The extraordinary mask festival & other Rabaul attractions
My journey as a writer – Part I

A sight seen no more – a kiap walks into a mountain village

Kiap walks into a mountain village (Graham Forster)ROBERT FORSTER

NORTHUMBRIA - It is late 1974, just months before independence, and a white kiap conducting a routine patrol is walking into one of Papua New Guinea’s many mountain villages.

At the same time some government advisors in the capital, Port Moresby, are saying kiaps offend people in these communities and as a result of this, and other perceived misdemeanors, should be encouraged to pack their bags and return to their foreign homes.

However in this photograph, there is little to suggest the kiap – who is about to shake hands with village leaders - is not welcome.

Indeed the reaction to his arrival by the smartly-dressed community representatives can only be described as wholehearted.

Later he will display the new PNG flag for the first time, explain the likely impacts of imminent national independence and update village records in a census before moving on to the next village.

It is a simple picture, but there is much to comment on. The pristine military salute offered by the village’s spokesman is an obvious feature.

The number of curious youths, many of them smiling, show the novelty of this European man’s arrival in their isolated home.

There is no immediate explanation for the absence of women in the frontline or why the group of four men at the extreme rear are distancing themselves from the main event. Perhaps they represent another community?

And if this village thought the approaching kiap would be unpredictable or overbearing, perhaps even impolite or angry, it is unlikely that one of the leaders in the welcoming party would be holding his four-year old son by the hand.

Perhaps most important of all the kiap would pass on a summary of community concerns and his thoughts on village wellbeing back to government after he had returned to station.

This regular two way traffic, in which the colonial Administration’s messages were passed on to village people and their messages returned to government administrators was the cornerstone of the kiap system.

It was an effective system of government because it helped to maintain community cooperation and prevented rural people from feeling isolated from the changes the Administration was bringing.

Robert Forster is author of recently published ‘The Northumbrian Kiap’. If you would like to know more about the book, Google the title. Alternatively you can click on this link


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Chris Overland

I shudder to think what Hollywood would do with a film about kiaps.

I would imagine that the writers would want to roll out every cliché about what colonial regimes were supposed to be or look like.

Today's political correctness would require that the colonial authorities were unfeeling and arrogant monsters, the natives simply poor "noble savages" whose Arcadian idyll was being destroyed by nasty westerners and so forth.

A film conveying in a truthful way the subtleties, tensions and contradictions inherent in any authoritarian colonial regime, even the largely benign Australian version of it, would be a hard sell. Where is the audience for this? That would be the key question from any potential financiers.

Still, Bill Brown's account of the antecedents of the Panguna mine might well make a movie. It has all the essential elements: lots of fabulous scenery, several brave and determined protagonists insisting on speaking the truth to power in the face of ignorance, incomprehension and intransigent stupidity; the apparently powerless natives standing up for their traditional rights in the face of both coercion and bribery; and the great and the good, remote from it all, ploughing on resolutely to inevitable disaster.

Chris Hemsworth can play Bill, Aiden Gillen can be the outwardly charming but devious mining executive and Margot Robbie can play a missionary who sympathises with and defends the natives and entrances Bill (surely this happened in real life Bill?).

Throw in a few entirely fictitious battle scenes (CGI will help here) and the whole thing has blockbuster written all over it.

As for the truth, well it would still be out there.

Johnny Blades

Well, good point. And perhaps my example of Lurhman was a bad one, because after seeing his version of Great Gatsby, i think he probably should be banned from film-making.

Any advice on how to track down that 1955 film?

Anyone seen 'The Sky Above, the Mud Below'? An academy award winning 1962 film of an expedition into an uncharted part of West Papua just before the Dutch left. Terrific footage

The PNGAA had DVDs of 'Walk into Paradise/Hell' for sale. Try the secretary - KJ

Philip Fitzpatrick

Chips Rafferty has already done it Johnny with his 1955 film 'Walk into Paradise'.

It was filmed in PNG and has the famous scene where Chips spots a giant 'pekpek' swimming in the Sepik River.

I'd hate to think what a modern film maker would do with a kiap story after recently seeing the appalling one about Errol Flynn.

I always thought a TV series would be a better proposition.

When 1955 is just like yesterday. The US version of the movie was given a more exciting title - 'Walk into Hell'. And something else (sensitive readers avert eyes): pukpuk = crocodile; pekpek = turd - KJ

Johnny Blades

I know various people in the PNG Attitude community have talked about this before, but the story of the kiaps could be a really good film. Where are the Baz Luhrmanns or directors who have an eye for an important part of Australia's history?

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