Recent History

The most significant political development in Lihir was formation of the Nimamar Association in the early 1980s.

This association would eventually become the Nimamar Rural Local Level Government in 1997 and provide Lihirians with a new level of self-determination. Throughout the colonial period Lihirians were increasingly frustrated by the lack of government attention and economic development. In 1969 Theodore Arau from Matekues village introduced Lihirians to an influential political movement occurring in New Hanover, called the Tutukuvul Isakul Association (TIA), which translates as ‘Stand Together and Work’. Critics of this movement dubbed it the ‘Johnson Cult’ because its members originally sought political annexation underneath the Americans due to their disillusionment with the Australians.

Arau prophesised that radical change would come to Lihir and that the ancestors would return and bring abundant material wealth. People engaged in ritual practices that were designed to usher in this new change. In many respects what people really sought was a way to find some kind of equality with Europeans. The TIA was closely associated with the Catholic Church, and at various times missionaries encouraged TIA members towards more rational economic activities.

The TIA continued to exist as an uneasy combination of a ‘cargo cult’ and a ‘development association’. It remained resistant towards the Government who many thought was blocking their road to development. In 1973 Bruno Sasimua assumed the leadership and the name changed to the Tutorme Farmers Association (TFA).

fortean times

Bruno Sasimua

By 1977 the Presidency shifted to Ferdinand Samare who held this position until 1997. In 1984 the TFA broke away from the mainland movement and changed its name to Nimamar, an acronym derived from the names of the four islands in Lihir. The name was supposed to imply unity, which was an enduring concern of the Association.
Nimamar leaders preached a form of millenarianism, or a ‘Second Coming’, combined with clear economic goals. Many followers desired a radical re-ordering of society expressed through the local concept of A Peketon, which implies that change will come to Lihir, and the belief that “Lihir will become a city”.

Not all Lihirians supported Nimamar, but people were united in their Christian faith, and more importantly in their dislike of the Government which became abundantly clear in the 1980s as Lihirians entered into negotiations with the Government and the Kennecott mining company. This antagonism towards the Government was fuelled by the belief that the forthcoming mining project was the fulfilment of Arau’s prophesies, and their concern that the Government would block the way for Lihirians to really benefit from the project.

In 1988 the New Ireland Provincial Government instituted their Community Government Act, and the Nimamar Community Government was formed, representing a real transition towards more independent local governance.

The New Ireland Provincial Government passed a bill in 1994 to transform the Nimamar Community Government into the Nimamar Development Authority (NDA), which functioned as a type of interim local level government until the Organic Law reform in 1995. In 1997 Nimamar held its first elections as the Nimamar Local Level Government .

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