Making History Module Essay by Ruby Lee

AIH 399 Assignment Two on the Western Goroka Patrol No 3 of 1954-1955

The Patrol that accompanies this report was carried out from August 1954 to September 1954. The Patrol was the second conducted by R.H.C Mellor, who was accompanied by six “natives”, Corporal Koito, Constable Kaigo, Constable Sawa, Constable Zamoam, Constable Okumaku and Interpreter Komo. The Patrol was the third undertaken in 1954, with the main objectives being census revision, re-afforestation, supervision of work on the Nambaiyufa airstrip and routine administration. The Patrol departed Goroka on 16 August 1954. From 16 August 1954 to 9 September 1954, the Patrol focused on census revision, inspecting houses, inspecting coffee plots and areas for seedlings to be planted and arbitration of disputes. An event occurred during this stage of the Patrol at the Urumba Rest House which was discussed heavily in the Report. A Papua New Guinean boy instructed Mellor that he had been visited by God who told him that everyone in Urumba needed to be baptised because the world was going to end in three years time. These claims were thoroughly investigated and commented on by officials throughout the Report. From 10 September 1954 to 19 September 1954, the Patrol’s main focus was the supervision of the Nambaiyufa airstrip.

Mellor’s report was highly praised by his superiors. Through the language used by the colonisers, there seemed to be a fair amount of “colonial common sense” which shaped the way the report was carried out. The report emphasised how Mellor and his superiors ‘imagined they could and might make the rubrics of rule correspond to a changing imperial world’.[1] In this way, an observational or travel modality was used to strengthen this feedback loop.  This modality focuses on finding the known in the unknown and seeing sights in a familiar way. What is then observed and reported ‘is mediated by particular socio-political contexts as well as historically specific aesthetic principles, such as the “sublime” the “picturesque”, the “romantic” and the “realistic”’.[2] An illustration of this can be seen in the way that and was controlled. Trees were planted along each tribal boundary line, along with re-afforestation. The planting of trees to demarcate where each tribe resides is a project that carries with it the assumptions of the colonisers that an area bound by a fence or a line of trees signifies ownership. Further, Mellor’s interactions with Papua New Guineans were mostly of an authoritarian nature, with Mellor instructing the PNG people on dispute resolution, the colonial law, proper planting of crops and appropriate hygienic practices. Through carrying out these tasks, the report aided in ‘determining, codifying, controlling and representing the past’ which ‘created and normalised a vast amount of information that formed the basis of their capacity to govern’.[3] An issue arose in carrying out these tasks, when it became evident that the PNG people had not met the hygiene standards imposed on them. Mellor instructed many residents that their houses needed to be torn down and replaced because they were unsanitary. Mellor carried out the intentions of the Patrol in an objective way that was conscious of the standard procedure to be followed. Undertaking the Patrol in this way was likely to be seen as necessary because of Mellor’s status as an intruder. Due to this, it is likely that Mellor and other Patrol members may have been ‘forced to adopt measures that would guarantee [their] survival. If this could not be achieved through words then the alternative was direct or indirect force’.[4] This was used to the Patrol officers advantage, as it reinforced the “big man” status of the Patrol officer, which ensured the instructions of colonial regime were consented to and followed.

Importantly, the Report also highlights the tension between the missionaries and the colonists over controlling the PNG people. Early on in the Patrol, Mellor encountered a teenage boy, Likue of Alango, who told Mellor that he had a visit from God and had to spread the word that ‘everyone in and around Urumba were to be baptised as soon as possible as the world was to end in approximately three years time’. God had also told him that the unbaptised “natives” were to ‘lose their old customs, way of dressing, and in general, their old ways, then enrol at a mission for instruction with a view to ultimate baptism’.[5] This event led to an intensive investigation being carried out by Mellor. Mellor kept the boy with him for ten days, questioning him during this time as to who told him the story. Mellor suspected it was a Finschafen native evangelist Timai-o who told the boy the story, however the boy kept to his original story. Mellor explains his concerns over the story by asserting that ‘the mere statement “the world will come to an end in three years”, if emphasised any further, may indeed have a harmful effect on the natives in the area. Such rumours may become quite damaging to unsophisticated natives’.[6] In addition to Mellor’s concerns, all three of his superiors who signed off on the report also commented on the event. Assistant District Officer F.P Kaad sent Timai-o back to the coast and expressed his concern over the incident by warning that ‘it is extremely easy for something of this nature to develop into full scale “cargo cult”’.[7] Kaad also noted that the “natives” are not content with spiritual uplift alone, rather, the mission that can further their lives materially will gain the most converts. District Commissioner Ian F.G Downs, claimed the lack of European missionary staff were to blame.[8] Finally, Director A.A Roberts noted ‘Mr Kaad has taken steps to have the dissemination of false and coercive religious propaganda from the Lutheran Mission station at Alangom stopped’.[9] These comments highlight the shared assumptions held by the Mellor and his superiors. They believed the people of PNG needed to be protected and acted in a paternalistic way to shield them from missionary propaganda. Interestingly, the colonisers believed the Papua New Guinean’s main objective was to live a more materialistic life. This belief reinforces the objectives of the patrol, after all, the patrollers believed they were providing Papua New Guinean’s with the tools to create a more modern life. Reading the patrol in this way, furthers the readers understanding on the context in which the actions taken by the patrol members were made. When viewing the patrol material in this way, colonial knowledge enables, rather than deters, the writing of history of other cultures and events.[10] This is because the reader gains a more holistic view into the epistemological framework that existed, which acted to support the actions of the colonisers.

Alternatively, this event takes on an entirely different meaning when viewed from the perspective of the Papua New Guinean boy. When viewing material against the grain from which it was written, the autonomy of the those who are written about can be realised. To assess the boys actions, an understanding of the background in which he acted first needs to be established. Papua New Guinea has an extensive history with missions, with missions being established as early as the seventeenth century.[11] The missions rapidly spread their religious beliefs over the next two centuries which resulted in 90 percent of the population in 1996 following the beliefs of a particular mission.[12] There had, in fact, been a flood of missions opened in the early twentieth century, with Archbishop David Hand going as far as to say ‘it had become a bit of a riot. I believe in Goroka now there are forty-six different churches within a radius of a mile or two of the town’.[13] In contrast, as recently as June 1956, ‘only 52 per cent of the Central Highlands was under administrative influence…and the remainder was restricted’.[14] It may be reasoned then, that although the colonisers wielded official control of the country, the missions had more interactions with the population and consequently, more influence in their relationships with the Papua New Guinea people. It is likely then, that the boy had experienced many interactions with the evangelists and may have even had evangelistic beliefs instilled in him from a very early age. It may be argued that the conclusion reached by Mellor and his superiors in their evaluation of the event that occurred was incorrect. Instead of Timai-o the “native” evangelist teacher being the instigator of propaganda, it may have been the case that the boy believed in God and sincerely thought the divine experience he encountered had occurred. This would explain why, after ten long days of interrogation by Mellor, the boy would not yield from his position that it was God who told him the world would end in three years. This is an especially impressive performance carried out by the boy when considering the power imbalance that existed, as to many villagers, ‘a kiap was a multi powered boss…he had extraordinary powers . . . he was everything. He was almost God’s shadow on earth’.[15] Instead of the boy being an object for the native evangelist teacher to shape, the boy may have had a fully formed belief system. Viewing the archive in this way allows the reader to reach ‘beyond the silences of traditional texts to find, not the ‘other,’ but a fully realized alternate community in its own right’.[16] As a result, the boy is not merely viewed in the way that Mellor and his superiors perceived him, as an “unsophisticated native” who is vulnerable to propaganda. Rather, the text reveals the possibility that the boy may have had his own comprehensive belief system which was influenced by the historical and cultural background that existed at the time.

The main objectives of the Patrol were scheduled to be the standard tasks of census revision, inspecting houses, inspecting coffee plots and areas for seedlings to be planted and arbitration of disputes. However, these tasks were overshadowed by the event that occurred in Urumba with the teenage boy. The event highlights the tension that existed between the colonial regime and the missions. Both followed vastly different ideologies and held different beliefs in how their ideology should be adopted throughout Papua New Guinea. The event also demonstrates how the colonisers viewed the Papua New Guinea population. Mellor and his superiors expressed concerns over the vulnerability of the “unsophisticated natives” and were disturbed over the possible effect the religious “propaganda” may have on the population. Evidently, Mellor and his superiors viewed the population as passive actors to be shaped by those around them. When viewing the material from the perspective of the boy, the boy’s two-dimensional status is removed, and the reader is able to gain an insight into the endless possibilities that may have surrounded the boy’s choice to act in the way he did. Although it may never be certain what the boy’s motives were, it also uncertain whether Mellor’s report occurred in the way that it did. However, Mellor has the advantage of being in the position of power in having the ability to translate what occurred according to his perception. What can be certain, is that the Patrol reports throughout the 20th century were written by men who were influenced by the social, political and cultural discourse that existed at the time. By reading the reports between the lines, part of the power imbalance that is present can be rectified.

Bibliography

Anas, M., ‘The Highlands of Australian New Guinea’, Geographical Review, vol. 50, no. 4, 1960, pp. 467-490.

Bastian, J., ‘Reading Colonial Records Through an Archival Lens: The Provenance of Place, Space and Creation’, Archival Science, vol. 6, no. 3-4, 2007, pp. 267-284.

Brown, P., In Colonial New Guinea, Pittsburgh, 2001.

Cohen, B.S., Colonialism and its forms of knowledge: The British in India, New Jersey, 1996.

Kituai, A.B., My gun, my brother: the world of the Papua New Guinea colonial police, 1920-1960, Honolulu, 1998.

Mellor, R.H.C., Goroka Patrol no. 3 of 1954/55, 16 August 1954 – 19 September 1945, National Archives and Public Records Services of Papua New Guinea, Patrol Reports, Eastern District, 1954-1955, vol. 3, https://library.ucsd.edu/dc/object/bb5462596h (accessed 20 September 2020).

Nelson, H., Taim bilong masta: the Australian involvement with Papua New Guinea, Sydney, 1982.

Roque, R., & Wagner, K.A., Engaging colonial knowledge: reading European archives in world history, New York, 2011.

Stoler, A.L., Along the archival grain: epistemic anxieties and colonial common sense, New Jersey, 2009.


[1] A.L. Stoler, Along the archival grain: epistemic anxieties and colonial common sense, New Jersey, 2009, p. 16.

[2] B.S. Cohen, Colonialism and its forms of knowledge: The British in India, New Jersey, 1996, p. 7.

[3] Ibid, p. 3.

[4] A.B. Kituai, My gun, my brother: the world of the Papua New Guinea colonial police, 1920-1960, Honolulu, 1998, p. 38.

[5] R.H.C. Mellor, Goroka Patrol no. 3 of 1954/55, 16 August 1954 – 19 September 1945, National Archives and Public Records Services of Papua New Guinea, Patrol Reports, Eastern District, 1954-1955, vol. 3, https://library.ucsd.edu/dc/object/bb5462596h (accessed 20 September 2020).

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] R. Roque & K.A. Wagner, Engaging colonial knowledge: reading European archives in world history, New York, 2011, p. 3.

[11] P. Brown, In Colonial New Guinea, Pittsburgh, 2001, p. 15.

[12] H. Nelson, Taim bilong masta: the Australian involvement with Papua New Guinea, Sydney, 1982, p. 159.

[13] Ibid.

[14] M. Anas, ‘The Highlands of Australian New Guinea’, Geographical Review, vol. 50, no. 4, 1960, p. 469.

[15] A.B. Kituai, My gun, my brother: the world of the Papua New Guinea colonial police, 1920-1960, Honolulu, 1998, p. 19.

[16] J. Bastian, ‘Reading Colonial Records Through an Archival Lens: The Provenance of Place, Space and Creation’, Archival Science, vol. 6, no. 3-4, 2007, p. 278.

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