TOBIAS SCHWÖRER | Summary of PhD Thesis
Ending War: Colonial processes of pacification and the elimination of warfare in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea by Tobias Schwörer. Summary of PhD thesis, 2016. University of Lucerne, Lucerne. See further information on the thesis and related papers here
LUCERNE - Pacification denotes a process whereby a state attends to extend its monopoly of violence onto politically autonomous groups outside its sphere of control and thereby curtails any further collective violence between those groups and armed resistance against the imposition of state control.
It is a process that has been occurring throughout history in situations of colonial conquest and state expansion.
Despite the importance and prominence of these processes not only for the state but even more so for the indigenous groups affected, there is remarkably little systematic analysis and theoretical reflection on the causal factors that led members of such groups to agree to lay down their weapons and refrain from pursuing further acts of collective violence.
In this thesis, I look at colonial processes of pacification in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea, and establish the causal mechanisms that lead to the elimination of indigenous warfare between the late 1940s and the mid-1960s.
I not only document and analyse these processes in detail, but also develop a methodological and analytical toolkit to compare processes of pacification in general, and an encompassing theoretical framework to explain the gradual but ultimately successful transition to a colonially induced peace.
The thesis centres on four communities in three ethnic groups in the Okapa and Obura-Wonenara Districts of the Eastern Highlands Province in Papua New Guinea, namely Purosa among the Fore, Amaira among the Auyana, and Bibeori and Obura among the Southern Tairora.
All of these communities were first contacted between 1947 and 1949 by government patrols of the Australian Administration.
The ensuing process of pacification has been far from uniform, however.
While indigenous warfare ceased quickly among the Fore and Auyana, it persisted for a much longer period among the Southern Tairora. These temporal variations and the differing outcomes form an ideal setting to compare different trajectories of pacification and extract general features conducive to the elimination of warfare.
Using a combination of documentary and archival sources from the colonial administration, published ethnographic information and own fieldwork data, oral history interviews with villagers in the Eastern Highlands as well as former colonial officers, I trace in detail the complex circumstances and preconditions of the processes of pacification as they occurred in the four communities.
I document the interests and strategies of the different colonial agents trying to implement a ban on warfare or contributing to this process, analyse the impact of these strategies on the local groups, and investigate the cultural perceptions, interpretations, reactions and strategies of the members of these groups in interacting with agents of the state.
In Purosa, a desire for goods brought in by the colonial officers, a desire fuelled by cargo cults and a general climate of uncertainty, rapid change and new possibilities led to a quick cessation of warfare by the people themselves.
Once peace was established, it was the village leaders’ adoption of village-level courts to peacefully settle conflicts that sustained this rapid pacification.
As leadership among the Fore was not solely dependent on prowess in warfare like in the other case studies, but also on the organisation of alliances and peace ceremonies, it was the leaders’ legacy as peacemakers that facilitated their transformation into mediators and adjudicators to keep the peace.
In Amaira, the strategically precarious situation between two enemies and the resulting high death toll, coupled with the reputation of police as fierce warriors, led to the local population asking for the stationing of a policeman in their village for protection against enemy raids.
This ensuing constant police presence and the heavy-handed repression of the police quickly curtailed any further violence. After the police were withdrawn, it was again the leadership of village officials who emulated the police and held police-style courts, which guaranteed that conflicts no longer escalated.
A rapid involvement in the colonial economy and the abandoning of traditions associated with warfare due to the presence of mission evangelists also made the recurrence of collective violence less likely.
In Obura, pacification came late and only through systematic repression and a continued state presence. There were less conduits of information that prompted expectations of wealth or security from enemies to be possibly gained from collaboration with state agents.
Excessive and unsystematic state violence also proved to be detrimental to the process of pacification. Village officials did not cooperate in settling conflicts or arresting troublemakers, and continued to be primarily war leaders that often initiated retaliation against enemies.
It was only after a government station was set up in Obura that warfare eventually slowed down, as retaliation in the form of arrests by the police was now more systematic and swift.
In Bibeori, people welcomed an early presence of mission evangelists, as the connection to these outsiders perceived as powerful allowed them to regain their original territory lost in a previous war.
The people of Bibeori attempted to remain allies of the administration, but as they were situated in an area in which conflicts continued to escalate to warfare, they at times had to resort to violence to defend themselves.
This shows that pacification could only take hold if all groups in an area gave up warfare at the same time. Violent repression by the state and the unavailability of alternative institutions for the settlement of conflicts led to the development of soccer matches as an incomplete form of restorative justice, allowing for dissipation of tensions resulting from conflicts and a normalization of relations, albeit with an inherent danger of violent escalation.
In comparing the four case studies I show that there are three decisive conditions for pacification:
1) a strategy of repression that punishes groups still engaged in warfare;
2) a strategy of incentives that rewards groups willing to cease war; and
3) the establishment of judicial institutions that enable the peaceful settlement of conflicts between pacified groups.
These strategies would ultimately reverse the incentive structures to pursue warfare as a form of retaliation, and over time guarantee lasting peace.
While the Australian Administration employed all of these strategies to varying degrees, it was the perspective and agency of the local population that made the difference. Pre-contact conditions, such as modalities and intensity of warfare, patterns of leadership and alliance, as well as traditional institutions of peace-making also shaped the process of pacification.
Political decision-making within local groups led to different strategies of interaction with the colonial agents, ranging from violent resistance to avid acceptance of the proclaimed ban of warfare.
Only when the villagers perceived repression as systematic and impartial, only when they welcomed selective rewards and only after they widely accepted alternative institutions of conflict settlement, did they stop waging war.
And it was in areas where local leaders started to settle conflicts on their own in courts styled after the courts of the Australian Administration that an initial end of warfare was turned into a lasting peace.
This demonstrates that it is crucial to investigate local cultural understandings and epistemologies, as it is the culturally patterned agency of indigenous actors that determines not only resistance to the imposition of state control, but also the sometimes quick, sometimes delayed cessation of warfare.