Cultural Context West New Britain, Talasea 1968-1969

The patrol report that I am assigned to is West New Britain, Talasea station, Papua New Guinea from 1968-1969.  The Diary entries for the first patrol report mainly focuses on the road work on road from Talasesa to Narunageru. Patrol officer W.G. Speldewinde wrote down the amount of progress that was worked on the road, which included the amount of culverts and drains being constructed in this area.

There was very limited amount of information that I could find while researching for my topic, but luckily I was able to find two outside resources. Geographically West New Britain location is abundant with the volcanic glass called obsidian. As stated by Downie, “All obsidian form the lower levels come from the Talasea source on the central north coast of New Britain.” (Downie)

Culturally, taro, sweet potatoes, bananas, and coconuts are all common food staples in this area of Papua New Guinea. According to Todd, “This society, like most other Melanesian societies, is much concerned with the production of food and its related pursuits, and the ritual life to a large extent turns on these activities.” (Todd) During ceremonies pigs are eaten and birds are caught by using blowpipes and darts. Tom also states that the year is separated in to moons with names. Weeding is apparently usually a women’s occupation in West New Britain. Their society also relies on the trade with European men for its supply of axes and knives. It is also custom in West New Britain when a person died in West New Britain the bodies were normally buried under their house, but the administration stopped this. It was also a custom for widows to ask to be strangled by their own brothers. Afterwards the widow would be buried in the same grave as her husband. It is also a tradition in this part of Papua New Guinea to blacken a boy’s teeth and is secluded and is offered little to drink and eat for around four days when a boy goes through puberty.

Patrol Report: West New Britain District, Talasea, 1968 – 1969

White, J., Downie, J., & Ambrose, W. (1978). Mid-Recent Human Occupation and Resource Exploitation in the Bismarck Archipelago. Science, 199(4331), 877-879. Retrieved from

Todd, J. (1934). Report on Research Work in South-West New Britain, Territory of New Guinea (Continued). Oceania, 5(2), 193-213. Retrieved from


3 Comments Add yours

  1. VIDAL ESPINA says:

    WOW, you had some many specific cultural information that you found about your area. That’s great! I very intrigued about the reason for some of the traditions like the burials and the boy’s adolescence journey.

  2. Rachel Hicks says:

    Hi Natasha, I agree with Vidal’s comment above. You found some very interesting details. Glad you kept perusing to find some things! Where were these from? It was not clear the original source of some of your points. Please use in-text citations with the (Author Year:pg). Why did you choose to pull out these details? Why did these customs happen? How might they influence other interactions? These details did raise lots of interesting questions that will be worth considering as you peruse the patrol reports. Do you see evidence of these burial customs, gender roles, gardening or feasting practices, etc in your patrol reports? Take a look at UCSD Roger for some more information on West New Britain, as well as remember Ian Mack patrolled this area, so Paula Brown might have other information on New Britain.

    Roger West New Britain (with Talasea not included)

  3. Awesome job providing some rich cultural context, Natasha. I’m glad that you found these two academic sources. As you pointed out, it can be difficult to find information on a specific area, so some good tips to keep in mind is once you find one source, take a look at the sources listed in it to see if it leads you to other information. You can also search on the author to see what else they have written. Finally, you can broaden your keywords, so if you were looking at Talasea, perhaps you broaden your search to West New Britain, as Rachel suggests above. She also pointed to resources in the library catalog.

    Overall, great work!

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