Commonly known as PNG, Papua New Guinea’s reputation often precedes itself. PNG’s infamous diversity, combined with its many colonial relationships, has resulted in a deeply complicated history. Papua New Guinea is a young nation, having gained independence in 1975 following a long process of missionization, outside government control, and colonial rule which began in earnest in 1847. (Brown, 2001, 15) Many foreign powers sought to exploit PNG’s valuable resources, and some were successful: Germany controlled the northeast, where they established plantations; Britain sought to protect the European population in the southeast, as well as to use the indigenous population for labor. (Brown, 2001, 17-18) The Australian government’s long-standing relationship with Papua New Guinea was made official with the passing of the Papua Act of in 1905, which transferred administrative control away from Britain. This colonial relationship was further deepened once German New Guinea came under Australian military government control following the end of World War I. (Brown, 2001, 17-18)
Although there are many wide themes of colonialism in Papua New Guinea’s history, even just a brief glance at PNG’s demographics tells a story of incredible variation. For example, PNG’S approximately 7 million inhabitants have 853 distinct languages. (Simons and Fennig, 2018). Even the terrain is diverse: there is a 4,509m difference between the highest and lowest points in PNG. (The World Factbook, 2018) Indigenous populations have also had varying levels of outside contact and influence, ranging from the rapidly-modernizing capital Port Moseby to the sparsely populated lowlands.
PNG’s incredible diversity has made it a mecca for anthropologists like Margaret Mead and Alfred Cort Haddon. Much to my disappointment, I have discovered that historians have made far less headway in the region. It has been theorized that Papua New Guinea lacked three key preconditions generally considered to be necessary for histographic advancement: nationalism, anti-colonialism, and independence. (Denoon, 1981, 341) As intriguing as that theory may be, I believe that accessibility and availability of source material maybe have also hindered the development of PNG’s historiography. As valuable sources such as the kiap patrol reports become more widely accessible, I hope that the historical community can do more justice to the region.
My contribution to our project will be focused on Kerema, one of PNG’s less populated areas located on the southern coast. I have been assigned patrol reports which were taken by officers at the Kerema station, located in what was then known as the Gulf District. Kerema has a population of 107,231 and is now the capital of the Gulf Province, which as a whole has 158,197 inhabitants. (Somers, 2011) Located on the Gulf of Papua, languages like Toaripi, Kakiae, Opao, and Tairuma are predominantly spoken there. (Summer Institute of Linguistics, 2004). Like so many other places in PNG, sago is the main source of nutrition.
The reports assigned to me span from July 1936 to August 1937. Over the course of that time period, Stalin began his Great Purge, F.D.R. was inaugurated for the second time, and the Hindenberg airship exploded. I am interested to see what, if any, contemporary news or current events are reflected in the reports. I am particularly curious to see if there is any note about Amelia Earhart’s fateful departure from New Guinea on July 2, 1937.
Brown, Paula (2001). Colonial New Guinea: The Historical Context. In Naomi McPherson (Ed.), In Colonial New Guinea: Anthropological Perspectives (15-26). Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.
Donald Denoon (1981). Papua New Guinea, The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 9:3 (341-345).
Summer Insitute of Languages (n.d.). Welcome to PNG Language Resources. Retrieved from http://www-01.sil.org/pacific/png/
Simons, Gary F. and Charles D. Fennig (eds.). 2018. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Twenty-first edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International.
Somers, B. (2011). Population. Retrieved from https://www.nso.gov.pg/index.php/population-and-social/other-indicators
The World Factbook 2018. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2018.