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 https://rforster.com/shop/northumbrian-kiap/