I was assigned to read through Volume 10 of the patrol reports. After reading through almost 174 pages (I must admit, some pages were illegible due to the natural wear-and-tear of history), I was able to construct the Aboutness statement below:
“This volume contains 8 patrol reports, with patrols conducted throughout the Pangia sub-district in the Southern Highlands, during July 1970 through July 1971. Topics that were covered in these patrols revolved around tax collection, general elections, with heavy emphasis on political education and empowerment of women. The economic growth in this district was highlighted throughout this volume. The patrol officers also placed great emphasis on the Pangia people’s willingness to pursue political education, in order to make more informed decisions in regards to their general politics.”
The keywords I chose to describe this volume were very similar to that of my partner’s, due to the fact that our assigned patrol reports were conducted around the same time (less than a year apart). While my partner’s reports placed much more emphasis upon the construction of roadwork and agriculture, my reports followed that initial infrastructure development, and pushed the Australian government’s political agenda much further. The keywords I chose to describe my volume are as follows: census; council elections; Tealands road; education; infrastructure; political education; economic development; economic projects; tax collection; council education; politics; roadwork. One reason for which I chose these specific terms was the sheer frequency of their usage throughout the volume. Every single one of the patrols in my volume contained a patrol officer’s accounts of tax collection, census-taking, council elections, political education, infrastructure growth, the construction of the Tealands Road, and economic development. While frequency was a major factor in my decision to choose these keywords, I also wanted to make sure these words could also be unique enough to my specific volume. I chose certain words such as “Tealands Road” and “political education” because I knew that these words were not only broad enough for researchers interested in the general state of affairs in Colonial Papua New Guinea, but also for researchers that wanted to learn about political education or the Tealands Road in the Southern Highlands in particular. I realize that there are many implications for my choice in key terms, and although these key terms may not be permanently used to describe this volume, I have also realized that my key terms will differ from anyone else’s due to our vastly different life experiences that shaped our perspectives in the first place. Although my Aboutness statement and key terms serve their purposes (as very concise summarizations and descriptions of an immense volume of work), they hardly encapsulate the experience of Australia’s attempt to colonize Papua New Guinea.
One of the themes of this course was to question who controls knowledge. Bearing in mind that knowledge production in itself is socially constructed, I kept with this theme by remembering the famous quote (often misattributed to Sir Winston Churchill): “History is written by the victors”. Whether or not this quote was really said by Churchill, it has always stuck with me due to the irony in the fact that my proud Indian mother first introduced it to me. While Churchill is often celebrated as a savior and the ender of world wars, many Indian people know him as the imperialist that fought against India’s independence from British occupation. It saddens me that India’s history is rarely mentioned, and most of my friends know nothing about the great deal of anguish and death caused by the British in India. I learned about the violence and massive amount of death through stories told by my grandparents, all four of whom survived the Partition. When discussing this class and my apprehension surrounding the task of reading patrol reports written by “the victors,” my mother made an effort to remind me that many positive things came out of the British occupation of India. She maintained the position that my grandparents’ primary educations were of much higher caliber compared to schools in rural India, simply because they were Catholic schools that were constructed by the British.
It was with this slightly conflicted mindset that I began to learn about Papua New Guinea. I watched the First Contact documentary film which showed the firsthand accounts of the indigenous Papua New Guineans seeing white men for the first time. It was humorous to see their fear at the white man, often mistaking them for ghosts or other supernatural beings. However, further on into the films, I began to notice the elitism within the Kiaps and patrols. One scene I can’t forget is that of the Kiap being carried on the shoulders of the indigenous peoples across a river, so as not to get his boots dirty. Needless to say, I was wary to begin my dissection of Volume number 10.
In one of the class readings, Paula Brown states: “Colonialism is created by the competitive relations of the great powers with one another, as it is a means of gaining power and economic benefits” (Brown 2001: 16). In my opinion, colonialism is an inherently violent and oppressive act, forced upon those “…judged not to be capable of self-government (in a European sense, of course)” (Brown 2001: 27). Australia was appointed control of Papua by the British in 1905, with the Australian government choosing Hubert Murray to be the lieutenant governor. Murray’s goal was to “…make colonialism a philanthropic project” while vehemently opposing Australia’s goal of assimilation of Aborigines in the Northern Territory and Queensland (Brown 2001: 18). Murray’s goal was to keep safe the uniqueness of the native peoples of Papua New Guinea, and to promote equality and unity throughout the country. The beginnings of the Australian attempt of colonization of Papua New Guinea were made a top priority due to the first World War, as well as the subsequent economic depression. According to McPherson, the Australia of the early 1900’s was seen as a collection of convicts, escapees and migrants, in pursuit of gaining respectability. McPherson states that respectability was the most important goal of these individuals, with social mobility being the reward. With the economic collapse prior to Australia’s control of Papua New Guinea beginning in 1905, Australia’s government pushed an agenda of nationalism, with young people being encouraged to join the military and other leadership positions. The Kiaps were males that were recruited between ages 18-22, who were had basically anthropological knowledge, and “…a strong sense of justice, firmness, patience and knowledge of the native mind” (McPherson 2001:87).
The readings, the films, and the knowledge I had in regards to colonialism prior to my readings of the patrol reports, created a dichotomy in my mind. As someone who identifies as a Queer and Trans Person of Color, I had a clear bias towards the Kiaps, as well as whatever they had to say in these reports. However, much to my surprise, my patrol reports seemed dry, almost robotic. The daily patrols were conducted, with little excitement or dramatics. The patrol officer listed his daily activities, often just one sentence or two at most, usually concerning the tax collection, elections, or the Tealands road construction. I wondered to myself, where was the violence and the oppression that inherently comes with colonialism? In order to answer these questions, I’d need to read firsthand accounts of these encounters by the indigenous Papua New Guineans themselves. Unfortunately, there were few to none available. This led me back to the course theme about knowledge construction and control. Not only did my volume contain little in the way of dramatics, or the characterizing of the native Papua New Guineans as savages, I realized that the time period in which my patrols were conducted was a major factor in its contents.
My patrol reports were conducted during July of 1970 through July of 1971. Papua New Guinea gained independence in 1975, four years after my Volume was conducted. This led me to identify “Political Education” and “Self Governance” as not only key terms, but key themes for this volume. One major surprise that I faced while reading one of the reports was the quote by Patrol Officer P.J. Barber, “Independence is something these people are pretending will not happen because they don’t want it to” (Vol. 10: 1-70-71). With independence looming, my patrol reports focused heavily on Australia’s goal of decolonization along with the political education necessary for the native Papua New Guineans to maintain and self govern. My volume heavily pushed the vital importance of political education for the native people. Each report listed the efforts made by the Kiaps on behalf of the Australian government to decolonize, and to help the people educate themselves in regards to being able to govern themselves. Another interesting surprise I came across was the patrol officers’ insistence upon the empowerment of women in the political sphere. The culture of Papua New Guinea is impossible to define, due to the sheer number of languages spoken, as well as distinctly different tribes. The gender roles were however observed strictly throughout the villages and tribes throughout the Southern Highlands, as well as the rest of the country. Each patrol officer listed the importance of women no longer being ignored, with one officer admonishing that “…this will be a costly error for this country to perpetuate. Highland women are traditionally ignored ignored…half the population is female and that all children are completely in their mother’s environment for about five years” (Vol. 10: 1-70-71). The importance of equality and self governance brought me back to Lt. Governor Murray’s goals of preserving equality and unity throughout Papua New Guinea.
Although it is difficult to read through these reports of colonialism, with a decolonial gaze, simply because there are not many Papua New Guinea scholars’ firsthand accounts to refute the information given by the Kiaps, my initial perspective and biases did change slightly through this experience. I learned that in order to write history, winning isn’t what’s necessary: educating yourself is. As a biological anthropology major, I am often questioned as to why I chose a field that is famous for being Eurocentric, having committed atrocities and injustices to many cultures (whether intentional or not). It is with the sentiment that history is written by the educated, I reinforced my passion for biological anthropology. Yes, it has historically been a field dominated by Europeans and Eurocentrism, with many voyages serving to promote self interests, but that doesn’t have to be the future of the field. I chose biological anthropology because there needs to be more people like me in the field. I want to be a professor, and I know that this field lacks in Queer and Trans People of Color. The only way to change that is to be the change.
This course really challenged me and my views. It took a lot to read the through the patrol reports, without sighing in exasperation at the density of the volumes. This course pushed me to think critically, but also to be more objective for the sake of research. I appreciate the fact that personal analysis was encouraged, the opportunity to introduce myself was given, and the acknowledgement that my own life experience was brought into shaping my perspective about this research. This was an extremely enriching and fulfilling journey.
Brown, P (2001). “Colonial New Guinea: The Historical Context.” In Naomi McPherson (Ed.), In Colonial New Guinea: Anthropological Perspectives. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.
McPherson, Naomi M. In Colonial New Guinea: Anthropological Perspectives. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001.
Stewart, P. J., & Strathern, A. J. (n.d.). Pangia. Retrieved July 15, 2018, from http://www.stewartstrathern.pitt.edu/papua_new_guinea/pangia.htm