Making History Module Essay by: Kate Davis

This report will examine the Patrol Report of the Nebilyer Valley from 7th of November 1957 to 7th of January 1958.[1]

The patrol consisted of patrol officer J. W. Howlett, cadet D.C. Hargent, Lance Corporal Aia, five Constables and Tul-Tul Hinji as Official Interpreter; exploring the Nebilyer Valley, a place that had been neglected for the last 5 years. The district office had heard reports from village officials who claimed they were unable to control their posts. The patrol though, uncovered that these people were peaceful and friendly.

As Kituai identifies, ‘a patrol officer’s responsibility…was broad and varied.’[2] On this patrol, J. W. Howlett was required to undertake a census of the Nebilyer Valley, investigate possible sites for a patrol post, and investigate the land of the East and West Bible Mission and the Lutheran Mission. In December, Howlett received further instruction to investigate land at Pabarabruk for possible settlement. This patrol, like many others, was ‘concerned with the ordinary business of government,’[3] and of particular importance was the census, which had not been conducted in the area since 1952. On the patrol, the group also heard complaints, held Court, sent offenders to gaol and evaluated involvement in cash-cropping.

In this patrol, J.W. Howlett used investigative modalities of observation and surveying. The observational nature of his report found it focusing upon issues of importance to the colonial Administration for future exploration and settlement. Howlett’s notes on land, missions and agriculture all serve the interests of colonial conquests in the region. The census undertaken, as well as the recording livestock, surveyed the population density of the region. This census provided information to the administration and informed future explorations.

In the region, indigenous groups had been in constant contact with Europeans through missions, coffee planters and occasional visits from patrol officers. The groups all observed traditional tribal lands. ‘The Native peoples in the Highlands…[were] agriculturalists’[4] with ‘intensive horticulture, based above all on the sweet potato.’[5] They grew traditional foods, with little cash-crops. Howlett reported that the only cash-cropping occurring was the ‘individual selling of local grown produce to the residents of the European settlement in the area,’[6] with coffee, ‘the plantation crop in the Highlands’[7] being only on three small portions of land. Coffee was especially important as a way for the administration to gather resources without direct intervention. The Nebilyer valley was considerably behind in the agricultural sector, not having picked up European methods of farming from missions yet.

Missions had been in the Highlands longer than the government officers.[8] However, it is noted these missions were not utilising their leases fully; barely engaged in agriculture. The administration relied on the missions to engage with the local populations to prompt interest in cash-cropping. Nelson suggests that often ‘different missions have taken different stands on whether to engage in business,’[9] a notion these missions seemed to have adapted. Indeed, Nelson states that missionaries, while holding values similar to that of the colonial administration, ‘have been less inclined to take from the country where they labour.’[10] Indeed, in this instance, Nelson is correct; the missions reported upon by Howlett had not sought to take from the local people.

Interestingly, in this report the Acting District Commissioner W.D. Allei focused heavily on the land reports high. A Minute to the Executive Office for Lands, sent by the Acting Director of Native Affairs, aimed to draw the attention to pages 16 and 17. These pages detail the land investigation of missions and land boundaries, of lack thereof; for a patrol post. This suggests that perhaps the true nature of the patrol was exploration for future settlements. Allei states that he had asked for the patrol to record on maps, the tribal land boundaries; Howlett too, notes that ‘the land south of Pabarabruk is vacant,…future native settlement and possibly European settlement will expand in this direction.’[11] Howlett might not have known the intention of the administration, but still made links between settlements and investigated land. Throughout the report, Howlett’s personal perspectives arise. As identified by Sinclair, the most favourable asset in a Patrol Officer is ‘a sincere liking…for natives,’[12] which Howlett undoubtedly had. These officers acted as explorers in little known areas, always required to keep in mind the potential for resources.[13] Howlett demonstrates this awareness where he notes that ‘other natives will soon realise these possibilities’[14] for timber and coffee business after a patrol post is set in the area, not only recognising the potential for the administration, but acknowledging that local populations were observant, only needing guidance. Howlett, perhaps, realised that ‘timber rights are owned by the local forest inhabitants,’[15] necessitating the involvement of the local people in all expansion ventures.

It is also evident in the report that the colonial administration was focused solely upon the ‘resources that might be extracted.’[16] Allei, Acting District Commissioner, stated that the missions must begin using their land more effectively to develop agricultural practices. He ignored Howlett’s recommendations; the grasslands as a patrol post, and to wait for local guidance, instead choosing Silika. Howlett may have known that the grasslands were most likely man-made for cattle-grazing, and thus, not of use for local agriculture.[17] This demonstrates how Howlett’s superiors were concerned with ‘order, hierarchy and rank’ of colonisation, and had a deep bias in their knowledge of indigenous people.[18]  Here too, New Guinea assumptions of the colonial administration are present. The process of dispossession or expanding settlement across the tribal lands appears foreign to local populations, where Howlett remarks on the need to casually investigate land boundaries due to previous investigations being regarded as court decisions on ownership. It is highly probable that the indigenous people saw it as an acknowledgement of their right to the land, not a plan for future expansion.

A high level of discussion regarding the Tilga group’s request to return to their lands in Ialibu, occurs throughout the report. The local people claimed their old land ‘might still be inhabited by former enemies, or that further fighting might ensue.’[19] They wanted to return but were seeking the assistance. This suggests perhaps that the indigenous populations saw the colonial administration as protective; they could resolve previously unresolvable issues. For years, ‘the peoples of New Guinea lived uneasily together in a state of intermittent warfare,’[20] perpetuated mostly by excess land.[21] The Acting District Commissioner, Allei, had no objection to their return. Here, the administration was entirely unaware of why the local population was seeking their assistance; warfare between tribes was often never concluded.[22] Howlett’s sympathy for the plight of the Tilga group is evident in his conclusion, where he brings their struggle to attention again, demonstrating that he realised the administration had a responsibility to help the group. Howlett recognised the relationship the indigenous had with the land again where he argued that the idea of the post was extremely sudden, and that if given time, the people would present a suitable position.

This patrol into the Nebilyer valley did not come across any instances of violence against their presence. Indigenous groups were given gifts to reward their behaviour. It is suggested though, that the exchange of gifts was utilised as control; ‘whoever controlled its flow was treated with great care, attention, and jealousy.’[23] ‘The new objects beguiled and mesmerized the Indigenous communities’[24], perhaps prompting manipulation of the officers. Howlett held Court often, in response to complaints, sentencing people for stealing pigs or money.[25] The administration here, as Gorlich states, appeared as an ‘advantageous, meaningful, and mutually supported institution’[26] that supported indigenous peoples. This practice of sentencing reinforced the administration’s legitimacy and appeased indigenous populations.

In his report, when noting the health practices of the local populations, Howlett simply writes ‘almost non-existent’[27] when referring to hygiene and the indigenous are not mentioned at all when reference is made to the airfields. This may signify a common belief that the indigenous people are unclean, and unconcerned with matters of technological advancement and transport. The lack of evidence presented in the report regarding these matters suggests that any reader at the time would have prior knowledge of the hygiene practices, and the non-involvement in transportation, of the local people. There is one large way in which Howlett differs from the perspectives of his superiors though; where the patrol encountered child marriage. Howlett notes that the administration was behind the continuation of child marriages. A standard bride price had been set in 1956 with the help of the administration, to drive down crime related to stealing; which made it unprofitable to withhold marriage. This demonstrated the ignorance of the colonial administration towards indigenous practices, seeing no potential issues in regulation. It also suggests how the distance from the administration and ability to relate to indigenous people held by patrol officers makes their perceptions vastly different than that of their superiors.

Summary:

J.W. Howlett’s report on the population, land and agricultural practices of the Nebilyer valley provided a thorough report on a population that had not been documented in five years. Howlett showed a deep sense of understanding regarding the indigenous New Guineans, noting their land practices were evolving, albeit slowly and that indigenous compliance was necessary for continued colonial existence. Howlett provided great insight regarding a land movement in need of assistance, provided justice to local populations, and gathered information regarding population, the livestock and agriculture. The report shows the bias that affected few of Howlett’s judgements, but more specifically displays the disparity between the understanding of indigenous peoples that patrol officers held, and the regard for the population as a resource that the colonial administration held.

Bibliography

Anas, M., ‘The Highlands of Australian New Guinea,’ Geographical Review, vol. 50, no. 4, 1960, pp. 467–490, www.jstor.org/stable/212305, accessed 28 September 2020.

Dwyer, P.D. & Minnegal, M., ‘On Reading Patrol Reports – 1: South of the Blucher Range,’ The Journal of Pacific History, vol. 55, no. 1, 2020, pp. 115-125, DOI: 10.1080/00223344.2019.1679616, accessed 28 September 2020.

Golub, A., ‘Introduction: The Politics of Order in Contemporary Papua New Guinea’, Anthropological Forum, vol. 28, no. 4, 2018, pp. 331–341, https://search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy-f.deakin.edu.au/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=133531790&site=eds-live&scope=site, accessed 28 September 2020.

Gorlich, J., ‘The Transformation of Violence in the Colonial Encounter: Intercultural Discourses and Practices in Papua New Guinea(n1)’, Ethnology, vol. 38, no. 2, 1991, pp. 151-159, https://search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy-f.deakin.edu.au/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rlh&AN=2050482&site=eds-live&scope=site, accessed 28 September 2020.

Howlett, J.W., Mount Hagen, No. 2, 1957/1958, 7 Nov. 1957 – 7 Jan. 1958, National Archives of Papua New Guinea, Patrol Report, Western Highlands District, Mount Hagen, 1957-58, https://library.ucsd.edu/dc/object/bb1401137d, accessed 25 September 2020.

Kituai, A., ‘The Role of the Patrol Officer in Papua New Guinea,’ In A. Kituai ed., My Gun, My Brother: The World of the Papua New Guinea Colonial Police, 1920-1960, University of Hawaii Press, 1998, pp. 19-41,  http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt6wr4nx.7, accessed 28 September 2020.

Mel, M. ‘Navigating for a Place in the Museum: Stories of Encounter and Engagement between the Old and the New from the Highlands of Papua New Guinea,’ The Contemporary Pacific, vol. 32, no. 1, 2020, pp. 48-71, University of Hawai’i Press, https://doi.org/10.1353/cp.2020.0003, accessed 28 September 2020.

Nelson, H., ‘Taim Bilong Masta: The Australian Involvement with Papua New Guinea. Sydney: Australian Broadcasting Commission,’ ANU Pacific Institute, Sydney, 1982, pp. 51-56, 157-163, http://hdl.handle.net/1885/126312, accessed 28 September 2020.

Read, K. E., ‘Cultures of the Central Highlands, New Guinea,’ Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, vol. 10, no. 1, 1954, pp. 1–43, www.jstor.org/stable/3629074,accessed 28 September 2020.

Schieffelin, E.L., ‘History and the fate of the forest on the Papuan plateau,’ Anthropological Forum, vol. 7, no. 4, 1997, pp. 575-597, DOI: 10.1080/00664677.1997.9967475, accessed 28 September 2020.

Sinclair, J. P., ‘Patrolling in the restricted areas of Papua and New Guinea,’ Australian Journal of International Affairs, vol. 8, no.3, 1954, pp. 129-145, DOI:10.1080/10357715408443912, accessed 28 September 2020.

Watson, J., ‘Introduction: Anthropology in the New Guinea Highlands,’ American Anthropologist, vol. 66, no. 4, 1964, pp. 1–19, www.jstor.org/stable/668429, accessed 28 September 2020.


[1] J. W. Howlett, Mount Hagen, No. 2, 1957/1958, 7 Nov. 1957 – 7 Jan. 1958, National Archives of Papua New Guinea, Patrol Report, Western Highlands District, Mount Hagen, 1957-58, https://library.ucsd.edu/dc/object/bb1401137d, accessed 25 September 2020.

[2] A. Kituai, ‘The Role of the Patrol Officer in Papua New Guinea,’ In A. Kituai ed., My Gun, My Brother: The World of the Papua New Guinea Colonial Police, 1920-1960, University of Hawaii Press, 1998, p. 19,  http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt6wr4nx.7, accessed 28 September 2020.

[3] H. Nelson, ‘Taim Bilong Masta: The Australian Involvement with Papua New Guinea. Sydney: Australian Broadcasting Commission,’ ANU Pacific Institute, Sydney, 1982, p. 52, http://hdl.handle.net/1885/126312, accessed 28 September 2020.

[4] J. W. Howlett, Mount Hagen, No. 2, 1957/1958, 7 Nov. 1957 – 7 Jan. 1958, National Archives of Papua New Guinea, Patrol Report, Western Highlands District, Mount Hagen, 1957-58, noted as p. 21, https://library.ucsd.edu/dc/object/bb1401137d, accessed 25 September 2020.

[5] J. Watson, ‘Introduction: Anthropology in the New Guinea Highlands,’ American Anthropologist, vol. 66, no. 4, 1964, p. 2, www.jstor.org/stable/668429, accessed 28 September 2020.

[6] J. W. Howlett, Mount Hagen, No. 2, 1957/1958, 7 Nov. 1957 – 7 Jan. 1958, National Archives of Papua New Guinea, Patrol Report, Western Highlands District, Mount Hagen, 1957-58, noted as p. 21, https://library.ucsd.edu/dc/object/bb1401137d, accessed 25 September 2020.

[7] M. Anas, ‘The Highlands of Australian New Guinea,’ Geographical Review, vol. 50, no. 4, 1960, p. 484, www.jstor.org/stable/212305, accessed 28 September 2020.

[8] H. Nelson, ‘Taim Bilong Masta: The Australian Involvement with Papua New Guinea. Sydney: Australian Broadcasting Commission,’ p. 157.

[9] Ibid, p. 162.

[10] Ibid, p. 163.

[11] J. W. Howlett, Mount Hagen, No. 2, 1957/1958, 7 Nov. 1957 – 7 Jan. 1958, National Archives of Papua New Guinea, Patrol Report, Western Highlands District, Mount Hagen, 1957-58, noted as p. 16, https://library.ucsd.edu/dc/object/bb1401137d, accessed 25 September 2020.

[12] J. P. Sinclair, ‘Patrolling in the restricted areas of Papua and New Guinea,Australian Journal of International Affairs, vol. 8, no.3, 1954, p. 130, DOI:10.1080/10357715408443912, accessed 28 September 2020.

[13] P. D. Dwyer & M. Minnegal, ‘On Reading Patrol Reports – 1: South of the Blucher Range,’ The Journal of Pacific History, vol. 55, no. 1, 2020, p. 115-116, DOI: 10.1080/00223344.2019.1679616, accessed 28 September 2020.

[14] J. W. Howlett, J.W., Mount Hagen, No. 2, 1957/1958, 7 Nov. 1957 – 7 Jan. 1958, National Archives of Papua New Guinea, Patrol Report, Western Highlands District, Mount Hagen, 1957-58, noted as p. 14, https://library.ucsd.edu/dc/object/bb1401137d, accessed 25 September 2020.

[15] E. L. Schieffelin, ‘History and the fate of the forest on the Papuan plateau,’ Anthropological Forum, vol. 7, no. 4, 1997, p. 578, DOI: 10.1080/00664677.1997.9967475, accessed 28 September 2020.

[16] Ibid, p. 575.

[17] M. Anas, ‘The Highlands of Australian New Guinea,’ p. 473-474.

[18] A. Golub, ‘Introduction: The Politics of Order in Contemporary Papua New Guinea’, Anthropological Forum, vol. 28, no. 4, 2018, p. 332, https://search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy-f.deakin.edu.au/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=133531790&site=eds-live&scope=site, accessed 28 September 2020.

[19] J. W. Howlett, Mount Hagen, No. 2, 1957/1958, 7 Nov. 1957 – 7 Jan. 1958, National Archives of Papua New Guinea, Patrol Report, Western Highlands District, Mount Hagen, 1957-58, noted as p. 13, https://library.ucsd.edu/dc/object/bb1401137d, accessed 25 September 2020.

[20] J. P. Sinclair, ‘Patrolling in the restricted areas of Papua and New Guinea, p. 136.

[21] K. E. Read, ‘Cultures of the Central Highlands, New Guinea,’ Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, vol. 10, no. 1, 1954, p. 10, www.jstor.org/stable/3629074,accessed 28 September 2020.

[22] Ibid, p. 12.

[23] A. Kituai, ‘The Role of the Patrol Officer in Papua New Guinea,’ p. 37.

[24] M. Mel, ‘Navigating for a Place in the Museum: Stories of Encounter and Engagement between the Old and the New from the Highlands of Papua New Guinea,’ The Contemporary Pacific, vol. 32, no. 1, 2020, p. 51, University of Hawai’i Press, https://doi.org/10.1353/cp.2020.0003, accessed 28 September 2020.

[25] J. W. Howlett, Mount Hagen, No. 2, 1957/1958, 7 Nov. 1957 – 7 Jan. 1958, National Archives of Papua New Guinea, Patrol Report, Western Highlands District, Mount Hagen, 1957-58, noted as p. 18, https://library.ucsd.edu/dc/object/bb1401137d, accessed 25 September 2020.

[26] J. Gorlich, ‘The Transformation of Violence in the Colonial Encounter: Intercultural Discourses and Practices in Papua New Guinea(n1)’, Ethnology, vol. 38, no. 2, 1991, p. 159, https://search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy-f.deakin.edu.au/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rlh&AN=2050482&site=eds-live&scope=site, accessed 28 September 2020.

[27] J. W. Howlett, Mount Hagen, No. 2, 1957/1958, 7 Nov. 1957 – 7 Jan. 1958, National Archives of Papua New Guinea, Patrol Report, Western Highlands District, Mount Hagen, 1957-58, noted as p. 19, https://library.ucsd.edu/dc/object/bb1401137d, accessed 25 September 2020.

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