Human Remains Sold in PNG

Details about those listed as missing or killed in the Pacific, including current search operations.

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Daniel Leahy
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Human Remains Sold in PNG

Post by Daniel Leahy » Mon Oct 08, 2007 12:18 pm

Hi All,

This article appeared in the POST COURIER on October 5:
http://www.postcourier.com.pg/20071005/news01.htm
Graves dug up

TRADING the skeletal remains of World War II dead has become a lucrative trade in the Northern Province.

Villagers in Sanananda, Buna, Gewoto, Waju and surrounding areas are selling the remains of fallen Australian, American and Japanese soldiers to foreigners who are allegedly entering the country on tourist visas.

The Post-Courier went on a trip to the areas concerned to carry out an investigation into the “skeletal scavengers” last week.

Sanananda villagers confirmed that a complete human skeleton was sold last month for US$ 20,000 while a plastic bags filled with bones were being sold at K70 and others at K5, K10 and K20 respectively.

Locals say they are being forced to trade the skeletal remains by foreigners who are coming into the country on tourists visas.

The locals confirmed the buyers than cremate the bones before taking them overseas.

One local said most of the buyers are tourists, but they seem to be from Australia, America and Japan.

Sanananda village Chief Albert Awai said that although a lot is being said about preserving the war relics in the country, senior public servants from national museum, tourism, commerce and Industry (named) are establishing these markets. Mr Awai said the skeletal trade has become a big industry and government authorities are failing to detect the activity.

Tourists coming to and leaving the province have to be thoroughly checked as people are being ripped off many resources and mostly, tourist operators are bringing in tourists who are not genuine into the country with the intention of buying the skeletal remains.

The locals, however, said the government must be equally blamed for their negligence and the deteriorating basic services to the rural areas in the province which is of course the most contributing factor to the whole issue.

Former Oro premier Newman Mongagi said some of these foreigners arrived in the province, booked into Lamington Hotel and other guesthouses and organised public servants and policemen to do the trade under threats and force.

Luke Doari from Mangufo village confirmed that, in the company of another youth Copland Tipe, dug and sold 53 Japanese skeletons for K100 each to an American (named) attached to a petroleum exploration company between 1997 and 1998.

Locals said this American was given a PPL licence by the National Government for exploration around the North Coast and the Collingwood Bay basin in province.

The American is believed to have told the locals that he was given K30,000 by his Japanese friends to buy as many skeletons while he was working in the area.

He said 80 to 90 per cent of the people in the rural areas in Oro are illiterate and majority support the idea of bringing money through tourism and people have seen this as an alternative way to make money.

“The longest World War full battle took place in Sanananda village and it lasted more than 53 days and as a result the area has a Japanese mass grave ... the reason why they are coming here,” Mr Mongagi said.

The Oro Provincial Administrator Monty Derari confirmed to the Post Courier that he was not aware of the activity until last month. He said he learnt about the activity when the wife of one of the local skeletal traders reported a matter involving her husband who received large sums of money from the Japanese to his office.

“Such activities are uncalled for and that because these activities were illegal, people should not temper with the dead remains,” Mr Derari said.

Mr Derari warned that if government officers were involved they should be dealt with accordingly and foreign tourists; every country has its own laws and these foreign traders forcing locals to sell the dead remains must be brought back to face the appropriate laws of PNG. However, the locals have protested saying that apart from calling on the people to stop involving in skeletal trading, the PNG Government must talk to the governments of these countries to compensate the locals or make attempts to look after their war dead.

“It is happening … we are selling the skeletal remains and if these countries reckon our areas are their biggest cemeteries than why don’t they come and look after them or take them away,” the locals said. The locals said the fact was that we did not know what this War was all about, we were only caught in the War and now their dead remains bring back memories of those years.
The following image also appeared with the article:

Image

As I have visited the area a couple of times now, and have been thoroughly researching the battles around Buna, Gona and Sanananda - particularly MIA cases - I will endeavour investigate these claims further. Any assistance with details on such incidents, or other related news articles would be greatly appreciated.
Daniel Leahy
Canberra, Australia

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Daniel Leahy
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Post by Daniel Leahy » Mon Oct 08, 2007 12:33 pm

The story has also hit Australian newspapers...

The following comes from THE AUSTRALIAN on October 5:
http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/st ... 35,00.html
Aussie war dead remains 'sold in PNG'
From correspondents in Port Moresby | October 05, 2007

OFFICIALS are investigating claims that skeletal remains of World War II soldiers, possibly including Australians, are being sold as souvenirs by villagers in Papua New Guinea.

Villagers living on wartime battlefields such as Sanananda and Buna in PNG's Oro Province were engaged in selling the remains, PNG's Post-Courier newspaper reported today.

Sanananda villagers had confirmed that a complete human skeleton was sold last month for $US20,000 ($22,500), while plastic bags containing soldiers' bones were being sold for up to 70 kina ($30), the report said.

Villagers said the buyers were from overseas, it said.

Far more Japanese soldiers died in PNG than Australian and other troops, and remains from unmarked graves are most likely to be Japanese.

Sanananda was the scene of fierce fighting and many Japanese are buried in mass graves there.

Luke Doari from Mangufo village said he and a partner dug up and sold 53 skeletons of Japanese soldiers and sold them for 100 kina ($40) each to an American buyer attached to an oil exploration company between 1997 and 1998.

Mr Doari, who posed with Japanese skulls and bones for a front page picture in today's Post-Courier, said the American told them he was given 30,000 kina ($12,000) by Japanese friends to buy as many skeletons as possible.

Oro Provincial Administrator Monty Derari said he learned of the illicit trade only recently when he heard of a bone seller receiving a large amount of money from Japanese sources.

“Such activities are uncalled for and because these activities are illegal, people should not tamper with the remains,” he said.

Any government officers or foreign tourists found to be involved in the trade would be dealt with under the law, Mr Derari said.

Comment was being sought from Australian government officials.

Mitsuo Kawaguchi, a Japanese Embassy official in Port Moresby, said he was surprised at the report and embassy officials would seek more information from PNG officials.

“Japanese tourist numbers are very small to PNG,” he said.

“They know very well they cannot take back any remains.”

Japanese teams sometimes visited PNG to recover remains found by villagers and cremate them for return to Japan, Kawaguchi said.

But that was done with full PNG Government approval and money was not paid for the remains, he said.

Australian and American recovery teams also visit PNG with official approval to recover soldiers' remains and arrange proper burials with honours.

The recovered remains of thousands of Australian troops are interred at Bomana War Cemetery near Port Moresby and at war cemeteries in Lae and near Rabaul.

But the remains of hundreds of other Australians who perished have never been recovered and still lie in the jungle or at sea.

A spokesman for Australia's Minister of Veterans Affairs Bruce Billson said remains must be treated with dignity.

“We would urge strongly against any activity that would see the removal of the remains,” the spokesman said.

“These are servicemen who have lost their lives on the field of battle, they should be treated with the dignity they deserve.”

He said the discovery of soldiers' remains should be reported to relevant authorities.

If any Australian identification was found with remains, the discovery should be reported to Australian defence officials or the Office of Australian War Graves.

The Returned and Services League (RSL) urged caution about the reports.

“These sorts of reports need a fair amount of validation. The remains could be those of animals, they could be the remains of Japanese soldiers as there were a lot of them who died in PNG in the war,” said RSL national president Major-General Bill Crews.

“Not being sure of the identity of the remains creates some uncertainty. I'm not sure that this is something that people in PNG would do.

“If it can be established that the remains are those of Australian servicemen, then they need to be properly protected and properly re-interred and certainly not used as a commercial bargaining item.”
This from the SYDNEY MORNING HERALD on October 5:
http://www.smh.com.au/news/world/war-de ... 57981.html
War dead remains sold in PNG: report
October 5, 2007 - 6:43PM

Officials are investigating claims that skeletal remains of World War II soldiers, possibly including Australians, are being sold as souvenirs by villagers in Papua New Guinea.

Villagers living on wartime battlefields such as Sanananda and Buna in PNG's Oro Province were engaged in selling the remains, PNG's Post-Courier newspaper reported today.

Sanananda villagers had confirmed that a complete human skeleton was sold last month for $US20,000 ($22,500), while plastic bags containing soldiers' bones were being sold for up to 70 kina ($30), the report said.

Villagers said the buyers were from overseas, it said.

Far more Japanese soldiers died in PNG than Australian and other troops, and remains from unmarked graves are most likely to be Japanese.

Sanananda was the scene of fierce fighting and many Japanese are buried in mass graves there.

Luke Doari from Mangufo village said he and a partner dug up and sold 53 skeletons of Japanese soldiers and sold them for 100 kina ($40) each to an American buyer attached to an oil exploration company between 1997 and 1998.

Doari, who posed with Japanese skulls and bones for a front page picture in today's Post-Courier, said the American told them he was given 30,000 kina ($12,000) by Japanese friends to buy as many skeletons as possible.

Oro Provincial Administrator Monty Derari said he learned of the illicit trade only recently when he heard of a bone seller receiving a large amount of money from Japanese sources.

"Such activities are uncalled for and because these activities are illegal, people should not tamper with the remains," he said.

Any government officers or foreign tourists found to be involved in the trade would be dealt with under the law, Derari said.

Comment was being sought from Australian government officials.

Mitsuo Kawaguchi, a Japanese Embassy official in Port Moresby, said he was surprised at the report and embassy officials would seek more information from PNG officials.

"Japanese tourist numbers are very small to PNG," he said.

"They know very well they cannot take back any remains."

Japanese teams sometimes visited PNG to recover remains found by villagers and cremate them for return to Japan, Kawaguchi said.

But that was done with full PNG government approval and money was not paid for the remains, he said.

Australian and American recovery teams also visit PNG with official approval to recover soldiers' remains and arrange proper burials with honours.

The recovered remains of thousands of Australian troops are interred at Bomana War Cemetery near Port Moresby and at war cemeteries in Lae and near Rabaul.

But the remains of hundreds of other Australians who perished have never been recovered and still lie in the jungle or at sea.

A spokesman for Australia's Minister of Veterans Affairs Bruce Billson said remains must be treated with dignity.

"We would urge strongly against any activity that would see the removal of the remains," the spokesman said.

"These are servicemen who have lost their lives on the field of battle, they should be treated with the dignity they deserve."

He said the discovery of soldiers' remains should be reported to relevant authorities.

If any Australian identification was found with remains, the discovery should be reported to Australian defence officials or the Office of Australian War Graves.

A Veterans Affairs Department spokeswoman earlier said past reports of remains being sold had been investigated but could not be verified.
More from NEWS.COM.AU on October 5:
http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,22538291-2,00.html
Aussie war dead remains reportedly sold in PNG
From correspondents in Port Moresby
October 05, 2007 07:22pm

OFFICIALS are investigating claims that skeletal remains of World War II soldiers, possibly including Australians, are being sold as souvenirs by villagers in Papua New Guinea.

Villagers living on wartime battlefields such as Sanananda and Buna in PNG's Oro Province were engaged in selling the remains, PNG's Post-Courier newspaper reported today.

Sanananda villagers had confirmed that a complete human skeleton was sold last month for $US20,000 ($22,500), while plastic bags containing soldiers' bones were being sold for up to 70 kina ($30), the report said.

Villagers said the buyers were from overseas, it said.

Far more Japanese soldiers died in PNG than Australian and other troops, and remains from unmarked graves are most likely to be Japanese.

Sanananda was the scene of fierce fighting and many Japanese are buried in mass graves there.

Luke Doari from Mangufo village said he and a partner dug up and sold 53 skeletons of Japanese soldiers and sold them for 100 kina ($40) each to an American buyer attached to an oil exploration company between 1997 and 1998.

Mr Doari, who posed with Japanese skulls and bones for a front page picture in today's Post-Courier, said the American told them he was given 30,000 kina ($12,000) by Japanese friends to buy as many skeletons as possible.

Oro Provincial Administrator Monty Derari said he learned of the illicit trade only recently when he heard of a bone seller receiving a large amount of money from Japanese sources.

“Such activities are uncalled for and because these activities are illegal, people should not tamper with the remains,” he said.

Any government officers or foreign tourists found to be involved in the trade would be dealt with under the law, Mr Derari said.

Comment was being sought from Australian government officials.

Mitsuo Kawaguchi, a Japanese Embassy official in Port Moresby, said he was surprised at the report and embassy officials would seek more information from PNG officials.

“Japanese tourist numbers are very small to PNG,” he said.

“They know very well they cannot take back any remains.”

Japanese teams sometimes visited PNG to recover remains found by villagers and cremate them for return to Japan, Kawaguchi said.

But that was done with full PNG Government approval and money was not paid for the remains, he said.

Australian and American recovery teams also visit PNG with official approval to recover soldiers' remains and arrange proper burials with honours.

The recovered remains of thousands of Australian troops are interred at Bomana War Cemetery near Port Moresby and at war cemeteries in Lae and near Rabaul.

But the remains of hundreds of other Australians who perished have never been recovered and still lie in the jungle or at sea.

A spokesman for Australia's Minister of Veterans Affairs Bruce Billson said remains must be treated with dignity.

“We would urge strongly against any activity that would see the removal of the remains,” the spokesman said.

“These are servicemen who have lost their lives on the field of battle, they should be treated with the dignity they deserve.”

He said the discovery of soldiers' remains should be reported to relevant authorities.

If any Australian identification was found with remains, the discovery should be reported to Australian defence officials or the Office of Australian War Graves.

The Returned and Services League (RSL) urged caution about the reports.

“These sorts of reports need a fair amount of validation. The remains could be those of animals, they could be the remains of Japanese soldiers as there were a lot of them who died in PNG in the war,” said RSL national president Major-General Bill Crews.

“Not being sure of the identity of the remains creates some uncertainty. I'm not sure that this is something that people in PNG would do.

“If it can be established that the remains are those of Australian servicemen, then they need to be properly protected and properly re-interred and certainly not used as a commercial bargaining item.”
Daniel Leahy
Canberra, Australia

RAAF CASUALTY DATABASE
http://www.raafdb.com

jose50
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Location: seacoast NH(USA)

PNG skeletal ramains

Post by jose50 » Tue Oct 09, 2007 7:57 am

Brigadier- I would think that the use of DNA testing could narrow down whether or not any particular set of remains belong to any specific ethnic group. Personally, I think that if exhumed remains could be identified in this fashion then they should be returned to their country of origin. For the remainder, let them rest in peace.
Regards, jose50

Daniel Leahy
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Post by Daniel Leahy » Mon Dec 10, 2007 6:26 am

Finally, there's more on this from PNG's THE NATIONAL:
http://www.thenational.com.pg/121007/WEEKENDER_1.htm
Work of art or human remains
By Dr JACOB SIMET
A few weeks ago there were reports in the media about supposed trade in "human remains" in the Oro province.
It was claimed that foreigners were entering the country, buying human remains for substantial amounts of money and then shipping them out for sale.
It was alleged that the remains were those of soldiers who had died during WWII and which had been dug up by the local people for sale.
For many, this may be the first time they have heard of trade in human remains. However, for some this is just another chapter of a story about an activity which has quite a long history. The following is a story which illustrates the way in which body parts get to be redefined or valued in different ways to the point when they no longer are "human remains" but objects such "works or art", cultural objects for display in museums or specimens for experimentation and study purposes.
The matter of dealing in human remains has quite a long history and was practiced for many different reasons.
One of the earliest reasons was the collection of human remains, particularly human skulls by anthropologists for study purposes. This was during that period of social science when questions were being asked about the human species relating to the different races and their origins. Studies in those days concentrated on physical appearances, and a great part of this had to do with the head. For this study anthropologists and other social scientists went around the world collecting human skulls to bring back to their laboratories as study specimens. Many of these specimens ended up in overseas laboratories without the knowledge of the then living relatives and later descendants of the people to whom these skulls belonged.
Another reason for collecting human remains was basically as curios or cultural artifacts. The better known of these cases are the mummies of Middle Eastern countries which have been removed to various destinations in Europe.
There are lesser known cases of movement of bodies which had been preserved in traditional ways, such as those remains found in solid wooden coffins in some parts of China and those found in caves in the Phillipines.
In PNG the better known of our cases are the preserved remains found in the Menyamya district of the Morobe province, the preservation of skulls in the Trans-fly area, some parts of the Sepik and some areas in Milne Bay. .
Apart from the collection of human remains for the purposes of study and as curios, there was also the collection of particularly human skulls as evidence of the killing of a person who might have been wanted killed for a particular reason by authorities. This was a common requirement by colonial authorities in some parts of the world. During the period of colonial regimes there were situations of conflict between the colonial administration and the people, which resulted in the killing of many people.
In some of these situations it was a requirement that those responsible for the conflict be killed and tangible evidence of their death be presented for reporting purposes.
Of course it was nearly always the indigenous people who were to be blamed for these conflicts and it was them who had to be killed. The usual tangible form of evidence in these situations is the actual body itself or at least the head. If the head was needed, this required the decapitation of the head from the body and brought into the colonial administrative headquarters as evidence of the slaying of the victims. After their use as evidence, it is not known what happened to the skulls. In PNG today the descendants of some people who had fallen victim to punitive actions by colonial regimes still do not know where the heads of their ancestors were buried or whether they were buried at all.
One story which has well and truly gone into the folklore of the people of New Britain, was the killing of a number Catholic clergy, at Vunamarita Parish in the North Baining area, of east New Britain in the early 1900s. This resulted in a punitive expedition by the occupying Colonial Administration of the time and quite a large number of people were killed, including those who were believed to have been the main instigators of the murders. The decapitated heads of these supposed main instigators were displayed at the wharf at Kokopo for several days before they were removed. The relatives of these victims did not know what happened to these heads. Some believed that these remains were not disposed of in the proper way but that they continued to be kept as evidence somewhere; somewhere on New Britain or somewhere else outside of New Britain.
However ways and for whatever reasons these remains ended up in other countries, quite a lot of them ended up being the property of institutions, such as research organizations.and mainly museums. In institutes of anatomy they remain subjects of study and in this regard they are far from being regarded as human. In Museums these items are treated as cultural objects rather than human remains. As such they are guided by the rules and regulations of the Museum, many of which restrict the movement of these items or even their disposal as human remains. Under these circumstances any attempts by anyone to claim these remains for proper burial or disposal as human remains usually meet with a lot of difficulty, sometimes almost impossible. This impossible situation is illustrated in a case which is now being played out between a Museum in France and the New Zealand Maori people through their Government, over a Maori head which is being considered as a work of art rather than a human remain.
Recently the Museum of Natural History at Rouen in Normandy, France, decided to repatriate the tattooed mummified head of a Maori warrior to New Zealand. This item had been part of the collection in the Museum since 1875 and after some recent changes to the Museum it was decided that it no longer served any purpose there and so should be returned to its rightful place and people for proper disposal. The mayor of Rouen who was responsible for the return of this item saw their action as "atonement" for colonial-era trafficking in human remains. However, on learning of this, the national Ministry of Culture stepped in to block this action.
The main reason for the national Cultural Ministry's action was that the head was a "work of art" that belonged to France "and that its return could set an unfortunate precedent for a huge swath of the national museum collections - from Egyptian mummies in the Louvre to Asian treasures in the Musee Guimet and African and Oceanic artifacts in the Musee du Quai Branly". The culture Ministry refers to a 2002 law which states that works of art are "inalienable". On the basis of this they argue that, "there are other Maori heads, there are mummies, there are religious relics in France. If we don't respect the law today, tomorrow other museums or elected officials might decide to send them back too".
The authorities in Rouen however insist that the Maori head is a body part, not a work of art, and that according to France's bioethics law it must be returned to its place of origin. They argue that; "this object reflects the barbaric trafficking in body parts, the belief that another race was inferior to ours". They also argue that the remains "belongs to the heritage of humanity, not in storage somewhere in a museum".
In recent weeks the French National Culture Minister won a ruling from a local court to stop the process to return the tattooed head. Having done this she called for a process to "guarantee the integrity of our national heritage". Further she warns of "heavy repercussions" for France's other collections if this item was allowed to leave the country.
So for the moment the tattooed head gets to stay in France, as a "work of art" rather than a body part as defined by French laws and not as human remains.
The Maori traditionally preserved the tattooed heads of warriors killed in battle to keep their memory alive. The tattooed head currently under contention was probably bought in the 19th century when the trade in body parts flourished in New Zealand. During this period some Maori warriors were actually in danger of being killed so that their heads could be sold.
For all human societies of the world, death was and still is a very significant "life-crisis" situation. Birth, initiation and marriage are also important but in many situations they do not have the reverence which is attributed to death. Many societies have very long and drawn out mortuary ritual processes, some taking months to complete, others taking years and others taking even decades. At the same time some societies go to great lengths to preserve human remains, such as the mummies in Middle Eastern countries and some parts of China. In other parts of the world, different processes of preservation of human remains are employed such as smoking and burying then exhuming of skulls; such as those practiced in Papua New Guinea. In these cases the processes and practices relating to death had to do with religious belief systems, or at least concepts of spirituality. In this sense then death and the resultant human remains was a very sacred matter.
Set against the sanctity as described above, the removal of human remains in some of the ways discussed here would then be sacreleage of the highest order. All human-beings have a right to be buried or their remains be disposed in an appropriate and dignified manner. The definitions of body parts as being other things such as "works of art", "cultural artifacts" or "specimens for study" are violations of basic human rights. Apart from this they constitute flagrant violations of cultural processes and procedures, much of which is religious and constitute very important parts of cultural systems.
Daniel Leahy
Canberra, Australia

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Daniel Leahy
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Re: Human Remains Sold in PNG

Post by Daniel Leahy » Fri Jun 13, 2008 5:22 pm

Back in November 2007 (or thereabouts) I received a phone call from a female reporter at the ABC who questioned me regarding remains in the area and whether I had bought - or been offered to buy - human remains during my visits to Sanananda in 2005 and 2006. I forwarded details regarding my trips to her in an E-Mail, but never heard anything further. Something I thought was a bit strange.

Anyway, the remains located at Giruwa are covered in Charles Happell's recent book, "The Bone Man of Kokoda" - A story about Kokichi Nishimura who served with the Japanese Army along the Kokoda Track and at the Buna-Gona beachheads. After the war, Nishimura moved to Popondetta to see about recovering the remains of Japanese soldiers buried in the area. I'm yet to read the book, but am definately looking forward to it.
Daniel Leahy
Canberra, Australia

RAAF CASUALTY DATABASE
http://www.raafdb.com

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