‘It was the Law of the Sea, they said. Civilization ends at the waterline. Beyond that, we all enter the food chain, and not always right at the top.’
Hunter S. Thompson
I spent the day today in court. Alo, the psycho that tracked me down to my hut in Mando, was making a claim against Margaret and the community for the loss of his mobile and 150 Kina. Pretty damn stupid of him. The villagers were ready to kill him. No exaggeration. The words “That man is going to die today” were floating around in general conversation.
The police doing license checks (basically an excuse to take money from the people) yesterday afternoon asked me to come down to Asaro police station to give my opinion on the situation. I agreed and this morning took the 40 minute walk to the station. Inevitably the entire school community came too.
In true PNG style we then had to wait for two and a half hours for the ‘station commander’ to turn up before we could proceed to the court room. I say court room; it was pretty much a glorified wooden shed. The police men sat behind a desk and everybody else, squeezed into the small room like hens in a battery farm, squatted on the floor. I didn’t even recognise the man at first; he was standing quietly in the corner with a vaguely determined look on his face and his head of hair newly shaven.
The process of the trial was… interesting. It was mildly amusing how they attempted to conduct an official court case in a dirty shed with everyone sitting on the floor and with the fairly uninterested policemen doodling on their notepads. Alo stood up and gave his statement; Naturally, he fabricated some of the details and glossed over other important parts of the story. Then came my turn. The entire room fell silent and around sixty or so beady white eyes fixed on me. I started by commenting on my disadvantage in not fully being able to understand Alo’s statement (he had been speaking in Pidgin) then went on to recount the meeting outside the post office and the following events. Whenever I clarified a point such as the fact that I did not invite or encourage him to visit Mando School there were general shouts of approval from the crowds which made me feel rather uneasy. I had hoped to avoid stirring up any more trouble. Anyway, they were not even remotely persuaded by Alo and asked me what I thought they should do to him. I replied that as far as his actions towards me are concerned, punishment is entirely unnecessary, however, I felt that his crime was offending the community through trespassing on their land and that the community themselves should be consulted. We were given a break to discuss the matter and (thank god) decided to wave a white flag. Apologies were circulated. The chairman gave Alo a cheap phone and a little money, everybody shook hands and that was the end of it. It was extremely fortunate. I hear that usually in processes such as this the police/judges rule in favour of whoever has the most to offer them or the physically stronger will simply win the case through violence.
Certainly a memorable first experience in ‘court’.