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The tribe next door: The New Guinea Highlands in a postwar Papuan mission newspaper

The tribe next door: The New Guinea Highlands in a postwar Papuan mission newspaper

Ryan Schram, University of Sydney

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Oceanic Anthropologies seminar

May 8, 2018, noon

Tokioka Room, Moore Hall

Available at http://anthro.rschram.org/talks/tribe


Colonialism often advances by constructing a lawless frontier in which domination is legitimate humanitarian intervention. In this respect, representations which place people in a savage slot have been crucial to colonial dispossession. Yet colonial discourses must circulate to become dominant, and so the savage spaces they imagine take on a life of their own outside of colonial representations. Papuan Times, a newspaper produced by graduates of an industrial mission school at Kwato Island in the Australian external territory of Papua and New Guinea, reported the pacification the Highlands frontier in two distinct yet complementing ways. First, stories of government pacification of the Highlands serve to differentiate its Papuan native readers from those in so-called uncontrolled areas. Second, it reports the accounts of former Kwato mission students who work as missionaries in the Highlands. While the first positions readers at an encompassing level of the whole country, it also suggest they are simply controlled natives. The second strategy embeds Papuans and Highlanders in a new hierarchical relation in which Papuans are agents of moral change.

News of the frontier

The June 10, 1954 issue of the weekly newspaper, Papuan Times, includes this headline:

Shyest Tribe Found In Our Borders (Papuan Times 1954a)

The article reports on an Australian government patrol into the Highlands, south of Chuave station near Mount Karimui.

Elsewhere the paper quotes a former Papuan missionary:

“They are our people,” she said, “it is the same Territory of ours, and we must take responsibility for them.[“] (Papuan Times 1954b)

The Territory of Papua and New Guinea, circa 1950

 The Territory of Papua and New Guinea, circa 1950

Kwato Island and the Kwato Extension Association

  • Founded in 1891 by Charles Abel, it became an independent Christian industrial mission.
  • Its purpose was to acculturate indigenous students, who were officially classifed as natives in spite of their relatively high level of education.
  • In 1948, graduates of Kwato schools began publishing Papuan Times as “a paper for Papuans.”
  • They ran it off by hand using a salvaged mimeo machine and surplus paper.

“Wise Highlanders”

Many more Highland natives are going to the hospital than before. Some have walked over 150 miles, crossed high mountains to the hospital at Goroka to get Medical help. Lately tribal leaders from uncontrolled areas (country that the Government have not yet taken over) have sent their representatives to ask the Government to open medical centres in their villages. (Papuan Times 1951)

"People's urgent need is God": Penosi Aieta

Penosi Aieta, of Logea, has just returned from the Eastern Highlands. He is keen to wake people up to the needs of the people of this our own land, who are yet very different from us. Speaking in the Kwato Church on Sunday he said he could tell many stories of life in the Highlands, of the quick growth of towns, plantations, farms and roads, but that was not what he wanted to talk about. He wanted to tell of people and their great need to know God. (Papuan Times 1953)

"People's urgent need is God": Penosi Aieta

Many changes were coming to their country, but these people looked to us to give them the secret of living, to teach them God’s way and lead them in it, so that they in turn could bring this knowledge to others, could give it to their own people.

“Home from the Highlands”: Vera Dickson

The article begins by with a direct quotation from Vera Dickson in which she says why she finally chose to be become a missionary:

“why?” “Because my love for God was small and my love of ease and comfort was great. I thought of my pleasant life at Kwato, my home and family. At last God spoke to me clearly through my reading of the story of Abraham and his willingness to trust God, even to sacrifice his son. So I went. I determined to give my heart to the Highlands and was willing to spend my life there.” (Papuan Times 1954b)

“Home from the Highlands”: Vera Dickson

Vera told of the difficulties they had faced and the shortages when they had to do without the things they were used to at Kwato.
Now she was grateful. Looking back she had learnt many things, through the hard times, not through the good times.
Though she had had to come back and hand to others, she was committed to that work.

“Home from the Highlands”: Vera Dickson

The author then summarizes her talk and ends with another direct quotation:

“They are our people,” she said, “it is the same Territory of ours, and we must take responsibility for them.[“]

“Home from the Highlands”: Kama Lebasi

“Give, don't hold”

“Home from the Highlands”: Kama Lebasi

Readers of this article are also addressed by Kama Lebasi because the author also uses a direct quotation:

“You ask me how you can help us? What will help us is your surrender of your lives to God. Let go of self-will, let him be our master. We will feel the power of that up there and God’s plan for the world will move forward. In the war we saw how victory was won through everyone giving all they had to that fight. This is how we will win the people of the Highlands.”

The limits of Papuan agency in colonial spacetime

The Age. 1953. “Headhunter’s Grandson Is Higher Educationist.” The Age, January 29, 1953, p. 3.

 Penueli Anakapu and Merari Dickson


Papuan Times. 1951. “Wise Highlanders.” Papuan Times (Kwato) 3 (35): 3.

———. 1953. “People’s Urgent Need Is God.” Papuan Times (Kwato) 6 (16): 1.

———. 1954a. “Shyest Tribe Found in Our Borders.” Papuan Times (Kwato) 6 (41): 2.

———. 1954b. “Home from the Highlands.” Papuan Times (Kwato) 6 (47): 7.

The Age. 1953. “Headhunter’s Grandson Is Higher Educationist.” The Age, January 29, 1953.

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