TUMBY BAY - When you look at a map of Australia the precedence of its European colonial history is very apparent. If you run an eye around the coast, all the names of state capital cities echo that history.
Sydney, Brisbane, Darwin, Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne and Hobart all owe their names to significant British places or personages.
It is only with the federal capital that any acknowledgement of the previous inhabitants occurs.
The name Canberra is possibly derived from the word kambera or kanberri, meaning ‘meeting place’ in Ngunnawal, one of the indigenous languages spoken in the district.
It is really only when you get out into the regions that place names related to the original inhabitants spring up and proliferate.
In contrast, a perusal of a map of Papua New Guinea will show up place names with mostly local, indigenous origins.
There are a few exceptions. The most notable is the name of the capital, Port Moresby. To the north Finschhafen crops up and inland there is Mount Hagen.
Port Moresby was named by the British sea captain, John Moresby, to commemorate his father. Captain Moresby was in charge of the HMS Basilisk that surveyed the Papuan coast in 1871.
Mount Hagen gets its name from the nearby mountain peak that was named after the German colonial officer Curt von Hagen.
Finschhafen was named after German scientist and explorer Otto Finsch, who originally surveyed the town (hafen is German for harbour).
There is something incongruous about these old colonial names and the way they have hung on in Papua New Guinea.
In many newly independent countries getting rid of place names imposed by colonisers was a high priority.
Renaming such places was seen as a symbolic breaking of the colonial bond and a statement of independence and freedom.
Why this didn’t happen in Papua New Guinea is curious but is probably related to the largely benign Australian stewardship of the country.
There is, however, an increasingly nationalistic tone emerging in PNG and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that sometime in the future these old colonial names might be re-examined and possibly changed for indigenous ones.
This has happened to a certain extent where new provinces like Enga and Hela adopted local names and the old Northern changed to Oro. Jiwaka is a composite name combining the first two letters each of Jimi, Waghi and Kambia, the three regions that make up the province. And of course there is Simbu, which was part of Eastern Highlands before it gained its own governance.
Madang might sound like a local name but it was brought to the area by labourers who had accompanied the German administrators and is the name of their home island (Medang) in Indonesia.
And here’s a more controversial question.
Would it ever be that the name of the entire nation is reconsidered given that it was imposed by foreign sources and echoes the colonial past?
Papua is supposedly derived from the Malay word papua or pua-pua, meaning ‘frizzly-haired’ while Guinea is derived from the Portuguese word guiné which was used as a collective term for the people who came from regions south of the Senegal River in West Africa.
New Guinea was thought to physically resemble the African Guinea and was thus named as a new version of it.
The name Papua New Guinea is thus a combination of Asian and African descriptors, which is hardly apt and a reminder of its colonial past in the same sense as Port Moresby, Mount Hagen and Finschhafen.
Finding an agreeable and distinguishable new name for the whole nation state that is Papua New Guinea would be difficult because of the multiplicity of indigenous languages.
The name Australia derives from the Latin word australis meaning southern, and dates back to second century legends of an ‘unknown southern land’ called terra australis incognita.
The explorer Matthew Flinders named the land Terra Australis, which was later abbreviated to the current Australia.
Perhaps there is a clue there for a budding Papua New Guinean political nationalist. Ditch the Asian-African connection for a name more reflective of the location and nature of the country.
In common currency, the country just to Australia’s north is called Peengee, but that has an inauthentic ring to it.
A much easier task would be renaming places like Port Moresby, Mount Hagen and Finschhafen.
How does Hanuabada sound as the capital city? The word means ‘big village’ – hanua = village and bada = big - which is both descriptive and indigenous.
I’m not sure what the original place name of Mount Hagen is but I’m sure someone will know. The same applies to Finschhafen.
Names are important, particularly for the symbolism they carry.
Perhaps James Marape, who promotes Papua New Guinea ‘first’, should get a couple of consultants onto the case.