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Kiaps repressed warfare, they did not repress the people

Warwick-Anderson-and-Fore-people-Okapa (Thomas-Strong)
Australian historian Warwick Anderson amongst the Fore people of Okapa in the PNG highlands, also studied by Tobias Schwoerer


LUCERNE - I am rather pleased that my research has caught the attention of someone from PNG Attitude and that it decided to showcase this on its website.

I welcome this interest and hope that some readers will consider buying the book I am currently working on once it is published.

I am grateful to the comments from Chris Overland and Philip Fitzpatrick which made me aware of potential misunderstandings that can emerge from my use of the word ‘repression’.

I used ‘repression’ in the sense of the repression (or suppression) of warfare, not the repression (or oppression) of people.

In my thesis, and also noted by Chris, I show that Australian kiaps and New Guinea police used a wide variety of enforcing tactics to stop armed conflict.

These were for the most part benign uses of police in the form of arrests and imprisonment, in a few cases destruction of property (burning houses) or corporal punishment (caning), and only rarely (and then mostly in cases of self-defence) involving the use of potentially lethal force by firing guns.

Let me also state that I have the utmost regard for the work of the Australian kiaps, as they operated in sometimes very difficult and hostile circumstances and mostly went out of their way to prevent situations in which they would have to use firearms.

The number of victims of pacification in the area I studied is small (I have collected testimonies for a total of 32 deaths) and pales in contrast to those that would have died had indigenous warfare continued.

There were, however, a few isolated incidents in the late 1940s and early 1950s that warrant the term ‘excessive violence’.

These incidents were mostly perpetrated by unsupervised New Guinean policemen, which is why there is hardly any documentary evidence and why so little is known about them (even by ex-kiaps).

My case study of Obura, which I briefly mentioned in my summary, is one such incident.

Police posts, only occasionally visited by kiaps, existed in the Eastern Highlands until late 1952.

A coastal policeman stationed at the Omaura police post together with some local villagers mounted a punishment expedition against Obura. At dawn and without warning the party opened fire on a men’s house.

This resulted in the death of 13 men, the largest death toll in any of such encounters.

I would like to emphasise, however, that this was an exception and that, for the most part, positive material incentives, the promise of wealth, the introduction of courts and the support by local leaders led to a quick end to warfare, a development that was accepted by all.

If someone would like to know more about these positive processes, I suggest reading my article ‘The Red Flag of Peace: Colonial Pacification, Cargo Cults, and the End of War among the South Fore’ which is available here.


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Mathias Kin

Good morning olgeta friends.

Burning of houses. My first house was burnt down by police of the RPNGC in 1991 when they suspected my clan of aiding another clan in a tribal fight.

My house was among 27 other houses, destruction to food gardens and five pigs shot and taken away.

At the time I was a student at Unitech and we did not pursue it through the system and the issue died.

Our history book 'My Chimbu', which I authored and has just been published, contains four shooting scenes, three of them could be described as massacres involving the shooting to death of 35, 20 and 37 indigenous people in today's Chimbu Province.

Two of the shootings took place during the first exploratory period (1934-35) of the central highlands when the kiap (named) in charge was present. He gave orders and made the first shot.

The other two took place after the war between 1946 and 1947. The presence of a kiap at those is uncertain and it could have been an independent police action.

There were many shootings after the war in the Chimbu area as the Administration officers on the frontier were carrying out instructions from people higher up to fast track pacification and control.

Our history book, 'My Chimbu' - edited with Phil Fitzpatrick and assisted by Keith Jackson, Robin Hides and Bill Standish, and published by Francis Nii - is available from Amazon.


Arthur Williams

Good Friday was a beautiful Tari day with 100% visibility in a cloudless sky. I was agent for Air Nuigini and Talair but, having only one expected flight due for arrival, I had given my workers the day off as I felt I could cope with a single plane.

I sat in my battered 1½ tonner not long before the flight was due. I glanced around the idyllic Southern Highlands' scenery from the distant mountain at Ambua Gap and greenery of the valley.

Then I noticed a curling pillar of dark smoke rising on the rough road to Koroba. Oh, I saw there was also one reaching heavenward on the road to the SDA Mission and indeed yet another towards Dauli College.

It was then I recalled we were going through yet another wave of criminality and inter-clan fights. The small detachment of cops in Tari had been given assistance with the arrival of one or two riot squads.

On this Holy Day they were involved in their routine collective punishment of any homes suspected of being connected with alleged criminals. The three black smoke columns rising in the balmy air was them at work.

Collective punishment is of course prohibited under the worldwide reach of the Geneva Convention. Yet in 1984 it was alive and operated regularly throughout PNG in its worst trouble spots.

Later that day I spoke with one of PNG’s budding pilots who was trying to earn a living flying his little single engine plane mostly on charters to and from Ok Tedi mine.

Normally Talair overflew Tari on its regular journeys from Mendi, Hagen to Tabubil. As Talair agent I had tried to get them to land for a couple of passengers when they had space flying over us but was told by my boss in Hagen that not only had they to get permission from the mining company but more importantly only people with a proper mine ID would be allowed on a plane.

My young Tari pilot was almost in tears as he told me of how the police had come and began to burn the little group of homes in his family’s compound. Included was his semi-permanent house which he used as his office and where he stored his manuals, files etc.

They eventually left his house standing among the charred ruins of the rest of his extended family who had also lost their chickens and even a few pigs one of which had been thrown by a cop into the blazing remains of a hut.

My Good Friday was spoilt by my seeing those pillars of black smoke but also, just as I was single-handedly servicing the expected Air Niugini flight, simultaneously a Talair charter flight arrived and had to be refuelled as did a one engine private plane.

I had never had three planes on the ground at the same time and I felt quite a hero. It was famously one of the few days I built up a healthy sweat at 5,000ft and so both episodes of that day will always remain linked.

Does PNG still have those riot squad BBQs or is it only Israel that is allowed to continue to break the Article 33 Collective Punishment prohibition of the Geneva Convention?

Philip Fitzpatrick

The Germans were fond of flogging but it was abolished by the Australian administration in March 1919.

With respect to burning houses Standing Order 13 said, "Under no circumstances will District Administration Patrols or field parties damage or destroy property, be it housing, livestock, personal possessions, cash crops or subsistence gardens. It has long been settled policy that our methods of extension and/or consolidating Administration influence do not include any such actions if only because they are administratively inept. The basis on which we extend and'or consolidate Administration influence is friendship, trust and confidence and those attitudes will not be instilled into the indigenous population by burning their houses, shooting their pigs or pulling out their food crops. It is true enough that such actions may, in many cases, bring agreeably quick results, particularly amongst new people who live in a state of perpetual internecine warfare which has to be halted, but those initial results cannot be expected to develop into that understanding and sense of partnership which is so essential if this Administration and the indigenous population are to work harmoniously towards mutually acceptable ultimate ends, for they are founded on fear of reprisals or punishment and the people are doing no more than obey, without any understanding, the orders of an infinitely more powerful opponent who, for reasons best known to himself, is imposing his will upon them in the form of a new way of life."

The Order then goes on to point out the relevant sections of the Criminal Code related to such actions, including the punishment, which was "imprisonment with hard labour for life".

Just think Chris. If the ladies had complained you could still be doing time.

Chris Overland

In relation to the burning of houses, I have to confess to doing so on one occasion.

It was in 1970, when I was stationed at Baimuru in the Gulf Province. At the time, APC was drilling a well in the patrol post area. Both local and European workers were on site, the latter mostly being Canadians.

The manager of the drilling camp complained to us that his workers were frequently getting gonorrhoea following contact with some enterprising local ladies who had set up a little camp of their own nearby.

I was duly instructed to "move them on", as their activities were both unlawful and a breach of the health regulations. How I was to do this was left to me which, given my youthful combination of enthusiasm and a lack of insight and life experience, turned out to be a mistake.

When I reached the drilling camp, the manager directed me to where the ladies had set up business. This turned out to be a small collection of perhaps half a dozen pretty basic huts of the type I associated with a kombati, or garden hut, which typically was used for brief, overnight stays in remote gardens.

I ordered the ladies to depart in haste lest they be prosecuted and my accompanying police supervised their packing and escorted them to their canoes.

After watching them paddling off down the river for a while the issue of the huts came up.

The senior policeman with me suggested that so long as the huts remained, it would be a simple matter for the ladies to return to business after we had left the site.

With this in mind, I ordered that the huts be burned, much to the delight of the police, who borrowed some accelerant from the drilling camp and enthusiastically burned them all to the ground.

Job done I thought!

Back on the station I reported to my ADO, Peter Harrison, that it was mission accomplished. When I mentioned the hut burning his face dropped and he said something like "Oh Dear"!

For the sake of brevity, I will simply say that a message subsequently came from on high that my actions were not in accordance with departmental instructions and that henceforth the burning of any house was verboten.

I never again burned down any houses, nor had cause to, although I will admit to "accidentally" burning down a particularly disgusting long drop kharzi that was supposed to service a village rest house.

That was, however, an issue of removing an obvious public sanitation hazard, not punitive action.

Peter Salmon

Now my peers will probably comment more fully (and factually) but in terms of modern field administration burning of houses was a "no, no" I'm trying to think of any exceptions to this but can't right now.

And similarly corporal punishment by way of caning is not something that I'm aware of.

I can only imagine that this may have occurred back in the days of the German administration of New Guinea or what I would call the colonial administration period between the wars and maybe early post war.

I still find it hard to think of kiaps caning people. Teachers yes but not kiaps.

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