The twenty seven witnesses range from one man over eighty years, to young men and women. Some were born on Murray Island and live there; others were born there and live somewhere else.
The witnesses will describe their earliest childhood experiences, especially those relating to land and planting: how their grandfather and fathers, or their grandmothers or mothers showed the way planting occurred and what happened; about the clearing of the land for planting; about boundaries; about where they came from the lines of succession. They will speak not just about the land boundaries between two families, but also that between two clans. They will mention arguments over land and disputes they observed, including those that went to court. People sweep the land boundaries not just to keep them clean, but also to be able to see the footprints of intruders.
Two pastors of religion are among the witnesses, who believe not only in the teachings of Jesus Christ, but also in myths, traditions and legends of Murray Island people. The witnesses will recount how they came to know Malo's law, its content and what it requires them to do, their obligations particularly in relation to land. They will recount how they wish to deal with land which they see as belonging to them; the means by which they claim to own certain lands, how they came to know about them and how they came to be the owners.
Those to be called will also explain how they came to speak Meriam language as their first (or second) language; the location of their fish traps; initiation ceremonies they experienced themselves, or observed as young men; the exercise of group rights where one member of a clan is admonished for using land in a way which conflicts with Meriam rules: for example, cutting into the rain forest on one's own land to plant sweet potatoes. They will recount the holding of a meeting for construction of an airstrip; village life on Murray Island as experienced and as told about by forbears; trading voyages to Papua New Guinea; maid as black magic and how it has been used; the practices of caretaking land, land use, land management practices including resting of plots, sign-posts on rested land and re-use; practices regarding claiming of produce on land being caretaken; their knowledge of places they believe to be sacred, of dances including sacred (zogo) dances; the process of genealogy and ancestry, de facto customary adoption practices.
Keywords: evidence, Meriam Mer, plaintiffs, Sharp, Dr. Nonie, witnesses, 1990
Sharp, Nonie 1990, 'Contrasting Cultural Perspectives in the Murray Island Land Case', 'Law in Context' vol 8, n1 at 16.
Author: Kenna, Jonathan