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Those colonial & kiap times: some coercion, but never repression

Tribal warfare between two clans in the 1960s
Tribal warfare between two highlands clans in the 1960s


ADELAIDE - I have no argument with the basic conclusion of Tobias Schworer's thesis, the summary of which was published recently in PNG Attitude.

I think he has correctly described the process by which Papua New Guinea was brought under the control of the Australian colonial administration.

That said, I think that the use of expressions like "repression that punishes groups still engaged in warfare" is, whether intended or not, an emotionally loaded way of describing the pacification process.

The word "repression" is more typically associated with injustice and inequity, not the lawful imposition of an orderly, fair and effective system of justice upon what were essentially anarchic, and sometimes exceptionally brutal, Melanesian social systems.

In short, it is a pejorative term and, I think, capable of misleading a reader as to the nature of what happened.

He could more accurately have said that the colonial Administration followed a strategy of imposing law and order by a variety of means including, in some cases, coercive and sometimes lethal force.

Having not read the thesis, I hope that within it he has developed his thinking on how Papua New Guineans themselves, having understood the objectives of the colonial intruders, soon realised that their collective interests would be best served by accepting the new situation without violent resistance.

They did this even though I have no doubt that the behaviour of the intruders was sometimes irksome and high handed.

But a lot of effort went into creating a justice system that was fair and reasonably accessible to all.

Also, the authorities knew that it had to take into account traditional beliefs and values to the extent that this was reasonably possible.

As a kiap, I stood by and allowed traditional justice to be applied in a few cases where pursuing offenders through the official justice system could not have produced an acceptable result for the people involved.

Also, in the very early years, penalties for crimes like killing during tribal fighting were usually very lenient because the presiding judges realised the offenders were operating within a traditional paradigm.

My comments are not meant to detract from what appears to be a pretty good piece of academic work from Tobias Schworer that will presumably be rewarded with a PhD.


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Martin Auld

Chris - " emotionally loaded way of describing the pacification process".

And yet 'pacification' is itself a euphemism. Other colonial powers in the region had pacification campaigns between 1910 and WW2: Dutch, Portuguese and of course Australian.

Our pacification campaign in the East Kimberley during the 1920s was arguably genocidal.

The period you write about is a generation later but perhaps comparing the policy and practice of pacification by the various colonial powers in the region could be a fruitful exercise?

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