Cultural Context West New Britain

Multiple patrol officers conducted the patrol reports on West New Britain district from 1961 to 1962. Throughout those reports, officers mentioned about the geographical figure of West New Britain. Colin Booth was the officer who wrote the first patrol report for this volume. Colin indicated that the region was composed of three larger islands Garove, Unea, and Mundua with many smaller islands around them. He also indicated that most of the smaller islands did not have any population. Even though the patrol officer focused on non-indigenous census for the patrol report, he made a note that the indigenous New Guineas have had positive attitude towards the officers. Thus, we can assume that unlike some of the other regions of New Guinea, West New Britain was patrol-friendly region.

According to the research paper written by researchers including Robin Torrence and Jim Specht from Division of Anthropology of Australian Museum, West New Britain possesses one of the best-preserved prehistoric landscapes due to the Holocene volcanic activities in the region. This team was able to find the remnant landscape and artifacts in this region, which were the first evidence of people who lived in Pleistocene in the north coast of West New Britain.

As the region is characterized mainly by volcanic environment, one of the most abundant resources in the region is obsidian. Obsidian is an important source for producing knives, spear tips, arrows, scrapers, and many other parts of weapons and sharp objects. Roger Bird and his fellow researchers studied the occurrence of obsidian in this volcanic environment. In particular, volcanoes such as Bao, Kutau, Hamilton, and Baki are responsible for the most occurrence of obsidian in West New Britain. The research group conducted PIXE-PIGME, which utilizes x-ray to analyze the composition of soil and found out that West New Britain had unique data that differentiates it from any other regions of Papua New Guinea and other pacific islands.

In the early year, indigenous people in West New Britain cultivated taro, yam, banana, and sugar cane. J. A. Todd reported that European species of banana was introduced to the indigenous people, but was not really popular. In this region, people monitored the flowering of certain plants in the bush as a way of regulating agriculture.

Before the Pacific War in 1941 when more Europeans contacted the islands in Papua New Guinea, the traders in north coast of Papua New Guinea was intimately linked with traders in New Britain. The three major trader groups in this area were Bilibili, Tamis, and Siassi islanders. The archaeology of the region shows that there was trading of potteries and pigments among them.

Naomi McPherson, in her paper Women’s Houses, Men’s Houses: Gender, Cosmology and Traditional Dwellings in a West New Britain Community, investigated traditional women’s houses and men’s houses in Bariai of West New Britain region of Papua New Guinea. Women’s houses were called luma. It was an essential place for social gatherings and there were ceremonies that praised ancestors and firstborn children. She found out that each Bariai village has at least one men’s house which is also known as lum. She described lum as bigger in size with high vaulted ceiling and fancy decorations. This made the mysterious and powerful aura over the house. It was not simply a house but a source of powerful spirit force and a center of sacred activities. Both women’s and men’s houses were built with bush materials because many villages could not afford expensive western building materials such as glass and iron. Like many other regions of Papua New Guinea, West New Britain had distinguished gender role and involved separated spaces for different gender.

Patrol Report: West New Britain District, Talasea, 1961 – 1962

Works Cited

Todd, J. A. (1934, December). Report on Research Work in South-West New Britain, Territory of New Guinea. Retrieved July 15, 2018, from https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/40327829.pdf?refreqid=excelsior:89eacf6ac846b3475f541054baa686c6

Torrence, R., Specht, J., Davies, H., Ainge, P., & White, P. (1999, December). A Pleistocene Landscape in West New Britain, PNG. Retrieved July 15, 2018, from https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/40287471.pdf?refreqid=excelsior:ce2a2d1960cac2d9de7a767f82384182

McPherson, N. (1990, October 4-7). WOMEN’S HOUSES, MEN’S HOUSES: GENDER, COSMOLOGY AND TRADITIONAL DWELLNGS IN A WEST NEW BRITAIN COMMUNITY. Retrieved July 15, 2018, from https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/41757771.pdf?refreqid=excelsior:a43647d7450cb6b59577409c0f24c646

Gosden, C. (1989, July). Prehistoric Social Landscapes of the Arawe Islands, West New Britain Province, Papua New Guinea. Retrieved July 15, 2018, from https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/40386818.pdf?refreqid=excelsior:0f8f0dfe4350cbd2e859c3cea3bfbf0f

Bird, R., Torrence, R., Summerhayes, G. R., & Bailey, G. (1997, April). New Britain Obsidian Sources. Retrieved July 15, 2018, from https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/40387057.pdf?refreqid=excelsior:6b207b8c144d2a916b399dd2fdaddb00

5 Comments


  1. I Enjoyed your blog post on the cultural context of West New Britain and found some similar aspects when compared to the patrol reports in the Southern Highlands District of Pangia. For one, as I was reading through the patrol reports I found that the villagers generally had positive attitudes towards the Kiaps. In fact the villagers looked forward to Kiap presence, particularly for village disputes both small and big. The Kipas also listed the general attitudes of the villagers as “enthusiastic” in many of the reports. I also enjoyed the explanation of village houses in West New Britain region. The patrol reports I have read lack this sort of cultural insight, which I think is important when trying to understand the situation of Kiap patrols more fully.

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  2. I love how you were able to find how the people in your region used the resource of the volcano.

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  3. Great job finding outside resources. I had so much trouble looking for some. I’ll have to ask you how you found them when I see you

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  4. Hi Kyeonbin, great job integrating lots of sources on various topics. It will be interesting to see if any of this is reflected in the patrol reports. Some questions your blogged raised: Did the access to obsidian for use in weapons and tools give people in New Britain an advantage? If people didn’t like bananas but closely monitored their agriculture, what were their main crops? It will also be interesting to note if gender roles are mentioned in the patrol reports. I don’t expect you to have all these answers, but these are some things to consider as you dive deeper into the reports.

    On a research and writing note… In addition to the author, can you use in-text citations such as: (McPherson 1990:pg)? This will help guide your reader if they want to cite the material. In addition, in your bibliography include the name of the journal and the volume that the article came from. OWL Purdue APA has a good guide on citations. https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/1/

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