The Demographic Behaviour of an Indigenous Population in Urban Papua New Guinea: the Motu Koitabu of Hanuabada

Author: Esther Lavu

Lavu, Esther, 2012 The Demographic Behaviour of an Indigenous Population in Urban Papua New Guinea: the Motu Koitabu of Hanuabada, Flinders University, School of the Environment

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This thesis examines the demographic behaviour of the Motu Koitabu people of Hanuabada, a traditional village in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea (PNG) and aims to explain the reasons behind the persistence of their traditional demographic behaviour in spite of their long exposure to modern culture. The study is based on quantitative and qualitative data collected in Hanuabada. The main argument of the paper is that the demographic behaviour of the Motu Koitabu are primarily determined by interactions between family and clan, and are associated with old age support, continuation of lineages, and strength and security of clan groups. This ethnic group is the traditional owner of the land where Port Moresby is built and they are not likely to leave this site and change their social and cultural arrangements without the blessings of their clan leaders. But the economic hardships of urban living are putting pressure on them to make adjustments. From a rational viewpoint, the social and economic changes reshaping Hanuabada are sufficient reasons for them to leave and settle elsewhere, yet most people want to remain in their current place of residence. The continuation of the 'family house' strengthens the family unit and increases clan support, making people continue to live in their cultural safety net. Motu Koitabu women are increasingly completing primary education and many are involved in informal economic activities to earn a living. Their socio-economic and demographic parameters reflect characteristics typical of PNG women. Most women are married, and married early. They prefer to have more children than their total fertility rate of 3.3 indicates. Most women are still required to obtain permission from their husbands to use family planning and those with high fertility have never used any. Education is not a significant determinant of fertility, but women with less income have high fertility. Motu Koitabu women experience child loss at the rate of 33 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. Child mortality decreases with increasing income and the highest child losses are experienced by older women, who find modernization confronting and seeking health services a challenge. Most Motu Koitabu women in the study sample were born in their current place of residence, Hanuabada, and about 22 percent were born either in other villages or in town/city. These are the lifetime migrants to Hanuabada. Given this demographic outlook, the supremacy of the cultural element over other factors in making decisions to remain in the safety nets of the Motu Koitabu society is well placed. Maintaining 'family house' activities helps to keep members of the family and clan groups together. The Motu Koitabu believe that Hanuabada is their birthplace and rightful home where they feel safe. Moves to alternative locations, if considered should be made in family groups to clan-oriented lands situated nearby which would continue to foster the cultural way of life. A small minority, though do not want to remain in Hanuabada, mainly because of the negative aspects cultural obligations such as contributing to bride price payment and death related feast expenses, which put pressure on individual income. However, while the family/clan support keeps the Motu Koitabu people bound to their current place of residence, those families that want to move out of Hanuabada because of constrained living conditions cannot make any such move because they feel they would not receive the necessary blessings of clan elders to make such a move.

Keywords: Fertility,mortality,migration,Motu Koitabu,Hanuabada

Subject: Environmental Studies thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2012
School: School of the Environment
Supervisor: Associate Professor Gouranga Dasvarma