Making History Module Essay by: Louis Honeyman

The Erave ‘1/56-57’ patrol of the Kagua River Valley within the District of Southern Highlands was primarily concerned with the major objective to effect the arrest of those believed to have partaken in violence and fighting within the region. The patrol report indicated that this was achieved, ‘in that fighting has now stopped’.[1] The report first includes day-by-day diary entries of the patrol, lasting from 19 July – 2 August 1956, detailing the events and peoples that were encountered. Most evidently, it details instances of violence and depictions of how those involved were subsequently arrested. The report also presents a general summary consisting of information pertaining to the geography of the Kagua River Valley, the theorised reasons for the unrest, and reinforcing the need to establish a permanent government station in the valley. The summary also concerns an area cited as a potential location for a new airbase, believed to be of assistance in enabling the valley to be peacefully settled by the administration.

Key words: Crime; land surveys; infrastructure; law; investigation.

  1. Section 1: Patrol overview

The Erave ‘1/56-57’ patrol was undertaken over a period of fifteen days, from 19 July to 2 August 1956.[2] Conducting the patrol was officer G.R. Keenan, supported by G. Smith, J. Pickrell and B. Corbigan. The patrol was focused within the area of the Kagua River Valley, located within the District of Southern Highlands. The core objective was to carry out the ‘arrest of natives engaged in tribal fighting [within the] Kagua River Valley’.[3] Secondarily, an area was scouted for its prospects as a potential new airbase within the region.[4]

At the time, specific information pertaining to the inhabitants of the Kagua River Valley was not in plentiful amounts, as the administration was yet to fully assert itself and consolidate control in the region. It can be implied from the patrol that those living in the area were relatively primitive, exemplified by note of an ‘age old’ reliance on raw, unadulterated fighting, often as a response to disputes.[5]

The most palpable characterisation of the Kagua River Valley by the patrol was as a ‘trouble spot’ for violence[6], specifically the south-eastern locale. The patrol observed various instances of this occurring in their travels, one incident of significance occurring on 21 July, upon entering the Valley:

[We] entered forest and at 9.50 emerged into the open country of the Kagua system. Our entry did not go unnoticed and soon yelling and yodelling commenced and the stage was set for mass evacuation. The first group to be involved in the fighting was near at hand and we set out to make arrests. Closing in on the village of Tembitemi from all sides, skirmishes took place and the Police, under instructions, fired after arrows had been discharged. There were no casualties and 10 men were arrested.[7]

Situations such as these framed those native to the Kagua River Valley as being provocative, dangerous and violent towards those undertaking the patrol.

  1. Section 2: ‘Along the grain’

Patrols, and the reports which flow from such, were above all else, outputs of the administration of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. Owing to this, one of their key strengths is to echo the sentiments from the broader political sphere. According to Peter Dwyer and Monica Minnegal:

Available reports constitute a major source of information on Papua New Guinea’s colonial-era history. Written by the patrol officers themselves, they reveal much about both the colonial ‘gaze’, in all its complexity, and the work entailed in rendering both land and people legible to the colonial state.[8]

The Erave ‘1/56-57’ patrol is by no means an exception to this. As such, this section will implement an ‘along the grain’ approach, analysing the report as per its initial – and likely intended purpose – to attempt to uncover understanding of the inner workings of the PNG administration, and more specifically, its conception of the Kagua River Valley.

The patrol of July-August 1956 appears to capture a key piece of shared knowledge among both the administration and the other patrols that stemmed from it. For context, there existed a notion that control of the interior regions was imperative, and that the work of the patrols in establishing and consolidating contact was critical to ensuring this.[9] There was also a perception that inter-tribal fighting and violence against government patrols posed a threat to the ability to be able to establish this control. Ergo, such violence and unrest were strongly frowned upon by the administration and dealt with appropriately. As Hank Nelson eloquanty put it, ‘some of the early officers used the language of warfare: they wrote as if they were suppressing rebellious tribesmen on the frontiers of empire’.[10]

This sentiment is augmented by the 1956 patrol of the Kagua River Valley. The report makes numerous references to the violence occurring within, thought to have been first triggered by an inter-tribal dispute that turned violent and spread:

There are conflicting stores as to the root of the present unrest but the actuating motive seems to be that a leading man of the Kirups died. The cry was sorcery…the Mirups accepted the pay…however a few of the younger element were heard to say, “The pay is all right, but an important man has died. This is a good and sufficient reason for a fight.[11]

On 26 July, the patrol defined another instance of this unrest:

In the afternoon, a crowd of Veimu natives appeared in the ceremonial ground below our camp. They appeared to be more interested in despoiling the Ceremonial ground than anything else. Two police parties were sent out, and 21 arrests were made.[12]

It is obvious the patrol officers saw the Kagua unrest as an obstacle to administrative control of the region: ‘until a station is established in the Kagua Valley, this region will be a potential trouble spot’.[13] This is very much inextricably linked to the PNG administration philosophy concerning the area: ‘As the Valley stands now, it is the last known pocket offering resistance to Administrative control in the known parts of the vast District of Southern Highlands’.[14]

There is also an element of shared knowledge that suggests that the notion of Kagua River Valley inhabitants being of a violent predisposition is conceded among patrols. As the diary entry on 31 July states:

The name of the area is Purubunda and belongs to the Foresareba group. This is the group that was involved in earlier fighting in the Kagua and numbers of them were arrested by a patrol in 1955.[15]

The patrol report also indicates some perspectives on the part of the officers involved. In particular, the frequent characterisation of those seen as antagonistic to the patrol and the broader administration as ‘attackers’, ‘prisoners’ and ‘suspects’.[16] Further, the frequent use of the word ‘native’ relative to those residing in the Kagua River Valley implicitly confers a sense of superiority among the officers conducting the patrol, relative to the former.

To summarise, the main ‘along the grain’ interpretation that can be obtained from the reading of the Erave ‘1/56-57’ patrol report is that the violence observed taking place in the Kagua River Valley was hampering efforts to establish administrative oversight. Further, this interpretation of the report confers that those who partook in such violence were considered criminals, owing to their perceived violent tendencies.

  1. Section 3: ‘Against the grain’

The official nature of the 1956 patrol report certainly makes it a compelling document to readily accept as the definitive – and appropriate – depiction of the affairs occurring within the Kagua River Valley. However, doing so betrays the complexity in understanding a report that may implicitly depict multiple narratives, some which may contrast with the official account. Ergo, discussion will now concern ‘against the grain’ interpretations of the patrol report, i.e. those external to official administration sources. Equal analysis must be given to the perspectives that may have been shared amongst tribes and peoples within, to further enhance an understanding of the situation.

It is easy to reach the conclusion that those in the Kagua River Valley – seemingly uncivilised and violent – are an impairment to government control over the region. But this is too simplistic a characterisation. Research into tribes, communities, villages and individuals within Papua and New Guinea strongly suggests that a culture of ‘protective violence’ existed and was accepted throughout. As John Waiko describes:

Europeans viewed resistance by villagers as unprovoked attacks by a savage people. But the reactions of villagers defending their homes and families were rational and correct within the rules of their societies.[17]

Other authors have elicited similar views. For one, James Sinclair believed that ‘one problem with extending interior contact is the notion that people may be apprehensive of the patrol, passing through the lands of perceived enemies’.[18] Importantly, he further argued that more often than not, ‘the natives will attack through fear only – fear of the intentions of the patrol and of the motives for making this journey into their country’.[19]

From these analyses, one against the grain interpretation emerges that those cited in the report as being perpetrators of violence against the patrol were defensive rather than offensive, relative to the advancing patrol. The patrol and broader administration may have perceived such violence as an obstacle encountered on the road to control of the interior. An alternative view, however, may stipulate that this was merely a culturally accepted, defensive mechanism against what was perceived as an unfamiliar, invading force into previously untouched territories.

Another against the grain interpretation of the patrol report concerns what was believed to have directly precipitated the Kagua River Valley unrest, namely sorcery (‘black magic’). As per the official report:

There are conflicting stores as to the root of the present unrest but the actuating motive seems to be that a leading man of the Kirups, died. The cry was sorcery…the Mirups accepted the pay…however a few of the younger element were heard to say, “The pay is all right, but an important man has died. This is a good and sufficient reason for a fight.[20]

As per Nelson: ‘if government officers thought there was a barrier to their work…then it was ‘rampant’ sorcery’.[21] But a PNG point of view provides different insights. Nelson further posits that there existed a belief among tribes, villages and their peoples in Papua and New Guinea that ‘many people were being killed by sorcery, and accusations of sorcery caused disputes that became fights’.[22] From this, one can gather that the dispute and subsequent fighting that ignited in amongst the Kagua River Valley was not strictly an obstruction to administrative oversight, but rather a method of catharsis, if you will, derived from accepted beliefs pertaining to sorcery.

  1. Section 4: Conclusion

The patrol report of July-August 1956 is certainly an intriguing document in more than one sense. On the one hand, it provides some insight into the notions posited by the Papua and New Guinean administration at the time. Most importantly, the belief that violence was an obstruction to regulation over the previously unknown Kagua River Valley. But from the other end of the spectrum, one can view the instances of violence as examples of how villages and their peoples responded to intrusions from those unknown to them, as an act of defence than offense. The binary nature of right vs. wrong is, of course, not appropriate relative to these interpretations. Merely being aware of their value, however, adds greater importance to the patrol report in making sense of the Kagua River Valley and the broader Territory of Papua and New Guinea. As Dwyer and Minnegal posit: ‘understanding how communities were first ‘placed’ by colonisers matters’.[23]

Bibliography:

Dwyer, P., & Minnegal, M., ‘On Reading Patrol Reports – 1: South of the Blucher Range’, The Journal of Pacific History, vol. 55, no. 1, 2020, pp. 115-25.

Erave Patrol no. 1 of 1956/57, 19 Jul. – 2 Aug. 1956, National Archives and Public Records Services of Papua New Guinea (hereinafter National Archives of PNG), Patrol Reports, Southern Highlands District, Erave, 1956-57, vol. 3 (accessed 27 Sep. 2020).

Nelson, H., Taim Bilong Masta, Australian Broadcasting Commission, Sydney, 1982.

—- ‘Kuru: The Pursuit of the Prize and the Cure’, The Journal of Pacific History, vol. 31, no. 2, 1996, pp. 178-201.

Sinclair, J., ‘Patrolling in the restricted areas of Papua and New Guinea, Australian Journal of International Affairs, vol. 8, no. 3, 1954, pp. 129-45.

Waiko, J., A Short History of Papua New Guinea, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1993.


[1] Erave Patrol no. 1 of 1956/57, 19 Jul. – 2 Aug. 1956, National Archives and Public Records Services of Papua New Guinea (hereinafter National Archives of PNG), Patrol Reports, Southern Highlands District, Erave, 1956-57, vol. 3 (accessed 27 Sep. 2020), p. 9.

[2] ibid., p. 8.

[3] ibid.

[4] ibid., p. 9.

[5] ibid.

[6] ibid., pp. 8-9.

[7] ibid., p. 11.

[8] P. Dwyer & M. Minnegal, ‘On Reading Patrol Reports – 1: South of the Blucher Range’, The Journal of Pacific History, vol. 55, no. 1, 2020, p. 116.

[9] Nelson, ibid.

[10] Nelson, op cit., p. 55.

[11] Patrol Reports, op cit., p. 16.

[12] ibid., p. 13.

[13] ibid., p. 18

[14] ibid., pp. 18-19.

[15] ibid., p. 14.

[16] ibid., pp. 11-14.

[17] J. Waiko, A Short History of Papua New Guinea, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1993, p. 27.

[18] J. Sinclair, ‘Patrolling in the restricted areas of Papua and New Guinea, Australian Journal of International Affairs, vol. 8, no. 3, 1954, p. 139.

[19] ibid., p. 137.

[20] Patrol Reports, op cit., p. 16.

[21] H. Nelson, ‘Kuru: The Pursuit of the Prize and the Cure’, The Journal of Pacific History, vol. 31, no. 2, 1996, p. 186.

[22] ibid.

[23] Dwyer & Minnegal, op cit., p. 125.

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