will such practices will not occur.
Some long term relationship can be lost also because of lack of understanding or written agreement between the new owner (the kin) and people who were using the land (on lease) for years.