"The last reported case of cannibalism in the Sepik was in 1964 when a group of men raided a neighbouring village for meat – as their ancestors had for thousands of years. All seven offenders were hanged by “kiaps” – Australian patrol officers who were the law of the land until PNG’s independence in 1975" – extract from an article in The New Daily republished in Una Voce
SYDNEY - That slander, the third paragraph of ‘Cooking: The Curious Culinary Secrets of PNG’s Last Cannibalistic Tribe’ published in an online newspaper, The New Daily, on 9 March 2018, would probably have disappeared unnoticed if it had not been picked up and republished in the September 2018 edition of the Papua New Guinea Association’s magazine, Una Voce.
PNGAA's seeming imprimatur of an article that reflects adversely on the Territory of Papua New Guinea’s kiaps—District Commissioners, District Officers, Assistant District Officers and Patrol Officers—and on the Australian government's administration of what was then a United Nations trust territory is astounding when one considers the Association’s history, prestige and its membership.
Until recently, the PNGAA was led by a series of former senior kiaps serving as Association presidents. One of the two current patrons Fred Kaad OBE, a former kiap, served in the Sepik as Assistant District Officer, District Officer and acting District Commissioner in the 1950s. (The other patron, Major-General Michael Jeffery AC, CVO, MC (retired), Australia’s 24th Governor-General, also served in the Sepik during 1966-69 with 1st Battalion, Pacific Islands Regiment.)
The author, Ian Lloyd Neubauer, has been described as a Sydney-based journalist, a stringer for Time Magazine, CNN, the BBC and Al-Jazeera, with expertise covering Papua New Guinea, East Timor, the South Pacific, Indochina and the Australian outback. Maybe the stringer was strung a line, misled, when he was gathering the information for the article.
No offenders were hanged, or otherwise put to death in Papua New Guinea in 1964, and no offenders were hanged or otherwise put to death in the Sepik District during the 29 years of Australian administration following World War 2.
Only three individuals, all convicted murderers, were hanged in the post-war years. In 1947 in Rabaul, a native policeman was executed by hanging for the bayonet murder of a local woman, and in Lae, a murderer was hanged in December 1954. Another murderer, Arno of Wapenamanda in the Western Highlands, was hanged in November 1957. The 1957 hanging was the last execution in the Territory.
Kiaps may have been engaged in the hangings of Sepik Rivers head hunters in Mandated Territory in the 1920s and 1930s, but they had no role in the hangings carried out in the post-war Territory of Papua New Guinea.
The allegation that unsophisticated New Guineans were put to death for cannibalism is false and is perhaps best refuted by an examination of the legal procedures, following the massacre at Telefomin when two kiaps and two police constables were murdered in 1953.
The savagery of those killings horrified the world. One kiap’s body was butchered, and some body parts were not recovered, but, even so, the standard procedures were followed. Kiaps investigated the killings and arrested the accused. A coronial inquiry preceded a committal hearing followed by a Supreme Court trial. At the conclusion of the trial, the Judge acquitted one defendant and imposed the death sentence on the other thirty-two.
Finally, the Australian Government (Cabinet) commuted the sentence to ten years’ imprisonment after considering a file of documents that included District Commissioner’s report, the Defending Counsel's opinion, the Judge’s summing-up of each case and his conclusions and views regarding punishment.
Cannibalism made the headlines in Australia in August 1956 when the people from a Sepik tributary, the May, invited their neighbours from upstream to a feast. They slaughtered at least 29 of the guests from the Yellow River, cooked them, and then ate them.
ADO Frank Jones and PO George Oakes (from Lumi) and ADO Mert Brightwell (from Ambunti) were involved in the early investigations. PO Tony (AL) Redwood made the arrests and the alleged murderers were subject to the legal process. Forty men, convicted in the Supreme Court, were sentenced on 11 February 1957. Their sentences were commuted, and they were confined to Boram Corrective Institution until they were repatriated in December 1960.
In an unrelated event, in December 1956, members of the Mianmin group crossed the Sepik River headwaters and attacked, killed and butchered sixteen Atbalmins. In January acting Assistant District Officer Ron (RTD) Neville, Patrol Officers Geoffrey (GF) Booth and Paul (PCA) Conroy accompanied by a strong detachment of police spent fifty-one days on patrol to arrest twenty-five of the offenders, who were subsequently committed for trial.
The next foray may have been the one that occurred in 1959 when a party of Mianmins from Usage attacked the small settlement of Suwana in the Abaru group near May River. Allegedly, they killed three men and one woman, cut the bodies up and set off for their home village with seven female captives. One of those women had difficulty keeping up, so she was also killed, and parts of her body taken to be eaten. Another of the abducted women subsequently escaped.
A patrol led by Patrol Officers Jack (JH) Mater and Jim (PJ) Fenton apprehended the fifteen Usage men involved in the massacre, including the men who did the killings. After completion of their sentences, Patrol Officer Jock (GJ) McIntyre took a patrol from May River to Usage to escort the men back to their village in September 1962.
In 1964, twenty men (not seven) were charged with murders associated with cannibalism. Patrol Officer Tony (AD) Pitt, accompanied by Brian (BA) McCabe (ADO Ambunti), arrested thirteen men from the Naukwi group and seven men from Mumuvika, accused of killing and eating four victims from Amiufa.
Committed for trial on 26 June, nineteen of the accused were escorted back to their village from May River by PO Tony (AC) Plummer. The Crown took nine months to enter a nolle prosequi, deciding the accused were too primitive to prosecute, and that the language translation problems were too difficult to enable a successful prosecution.
In 1968, Plummer was stationed at Green River Patrol Post when District Commissioner John Wakeford instructed him to investigate a reported massacre in the West Range area, one of the boundaries between the East Sepik and West Sepik Districts.
The reports of the killings had filtered into the May River Post (in the East Sepik), and Wakeford was keen for a patrol from Green River to upstage the East Sepik officers.
Plummer set off down the Sepik downstream from Green River but is hazy on how he identified those responsible for the massacre. He thinks that he arrested seven after a minor scuffle; the victims were a family of three, and maybe there were others on the menu?
Patrol Officer McIntyre, in November 1962, describing the three factions in May River society stated "those referred to as ex-prisoners are men who have each served years in one of the Corrective Institutions. Without being facetious one may now consider them as being educated. The Institutions have done an excellent job, perhaps too good in the case of men returning to a depressed area. These men now carry influence and together with the traditionalists are pressing for advancement in the educational and economic spheres."
So much for kiaps hanging offenders!
Except for Plummer’s 1968 patrol, the details in this article can be verified from the relevant, online archives. The May River Patrol Post, Tony Redwood and Ors, and the Mianmin thread on exkiap.net provides a broader discussion as does a similar article in PNG Attitude here
Bill Brown MBE - a kiap in Papua New Guinea for 26 years from 1949-75 - was stationed in the Sepik region from 1955-66. When in charge of the Ambunti Sub-District in 1957-58, he was responsible for the May River and Green River Patrol Posts. As Assistant District Commissioner Telefomin in 1959-60, he was the custodian of the older prisoners convicted of participation in the 1953 massacre. He now has reservations about the value of his membership of PNGAA - KJ