Cultural Context SHD Pangia Vincent Rojas

Papua New Guinea’s Southern Highlands District Pangia seems to be one of the most remote areas of exploration when looking at the diary’s and patrol reports of the Kiaps during the years of 1969-1970.  For one, the patrol officers always seem to note the rainy weather and the lack of proper roads to access certain villages and regions within the Southern Highlands District of Pangia, and that these weather conditions affected progress both in development of roads/bridges and farming/gardening.  What also became apparent in the patrol reports is the need to develop this region economically, mainly with roads, and with solving the food shortage.  Another thing that was constantly being noted in the reports was the need to educate the villagers in self-governing, how to vote etc.  Development, solving the food shortage, and political education I think were the three main reasons for Kiap presence in the Southern Highlands District of Pangia Papua New Guinea.

Development was difficult in the Southern Highlands region to say the least during the period of 1969-1970.  The region for one is directly at the center of mainland Papua New Guinea, with settlement occurring “nearly 20,000 years ago, based upon the dating of grinding tools found in Mendi” (Kanekane 3).  The seclusion of the region is not only due to its location in the interior but the surrounding geography with “two-thirds of SHP is made up of mountains or hills and almost one third is of volcanic origins” (Allen 3).  The volcanic mountain terrain makes agriculture difficult with varying altitudes and hard to reach areas and cloudy rainy conditions the villagers relied heavily on grazing pigs.  The free roaming pigs in this region was an important aspect of village life as noted in all five reports I looked at during the 1969-1970 Kiap patrols.  However it was noted heavily that the kiaps tried to implement poultry, cattle, small gardening (test plots), silkworms, chilies, passion fruits, coffee, tea, sweet potato etc in this region to solve food shortages with a growing population during 1969-1970.

In order to bring in farming goods, new crops, and even medical supplies to battle dysentery and an influenza outbreak during 1969-1970 the kiaps had to build roads and bridges in this unforgiving environment.  This is when the establishment of road infrastructure became most important when trying to establish a money economy in this region in order to solve basic living needs, such as improving food production and quality in variety.  In order to establish long term success the Kiaps stressed the importance of political education and self-government education to the villagers, for the Kiaps did not intent to stay forever in this region.  When the villagers started to understand the concepts of political education they began to cast their own votes and elect their own officials, but this is when things became very complex and bittersweet in the long run for the villagers.  In the early stages traditional village leaders worked alongside kiap political members in the region such as Kiap Ron Neville who, “made an early transition to politics, and became one of the first white men to serve as a member for Southern Highlands” (KaneKane 4).

Fast forward to 1997 when the complexities of self-governing in the region of Southern Highlands reached its peak when Dick Mune lost his second run for governor to Anderson Agiru.  Dick Mune was considered a hero in the region and “was a big-spending governor who bought Land Cruisers for his council presidents and rewarded those who aligned with him” (KaneKane 6).  The rewards not only went to his colleagues but to the people who voted and supported him, which included the villagers, so naturally Mune became the Southern Highlands hero during this time.  However, during Mune’s second run for governor, despite the fact that the majority of the village people loved, voted, and supported Mune he ended up losing the election to Anderson Agiru.  Not to long later Mune would die in a horrific car crash and the people of the Southern Highlands region became angered to the fact that the election may have been rigged, and quite possibly the death of Mune was actually Anderson Agiru doings.  As a result of the elections outcome the flow of money stopped and crime raised to an all-time high in the Southern Highlands.  I have become very interested in the development of the political government in this region from its infancy where Kiaps made it a point to teach and educate politics, to the outcomes of such self-governing in this region.  I want to know if the people of the highlands looking back see this sort of politics as a positive one, or if the kiaps should have ever implemented such a system in this region at all.  Does a western style political government system work in this area in the long term? Did the people of this area really want this system? Or do they still do?  These are just some of the questions that come to mind.

Patrol Report: Southern Highlands District, Pangia, 1969 – 1970

Works Cited

Allen, Bryant. “The Setting: Land, Economics and Development in the Southern Highlands.” In Conflict and Resource Development: In The Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea, edited by Haley Nicole and May Ronald J., 35-46. ANU Press, 2007.

Kanekane, Joe R. “The Southern Highlands: A Hasty Transition from Unknown to Riches and Chaos.” In Conflict and Resource Development: In The Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea, edited by Haley Nicole and May Ronald J., 47-56. ANU Press, 2007.

O′Collins, Maev. “What If They Don′t Want Your Kind of Development?: Reflections on the Southern Highlands.” In Conflict and Resource Development: In The Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea, edited by Haley Nicole and May Ronald J., 135-48. ANU Press, 2007.



3 Comments Add yours

  1. RUKMINI RAVI says:

    Hi Vincent,

    I like how you tied back the events during your period of time and your specific region back to the present (i.e., ’90s to now). I did the same thing in my post – I talked about how the war culture in Yangoru in the ’50s influenced a contemporary gang culture. It is also very interesting to see the context behind your report, i.e., the Influenza outbreak and how the kiaps dealt with the situation. What was the outbreak caused by? Was it a result of foreign penetration, or was it a problem that came to fruition through the spread of disease among the locals? Great post!

  2. Rachel Hicks says:

    Vincent, this is a well-written post. You provide excellent geographic, historical, and cultural context. You have also raised some interesting questions. Feel free to keep thinking about the governing situation in your final blog post and analysis. There has been a lot written on the government in PNG. Mendi and Mt. Hagen are two towns in or near the Southern Highlands. You could look up information about them in recent newspapers or academic articles if you want to explore these questions more.

  3. Great observations, Vincent. You did a wonderful job at thinking holistically on how the geography affects the social and political dimensions in the Southern Highlands. I appreciate that you looked into the present-day ramifications of political situation, and asked some tough questions!

    As Rachel noted, you found solid sources. I’m glad you used jstor to find scholarly work about the area.

    For more information on the political structure, you may want to look at Inequalities in developing rural communities in Papua New Guinea : a Pangia perspective by Stanley Kuli Liria, which I found in the library catalog. It lists Chapter 6 is on political leadership. From the catalog record, you can use the subjects listed to explore other resources that might be available.

    Overall, great work!

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