When the rains fall red
My poems are my story

Beyond first contact & gun-bearing Baptists


ADELAIDE - It is pleasing to see that a new book by Daniel Kumbon, Victory Song of Pingeta’s Daughter, will soon be available.

It will join recent works by Sil Bolkin, Mathias Kin and the late Francis Nii as another step in preserving the history of Papua New Guinea, in this case of the Enga people in particular.

The reference to the Baptist missionaries who were obsessed with guns intrigued me.

My cousin was the Moderator (equivalent to a Bishop in other faiths) of the Baptist Church here in South Australia.

My recollection is that the church was essentially a pacifist organisation, and the idea of having lethal weapons close to hand seems inconsistent with this philosophy.

I guess that the missionaries concerned were probably Americans, who have traditionally had a close association with guns and, historically speaking, have not been shy about using them.

Australia never had a significant gun culture such as that in evidence in the modern USA, although there are still plenty of guns in private hands today.

In pre-independence PNG after World War II, the Administration exercised very tight control over guns.

It would fairly readily licence single-barrel shot guns for hunting purposes but military style weapons and hand guns were almost never licenced for civilians.

That said, in the pre-war period in PNG, it was fairly easy to get a licence for a gun if you were a white man.

Presumably, this was justified on the basis of needing weapons for self-defence. But it seems what constituted self-defence was loosely interpreted in those days otherwise the extra-judicial killings by the Leahy brothers (and others) might have been more closely scrutinised.

As I have previously observed, it is a sad fact that the initial collisions between different human societies, especially where there is a gross technological imbalance, always seem to produce conflict and bloodshed.

PNG's history is no different, although the scale of the conflict involved was much more limited than in places like Africa, South America, North America and Australia.

Of course this is no consolation to those who were killed or lost their loved ones, but it is important to keep a sense of perspective.

It is very fashionable at the moment to pick and choose facts from history that suit a particular narrative of victimhood and ignore or downplay the facts that contradict that narrative.

Another deceit is to avoid admitting that an issue might be more complicated than a narrator cares to admit.

I do not wish to be seen as suggesting or implying that Daniel Kumbon is doing this.

In many ways, he is correcting the historic record, which is a good thing.

However, it is rather easy to fall into the victimhood trap and this would not do a good service to Papua New Guineans, who have proved marvellously adaptable in the face of an incredibly rapid change process.

They have been catapulted from the neolithic era into the modern world over the space of only a few decades and have managed this process without losing their essential cultural identity.

This is a formidable achievement that receives less recognition than it should.

It seems Daniel's book tells this bigger story while focussing upon one family in particular. I hope that it attracts the readership it deserves.


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Michael Dom

Thanks for that brie, Chris Overland.

I agree, there's no need for Papua Niuginians to try to join in the Oppression Olympics.

They may come to our Ples Singsing instead.

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